Overwhelmingly, British Jews support the Conservative party. Which means that their political predisposition is centre-right. This taste for the conservative side of the British political spectrum has been with us for many years now, a quarter of a century at least. A study of the British Jewish political attitudes conducted in the mid-1990s produced these most unambiguous results: when asked about their voting intentions, 45% of British Jews said that they would support the Conservative party, 41% preferred the Labour party and 14% – the Liberal Democrats. Arguably, the preference for the Conservative party was far from overwhelming then, but consider the contrast with the general population of Britain at that time: only 29% supported the Conservatives and 57% preferred the Labour party. This was before any controversies concerning to the presence of the antizionist or antisemitic elements on the British Left, and in the Labour party in particular, developed.
Fast forward to the more recent times. Today, the support for the Conservative party among British Jews is far more pronounced than in the mid-1990s: in a poll conducted by ‘Survation’, 67% of British Jews declared the intention to vote for the Conservatives in May 2016, i.e. at the time that the Labour party was led by Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s ascent to leadership of the Labour Party signified a very considerable swing to the left with respect to numerous aspects of the Labour political platform, with the stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict being just one example. The Labour’s antizionism, which at times seemed to have blended with traditional antisemitism – just like the Soviet antizionism did before – was and still is a worrying aspect of the Labour’s turn to the left, from the point of view of British Jews. Thus, the overwhelming support for the Conservatives among British Jews early in 2016 was at times interpreted as a remarkable new phenomenon, an anti-Corbyn, anti-antizionist vote of sorts. This is not the case.
In fact, even before the rise of Corbyn, support for the Labour party among British Jews was limited: the same ‘Survation’ poll established that in the UK general election in May 2015 64% of Jews voted for the Conservatives and just 15% for the Labour party. At that time, the Labour party was led by Ed Miliband, a Jew and a son of a Marxist academic. The ‘abandonment’ of the Labour party by Jews happened, self-evidently, before Jeremy Corbyn. Two lessons follow. First, British Jews are unlikely to develop a strong taste for the Labour party when and if Jeremy Corbyn is replaced. Second, should the general election be upon the United Kingdom soon, British Jews are very likely to vote overwhelmingly for the Conservatives, just like they have been doing for a while, it seems, and not really as an anti-Corbyn gesture, as some have suggested.
Why is this so? Because the Jewish vote is a class vote; not exclusively, but to a very significant extent. The association between the Jews and the left-wing politics in Britain is the thing that belongs to the past, when the majority of Jews in Britain – a lot of them new immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe and their children – fitted the definition of the working or the low-middle class. That changed in the second half of the twentieth century. Jews became different and so did their political preferences. The professional and the affluent, on the whole, are not known for their love of the Left, especially when it comes to economic solutions. “Since 1945…the formerly depressed eastern European migrants have moved as a whole into the upper-middle class and into the elites of most Western nations….The general rise of Western Jewry to elite status has resulted in a realignment of the allies and enemies of Jews, with the traditional ‘right’ and ‘left’ changing places in their regard for Jews and their interests” – such was the view of William Rubinstein, an eminent historian of Jews in the English speaking world, as articulated in his book ‘The Left, the Right and the Jews’. The voting patterns described above testify to this as a thousand witnesses, as the Hebrew saying goes.