Analysis42% of British Jews weigh leaving the UK over anti-Semitism

UK’s Corbyn is the ‘politician of choice for anti-Semites,’ new report claims

With a week to go before general election, as Labour trails Johnson in polls but starts to close the gap, two surveys show Brits’ attitudes to Jews vis-à-vis their politics

Robert Philpot

Robert Philpot is a writer and journalist. He is the former editor of Progress magazine and author of “Margaret Thatcher: The Honorary Jew.”

UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sits on stage as supporters wave Palestinian flags during the party's annual conference in Liverpool, England, on September 25, 2018. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)
UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sits on stage as supporters wave Palestinian flags during the party's annual conference in Liverpool, England, on September 25, 2018. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

LONDON — Jeremy Corbyn is the most popular political leader among Britons who hold anti-Semitic views, a report released this week indicated.

Sixty-seven percent of British adults who say they strongly support the hard-left opposition leader hold at least one anti-Semitic view and 33% hold four or more anti-Semitic views, according to the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) report.

“Jeremy Corbyn is now the politician of choice for anti-Semites,” Gideon Falter, Chief Executive of CAA, said in a press statement.

The CAA study was published as polls appeared to suggest Corbyn’s Labour Party is starting to close the gap on Prime Minister Boris Johnson as Britain’s general election campaign enters its final week.

Corbyn apologized for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party on Tuesday, having repeatedly refused to do so in a BBC interview last week.

New polling released Thursday by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Center (BICOM), meanwhile, shows that only 14% of Britons support boycotts of Israel. The Jewish state is also rated the UK’s most important Middle Eastern ally in the fight against terrorism.

BICOM’s poll finds that 45% of British adults believe that it is anti-Semitic to hate Israel and question its right to exist. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed said they didn’t know, and 18% disagreed.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the Conservative Party’s General Election campaign launch, at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, central England, on November 6, 2019 (Adrian Dennis/AFP)

Taking Britain’s anti-Semitism temperature

The CAA’s annual “barometer” of anti-Semitism report is based on polling by YouGov in 2018 and 2019 which was designed and analyzed by Dr. Daniel Allington of King’s College London.

A representative sample of British adults were shown seven statements about Jews and six about Israel and asked whether they agreed or disagreed with them. The statements about Jews included, “British Jews chase money more than other British people” and “Jewish people talk about the Holocaust to further their political agenda.” Statements testing attitudes about the Jewish State included, “Israel can get away with anything because its supporters control the media.”

The report concluded that anti-Semitic views are now “more prevalent” on the far-left in Britain than anywhere else on the political spectrum.

Among those who consider themselves to be “very left-wing,” 42% believe that Israel’s supporters in the UK are damaging British democracy. Sixty percent agreed that Israel “treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews” and three in 10 disagreed that the Jewish state is “right to defend itself against those who want to destroy it.”

Sixty percent of far-left Brits agreed that Israel ‘treats the Palestinians like the Nazis treated the Jews’

The report warned, however, that “anti-Semitism endures on the British political right.” It also noted that those polled who identified themselves as “slightly left-of-center” or “fairly left-wing” held “substantially fewer anti-Semitic attitudes than those who identified themselves as ‘very left-wing.’”

Of its finding that Corbyn drew support from those with anti-Semitic views, the CAA report added: “This is certainly not to suggest that everyone who likes or supports Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite, but we find it deeply concerning that those who like him the most seem so much more likely than other people to hold multiple anti-Semitic views.”

The CAA carried out a separate survey of British Jews’ attitudes towards anti-Semitism in the UK. It found that 84% of Jews believe that Corbyn is a threat specifically to the Jewish community and more than four in five believe Labour to be “harboring” anti-Semites within its ranks.

Forty-two percent of British Jews say that they have considered leaving the UK over anti-Semitism in the past two years, and, of these, almost a quarter have made concrete plans to do so. Of those who said they were considering emigrating, 85% suggested the reason was because of anti-Semitism in politics. Almost two-thirds expressly named the Labour Party or Corbyn as their reason.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn gestures during a general election campaign visit at Whitby Leisure Centre in Whitby, northern England, on December 1, 2019. (Paul Ellis/AFP)

“People will find it utterly chilling that in 2019, large swathes of the Jewish community are considering the drastic step of leaving the country they love because they fear racism in our politics,” said Falter.

The survey also showed that nearly 90% of Jews believe threats from the far-right, Islamists and far-left are “very serious” or “moderately serious.”

Other polls suggest that just 6% of Jews intend to vote Labour on December 12.

What BICOM discovered

Among the wider public, concerns about anti-Semitism are reportedly raised unprompted in focus groups. A YouGov poll released last week showed that 30% of UK voters think Corbyn is anti-Semitic, and 32% believe that he isn’t. The same proportion, 30%, also think that Johnson is racist but 42% do not. The Conservative leader has been dogged by allegations of Islamophobia.

Much of the fear of Corbyn is spurred by revelations about his past record that have emerged since he became Labour leader in 2015. These include describing Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”; defending an anti-Semitic mural in East London; and a seeming willingness to associate with alleged anti-Semites, terrorists and Holocaust-deniers.

UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (second right) attends a 2012 conference in Doha along with several Palestinian terrorists convicted of murdering Israelis. (Screen capture: Twitter)

Those fears have been compounded by the anti-Semitism crisis that has rocked Labour under his leadership, which has led to the party being formally investigated by the UK’s anti-racism watchdog. And they have deepened as Labour has faced fresh criticism about alleged anti-Semitism on the part of some of those selected to fight seats in the election.

Publishing BICOM’s polling, the think tank’s chief executive, James Sorene, said: “Support for boycotts of Israel is unchanged [on last year’s survey] and low at 14% and almost 50% of the UK public oppose boycotts of Israel and believe that hating Israel and saying it should cease to exist is anti-Semitic.”

Forty-six percent of those surveyed said they agreed when presented with the statement “I don’t boycott goods or products from Israel and find it hard to understand why others would.” Forty-percent didn’t know and 14% disagreed.

“The importance of close defense and intelligence ties between Britain and Israel is acknowledged in the survey with 44% of people saying Israel is an important partner for Britain in the fight against terrorism,” Sorene added.

Forty-three percent said they believed Saudi Arabia to be “an important ally” of Britain in combatting terrorism, 35% answered Turkey and 33% picked Egypt.

Among Middle Eastern states, Israel is considered to be Britain’s third most important trading partner, with 48% answering Saudi Arabia, 37% selecting Qatar and 36% choosing Israel. Turkey was selected by 31%.

The importance the polled Brits gave to Israel as a trading partner is important when put into context with a motion passed overwhelmingly at September’s Labour Party conference that opened the door to a boycott of Israeli settlement goods — thus abandoning the party’s long-standing opposition to BDS. It vowed to reject trade agreements with the Jewish state which “fail to recognize the rights of the Palestinians.”

Labour’s manifesto adopted a slightly softer stance, confining itself to pledging to ban some arms sales to Israel and to immediately recognize a Palestinian state. (Conference resolutions aren’t automatically adopted for the platform the party stands on in a general election.)

Anti-Semitism becomes important election issue

The CAA report was released at the end of a turbulent week for Corbyn dominated by dire headlines about anti-Semitism in the party following an unprecedented statement by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis arguing that Jews were “gripped by anxiety” about the outcome of the election. The Labour leader then refused four times to apologize to the Jewish community during a setpiece interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil. Labour says it had already apologized for anti-Semitism in its ranks. (Corbyn finally apologized on Tuesday.)

Earlier, on Saturday, the party faced further controversy when it released
a campaign video promoting minority rights which failed to mention Jews.

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (Wikimedia Commons)

While the Conservative party maintains a healthy lead of up to 15% in some polls, most surveys show the gap between it and Labour is closing. In recent days, some polls have seen Labour cutting the Tory advantage to as little as six or seven points. In London, a crucial battleground, Labour’s vote is up 8% since November and the party leads the Tories by 17 points. Its lead is, however, down from the 22% advantage it enjoyed at the 2017 general election.

Corbyn’s gains are mainly coming at the expense of the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, whose support has fallen by four points since the campaign began. The polls suggest that Labour is solidifying its support among voters opposed to Brexit. There are also some signs that it may be making up ground among those who voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum.

Johnson’s hopes of victory rest on the Tories snatching a string of pro-Brexit marginal seats in the Midlands and the traditionally Labour-voting north of England and Wales.

Labour’s hopes have also been boosted by a surge in young people registering to vote since the campaign commenced. Young people traditionally vote heavily for the party.

Labour’s rise – and criticism of Johnson for running a cautious campaign and seeking to avoid media scrutiny – have evoked comparisons
with the 2017 general election when former prime minister Theresa May blew an initial 25-point poll lead and ended up losing the Tories’ parliamentary majority.

Conservative nerves have been exacerbated by an electoral map which means, analysts believe, that, for the party to secure a majority, it needs to be at least six points ahead of Labour.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on October 19, 2019 (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

If the Conservatives emerge as the largest party but lack a majority, Johnson’s days in Downing Street may be numbered. While Corbyn can look to the left-leaning Scottish and Welsh nationalists and Greens to bolster his support in the House of Commons, the Prime Minister has few, if any, potential allies. Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party, which backed May’s government, is fiercely opposed to the Brexit deal Johnson has negotiated with the EU.

Johnson may yet though avoid the fate that befell his predecessor two years ago. Although Labour has gained ground since the campaign began, the so-called “Corbyn surge” of 2017 is less apparent today. The Labour leader’s ratings have risen by 6% since parliament was dissolved, but Johnson still leads him by 15 points when voters are asked who would make the best Prime Minister. In 2017, Corbyn was level-pegging with May by election day.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed