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Antisemitism: the Jewish community is speaking. Will they be heard?

Antisemitism: the Jewish community is speaking. Will they be heard?

With Antisemitism on the rise, Angus Ritchie argues that the Labour Party and the political left are ignoring the problem. 28/02/2019

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If it was not already obvious, recent news has confirmed that a disturbing proportion of the “woke” left is asleep when it comes to antisemitism.

People who would usually be the first to defend the MacPherson Report’s definition of a racist incident – “any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person” – maintain that the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, and now a heavily pregnant Jewish MP, have all got it wrong. Antisemitism, we are repeatedly assured (in blogs, tweets, and even declarations by senior Labour figures) is no more prevalent now than it has ever been. The Jews, it seems, are the one group who do not get to define an incident as racist.

When antisemitism is not being denied, it is often straightforwardly ignored. On the day that Luciana Berger resigned from the Labour Party citing its “institutional antisemitism”, Jeremy Corbyn’s response did not even mention the issue.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry doubled down on this approach – declaring that the defections of Berger and her colleagues were “distracting and divisive” and that  “The only thing that anyone should do in response to the action of these MPs is to respectfully and politely ask them a simple question: do they intend to put up candidates in Labour–Tory marginals, and split the Labour vote?”

Just stop and let that sink in. On a day that a Jewish woman declares she is leaving the Labour Party because of antisemitism, a member of the Shadow Cabinet declares that the only thing anyone should do in response is to worry about who will be standing in which constituencies. My own politics is some way from the liberal–centrism of these defectors, but it is hard to imagine two responses from the leadership which could more amply vindicate their concerns about institutional antisemitism.

In December 2018, a survey found that 90 per cent of European Jews felt that antisemitism had increased in their home countries over the past five years. This month a Guardian article published data that France has seen a 74 per cent increase in the number of offences against Jews in the last year, and Germany saw a 60 per cent surge in antisemitic attacks.

And yet, the silence of the Labour leadership has been echoed across a far wider range of hyper–progressive Tweeters, whose daily diet of condemnation of all things oppressive did not extend to a Jewish MP declaring she had been bullied out of her party.

It is all too easy to mock the self–righteousness and virtue–signalling of so much of the left, particularly on social media. But many of those caught up in this ugly moment are genuinely motivated by the vision of a more just world. Many of them are genuinely willing to make sacrifices to challenge other forms of racism. What is it that makes them so insensible to the reality of antisemitism, and to the inconsistencies in their own worldview?

In the binary world of the woke Left – poor/rich, black/white, female/male, gay/straight, trans/cis – many Jews appear to be on the privileged side of the relevant dichotomies. As one of my Jewish friends explains, “Many of us can often ‘pass’ as white. Many of us are relatively middle class. For people who see minority status only in terms of skin colour and wealth, we are not in general identified as an oppressed group.”

Many of the key antisemitic tropes (today, as in the 1920s and 1930s) relate to this perceived privilege. Most groups who are on the receiving end of discrimination are reviled for their perceived inferiority. Jews are unusual in being seen as sinister manipulators of hidden financial and political power. In times of economic hardship and political turmoil, they function as handy scapegoats, featuring in the demonology of far–right and far–left alike.

Christians ought to have a particular sensitivity to this scapegoating of Jews, because it has played such a shameful role in our own history. Today, Jews of all political hues – and as wide a range of views on the state of Israel as non–Jews – are indicating that this ancient prejudice is very much alive and kicking.

There is a genuine and pained conviction on much of the left that the accusation of antisemitism must be invented – a conviction rooted in a dangerous sense of innate moral superiority. How could a movement with anti–racism at its very heart turn out to be guilty of this most ancient hatred? Here, again, Christians may have a particular insight to offer, for we know that sin and pride lurk beneath the surface of our most outwardly impressive motivations. Our deepest prejudices are not usually the ones that we are ostentatiously self–policing. They are the ones we have not acknowledged, even to ourselves.

Image by Galina Gala under a Shutterstock licence.

Angus Ritchie

Angus Ritchie

Rev Canon Dr Angus Ritchie is an Anglican priest, Director of the Centre for Theology & Community and the author of the Theos publications From Goodness To God and The Case For Christian Humanism.


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Posted 28 February 2019

Britain, Judaism, Labour Party, Politics


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