‘What is it with Jews and Corbyn?’ the guy asked. ‘Why are you so against him being in Number 10?’
I tend to avoid conversations about Jews and Corbyn with Labour voters these days. What more is there to say about the party’s anti-Semitism? If people still can’t see it, I generally take the view they are part of the problem. Over the last four years evidence of Labour’s institutional racism has been overwhelming.
But this guy – let’s call him Matt, an architect I met at a friend’s 40th birthday party in Hackney last week – really did appear to have been living under a rock since 2015. Somehow, he had not read the numerous articles about Labour’s anti-Semitism problem, had not seen the BBC Panorama programme on the subject, had not heard that Labour is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over its anti-Jewish racism.
Or Matt had read, seen, and heard, but still didn’t get it. Whatever the explanation, when he revealed he was planning to vote Labour next month, yet seemed also genuinely perplexed by Jewish fears of a Labour win, I decided to engage. I told Matt why the thought of Corbyn in front of that shiny black door makes me shudder.
Let’s run through Corbyn’s greatest hits during his time as The Leader of Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition. First up is the ‘the mural’, when Corbyn sided with those behind a Nazi-style mural in London’s East End which showed hook-nosed anti-Semitic caricatures playing Monopoly on the bowed backs of workers. I explained to Matt that the pernicious association between Jews and money is a deeply anti-Semitic trope that stretches back to medieval times.
‘But haven’t Jews excelled in the world of business?’ he asked, a tad nervously.
We have, I replied. But we punch above our weight in many areas of public life. However, it’s the association between Jews and money that sticks like mud, particularly on the hard left which likes to categorise people as either oppressors or the oppressed. In this crude worldview, Jews are put in the rich exploiters camp. This is why Corbyn couldn’t see anything wrong with that vile mural. It matched the image of Jews he carries in his head. As a writer for whom money is tight, I told Matt I found this scary and ironic in equal measure.
Ah, irony. We might have lived in Britain all our lives, but we Zionists have no sense of English irony. So said Corbyn in a widely reported row with a Jewish blogger. For many Jews, this comment, this doubting of our Britishness, the inference that we aren’t subtle, that we don’t see nuance, can’t read between the lines, was a turning point. Until then, some of us still gave Corbyn the benefit of the doubt. But in a flash, the man who could be our next prime minister showed he has no understanding of Jewish culture, of Jewish humour, of the Jewish contribution to the world of letters. No sense of irony? It has been reported that you are not a big reader, Mr Corbyn, but surely you’ve heard of Howard Jacobson?
‘But he did say Zionists,’ noted Matt. ‘Corbyn didn’t say Jews have no sense of English irony.’
Yes, but the thing is, in Corbyn’s world, Zionist and Zio have become replacement slurs for ‘Jew’ and ‘Yid’. It is one of the ways anti-Semitism has grown under his watch. It is terrifying how the word Zionism, a neutral term meaning the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, has been distorted in the service of a racist agenda. My fear is if Corbyn makes it to Number 10 these racists will have an even louder voice.
The thing is, Jews are an unusual ethnic minority. We are assimilated, educated, and have a place in society (not that this has saved us from fascism in the past). But we are also the only ethnic minority in Britain that has to employ guards to protect our schools, community centres and places of worship. If Corbyn makes it to Downing Street, I cannot see him having any understanding of this need. Look how the party leadership refused to tackle the extensive anti-Semitic abuse of its own MPs, such as Luciana Berger, Dame Louise Ellman and Ruth Smeeth.
The cold hard truth is that it has been open season on Jews since Corbyn became leader of the once-great Labour party. And now there is every chance that when I wake up on 13 December he will be my prime minister. I am not, as you put it, merely ‘against him being in Number 10’, Matt. I am truly frightened by the thought.