Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has been roughed up enough lately and I am loath to add to the calumnies but something he keeps saying bothers me. ‘The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.’ Sacks has dropped this aphorism into speeches and articles for the past few years and no wonder: it’s a pithier version of the Niemöller verse, a shorthand for the metastatic nature of prejudice.
First of all, I’m not convinced it’s true. They always come for the Jews but they don’t always come for the Communists or the Catholics or the trade unionists, not least because the Communists and the Catholics and the trade unionists are sometimes busy coming for the Jews themselves. There is a more fundamental objection. ‘The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.’ To which I ask: So what if it did?
What if the fractious bigotries stirred by the Labour Party limited themselves to the Jewish people? Would they be any more tolerable? Why does the left recoil instinctively from hatred of blacks and Muslims and Asians but require a three-hour PowerPoint presentation and a course of diversity training when it comes to Jews? Why is empathy unlocked only by fear the tormentors of the Jews may one day turn on others?
The answer is that the left, specifically the brand of left which Corbyn appeals to, divides the world into three categories: Victims, victimisers and the virtuous. Ethnic and religious minorities have been targets of historical imperialism and contemporary intolerance and so they are victims. Western white men have been largely responsible and so they are victimisers. The left champions the former against the latter and so they are the virtuous.
Jews cannot readily be placed in this schema for in the left-wing imagination Jews are white (the concept of Mizrahi Jews is lost on the average Labour member); conspicuously successful; represent a frustrating tension between the universal and the particular; and, the greatest affront of all, are victims who became victimisers in Palestine. Now Jews are victimising the most virtuous man of all: a humble saviour whose mercies they cannot see.
The Corbyn-inclined left is not a movement for socialism but for the socialisation of the moral ego. These are people eager to redistribute their monopoly on compassion to the rest of us. Whatever its pathologies, you can’t help but admire an ethical superiority complex that survives the endorsement of Nick Griffin and David Duke. It is hardly surprising that those who regard themselves as a messianic Elect have made war on the Jews. Altogether more perturbing are those who have gone along with this obscene moment, who resent anti-Semitism as a distraction, who want all sides to unite against the Tories. They see in a moral crisis only a factional dispute.
Currents of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have been gaining in Labour for many years, long before Corbyn came along. Good people did not understand what was happening and did not act; good people now know what is happening and still do not act. A poll for the Jewish Chronicle finds almost 40 per cent of British Jews would ‘seriously consider’ fleeing the country if Labour wins the next election. In 2014, Danny Finkelstein wrote that most Jews had a suitcase ready, in the mind or in the attic, in case things got bad again. For four in ten British Jews, that suitcase is no longer in the mind and no longer in the attic; for some, it is down in the hall by the front door.
Not all will leave but some will. Since 2012, the year of the Ozar Hatorah school massacre in Toulouse, five per cent of French Jews have made aliyah to Israel. Since the Second Intifada in 2000, when France was home to one-third of the world’s anti-Semitic incidents, the figure is more than ten per cent. What you think unfathomable has already been fathomed.
Self-justifying tribalism is not limited to the Labour left; it is what keeps the erstwhile ‘moderates’ in the party. They believe Labour at its worst is still better than the Tories at their best. In their language of priorities the Jews cannot compete with NHS investment and repeal of the Bedroom Tax. They are convinced this is just a blip, that Labour’s next leader can deliver a moving apology, pop over for a few pictures at Yad Vashem and the Western Wall, and get back to talking about income inequality. They cannot comprehend the wickedness to which they are a party. Labour has committed the gravest sin of all for a democratic party: it has made Jews fear for their future. There can be no ‘battle for Labour’s soul’; Labour’s soul has been blackened forever.
Anti-Semitism is not an event but a process and the longer this spectacle of indecency continues, the further along that process we go. By propping up what Labour has become, by pretending it is still Labour, MPs are conferring legitimacy on anti-Semitism. They are making it a debate. This would be bad enough without some trying to pass off their tribalism and personal ambition as an act of solidarity with Jewish colleagues. Those who use Jewish MPs as human shields are hardly better than those who use them as targets.
Labour MPs refuse to do the right thing and so a dividing line must be drawn with them on the other side of it. Those who grasp the evil Labour has unloosed and still give the party their name, their sweat and their coin are not allies in the fight against anti-Semitism. Last year, they tried to make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister. If a general election was called tomorrow, they’d do it again. Firefighters cannot feed kindling to the flames.
Those bent on dousing those flames have felt compelled to defend Labour MPs against threats of deselection. They no longer should.