Australia/Israel Review

Europa Europa: Unsafe space

Aug 5, 2019 | Douglas Davis

Lord Jonathan Sacks: Deeply worried for the future of Jews in Britain
Lord Jonathan Sacks: Deeply worried for the future of Jews in Britain


In the febrile political atmosphere that envelops Brexit-infected Britain, former PM Theresa May has stepped aside and a new head of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, has been anointed as British prime minister.

With an uncertain majority of just three in the 650-seat House of Commons, it is thought likely that the new prime minister could call a snap general election to bolster his position.

The gamble might not pay off. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the main enabler of antisemitism who counts senior officials of Hamas and Hezbollah among his best buddies, might be able to slip between the gap and, within a matter of months, be handed the keys to Downing Street. It is a prospect that has set many British Jews on edge.

According to a poll conducted for the London-based Jewish Chronicle, nearly 40% of British Jews would consider emigrating if Corbyn became prime minister. Among those aged between 35 and 54, the number who would seriously consider emigrating jumps to more than half. That would mean 115,000 out of Britain’s 290,000 strong Jewish community are contemplating a new life abroad.

Half of the respondents agreed that Labour has a problem with antisemitism, up from 43% in a similar poll in February. The number of people who deny Labour has such a problem fell from 23% in February to 18% in May.

With alarms at fever pitch about the levels of antisemitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party, the former chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks took to the television last month to remind viewers that Jews, who were expelled from England in 1290, have been back since 1656. And, he said: “I know of no other occasion when Jews – the majority of our community – are asking ‘Is this country safe to bring up our children?’ Now, this is very, very worrying.”

Meanwhile, the Chairman of Britain’s Jewish Leadership Council, Jonathan Goldstein, noted that “antisemitism is the world’s most reliable early-warning sign of a major threat to freedom. If members of our community would even consider leaving Britain because they feel threatened by the prospect of our potential next prime minister, this should worry everyone”.

In May, a group of activists submitted a file to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), a public body established by the Equality Act. The file contained 15,000 screenshots showing examples of alleged antisemitism in Labour.

Later that month, it became known that about 100,000 emails and WhatsApp messages from within Labour, collected by former party officials, would be submitted to the EHRC.

That body, which has already undertaken the first step of a statutory inquiry into Labour’s handling of antisemitic complaints, has decided to open a full inquiry into Labour. This kind of investigation of a party has only happened once before: in 2010, the EHRC found the small neo-Nazi British National Party guilty of racism. The EHRC report on Labour may take up to two years to complete.

In one of her final parliamentary appearances before leaving office, Theresa May said that Corbyn had “dodged his responsibilities” by failing to deal with antisemitism in his own party.

May said he had refused to open his eyes to antisemitism even after 60 Labour peers took out a full-page advertisement in the Guardian newspaper to lambaste him for the “toxic culture you have allowed to divide our movement.”

“Before he stands up and parades himself as the champion of climate change, or the champion of the people, or the defender of equality and fairness, he needs to apologise for his failure to deal with racism in the Labour Party,” said May.

Reading excerpts from the advert, she added: “60 distinguished members of the Labour Party have written in the newspapers [that] the Labour Party welcomes everyone – except, it seems, Jews.”

Then, addressing Corbyn directly, she declared: “This is your legacy… You have failed the test of leadership.”

Corbyn responded by repeating the mantra that Labour “totally opposes” racism in all its forms and accused May of harbouring Islamophobia within Conservative ranks.

But the scourge of antisemitism is not confined to Britain. A survey conducted in 12 European countries with substantial Jewish communities last month showed that two out of five young European Jews – aged 16 to 34 – are considering emigration amid concern for their safety.

The survey, conducted for the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, also found that 44% of respondents had experienced antisemitic harassment over the past 12 months, while one-third said they avoided wearing any item that would publicly identify them as Jewish.

Vera Jourova, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, said she was saddened that young Jews “fear for their security in Europe, do not dare to wear a kippah and that some are even consider[ing] emigrating… We need to act fast to combat antisemitism in Europe and keep our youth safe.”

Nice idea, but the words offer little solace: fully 70% of young European Jews do not believe that efforts to combat antisemitism by European states are effective. 


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