Guest Post: The view from the UK – it could be worse

This is another guest post by frequent contributor Brian Goldfarb.  After the Brexit vote, and against the background of continuing Labour antisemitism scandals, I asked him if he could bring us “the view from over there”, particularly from the viewpoint of a “sane” leftist (as opposed to the newer “rancid”, hard-leftist that is prevalent today). Here is his article.


So, after Anne kindly posted my last offering, I thought it might be useful to post some thoughts from my home front (the, for the moment, United Kingdom), rather than be forever commenting on the Middle East from here.

And, of course, being (unlike Anne) retired and thus with so much time on my hands, I thought that this was a splendid idea. At this point, the hollow laughter you hear in the background comes from my wife and most decidedly better half.

After all, I only volunteer two days a week, look after our grandsons (with her) one day a week, spend up to four evenings a week going to the theatre, concerts, films, making space for three sessions a week at the gym, and then there’s that huge pile of books I’ve been promising myself that I HAVE to read. And that says nothing of keeping up with the news and all sorts of other TV programmes.

Okay, time to stop digging and time to start putting the foundations in place (or at least climb out of the hole).

Hopefully, you equally busy people out there have had a quiet chuckle while agreeing that you don’t know where all the hours go and might just be in a receptive mood for some more serious musings.

Also hopefully, most of the readers of this of this website will agree that I am a member of the sane, as opposed to the rancid, Left. As such, my views on the present state of the UK Labour Party, and other elements of the UK scene, might be instructive, particularly from the perspective of a Jewish member of that sane Left.

Former Labour leader David Miliband (l) and current leader Jeremy Corbyn (r)

Everybody now knows that Ed Miliband expanded the Labour Party membership, which enabled a large number of those whom we might label as “entryists” to join for a mere £3.00 and vote in any future Leadership contest.

This, in itself, is potentially quite innocent. After all, political parties in parliamentary democracies need mass membership to actually fight elections: all sorts of activities are needed. Envelopes must be stuffed with leaflets; these envelopes need to be pushed through letterboxes; doors must be knocked on to find out who needs to be prised out of their homes to vote on election day, and so-on. However, when it turns out that, overwhelmingly, these new recruits were hard left, disaster resulted (at least, from where I stand).  When, after the failure of the Labour Party to make any significant advances after the 2015 General Election (and, indeed, like the two other main parties, was wiped out in Scotland), Miliband resigned, Corbyn was elected, thanks to these newcomers.

The political blog Guido Fawkes article elaborates on the problem of entryism”:

A leaked cache of Labour Compliance Unit data obtained by Guido sheds some light on how the party became susceptible to its recent anti-Semitism crisis. During last year’s leadership election Labour membership more or less doubled. Following reports of mass infiltration, Labour HQ set about rooting out entryists. Yet people were joining faster than they could be checked, meaning only a tiny sample – a few thousand – were looked at.

Only a fraction of the new sign-ups were checked, and from those it was absolutely clear that the party had been infiltrated on an industrial scale.

This helps to explain Labour’s recent anti-Semitism crisis – an untold number of members with extreme views have not been looked at by the Compliance Unit. It also calls into question Jeremy Corbyn’s much-cited “mandate“. This is the new Labour Party, overrun with extremists on an unprecedented scale…

It turned out that Corbyn was, and is, hard left – and we most definitely didn’t vote for him – and that has been a disaster for the Labour Party, although he won’t admit it. Any party headed by him is never going to get a majority in the House of Commons, and that, to Corbyn and his followers, is irrelevant. We went, just recently, to a talk given by Daniel Finkelstein. He is, variously, a grandson of Alfred Wiener, founder of the collection of Nazi documents that forms the basis of the Wiener Library (where I volunteer two days a week); a former advisor to various Conservative party politicians; a Deputy Editor of the Times of London; and a Conservative member of the House of Lords. He confirmed the analysis in the first sentence  of this paragraph, and he is a very acute political analyst. The last left leader of the Labour Party was Michael Foot, back in the 1970s. However, he was a democratic and a proper parliamentarian. Danny F. reminded us that the Labour Party was founded precisely to be a parliamentary party: to represent working people (men, back then: women didn’t get the vote until later) in Parliament, and to get legislation passed that supported their aspirations and needs. Which the likes of Michael Foot understood and supported, unlike Corbyn, to whom the purity of the ideology is all.

It might be useful at this point to hark back to the Jewish Book Week of 2012  and the article I wrote for this site then, and in particular to the book by Colin Shindler, entitled “Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimisation”. Shindler was writing about what happened to Jewish revolutionaries after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. They were presented, in essence, with a simple choice: become “proper” revolutionaries and, therefore, give up your non-revolutionary identity (that is, your Jewish identity) and join the totality of the Russian people. The majority of Russian Jews decided that this was a poisoned chalice: they preferred to retain their Jewish identity, even if Jewish institutions were slowly but surely closed down. They knew, for example, that it had been the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, that had created the fabrication that was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (Umberto Eco covered this in his book “The Prague Cemetery”, to be found in the same article).

The point is that those who swallowed the Bolshevik pill are both the actual and the political ancestors of the “as-a-Jew” types that are continually being discussed here and on, inter alia, Engage: the sort of Jews who justify the far Left’s antisemitism.

Corbyn, although not Jewish. is cut from the same cloth. Anyone who claims that Hamas and Hezbollah are “friends” (although, faced with a recall to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee to face further quizzing on just this matter, among others, is desperately, at the time of writing, trying to row back from this position) has to, at the very least, encourage genuine antisemites (“if Corbyn says it, it must be alright” they surmise). And he continues to make such slips through, at the very least, a lack of thought about what his mouth is saying, or, at the worst, not caring what it sounds like because he cares less. Corbyn and those who think like him are prime examples of Auguste Bebel’s assertion that antisemitism is the “socialism of fools”.

Another recent example (although coming under the heading of the “as-s-Jew” rubric) was Gerald Kaufman’s assertion that Jews were funding the Conservative Party, thus managing to ignore all the Jews who prefer to fund the Labour Party (or, more likely, preferred – past tense deliberate to fund the said party).

Thus, Corbyn is either thoughtless or crass (or both). Or, of course, he might actually be antisemitic. He certainly doesn’t seem to care about the verbal, written and on-line attacks on Labour MPs who are Jewish.

The Far Right are easier to deal with: they don’t bother to cover their offence with a pretence that they are “really” talking about Israel or that they “care” about the poor benighted Palestinians. They just hate Jews and believe that Jews are the cause of all the problems in the world…along with ethnic minorities, Muslims, and, probably, namby-pamby pinkoes like me, to say nothing of liberated and annoying women. Further, many of those on the Far Right attempting to gain office via the ballot box have previous convictions for violence. If elected, they rarely get re-elected.

Even if they are not obviously seeking office via the ballot box (the putsch, coup or revolution might be their preferred means), they often cannot resist old-fashioned (as opposed to at least superficially disguised) methods to attack their favourite target. Thus the likes of Joshua Bonehill-Paine (what a wonderfully descriptive surname!) makes his views exceedingly well known. He was one of the prime movers behind efforts to “picket” Golders Green, London, home to many Jews, both secular and ultra-orthodox and everything in between. He not only failed, but he was banned from the area for his pains.

There are many other examples. Thus, the Jewish MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, was targeted by an antisemite, who has just appeared in court. As the evidence is clear (he didn’t disguise himself with a fake email address), the likelihood of a guilty verdict is high. What the sentence will be is another matter.

All this is bad enough (and there are Conservative MPs who might find Bonehill-Paine’s views quite acceptable, although they would probably be much more discreet, even subtle, about it – and there aren’t too many of them these days), but, leaving the Conservatives aside, for the moment, it doesn’t end there. Even centrist parties can’t always avoid the trap of easy answers to difficult questions. Fortunately, some of the guilty ones in the Liberal Democratic Party lost their seats in the debacle (for them) of the 2015 General Election. Sadly, Peers (i.e. members of the House of Lords) don’t stand for election, at least not those who are Life Peers (Peerages which die with those who bear them). The most obvious offender among the Life Peers is the exceedingly unlovely Lady “Jihad” Jenny Tonge. She is a repeat offender and has, at least once, been suspended from the Party in the House of Lords as a direct result of her antisemitic comments.

She’s at it again. She is reported as follows:

A British lawmaker who said Israel would eventually disappear accused the Jewish state of being a major cause in the rise of jihadism worldwide.

Just consider that for a moment: Israel is responsible for ISIS, Al Qaeda, et al, just because Israel is. Is it possible to interpret this as anything other than antisemitism? If you think so, please argue the case below. She went on to say

The treatment of the Palestinians by Israel is a major cause of the rise of extreme Islamism and Daesh,” Tonge said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State terrorist organization. She said Israel was provoking a generation of violent extremists who would have “a justified grudge” against Israel and Britain.

Quite how Britain gets involved in this is unclear. But since when did antisemites need to make sense?

At least the Board of Deputies hit back:

Board of Deputies Vice President Marie van der Zyl in a statement said it was “another outrageous speech” by Tonge on the Middle East.

“It is time for Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron to expel her once and for all from the party,” the statement said.

Further reports as to what Tonge said can be found at the Algemeiner here and a third can be found in The Jewish News (online edition) of 22/7/16.  [It was also mentioned in my previous post -Anne]

I also noticed that the Leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Commons (Tim Farron, MP) said that he would consider the situation when he received complaints. The Board of Deputies and the sources I’ve cited aren’t enough? What does he want? Tonge’s confession? Sounds like he would prefer not to act.

All this said, is the situation as bad as the stories I’ve told suggest? No!

How is it not that bad? Well, for a start, we secular Jews (those males who don’t wear yarmulkes; those women who don’t wear “sensible” clothes) tend not to suffer verbal and other abuse. And most antisemites have no idea what a Mezzuzah is or what it indicates. In most areas of London, at least, even ultra-orthodox Jews don’t suffer abuse, let alone attack, and can go about their daily lives unmolested. And here, in East Finchley and Muswell Hill (North London), our Rabbi can walk from the tube station back home to near the synagogue in shirtsleeves (it was a very hot day) and wearing a yarmulke with no fear of being attacked. I have never experienced personal antisemitism (as far as I know). Sure, the synagogue needs security, but the police have never had to be called (mind you, I wouldn’t like to tackle the large Polish gentleman who is the current caretaker and additional security man on Shabbat and Festivals!).

And Corbyn can be, and is, attacked in the press for his failure to address antisemitism in the Labour Party and for his refusal to disavow his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah. And should the Labour Party split because he gets re-elected in September, few people outside the far Left will shed any tears (I even saw a news article that only half-jokingly suggested that if that happened, the Corbynites would proclaim a victory for “real” socialism: how blinkered can you get?).

London Mayor Sadiq Khan with UK Chief Rabbi Efraim Mirvis

And then, here in London, we have a newly-elected Mayor: a Muslim member of the Labour Party, Sadiq Khan, who, as his first official duty after election (and on very little sleep) attended the official London Holocaust Memorial Day event, alongside the Chief Rabbi; who, before election, attacked Ken Livingstone (of whom no more needs to be said) for his overt antisemitism. He didn’t need to be so outspoken, but he was. He means it!

British PM Theresa May at a Jewish function

More recently, the second female leader of the Conservative Party (and also their second female Prime Minister – and the Labour Party can’t even manage one, temporary leaders not counting) is reported as having dinner with the Chief Rabbi the night before she was formally elected leader and PM.

The good news doesn’t end there. Labour politician Baroness Royall went ahead and published her report into student antisemitism at Oxford University despite Labour’s attempted censorship:

Baroness Royall will make her entire report into student anti-Semitism at Oxford University Labour Club [OULC] publicly available, despite her party censoring its publication.

The peer was tasked with investigating allegations at OULC after its vice-chairman Alex Chalmers resigned in disgust in February, claiming members “have some kind of problem with Jews”.

She presented the findings of her three-month investigation to the National Executive Committee in May.

You can read the full report at the link.

Who decided to censor it and present only a sanitised version? Sadly for them (and Corbyn), Baroness Royall refuses to be that loyal. The truth will out.

My conclusion? It’s not that good in the UK at the moment. However, the Weimar Republic in 1932 it isn’t. The Conservatives are going to be there until at least 2018 (if only to sort out Brexit), and will be led by Theresa May until (at least) then. And anyone who heard or saw her her statement on the steps of Downing Street will be aware that she offered pledges that any centrist Labour leader could sign up to (as pledges, remember, not actual policies). Of course, Margaret Thatcher did the same, but she had just won an election on a much more right-wing platform. May sounds MUCH more like a “One-Nation” Tory than Thatcher ever did.

As ever, with politics, however, it’s wait and see.


Anne adds:

Brian, thank you very much for your insider view of how things are in reality for the average British Jew.  Although things could certainly be better, especially for the more “visible” Orthodox Jews, I am very glad that despite the constant reports of antisemitic attacks and slurs, life in general carries on smoothly. Certainly the new Tory government led by Theresa May feels like a fresh breath of air, and more importantly, has caught Labour on the back foot. If her appointment can bring about reform in Labour, so much the better!

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7 Responses to Guest Post: The view from the UK – it could be worse

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: The view from the UK – it could be worse – 24/6 Magazine

  2. This is fascinating, clear and a good read – thank you! I’m writing from Canada, and as we watch the US go through their paroxysms (in their own inimitable way) it’s good to hear some positives. I’m definitely left-leaning politically, yet horrified by the (not only hardline but, increasingly, mainstream) left’s anti-Israelism. It’s a like a giant revolt against complexity on both sides: “Give us simple answers!!” We’re in an extraordinary time, in which the simplistic is our enemy at the same time as loud moral clarity is our only hope. When an explicitly dictatorial wanna-be like Trump represents the party with the best position on Israel, while a sane (if typically compromised) politician like Clinton is terrifying Zionist Jews everywhere with her party’s transformed Middle East policy, we can only hope for more people like the London mayor who take the brave way in, rather than the coward’s way out. Were I American, I’d vote Democrat then muster all power possible to open their eyes to reality and reason. Glad I’m not. Thanks again, to Brian … and to Anne!

    • anneinpt says:

      Thank you Michael for your very kind comment. Welcome to my blog’s comment section! I don’t think I’ve “seen” you here before.

      Indeed I’m also very glad I’m not American for their choices seem impossible – a corrupt politician with extremely questionable advisors on Israel on the one hand; and an outspoken demagoguic populist buffoon, but with a solid record on Israel on the other hand. What a choice!

      As you say, the British seem to have recovered from their political convulsions, and with the likes of Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan together with Conservative PM Theresa May, they now seem to be on the highway to political recovery. Let’s just hope that the Brexit negotiations go smoothly and successfully for all sides.

  3. Michael Caplan says:

    Thanks, Anne. I’ve been lurking for a few months now, just sending you good vibes from afar. I so appreciate every oasis of sanity in these hysterical times, and every attempt to be thoughtful about such complex, confusing and painful realities.

  4. Brian Goldfarb says:

    Thank you, Michael, for your kind words. They are always welcome!

    I realise that, as ever, what I didn’t get around to saying could be the basis of another article. Thus, an explanation of how the UK Labour Party got to contain elements of left-antisemitism in the first place, giving its starting point on the sane left as a fighter for the dispossessed (which, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries very much included the Jews), might be interesting.

    I’ll try and write it, and see if Anne thinks it’s worth publishing.

  5. DP-PT says:

    Thank you Brian for your thought provoking article. From here in Israel I’m not sure one can take such a “calming” view. Firstly it’s still very early days. Secondly, the initial statistics of a racist xenophobic wave of street insults, etc., directed at “foreigners” including of course Jews but even a long-term EU worker in London (client of mine) who is an Italian Catholic (!) shows that the racists have become emboldened to transform their previously-held thoughts into actual acts of violence, verbal only at this stage. They clearly feel that 52% of the electorate who voted Leave did so for xenophobic reasons, even though this is patently untrue. There were economic and sovereignty issues that had nothing to do with immigration. Theresa May has spoken and acted in an effort to dampen this wave, and all credit to her for doing so, but as the anti-immigration element of the populace begin to realise that there are not going to be mass deportations and that any free trade agreement with the EU will necessitate compromises on freedom of movement of people into the UK, tempers may well rise and another wave of (this time) frustrated xenophobia may well rise and even become violent. This will be exacerbated hugely if IS makes good on its threat to attack the UK. So I wouldn’t be too sanguine yet……

    • Brian Goldfarb says:

      Dear DP-PT, there is so much in your comment that I don’t know where to begin! I’m mulling another article on the Labour Party (I’m less that interested in the far right’s antisemitism and other racisms, and not bothered about far-left antisemitism, except where it infects mainstream parties such as Labour, those, that is with a serious chance (under normal circumstances) of getting into power.

      Maybe some of your point will be answered there.

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