I have agonised over writing this piece. As a pro Israel activist, I am used to running the gauntlet of left wing and Islamist Israel haters. As an unafraid Jew, I am used to standing up against antisemitism. But speaking up for a pro Israel, pro Jewish British political activist is proving so much more challenging. Why?
As a result of my speaking out in a closed chat group against what I saw to be most unfair demonising of him, I have been removed from the core volunteer cadre of an organisation fighting racism. I can live with that rejection and I am certainly not short of demands on my time. But their view is held by the majority of ‘right thinking people’ and so in sticking to my views and even writing publicly about them, I am risking my reputation as a good and decent person.
It would be so easy just to hold my counsel. After all I don’t need to publicise my views on this issue. But as Jews and Israel supporters we ask for the support of others who don’t have to care about our issue, so surely we should be standing in solidarity with those who make clear their support for us? And in the name of justice shouldn’t we be demanding that they are treated fairly?
The man I am championing has a criminal record, has served several jail sentences and is accused of being a far-right populist racist. So why on earth am I on his side? And why do I think those who care about the fair treatment of Jews and Israel should be on his side too? Firstly, despite the accusations of racism there is zero evidence for this unless challenging the teachings of Islam is in itself racist? He says he despises racists (and indeed walked out of an organisation he founded because it was infiltrated by racists) but that Islam is a political ideology which should be as open to legitimate criticism as any other. Is he wrong? Do we accept that it is politically incorrect to challenge teachings which promote violence against non-believers and against those who transgress against the teachings of Islam?
I have a problem with the use of term populism as a pejorative. The dictionary definition is a person, especially a politician, who strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups. Surely that is not on its own a bad thing – it is the essence of democratic politics and also of trade unionism. Before we judge a populist, surely we must ask what policies are they propounding? If they are racist or intolerant or violent policies, then these are clearly enemies of a tolerant diverse society which liberal people like myself would wish to see. But if they are intolerant of intolerance, what then? If they reach out to ordinary working-class people who are dismissed and overlooked by other political parties, is it right to demonise them?
On Thursday the UK will be voting in European Elections, despite the vote for Brexit. I was originally a remainer and think the referendum was a mistake, but I now feel in the name of democracy we need to leave the EU. It looks like the Brexit party will be the big winners in this election that we should not have been a part of. But there may also be another winner. He who may not be named, who has been banned by Facebook and Twitter and made invisible by YouTube and suspended from Stripe, who has been milkshaked to popular acclaim, received credible death threats from Islamists, been attacked by a violent mob with connivance of the police, has been denounced by public figures as not welcome in their towns, and yet has been greeted with popular support by so many ordinary people, may become an MEP. The bookies are shortening their odds on it!
If he does, he will be the first independent candidate to do so. I suspect he is also the first candidate who needed to tell his supporters that even if he was murdered during the election his candidacy would still stand and they could still vote for him. And how will this social media blocked, demonised, harassed and vilified man have done it? By visiting housing estates ignored by mainstream politicians, by talking to everyone out on the streets, exemplifying courage, good humour, integrity and confidence despite the odds and bringing hope to ordinary people that at last here is someone who is one of them and if elected will not forget that he is one of them.
And then perhaps we will reflect that demonising is wrong because we are people who should pursue justice and assess a person for what they are not what they are made out to be.