Who will lift a finger when antisemites come for us?

A surveillance camera can be seen next to a Star of David (Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa via Jewish News)
A surveillance camera can be seen next to a Star of David (Photo: Hendrik Schmidt/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa via Jewish News)

Many of us can probably remember a Shabbat dinner where a guest starts droning on about how it is only a matter of time before something bad happens to us. ‘No-one will lift a finger when the antisemites come for us.’

After an eyeroll from some at the table, the conversation moves on.

I used to ridicule this worldview. As a teenager, antisemitism seemed confined to the fringes of politics and society – out of place with modern, diverse, 21st Century Britain. The security outside our institutions was for a worst-case scenario.

Sadly, I can no longer completely ridicule or dismiss that worldview like I used to. Recently, we have witnessed unfiltered and Goebbelsian-levels of antisemitism from Grime artist Wiley and his apologists. That is a sentence I’d never imagined myself writing.

Emma Barnett perfectly articulated how hurtful his comments were. The fact that Wiley felt able to go on an extensive antisemitic rant like he did was truly sinister. It felt different from when other celebrities do so. Even if they are insincere, they (or their management) feel the need to issue an apology for ‘offence caused’ or blame alcohol. Wiley is unrepentant.

Grime artist Wiley has been dropped by his management company over accusations of anti-Semitism.( Photo credit : Matt Crossick/PA Wire via Jewish News)

I am both British and Israeli (I lived there for eight years). Born in the UK, I have always felt more British and would have passed Norman Tebbit’s Cricket Test (and not just for Israel’s lack of a competitive cricket team). While I have no plans to pack up and leave my country of birth, some events in the last few years have made me think – just think – about doing so.

To the bemusement of some, I stayed and was an active member of the Labour Party throughout the Corbyn years. This was because of non-Jewish friends in Labour who were just as horrified by the antisemitism in our party and wanted to do something about it, because of Labour First and Progress – who organised against antisemites and the aggressive factionalism unleashed by Momentum, and, of course, the Jewish Labour Movement. (The subsequent election of Keir Starmer and his determination to tackle antisemitism has vindicated my decision to stay in the Party.)

Many column inches have been devoted to Corbyn’s Labour and antisemitism, so I want to focus on some examples which, for one reason or another, had an impact on me.

In 2018, the then Labour leadership chose to spend summer having (yet another) row about antisemitism by initially refusing to adopt the internationally-recognised IHRA definition of antisemitism. Corbyn outriders like Novara Media tried to redefine antisemitism for Jews while at the same time justifying the graffiti-ing of Holocaust Inversion on the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto.

During that summer, veteran Labour MP Margaret Hodge shared what her father told her: ‘You’ve got to keep a packed suitcase at the door Margaret, in case you ever have got to leave in a hurry.’ Her fears, based on the fact her parents fled Nazi Germany to Egypt – escaping the Holocaust – were mocked by people who self-describe as left-wing anti-racists.

One event last year made me glance at my Israeli passport and – probably for the first time in my life – feel genuinely grateful for its existence. The reaction of Corbyn supporters to a Jewish counter-protest at a pre-polling day rally in East London. Seeing people spewing all kinds of conspiracies and hate towards a minority group protesting was the first time I’d felt fear based on my identity as a British Jew – but gratitude that I had somewhere I knew I could go to ‘in-case things got really bad’.

Things are by no means as bad as they could be in the UK. One only needs to look across the Channel. Of French Jews who have migrated to Israel since its establishment, a third have done so in the past ten years. Twelve people have been murdered for the sole reason that they were Jewish. All of them by radical Islamists. But the fact that antisemitism in the UK hasn’t yet reached murderous levels is of no great comfort.

There is no connection between Wiley’s antisemitism and the fact the Labour Party is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for antisemitism, the fact Wiley endorsed Corbyn in 2019 isn’t evidence of this. However, antisemitism no longer feels like something confined to the fringes. Antisemites feel empowered to spew their hatred in an unfiltered way which I don’t think was the case fifteen or ten years ago.

I still disagree with the worldview of the guest at the Shabbat dinner – we have a lot of allies in the fight against antisemitism, the overwhelming majority of the British public reject antisemitism and the Labour Party leadership now actively rejects antisemites rather than makes excuses for them.

But I can’t help but feel worried about the fact antisemites still feel empowered, whether this will change or whether the likely tsunami of job losses as a result of the Coronavirus means their conspiratorial hate will have a more receptive audience.

About the Author
Lorin Bell-Cross is a Labour Party activist, former local election candidate and Local Campaign Forum LCF Secretary who works in Parliament.
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