Gerald Kaufman: Tories show faith in Jewish leaders despite tradition of prejudice

Friday 23 January 2004 01:00

It is idle to pretend that racism and anti-Semitism do not exist in Britain. The reactions to Robert Kilroy-Silk's recent article about Arabs included not only condemnation of his views but also strong support for them - sometimes from people who are pro-Jewish.

Some British Jews who support Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, seek to discount criticisms of his government by ascribing them to anti-Semitism (or, in my case, Jewish self-hatred). Swastikas daubed in Jewish cemeteries show an ugly sub-stratum of hatred of Jews.

I get letters from campaigners for hunting who tell me that I do not have a right to seek to outlaw this traditionally English pursuit because, as a Jew, I am not really English. I get anti-Semitic hate mail, generally illiterate and likely to be scrawled in a red marker; I have, only recently, felt it necessary to refer some virulent specimens to the House of Commons police.

But, considering I have a fairly high public profile, I do not get much. In fact, I get much more hate mail from Jews, some of it wishing me dead. Anti-Semites have never threatened me with violence. Jews have - even when I was at worship in the synagogue.

What I find remarkable about the Jewish Chronicle survey is not that 20 per cent do not believe that Jews make a positive contribution to life in this country but that nearly twice as many favour the Jewish contribution and - even more encouragingly - nearly half the electorate do not care. But those who believe Jews have too much influence are outnumbered nearly three to one; more than three to one find the idea of a Jewish prime minister acceptable.

As for 15 per cent Holocaust deniers, nearly 60 years after that monstrous event, with most people alive now not having been born at the time, this cannot be regarded as seriously disquieting. What I do find remarkable is that the Tory party, traditionally the most anti-Semitic of the main parties (despite having had Benjamin Disraeli, a Jew who was baptised and raised Anglican, as Prime Minister in the 19th century), have chosen a Jew as their leader, without a contest, and have a Jewish shadow Chancellor. This is the same Tory party whose Foreign Secretary, Alec Douglas-Home, 30 years ago during the Yom Kippur war accused me across the Commons floor of being more loyal to Israel than to Britain; the same Tory party, one of whose backbenchers, at about the same time, told me to get back to Tel Aviv.

I was elected to the Shadow Cabinet 12 years in succession, four times at the top of the poll, though everyone who voted, most of whom were not Jewish, was aware that I am a Jew. My constituents, scarcely any of whom are Jews and thousands of whom are Muslims, have elected me to Parliament nine times.

When a general election comes, maybe next year, if the Tories are wanted by the electorate they will win with a Jewish leader, just as they won with a bachelor leader, Edward Heath, and a woman leader, Margaret Thatcher, in the days when many regarded bachelors as anomalous and women as only fit for the kitchen.

If, as I expect, the Tories are not wanted by voters, they will lose, but not because they have been blind to religion.

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