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Politics

Labour and anti-Semitism: why some Jews feel like ‘collateral damage’

Four years into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour and on the countdown to another general election, many British Jews – including Rosa Doherty of the Jewish Chronicle – have come to feel like their fears about growing anti-Semitism are being ignored by those who put the party before principle

I would love to vote for the Labour Party. It is the party I have always supported. But there is not one part of me that can support that party today. Like many others in my community when the impending 12 December conversation comes up socially, I will do all manner of gymnastics to avoid hearing what I dread.

“Anti-Semitism is not great or anything but it is not that bad.” “What about poverty, homelessness?” “What about the NHS?” “Yeah, but the Tory party is worse... they hate Muslims.”

Every time someone makes these arguments, Jews in Britain feel their fear and experience of racism is cast aside as if it was unimportant. As many have described it, it feels like “Jews have been thrown under the bus” or are considered an “acceptable sacrifice” and “collateral damage” in the mission for a socially progressive government.

Others have made the point, “If you speak to people within the movement itself, they get it, they know it’s serious, they realise that many proper anti-Semites have recently entered the party, and others who have been there all along have been indulged and protected.” No political party is perfect and people often have to make as “imperfect choices”.

I want to see the back of this Tory government, but I’m not comfortable replacing it with one that makes Jews contemplate their future in Britain

It would be easier in this election to have the type of conscience that is OK with sacrificing the fears and safety of one of Britain’s smallest minority communities in favour of all the other issues I care about – but I don’t. While I want nothing more than to see the back of this cruel Tory government, I’m not comfortable replacing it with a left-wing one that makes Jews contemplate their future in Britain.

When I started working at the Jewish Chronicle more than five years ago, it is fair to say that although I grew up with a strong connection to my Jewish identity, my day-to-day interaction and involvement with the wider community was limited. And in many ways it is a place in which I still exist: most of my friends are not Jewish and I don’t belong to a synagogue.

And yet in other ways I have found myself unavoidably part of what I believe to be a truly diverse and enriching minority community. Sadly, with a general election looming, it is a community that finds large parts of itself terrified of the prospect of a government led by someone who has shared platforms with Holocaust deniers and presided over the influx of new Labour members that coincided with an increase in complaints of anti-Semitism. In some cases – such as those outlined by BBC’s Panoroma – the behaviour of activists has made the membership of some Jewish people in the party a living hell.

You might have read about Labour anti-Semitism and how it has driven people in their droves to leave a party that was once their political home. You might still wonder what that is all that about. You might still not understand.

The idea of a Britain without a thriving Jewish community is apocalyptic. It is so unimaginable and horrible, and yet nearly every day with more frequency I meet Jewish people who genuinely question their future in our society. Whether they have the means to carry it out is beside the point. That it has become a topic of conversation is dire. And some of them are like me – people with whom I share the same politics – while others could not be more different. But their fear is the same: their way of life as a Jew in Britain would be uncomfortable under Labour.

As the daughter of two inner-city state-school teachers, both of whom knew Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party is the party that I have always understood to care most about providing a good education for everyone. Having lost one parent to cancer and had the other saved, I know in both circumstances it was the NHS that took care of them. It was overworked and underpaid nurses that worked tirelessly with compassion for the people I love. And at its core, perhaps, it will always be the party that protects these things, but it has also become a deeply factionalised party that empowers racists and racism instead of putting Labour’s core values first.

The politician many Jews fear leading the country is someone others describe as a “lovely person”, “an avowed anti-racist” and a “kind and principled man”, but that is not enough for me. Because a socialist lesson I was taught was that just because people are good to you does not mean they will be good to others. And to borrow a phrase, I care about the many.

I meet Jewish people who genuinely question their future in our society. Whether they have the means to carry it out is beside the point

If I voted for the Labour Party on 12 December, my life as a Jew in Britain is unlikely to be drastically affected, as long as I was happy to stay on the periphery, endure increased levels of social anti-Semitism and adhere to a particular hard-left understanding of what a Jew should be. But would it affect a large section of a wider community that I have come to know well, celebrate and fiercely respect?

You only have to listen and look at the evidence to know that the answer is yes. Being Jewish in the Labour Party has driven brave young campaigners to contemplate suicide. The toxic atmosphere has made people leave jobs they love and Jewish MPs have been hounded from a party steeped in their own family history.

Having covered and followed the crisis from the beginning, nothing could make me vote for the party in its current form, no matter how many other ways it speaks to me. How can I trust a party to implement policies I agree with, many of which were born from compassion and care, if they are incapable of showing that same compassion and care to the Jewish community?

However hard it is personally for me to face, however socially isolating it might feel, which it is, it is still an easy decision. When friends ask me, “Will you look at me funny if I vote Labour?” I can’t answer them. I understand people have their priorities and make sacrifices. But I would argue that racism against any community is not an acceptable sacrifice and no party should ask you to make it. This is not your fault, it is theirs; they know it and the onus is on them.

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