'Jewish history has made us... prone to imagining the worst'

Corbyn as PM prompts fear ‘not known before,’ says top UK Jewish journalist

In Guardian column, Jonathan Freedland says realization that racism is tolerated for ‘larger cause’ to stop Brexit means that ‘what we thought about this country wasn’t quite true’

UK opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his residence in north London on October 28, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)
UK opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his residence in north London on October 28, 2019. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

In a poignant column published in The Guardian on Saturday, leading UK Jewish journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote that the thought of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister and his inner circle running the country prompts a fear among the majority of the British-Jewish community “that we have not known before.”

Freedland wrote that although many would want to “eject a cruel and useless government and stop Brexit” by denying incumbent Conservative PM Boris Johnson a majority in the upcoming December 12 elections, “the prospect of Prime Minister Corbyn fills me with dread.”

Citing Corbyn’s long record of comments against Israel and failure to stamp out anti-Semitism within his party, Freedland said that for the first time in the history of the British Jewish community, a majority of them have “concluded that someone hostile to them is on the brink of taking democratic power.”

Pointing to a March poll showing that 87 percent of British Jews believe Corbyn to be anti-Semitic,”meaning an anti-Jewish racist,” he noted, Freedland goes on to list the Labour leader’s “greatest hits” of incidents including his praise of a Palestinian Islamist preacher who was found by a British tribunal “to have peddled the medieval and lethal myth of Jews feasting on the blood of gentile children,” as well as an invitation for tea in the House of Commons; Corbyn’s reaction in 2018 to hearing “a plan to remove a mural filled with hideous caricatures of hook-nosed Jewish bankers” and asking why; and his repeated defense of comments made in 2013 that “Zionists” do not grasp “English irony” despite often having lived in Britain for years.

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP Photo/Tolga Akmen)

For four years since Corbyn was elected Labour leader, Freedland said, “Britain’s Jews have – naively, perhaps – waited for the moment when one of these revelations would prove too much for the Labour faithful, shocking them into action.”

Freedland pointed out that “Labour has become only the second political party ever to be investigated for institutional racism by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission [the other was the BNP],” but no revelation “has ever proved shocking enough that it couldn’t be explained away by those who’d rather not see it.”

Instead, Jews, who are overwhelmingly pro-remain, have been advised “to shelve their angst in return for a government that will stop Brexit.”

“In effect, Jews and their would-be allies are being told that some racism is, if not quite acceptable, then a price worth paying,” he wrote.

Jewish author Jonathan Freedland. (Philippa Gedge)

Chiding the headline on the front page of the Sunday Telegraph last week that read “Jews will leave if Corbyn wins,” Freedland said “this isn’t the 1930s,” a likely reference to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany.

Most Jews would not leave the country, he claimed, “but that the question is even in the air, that someone who sees Jews as not quite ‘us’ – ‘they don’t understand English irony’ – is deemed eligible to be prime minister, makes our presence here feel conditional and shaky.”

Freedland also said that the UK’s “historic party of social justice” has found “a little bit of racism acceptable for the sake of the larger cause,” adding that this realization has also meant “what we thought about this country wasn’t quite true.”

To critics who would claim his sentiments “overwrought,” he said, “I’m afraid that Jewish history has made us that way, prone to imagining the worst.”

Ending on a grim note, Freedland wrote: “We look at our usually sparse family trees and we can pick out the pessimists, those who panicked and got out. It was they who left their mark on us. You see, the optimists, those who assumed things would work out for the best, they never made it out in time.”

Freedland’s column came days after the British Jewish Chronicle implored UK citizens in a front-page editorial not to vote for Corbyn.

“To all our fellow British citizens. This front page is addressed not to our usual readers — but to those who would not normally read the Jewish Chronicle. In other words, to non-Jews,” the editorial read.

“There is racism on all sides of politics and it must be called out wherever it is found. History has forced our community to be able to spot extremism as it emerges — and Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in 2015 is one such example,” it said, citing Corbyn’s past affiliation with members of Hamas and Hezbollah, his presence at a ceremony that honored the Palestinian terrorists behind the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, and his reactions to anti-Semitic statements by members of his party.

The upcoming election campaign will likely focus on Brexit, education, and other “vital” issues, the Jewish Chronicle said.

“But how can the racist views of a party leader — and the deep fear he inspires among an ethnic minority — not be among the most fundamental of issues? That is why we are seeking your attention. If this man is chosen as our next prime minister, the message will be stark: that our dismay that he could ever be elevated to a prominent role in British politics, and our fears of where that will lead, are irrelevant.

“We will have to conclude that those fears and dismay count for nothing. But we think you do care. We believe that the overwhelming majority of British people abhor racism. We ask only that, when you cast your vote, you act on that.”

British Labour Party politician, David Lammy, second right, joins members of the Jewish community holding a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in London, March 26, 2018. (Tolga AKMEN/AFP)

On Thursday, a former Labour Party lawmaker in Britain urged the public to vote for Johnson in the upcoming general election, saying that Corbyn is “unfit” to lead the country.

Ian Austin, one of former prime minister Gordon Brown’s closest allies, told the BBC that the party has been poisoned by “anti-Jewish racism under his leadership.” Austin left the party in February over its handling of an anti-Semitism scandal.

He said, “I just think this man is unfit to run the country.”

Corbyn said Sunday that British Jews have nothing to fear if his party wins the upcoming election in December, amid reports that many members of the Jewish community would consider leaving the country if he comes to power.

“Anti-Semitism and racism is an evil within our society. I’ve done everything to confront it throughout my life, and will always do so,” Corbyn told the Guardian newspaper.

“We want this country to be safe for all people. An attack on a synagogue, an attack on a mosque, an attack on a church — an attack on a person walking down the street because they’re perceived to be different from the rest of us — we simply can’t tolerate it.”

According to a poll published last week, just 7% of British Jews said they would even consider supporting Corbyn’s party.

Last September it was reported that nearly 40% of British Jews would “seriously consider emigrating” if Corbyn became prime minister.

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