According to Dave Rich in The New York Times, the left in Britain has a serious anti-Semitism problem. Indeed, he explains, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, antipathy or profound insensitivity to Israel and Judaism has all but taken over the Labour Party.
Why should American Jews care about parochial British politics two thousand miles to the East and about two thousand miles to the left of even the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party?
For three reasons.
First, remember that the demonization of anything related to Israel and conflation of Jews and Israel began on British campuses in the 1980s. As that generation of students has moved into crucial mainstream political positions, the policies, rhetoric and prejudice have moved with them. There are reasons why it wouldn’t happen in America, but the rhetoric and positions are already apparent on campus and in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Second, anti-Semitism is what happens when Jews don’t matter politically. Jews are a tiny percentage of the United Kingdom (about 0.5%) and they don’t have the social, financial or political clout that they do in the United States. But there’s no guarantee our current standing here will last. There are strong possibilities that, especially as the residual memories of the Holocaust recede across and beyond the Jewish community, it will assimilate, shrink or fade in influence. If you ignore the Labour Party because you aren’t a leftist or British, you may be too late to preserve today’s special status.
Third, Donald Trump. The rhetoric of the right and the “alt right” in this extended election season has already shown how far mainstream discourse can incorporate anti-Semitic tropes. If the institutions that guarantee freedom are safeguarded by a political class whose commitment to those institutions is being eroded from both sides, we might see in the U.K. and U.S. the sorts of extremism within democracy that we’ve seen in Hungary and Turkey.
There are still a lot of steps and missteps between Jeremy Corbyn alienating Britain’s progressive Jews and a Putin-like president crushing America’s minorities, but there’s some worrisome food for thought in what’s happening in Britain’s treatment of its Jews.
Dan Friedman is the director of content and communications at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Formerly the executive editor and whisky correspondent of the Forward, he is the author of an illuminating (and excellent value) book about Tears for Fears, the 80s emo rock band.