Never mind the forest of Iranian missiles pointed at Israel from Syrian bases or the spasm of violent Gazan eruptions, French Jews clearly have more confidence in the ability of the Israel Defence Forces to keep them safe than in the milquetoast rhetoric of Europe’s political elite.
More Jews are moving to Israel from France than from any other Western country: 3,000 last year; 8,000 the year before. And the trend continues. The exodus is not unexpected, given that France is home to a largely hostile population of 5.5 million Muslims and that 11 French Jews have been murdered in antisemitic attacks since 2006.
Now the eyes of British Jews are also turning to the sliver of land in the eastern Mediterranean. Not that they have experienced the level of violence comparable to those across the Channel, but there is an unmistakable change in the air. Over the past two years, since the hard-left seized the reins of Britain’s Labour Party, the dogs of hate have slipped the leash and antisemitism has become acceptable again; de rigueur, even.
Zionism is perceived as the new Nazism, while Israel is a colonial-apartheid state and Jews are viewed as the enablers of oppression, the epitome of exclusivism, the source of inequality and the agents of societal division. They manipulate the markets, manoeuvre the media and bend the political classes to their will in order to maximise their profits. They are a malign influence and the greater their philanthropy, argue their critics, the greater their guilt.
It took a former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair, to underscore the danger facing British Jews: “The scourge we fought to eradicate in the 20th century has been allowed to make a comeback,” he wrote in the Jewish Chronicle last month. “We must once again stamp it out, by progressive political forces ensuring that anti-Semitism is not allowed to take root in any space in our national life.”
Blair, who has visited the Jewish state “close to 200 times” since he left office in 2007, described himself as “a friend and supporter of Israel”. He added: “I find it distressing that 70 years on, there are those who question not the policies and actions of Israel’s governments, but whether there should be an Israel at all. Too often, we have seen how anti-Zionism trends easily into anti-Semitism.”
There is little doubt that Blair was referring to his current successor as Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
So acrid has the atmosphere become that the Israeli Labour Party leader, Avi Gabbay, recently announced he was severing his ties with Corbyn because of his “hostility to the Jewish community”. In a letter to Corbyn, who rejected an invitation by his Israeli counterpart to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Centre in Jerusalem, Gabbay noted Corbyn’s “very public hatred” of the Israeli Government and said he had a “responsibility to acknowledge the hostility that you have shown to the Jewish community and the antisemitic statements and actions you have allowed”.
In London, the heads of both the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council expressed disappointment after Corbyn reluctantly agreed to meet them, noting that he had confined himself to matters of process rather than action during the meeting. One of the main items on their agenda was when Corbyn would expel, rather than merely suspend, the hundreds of party members who have expressed antisemitic sentiments. Top of the list is the former Labour parliamentarian and mayor of London Ken Livingstone.
Livingstone, regarded as a political doppelganger of Corbyn, achieved notoriety two years ago when he declared in media interviews that Hitler was sympathetic to the Zionist movement and that Zionists had co-operated with the Nazis in the 1930s. Last month, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, who had conducted an inquiry into antisemitism within the Labour Party at Corbyn’s request, said Livingstone had shamed the party and must be expelled.
Lady Chakrabarti told the BBC she did not believe Livingstone, suspended since 2016, could remain in the party. “We can’t run away from the fact that he has repeated really incendiary remarks. To compare somebody who was trying to escape Nazis with Nazis themselves, and to do so again and again, even when you know that this has caused the deepest hurt and upset and embarrassment to the party, is completely unacceptable.”
“I find it very difficult now to see how any rational decision-maker could allow Livingstone to stay in our party,” she added. “He has brought it repeatedly into disrepute.”
That view was shared by Marie van der Zyl, incoming president of the Board of Deputies. British Jews, said the 52-year-old employment lawyer, were at a “critical point”, adding: “Antisemitism is on the rise, including, shamefully, in the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn”, who is “infested by his bigotry”.
Meanwhile, the trend continues. Labour’s front-runner for a parliamentary by-election abruptly withdrew her candidacy last month, citing an “unexpected family situation”. It actually followed remarks in which she compared the Israel-Palestine conflict to the Holocaust.
Little wonder that British Jews are checking their proverbial suitcases.