There are many reasons why I am suspicious of the Conservatives’ current lead in the polls. The Tories may have peaked too soon. Labour voters flirting with the Liberal Democrats could return the more they see of Jo Swinson. Many Conservative target seats, while Brexity, have voted Labour since there was a Labour Party to vote for. Landlines still dominate over mobile phones in the sampling methodologies of some pollsters, under-reflecting younger and poorer voters. Labour supporters and Remainers are more likely to turn out than Tories and Brexiteers and a million more voters have joined the roll than did prior to the last election, which just reeks of young people.
But my scepticism that Labour is about to be routed rests ultimately on a realist’s reading of history: how often, when presented the choice, do people stand up for the Jews instead of looking the other way? One man better placed than most to answer that question is Sir Richard Evans, professor emeritus of history at Cambridge. Sir Richard is the greatest living scholar of modern German history but many know him as the famed Nazi-slayer of Irving v Penguin Books and Lipstadt. When Holocaust-denying pseudo-historian David Irving sued academic Deborah Lipstadt for calling him such, it was Sir Richard who eviscerated the anti-Semite’s reputation as a scholar and helped secure victory for Lipstadt, the truth, and the dead.
Now he declares:
‘I’m voting Labour. Great manifesto, pity about the leader, shame about Labour’s support for Brexit, though at least they promise another referendum. The failure to deal with antisemitism in the party makes me very angry. But in my constituency only Labour can beat the Tory.’
Those seeking an answer to the undying question, ‘How did good people come to let it happen?’, might turn to Sir Richard’s definitive The Coming of the Third Reich but the man himself has provided a more succinct account. Anti-Semitism makes him ‘very angry’ (as though he were talking about a dog that keeps running through a flowerbed) but ‘only Labour can beat the Tory’ where he lives. This is a man who knows anti-Semitism, understands how it operates, grasps its viral capacity to corrupt every cell in the body politic, appreciates the ease with which it insinuates itself into polite and liberal society, and has documented with power and depth where it leads. Everything in the man’s life and work points us to where he should be standing but when we look he is not there.
Why is this? This is not to single out Sir Richard. The same question may be asked of Labour MPs like Jess Phillips and Wes Streeting, of the party’s other academic enthusiasts, of its media outriders, of those who will not vote Labour but silently sympathise with Corbyn on this subject. Anti-Semitism is ‘the organisation of politics against the Jews’ but to succeed it requires those who are not anti-Semites to agree to be so organised, to learn to dismiss the Jews, then to blame them, and eventually to hate them. Certain groups are more vulnerable to this than others. The far-right has always been attracted to anti-Semitism because it is the ultimate articulation of the conspiratorial worldview, a philosophy of Theys and Thems. The far-left is enticed by talk of shadowy elites, American power and cunning puppet-masters. The proles have never taken to Marxism, at least not in the West, but here is a more visceral rendering of the class conflict.
But the Corbyn moment, counter-intuitively, is not the story of far-left anti-Semitism but of liberal collaboration, of those who know in their gut this is wrong but deploy a series of strategies to avoid, minimise, invert, excuse and deny what is happening. Extremists have always believed these things but liberals have made it acceptable to air them within the mainstream. There is a nexus of complicity between anti-Semites, their defenders and amplifiers, and those who fail to resist the organisation of politics against the Jews. It includes those who, though awake to the evils of anti-Semitism, will still vote, campaign and stand for an institutionally anti-Semitic party. Some rationalise this as acting for the greater good — securing more money for the vulnerable or an end to cruel benefit cuts. In doing so, they define the good as something greater than mere comfort and security for Jews and juxtapose, in telling ways, Jews’ welfare and that of the poor.
This nexus rests on two instincts: one fundamental to Labour politics and the other an import from progressive identity theory. The Labour impulse is home to a burning certainty that politics is a struggle between good and evil in which one side is Elect and the other demonic. This is why Labour supporters have vilified chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’s reluctant intervention. Can’t he see Labour is on the side of the angels and the Tories foot soldiers of wickedness? If not, it must be because he too is from the ranks of the reprobate. The other conviction, born of the Jew-exclusionary theories of racism that took hold in the universities in the 1980s and on the broader left more recently, is that anti-Semitism is a lesser form of racism because Jews are beneficiaries of ‘white privilege’. The recent attempt to slander Rachel Riley as a racist for highlighting racism against Jews was no fluke; intersectionality only intersects with Jews on its own terms.
History tells me to look glumly on the prospects that, for once, we might do right by Jews. We don’t always side with their persecutors but we almost never side with them when it matters. If the anti-Semites win on 12 December, their victory will belong to the nexus of complicity, from the people who know exactly what they are doing to those who one day will feign ignorance and deny the role they played.
But these things they should know: Know that you were warned. You were warned and you turned away because the Tories are evil and Labour’s heart is in the right place. Know that Jews pleaded for your help. They pleaded for your help and you offered warm words then worked to put their tormentors in power. Know that you are culpable. You are culpable for what happens next, for every Nefesh B’Nefesh flight that takes off from Heathrow, for how Corbyn’s supporters take out their frustrations when his government begins to falter, for every British Jew who accepts that his countrymen have abandoned him and acquiesces quietly in his new status as civically less than others. Know that you will be remembered. You will be remembered and counted among the plentiful persecutors of the Jewish people and the even more plentiful bystanders. Your children will teach their children not to be like you. Know that while you may win in the moment you will lose in eternity. Know this: Am Yisrael chai. The Jewish people live and will go on living forever.