JVL introduction

The one-sidedness of the mainstream media’s focus is staggering.

How much racism on the right will there have to be before they sit up and notice?

And how about this for laughs, from Marie van der Zyl, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews:     “The Tories have always shown themselves to be friends to the Jewish community.”


Staying close to our friends?


While the mainstream newspapers have tried to fill every space in the last few weeks with false and ever more ridiculous allegations against Jeremy Corbyn, and claims that he is an existential threat to Jews(!) , there is another story about racism that can’t help but push its way back into the crevices between some of those headlines, one that they can’t put a lid on because it is based on shocking truths, and it is about people who have faced, and continue to face a real existential threat.

A few days ago we read that 18 members of the Windrush generation will be receiving formal letters of apology from Home Secretary Sajid Javid for being “removed” (deported), “detained” (in the appalling network of detention centres that have a high suicide rate), or stopped (humiliated) at the border after returning from a visit abroad. Most of these 18 cases occurred under Theresa May’s racist hostile environment.

Read a little further beneath the headlines and you find these are merely the 18 clearest cases out of 164 that have been identified and are being seriously investigated at present. There are many more potential cases arising from complaints yet to be properly investigated.

The deep racism of Theresa May’s deliberately hostile environment is of course completely of a piece with the growing number of blatant cases of Islamophobia emerging from the Tory Party. But Boris Johnson’s hateful burqa remarks were only news because of who said it; many statements of this sort and worse have been said by  ordinary members of the Tory Party, including several candidates who were suspended just before the May local council elections. Yet every call for an investigation into Islamophobia in the Tory Party, whether from large Muslim organisations, lists of imams, or prominent Muslim personalities within the party, such as Baroness Warsi, has been swiftly rejected. May and her gang know they can get away with it. There is hardly going to be a daily media storm about it from the overwhelmingly pro-Tory press.

When pressure was building up around this earlier this year, I tweeted Marie Van Der Zyl, who had just been elected (by its members, not the wider community) as the new President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, asking if she will be adding the BoD’s name to those organisations demanding such an investigation. No reply. No action. That in itself was a very clear message.

I was thinking about this especially this week, as now that Van der Zyl has fully settled into the her post, she felt confident enough to give an interview to the i24 Israeli news channel, and was asked some searching questions about British political parties. Apart from saying the most disgraceful, slanderous things about Jeremy Corbyn (without resorting to any hard evidence), she answered one question by saying: “The Tories have always shown themselves to be friends to the Jewish community”. (My emphasis)

It was an outstanding display of either utter ignorance or historical amnesia. After all, was it not the same Tory Party who passed the Aliens Act to keep Jews out of Britain when they were fleeing pogroms and persecution in Tsarist Russia? The same Tories whose harsh immigration and refugee policies stopped many German and Austrian refugees from Nazism getting sanctuary in the 1930s, and deported those who did not have the papers to prove their entitlement, with the same ugly determination as shown toward the Windrush victims? The same Tory Party whose backbenchers’ contribution to a debate about violence between fascists and anti-fascists in the 1930s was to say: “is it not a fact that 90% of those accused of attacking fascists rejoice in fine old British names such s Ziff, Kerstein and Minsky?”

Could it be the same Tories whose former Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, complained when Mrs Thatcher elevated three Jews to her Cabinet, that there were more old Estonians than old Etonians? The same Tory Party where an aspiring Jewish member, and later Home Secretary, called Michael Howard (original family name Hecht), had to traipse around 40 local Tory branches up and down the country, before he could find a branch (Folkestone and Hythe), that did not object to being represented in parliament by a Jew?

BRITAIN-POLITICS-VOTE-ODD-CAMERON

Was it the same Tory Party, whose members were giggling along with the Daily Mail’s antisemitic jibes about Ed Miliband’s clumsy incident with a bacon roll, an incident referenced in the run-up to the 2015 General Election with a posed photo of David Cameron eating a hot-dog with a knife and fork?  Or, indeed, to bring things right up to date, could it be the same Tories who remain very closely allied through the European Conservatives and Reformists Group to the antisemitic and Islamophobic Law and Justice Party in Poland, and the Fatherland and Freedom Party in Latvia who enthusiastically support an annual parade to commemorate the Latvian Waffen SS members who lost their lives fighting for Hitler in world War 2?

Extraordinary. But also very disturbing. Many Jews I grew up knowing, and not just political contacts, had a hard-wired sense of affinity with other minority ethnic groups in this country, interested in their experiences and their wellbeing, and expressing their solidarity by a disproportionate Jewish involvement in anti-racist campaigning, and also in professional work as inner-city teachers, social workers, and immigration lawyers. The idea that the President of the Board of Deputies, who holds a pivotal place in the eyes of key political and media movers and shakers (even if we know their claims to “represent Jews” are extremely dubious), can state such a thing about the Tory Party and the Jewish community without any qualification regarding the treatment they dish out to other minorities, and to view this apparent friendliness, while others are clearly being treated so badly, as so unquestionably a good thing, is quite chilling.

At what stage did our “official” representatives become so insular, so unfeeling, and so forgetful? Has Conservative support for Israel (with everything that Israel has become under Netanyahu, and the seriously unpleasant political friendships it has consolidated with populist right-wing leaders in central and eastern Europe and in America), so powerfully trumped the affiliated Jewish community’s longstanding historical and psychological links of empathy with other minority communities? If so, that is not only very sad, but they truly are on a dangerous path.

A counterweight, though, is growing, especially among layers of younger Jews, who are finding ways to fight for social justice and support refugees and homeless people. Perhaps it is time for the more liberal, less insular Jews to really step up our practical work with other minorities and other struggling communities against the real threats, not the phantom threats, that ought to unite us in Brtiain today, and in a wider world where the likes of Trump, Orban and Netanyahu are making the running.