Jewish life won't change under a Corbyn government – and deep down my community knows that

In my years reporting for The Jewish ChronicleI have yet to interview anyone who has made serious plans to emigrate were Jeremy Corbyn to become prime minister

Ben Weich
Wednesday 11 December 2019 12:08 GMT
Jeremy Corbyn apologises for antisemitism within Labour on This Morning

A figure often cited to illustrate Jewish fears of a Labour government is that 47 per cent of us would “seriously consider” moving to Israel if Jeremy Corbyn became prime minister. That proportion may sound inconceivably high. But in my time reporting on Labour’s antisemitism crisis, I’ve had thousands of conversations with British Jews – and can assure you that it’s bang on.

It’s important to point out that the pain inflicted on the Jewish community by Labour in recent years has been all too real, and not, as some suggest, the product of Jewish paranoia. It isn’t necessary to recount here the long rap sheet of abuse directed at Jews in Labour’s name and on Corbyn’s watch. My newspaper, and others, have been sufficiently vigilant on this topic as to leave no one in any doubt. Indeed, the Jewish community is almost unanimous in its revulsion at Labour’s response to the crisis.

But of the Jews who say they may emigrate should Corbyn become PM, how many actually will? That’s a very different question. In fact, I am yet to interview anyone who has made serious plans to start a new life abroad, whether in the Jewish state or elsewhere.

The reason, I believe, is that while the many sections of the Jewish community are rightfully upset by the way Labour has dealt with antisemitism, most of us know that Jewish life in Britain won’t really change under a Corbyn government.

One widely-held fear is that, under Labour, state contributions towards security for synagogues and Jewish schools could be cut. Not only has this policy never been publicly floated by the party, but its "Race and Faith Manifesto" also commits to protecting funding for the Community Security Trust. Others fear a crackdown on kosher meat. Although Labour has backed the compulsory labelling of meat to indicate whether stunning was used in slaughter (which it is not in the case of kosher meat), Labour’s manifesto guarantees that “we will protect the practices which are crucial for many, such as the production of kosher and halal meat.”

Then there is the question of Israel. It’s no secret that Corbyn’s inner circle is sympathetic to boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of the state. Many Jews fear such a policy would drive a wedge between tens of thousands of Jewish Britons and their Israeli families, not to mention eliminating many kosher supermarkets staples. Yet the Labour manifesto stops significantly short of full BDS, pledging only to cease the sale of arms used by the Israeli army “used in violation of the human rights of Palestinian civilians”.

Jews’ anger over how Labour has handled allegations of antisemitism in its ranks cannot be overstated. But our fear of what a Labour government might do to Jewish life in Britain certainly can. Many Jews believe that, if the country was to hand Corbyn an electorate mandate despite their protestations, it would represent an “existential threat” to the community.

I do not believe Corbyn will be good for Jews, but nor do I think he would be as bad for us as has been suggested. This is hardly anything to shout about from a Labour point of view – but it is also far less to worry about from ours. In fact, we have much more to fear from the Conservatives’ normalisation of hard-right nationalism, part of a global shift that imperils Jewish communities from Budapest to Pittsburgh.

The sad fact is there are relatively very few countries in the world where Jewish religious and cultural practices are so respected and protected as they are in Britain; where we can pray and educate our children without fear of violent attacks. Even under a Corbyn premiership – or should I say, despite it – Britain will continue to be one of the world’s safe havens for Jews. Deep down, the community knows it.

Ben Weich is a senior reporter for The Jewish Chronicle

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