Elections should be a celebration of democracy. However, just a few weeks before we go to the polls, the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety.
During the past few years, on my travels through the length and breadth of the UK and further afield, one concern has been expressed to me more than any other. Of course, the threats of the far right and violent jihadism never go away, but the question I am now most frequently asked is: What will become of Jews and Judaism in Britain if the Labour Party forms the next government?
This anxiety is understandable and justified.
Raising concerns about anti-Jewish racism in the context of a general election ranks amongst the most painful moments I have experienced since taking office. Convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics – and rightly so. However, challenging racism in all its forms is not a matter of politics, it goes well beyond that. Wherever there is evidence of it, including in any of our political parties, it must be swiftly rooted out. Hateful prejudice is always wrong, whoever the perpetrator, whoever the victim.
The Jewish community has endured the deep discomfort of being at the centre of national political attention for nearly four years. We have been treated by many as an irritant, as opposed to a minority community with genuine concerns. Some politicians have shown courage but too many have sat silent. We have learned the hard way that speaking out means that we will be demonised by faceless social media trolls and accused of being partisan or acting in bad faith by those who still think of this as an orchestrated political smear.
Yet, I ask myself: should the victims of racism be silenced by the fear of yet further vilification?
Therefore, with the heaviest of hearts, I call upon the citizens of our great country to study what has been unfolding before our very eyes.
We sit powerless, watching with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, party members and even staff out of the party for facing down anti-Jewish racism. Even as they received unspeakable threats against themselves and their families, the response of the Labour Leadership was utterly inadequate.
We have endured quibbling and prevarication over whether the party should adopt the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism in the world. When the breakthrough came it was not without amendments, suggesting Labour knows more about antisemitism than Jewish people do.
Now, astonishingly, we await the outcome of a formal investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into whether discrimination by the party against Jews has become an institutional problem. And all of this whilst in opposition. What should we expect of them in government?
The way in which the leadership of the Labour Party has dealt with anti-Jewish racism is incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud – of dignity and respect for all people. It has left many decent Labour members and parliamentarians, both Jewish and non-Jewish, ashamed of what has transpired.
The claims by leadership figures in the Labour Party that it is “doing everything” it reasonably can to tackle the scourge of anti-Jewish racism and that it has “investigated every single case”, are a mendacious fiction. According to the Jewish Labour Movement, there are at least 130 outstanding cases currently before the party – some dating back years and thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved.
The party leadership have never understood that their failure is not just one of procedure, which can be remedied with additional staff or new processes. It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison – sanctioned from the very top – has taken root in the Labour Party.
Many members of the Jewish community can hardly believe that this is the same party that they proudly called their political home for more than a century. It can no longer claim to be the party of diversity, equality and anti-racism. This is the Labour Party in name only.
How far is too far? How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition have to be in order to be considered unfit for high office?
Would associations with those who have openly incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would support for a racist mural, depicting powerful hook-nosed Jews supposedly getting rich at the expense of the weak and downtrodden be enough? Would describing as “friends” those who endorse and even perpetrate the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not. What we do know from history is that what starts with the Jews, never ends with the Jews.
It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote. I regret being in this situation at all. I simply pose the following question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country?
When December 12th arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience.
Be in no doubt – the very soul of our nation is at stake.
This article first appeared in The Times.