Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Implications of the UK election for the British Jewish community

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The recent British election was a disaster for incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party. In just seven weeks from the time the vote was called, the Tories went from a 23-point lead in the polls that would have seen them cruise to a hugely increased majority, to losing their majority altogether. May is now having to rely on a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to retain power.

On the other side of the ledger, Labour increased its vote by 9.6 per cent despite far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn being widely thought to be unelectable. Commentators largely agree that May ran a disastrous campaign. Yet as British political commentator Tom Wilson wrote:

"In many respects, things were going worse for Labour. Their high tax, high spend, high borrow manifesto - with statist plans for nationalizing infrastructure and industries - was full of numbers that didn't add up. Nor did they set out a coherent strategy for implementing Brexit. This led to a series of humiliating car crash interviews that left almost no senior Labour figure unscathed."

Conventional wisdom - now proved wrong - also held that the Manchester and London terrorist attacks that occurred in the final lead-up to the election might further solidify the Conservative vote, both in light of a tendency by voters to stick with the status quo after such disasters and Corbyn's own associations with and appeasement of terrorists.

Yet what the pundits didn't consider, according to Wilson, was the youth vote:

"Polling suggests that around 63 percent of 18-34-year-olds back Labour. But, in the past, this was immaterial because so few of them bothered to go vote. In 2015 it was believed turnout among the under 25's was just 43 percent. This time it was closer to 70 percent. And we also know that turnout was particularly high around British universities, where the results show Labour enjoying a particularly strong endorsement.
"There was a push on social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube to get young people out voting. Reports from observers tell of a rare frenzy of enthusiasm among youth voters gathering around Corbyn, bringing many out campaigning and voting for the first time."

It is deeply concerning, given all the information that is in the public domain about Corbyn, that millions, including especially many young people, still voted for him. He is on record calling the genocidal terrorist organisations Hamas and Hezbollah "friends". He has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the very serious culture of antisemitism within the Labour party, including failing to appropriately deal with the vile "Hitler was a Zionist" rantings of his longtime ally, Ken Livingstone. And just prior to the election, he was condemned by his own party for attending a ceremony honouring one of the terrorists involved in the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

His association with individuals and groups who have espoused and promoted antisemitism and Holocaust denial should have disqualified him, in the eyes of the British public, as unfit to lead one of the world's most important democracies. Yet 12.8 million voters were not fazed.

But, according to Wilson, the youth at least "don't care" about Corbyn's dark record.

"Some scoff incredulously when Corbyn's Hamas and Hezbollah connections are raised. Others seem to vaguely concur with Corbyn's worldview, which holds that foreign wars and close relations with America cause terrorism at home.
"This is a group of voters who lack the historical memory of either IRA bombings or the economic crises of socialist Britain in the 1970s. As journalists and interviewers have found, these voters deal more in feelings than policies. They talk vaguely of Corbyn being a man of principle and of wanting to live in a fairer, more just, more tolerant society."

Tolerant - except towards Jews? Stephen Pollard, editor of the UK Jewish Chronicle, wrote in The Daily Telegraph (UK) of his genuine fears in the aftermath of the result:

"However bad the Tory campaign might have been, and however inept Mrs May might have been as a candidate, it never crossed my mind that in a straight choice between her and Mr Corbyn, with the baggage of his deplorable alliances and views, 12.8 million voters would decide that, yes, they really rather liked the idea of him in No 10.
"It is a depressing thought. We now know that siding with terrorists, presiding over anti-Semitic hate speech, taking money from the Iranian government and denying the war crimes of Slobodan Milosevic - to throw in two other of Mr Corbyn's delightful alliances - are not considered a problem by 40 per cent of voters.
"One has to wonder where the red line now lies that voters will not allow to be crossed. Indeed, one has to wonder if there is a red line that voters will not allow to be crossed. That is the truly frightening thought."

The assessment of now Jerusalem-based Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler is even more sobering. Writing in the Jerusalem Post that a Corbyn prime ministership would have been even worse than a Marine Le Pen French presidency, he added:

"The time has come to speak plainly and face reality.
"Jews in the UK are considered pariahs by a substantial proportion of the nation. The anti-Israeli rhetoric has reached unprecedented levels both in street demonstrations and at the universities where many Jewish students seek to disguise their Jewish identity and in some cases, even display hostility to Israel in order to curry favour."

While attitudes towards Jews on the British street are extremely worrying, American Interest Online editor-at-large Walter Russell Mead idenitified at least one silver lining to come from the election, that being the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland's strong support for Israel:

"One of the few reservoirs of strong pro-Israel feeling in the UK lies in Northern Ireland, the homeland of the Scots-Irish, who are the core of Jacksonian politics in the United States. The DUP is the most "Jacksonian" (that is to say rightwing, nationalist-populist) political force in the UK, and many of Ulster's Protestants are as sympathetic to Israel as their U.S. cousins.
"[The] election turned those Ulster Protestants into kingmakers; the 10 seats of the DUP hold the balance in the British parliament, and Theresa May had no choice but to look to DUP as her best coalition partner and strongest ally. It's unlikely that a British government that depends on Northern Ireland unionists will be eager to break new ground in the world of anti-Israel boycotts."

So it seems that on a government policy level, for the short-term at least, Britain's Jews can rest easy. However, with an election result that severely dented Theresa May's authority, coupled with a shaky coalition keeping her in power and an emboldened and strengthened Corbyn waiting in the wings, the future is most uncertain.

Plus there's also that small matter of having to live in a society where being outwardly Jewish is no longer automatically accepted - or indeed safe - and where 40% of voters don't consider combating antisemitism or condemning terrorists to be important.

Gareth Narunsky

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