• Thu. Jun 13th, 2024

Jewish, afraid and dreading election day

ByIlana Pearce

Dec 5, 2019
At the No More War event at Parliament Square in August. A Creative Commons stock photo.

The day is December 12th. You feel a buzz of anticipation in the crisp Edinburgh air. You rub your shivering hands together as you step through the doors of your nearest polling station. A pencil to paper, a cross in a ballot box. You vote for the party that has promised you security. It has promised you better healthcare, better wages, better education and better housing. Its leader is a figurehead for the working class, a beacon of hope for those in need, and a guarantee of change ‘for the many, not the few’.

Your decision is simple, natural, planned. For you, Jeremy Corbyn signifies a revolution. He signifies a step towards a society that is more equal, more prosperous and more united. But for hundreds of thousands of UK Jews, he signifies something very different.

In the build-up to the general election, there has been an outpouring of accusations regarding antisemitism in the Labour party. Pleas from members of the Jewish community have snowballed, the most notable being the fervent front cover of the Jewish Chronicle urging non-Jews nationwide to ‘abhor racism’ and ‘[put] oneself in the shoes of another person’ when casting their vote. Yet it seems that the desperation of an entire minority, not to mention one which has suffered the extreme injustice of genocide, is being neglected once more.

It is one thing for voters to choose to dismiss, snub or turn a blind eye to these unacceptable examples of racism. Such instances as Labour being the first party to be formally investigated for institutional racism since the BNP, the repeated failure of the party to act on case after case of antisemitism, and Corbyn’s labelling of terrorist organisations Hamas and Hezbollah, whose charter declares: ‘The stones and trees will say ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him’, as his ‘friends’.

But is the 87% of Jews in our country who consider Corbyn to be an antisemite not enough to suggest that something must be done? Or the fact that the Chief Rabbi felt the overbearing pressure of his community so much so that he had to do the unthinkable and intervene, and several other powerful religious leaders agreed with him? And if not, then what more must a community do in order for voters to see their claims as legitimate?

The continually silenced voice of the Jewish community may not suffice in convincing voters to rethink their vote for Corbyn. However, Labour MPs who have come forward to denounce the party’s associations with antisemitism could not be more persuasive. Ian Austin, ex-Labour MP and lifelong supporter, left the party as a result of its ‘culture of antisemitism’ and bravely expressed his feeling that Jeremy Corbyn is ‘poisonous’ and ‘unfit to lead the country’.

Luciana Berger, who faced relentless antisemitic abuse while a member of the party, is just one of numerous MPs to quit in protest against a current Labour that is ‘riddled with antisemitism’. When a party’s own supposedly loyal members have condemned its actions and lost faith in its leader, you have to question the man you are putting into Number 10 when you give Labour your vote.

It is not only MPs who are rejecting the current state of the Labour party as an option for our future government. 24 writers, historians, journalists, politicians and actors signed a letter to the Guardian stating that they ‘refuse to vote Labour on 12 December’.

These signatories, who include actress Joanna Lumley, novelist John le Carré and former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, declared that: ‘To ignore [antisemitism] because Brexit looms larger is to declare that anti-Jewish prejudice is a price worth paying for a Labour government. Which other community’s concerns are disposable in this way? Who would be next?’

Let us make one thing clear: Labour is evidently not the only party to be accused of racism. Other isolated cases do exist, such as the accusations of islamophobia in the Conservatives following an article written by Boris Johnson. The entire discourse surrounding the election is appalling in many ways, not least because we find ourselves, in a ‘lesser of two evils’ sort of way, weighing up our two candidates for Prime Minister based on which one of them is the least racist or which has offended a minority group on fewer occasions. That said, it is the climate of a party with which its own MPs are ‘embarrassed and ashamed’ to be associated, led by a man most Jews believe to be an antisemite, that means Corbyn should be deemed ultimately unelectable.

Understandably, its progressive policies and promises to abolish tuition fees make Labour an appealing choice for many students. But, as Labour voters, you have a responsibility to ensure that you are supporting the best possible version of your party, a version which stays true to the vision of equality and social security it claims to believe in.

In Labour’s own words, the party ‘wants a society in which people care for one another’. If this is really the case, then those who support everything else the party stands for should honour this statement and fight for a more inclusive, more tolerant Labour which a united and multicultural society can get behind.

It is unsurprising that Jews, and in particular Jewish students on our university campuses, feel so ill at ease at the prospect of such a man as Corbyn being voted in as Prime Minister. It is saddening that, for many, it does not come as a shock that he struggles to apologise for the hurt he has caused the Jewish people. This message can be relayed in as many formats, on as many types of media, by as many people as possible, but the voters aren’t listening. Because the voters are choosing not to listen.

This selective perception of opinions which align with our own is expected in politics. It’s even justifiable most of the time. We have an affiliation to a particular party, so we want to read about the positive impacts of that party to reassure ourselves that our decision to support them is sound. But to overlook the unjust and unchanging faults of the Labour party is to disregard the genuine anxiety of an entire ethnic minority.

While the clash of opinions on antisemitism may be complicated, the choice we now have to make is not. We can vote to support a man who instills deep-seated fear in the majority of our country’s Jewish population. Or, as the future generation so strong in our moral compass and relentless in our challenging of the establishment, we can choose to demand better of our politicians and, in doing so, demand better of ourselves.


Image: Garry Knight via Flickr