Andrea Samuels
Andrea Samuels

Time to Leave… British Jews and the Labour Party

For shock value, this week has stood out above all others. It’s even surpassed that week in which two complete strangers turned up at my door asking to use our facilities. I, of course, ushered them inside, showed them to the loo and being the hospitable person that I am, offered them a drink. There then followed one of the strangest half hours of my life, during which they delighted in singing Christian hymns to us, translated into Hebrew especially or the occasion. It turns out they were Korean missionaries who’d lost their way and ended up wandering the streets of Poleg.

I couldn’t have imagined a more surreal experience until the events of this week started to unfold. Unfortunately, this week’s events have been painful and contracted, as opposed to the brief and entertaining interlude with our Korean guests.

First came the article in The Times by the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis about Corbyn and the Labour Party. What he said resonated with most Jews both in Britain and here in Israel, namely that a climate of fear had grown in the community stemming from Labour’s failure to deal with antisemitism in the party. He rightly described it as a poison which had been sanctioned from the top. He also went on to describe Corbyn as unfit for high office. An unprecedented step for a chief rabbi to take in the midst of an election campaign. His article also had the effect of bringing this desperately serious issue, which had hitherto been overlooked in favour of Brexit, austerity and the NHS etc to the fore. That which had previously been an issue predominantly for the Jewish community, had now become mainstream. It was headlines on every major British news channel and newspaper and at the forefront of social media. Everyone, it seemed, now had an opinion on the subject of antisemitism in the Labour Party and the Chief Rabbi himself. What then happened was extraordinary. The next evening, Andrew Neil’s now infamous, toe curling car crash of an interview of Corbyn was aired. I watched with baited breath and almost let out a cheer when Neil dived straight into the issue. He didn’t pull his punches. Instead he pursued a relentless line of questioning which elicited the same tired responses from Corbyn that he’d been trotting out for decades; “I abhor racism in any form,” “I’ve been a lifelong campaigner against racism,” “antisemitism has no place in my party,” and so on and so forth. His responses were risible, although not entirely unexpected. What set this interview apart however, was that Neil asked Corbyn, on no less than four occasions, whether he was going to take this opportunity to apologise to the Jewish community. Corbyn refused, repeating the same tired mantras.

That refusal to apologise was a watershed moment for me and many others. It was a clear sign, if anyone still needed one, that Jews no longer had a place in the party which they once called home. Knowing the strength of feeling of the Jewish community about his party,  which, had he been in any doubt, had now been made abundantly clear by the Chief Rabbi, Corbyn still could not say the magic word. To watch him on screen sidestepping the question as it was repeatedly put to him was astonishing and infuriating. Both his body language and tone made it abundantly clear to anyone watching that he views the Jewish community with contempt.

It could be argued that, as one by one, Jewish MPs were forced out of the party, those still retaining their membership should have walked away in solidarity and disgust. Many, however, remained optimistic and couldn’t bring themselves to accept that things were only going to get worse; ‘there are still some good people in there,’ and ‘I’m not going to be forced out of the party I love and have been a member of for 40 years’…etc.

NEWSFLASH….that party has all but vanished! It remains in name only. What’s left is a shell of hard left imposters hell bent on perpetuating the Corbyn cult. They are toxic and dangerous. The thought of them actually running the country is beyond the pale. Their toxicity (and Corbyn’s in particular) is only matched by their sheer incompetence. I’m not suggesting that there are no good guys left in the party, but the rot has spread and left it in tatters, devoid of any moral compass.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I was forced to face a staggering realisation. Whilst I am aware that there are fringe elements of the Jewish community who support Corbyn, I had been labouring under the misapprehension that any right minded, sensible Jew (and non Jew alike for that matter) would not be voting labour next month. I was wrong.

In spite of everything (the Chief Rabbi’s achingly sad and heartfelt article, the vitriol levelled at him for taking the unprecedented and desperate step of speaking out, the Neil interview culminating in Corbyn’s refusal to apologise), some of us are still intending to vote Labour. I realised this when I found myself reading an online comment by a Jewish person now living in Israel, which gave rise to my suspicions that that was his intention. When I asked him outright, he confirmed the same. I was gobsmacked. His set out the reasons for his decision. They were long winded, misguided and frankly incomprehensible but his mind was made up and there was no changing it. His unfortunate decision remains a mystery to me and doubtless many others.

Frankly, I’m at a loss to understand how anyone, let alone a Jew, can vote Labour with a clear conscience. To do so sends a clear signal to the British Jewish community that their very real fears are just not that important. What’s a bit of Jew hating next to other more important matters such as brexit and austerity. I won’t go so far as to make a flippant remark about free WiFi and dental treatment, although for some, I’m sure those things will loom large in their decision making process.

As for those Jews who remain in the party, for whatever reason, I will say this. Your failure to take the difficult and sometimes agonising step to leave, leaves many with the impression that things there aren’t so bad. In consequence, those who are actively fighting antisemitism, trying to persuade friends to vote ANYONE BUT CORBYN, are often seen as overreacting and hysterical and contrasted unfavourably with the so called ‘stay and fight’ brigade. You provide the ‘human shield’ for antisemites and their apologists. You sanitise antisemitism.

To be associated with a ‘stay and fighter’ gives credence to some people who otherwise would be seen for what they really are, racists.

Some have even gone so far as to court you, to wine and dine you in order to obtain that all important photograph to post on social media. The underlying message is clear, ‘I’m not antisemitic…some of my best friends are Jewish!’

Also, many decent folk, who may otherwise have already deserted the party in light of its appalling treatment of Jewish MPs, have stayed and actively continue to lend it support because of you. Many still cite the ‘stay and fighters’ when explaining why, in spite of all the evidence of antisemitism in the party and the events of this past week, they are STILL campaigning for and intending to vote for their Labour MP.

I have also heard it said by some who choose not to leave the party that their Jewish partners have no problem with them remaining and so they shall!

The cogent reasons previously given to stay and fight no longer ring true. The time for that has passed.

Surely, it is now incumbent upon all of us to step away from the Labour Party, to condemn it for what it is, namely, an institutionally racist endeavour and to shout about it from the rooftops.

No longer can any of us remain silent in the face of what could be one of the most difficult periods faced by British Jews in living memory. As the Chief Rabbi said, “Be in no doubt – the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

It goes without saying that everyone is entitled to do as he/she pleases, but be under no illusion…if, despite everything, you chose to remain silent and in the Labour Party, your presence there only serves to undermine the fight.

As Jews, we are all in the same boat, so don’t expect the rest of us to remain silent while you drill a hole under your seat.

About the Author
I’m a British lawyer from Manchester. I made aliyah in 2016 and now live in Netanya with my husband, 3 children and 3 dogs. As I wasn’t able to pursue my legal career here in Israel, I started a small business editing English language papers for academics. I also write short stories or ‘blogs’ about the trials and tribulations of my new life.
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