By: Michael Curtis
The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, spoke in June 2013 of prejudice and discrimination in his country. Britain was suffering, he remarked, from “an apparent rise” in anti-Semitism, along with “other poisonous and debilitating forms of intolerance.” He must be perplexed in the extreme that the “apparent” has become a dramatic increase in that intolerance in 2017.
According to a survey in July 2017 by the British Community Service Trust, there is now an unprecedented increase in this disease. There were 767 anti-Semitic hate incidents recorded in the first six months, January to June, of 2017, the highest level ever recorded and a 30% increase from the 589 incidents in 2016. In London, there was a 10% rise to 425, and in Greater Manchester an 85% rise to 145.
The incidents involved damage to Jewish property; physical assaults on individuals; direct threats; verbal abuse; and graffiti on Jewish institutions, synagogues, schools, and cemeteries. They were noticeable in coordinated campaigns using social media, in the general media, and in political rhetoric. About a quarter, 142, came from social media, 10% were violent, 80 were physical attacks, 51 damaged or desecrated Jewish property, and 29% were politically motivated or used political language. The largest number comprised “abusive behavior.” Disappointingly, some of the anti-Semitism came from public figures.
No one specific, single factor can explain the increase, except perhaps that there was more reporting focused on the misdeeds of members of the Labor Party and more informed reporting of incidents. Thus, the explanation can be based only on long-term factors.
It has been clear for some time, and a cause for dismay especially by Jews who traditionally viewed the Labor Party as their political home, that an increasing amount of British anti-Semitism has come from the political left. As a consequence, the Labor Party and its present leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has done little to discipline expressions of anti-Semitism by party members, have lost the trust of many Jews.
There are a number of particularly flagrant examples of anti-Semitism. One concerns the case of Ken Livingstone, former Labor mayor of London who is notorious for his remarks that Adolf Hitler acted in support of Zionism and who compared a critical Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard. Livingstone has a loud mouth and a tin ear; he believes that Jews were too rich to vote for him. The Labor party did try to discipline him but ultimately failed.
Another, perhaps more shocking, example is the case of Lord Nazir Ahmed, appointed to the House of Lords in 1998 and one of the first Muslim peers. He had been convicted and imprisoned after he killed another motorist when sending a series of text messages while driving his Jaguar X in December 2007. He served only six weeks in prison. He blamed his imprisonment on a Jewish conspiracy, the result of pressure applied on the court by Jews who “own newspapers and TV channels.” He was suspended from the party and finally left it.
A third is Jackie Walker, a leader of the far-left Momentum group, who holds that Jews were the chief financiers of the African slave trade. Even worse, on April 11, 2017, 145 members of the Labor Party wrote to Chairman Corbyn saying “I am Jackie Walker” and asserting that Israel is a “racist state.”
Dave Rich in his book The Left’s Jewish Problem has pointed out that until the1980s, the British left was broadly pro-Israeli, a country with a strong social democratic component. This attitude changed, partly because of the emergence of more right- wing Israeli governments and because of the results of the 1967 Six-Day War but mainly because of the well organized pro-Palestinian and Islamic campaigns, originally assisted by the Soviet Union, against Israel, which accused the State of Israel of being a colonial, oppressive, and “apartheid” country. A considerable number of Labor Party officials and councilors openly expressed anti-Semitic sentiments, and many were not reprimanded in any serious way. In the 2017 parliamentary election, Jewish candidates of the Labor Party were deselected in a number of constituencies.
The result has been a disaffiliation and a political swing of a considerable number of Jews away from the Labor Party. Though there is not yet full or accurate analysis of the way Jews voted in 2017, nor is there a distinctive “Jewish vote” especially among younger Jews. However, pre-election polls suggested that only 13% of Jews would vote for the Labor Party, while 77% would vote for Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservative Party. One token is the result in four crucial constituencies in north London, which have a significant number of Jewish inhabitants, the so-called “Bagel Belt.” In these four, there was no swing to Labor as there was in the rest of London, though not to Conservatives, but rather to the Liberal Democrats.
The “apparent” rise in anti-Semitism is real, and it is the outcome of prejudice. It is a wake-up call. A public opinion survey in 2015 held that about one third of British citizens thought that at least one anti-Semitic view is definitely or probably true. Beliefs are prevalent regarding the 260,000 Jews in the country, 0.4% of the total population, who are criticized in the usual prejudiced way as dishonest in business, disloyal, overly focused on the Holocaust.
These prejudices are of course sometimes related to actions of the State of Israel, but increasingly they have a life of their own, unrelated to any alleged Israeli actions. A notorious example was the decision in August 2014 by a branch in London of Sainsbury’s, the large supermarket chain, to remove all kosher products from its shelves after the store was picketed by pro-Palestinian protesters. The irony in this case is that none of the removed kosher products came from Israel. The moral is obvious: a need for informed objective knowledge and political and social courage.
The British left should learn the lesson. Its members should get medical help to end the disease of anti-Semitism.