(December 3, 2019 / JNS) As part of an evening news segment on Dec. 2, Israel’s Channel 12 examined the panic among British Jews over the prospect that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn could become the next prime minister of the United Kingdom. The broadcast focused on a small meeting of anti-Corbyn activists at the London home of a woman named Ida Simmons. Simmons had participated the previous week in a demonstration against Labour’s “Race and Faith Manifesto,” which denounces all forms of ethnic or religious discrimination, except those behind the very specific verbal and physical battery of Jews.
No surprise there.
In the first place, Corbyn—like his fellow anti-Semites the world over—denies that anti-Semitism is a particular, rather than general, form of hatred, deserving of a category all its own. Secondly, he uses his antipathy towards Israel as an excuse to enable what has become a shocking revival of the kind of anti-Semitism that had been taboo in Europe for decades after the Holocaust.
His self-described “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah skip the pretense, boasting that their efforts to eliminate the Jewish state and to kill Jews everywhere derive from the same Divine commandment.
How proud they must have been of their mate last week when he stuck to his guns during an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil and refused repeatedly to apologize for the anti-Semitism that has swept the Labour Party.
It is thus little wonder that British Jews view polls showing a shrinking gap between Corbyn and Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson ahead of the Dec. 12 general election with trepidation. Since the former took the reins of Labour in 2015, Jews have found themselves completely alienated within and by the party that most had supported politically, and many had backed financially.
This poses a dilemma. On the one hand, British Jews tend to oppose Brexit, the policy that Johnson is determined to execute. On the other, a whopping majority—87 percent—considers Corbyn to be anti-Semitic, or at least unwilling to eradicate the open hostility to Jews and Israel expressed by members of his party.
“I can’t see this hatred to our people,” Simmons bemoaned to her fellow anti-Corbyn activists and to Channel 12’s correspondent in London, Elad Simchayoff. “What have we done? … Why does everybody hate us so much? I don’t understand. … This was our country! I don’t want to leave my family behind. I don’t want to have to go to Israel because of what is happening on our streets. It’s not right.”
Her horror and anguish are justified, but her rhetorical questions illustrate a total lack of understanding about the nature of anti-Semitism.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post in 2007, the late historian Robert Wistrich explained that “one of the most intriguing features of the anti-Semitism that became so rampant in Europe before the Holocaust, and which was a main cause of it—what turned the anti-Semitism that had its profane banal explanations, such as economics and social rivalry, into something lethal—was precisely the fact that Jews had ‘assimilated’ so intensely. They were like super-Germans, super-French, super-Englishmen, etc. Because of this, the traditional anti-Semitism that was based on religion no longer had the same effect or resonance. Recourse was made, then, to an argument against which there is no defense, namely race. … Ironically, the argument Jews always used in their apologies was that they were great contributors to their societies. … But, of course, this further fed the very anti-Semitism they were trying to counter… .”
Those familiar with the history of the Holocaust would not be surprised by Wistrich’s description, but they might be startled by his depiction of Europe at the time of the interview, which took place more than a decade ago.
Europeans, he said, “are reluctant to accept and admit that, despite all the Holocaust education and commemoration that’s taking place—and all the solemn declarations about having thoroughly learned the lessons of the past—anti-Semitism has returned in such strength.”
He went on to recount the shock expressed by non-Jewish British lawmakers at testimony he gave before an inter-parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom. “I don’t recognize the country you’re talking about,” one of them said to him when he was done. Others claimed to be “aghast” at what they’d learned.
In all the years that have passed since then, the plight of Jews in Britain has deteriorated, not improved, thanks in large measure to the legitimacy that Corbyn’s Labour has given to anti-Semitism.
Indeed, it is the mainstreaming of the phenomenon that should be cause for such concern, and not only among Jews, whose negligible number, at 300,000, makes up a minuscule minority of the total U.K. population, which is approximately 66 million.
Britain beware: Anti-Semitism is and always has been a “canary in the coal mine,” boding deathly ill for any society that embraces it.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”
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