Don't ignore anti-Semitism in the battle to stop Brexit

PUBLISHED: 10:35 07 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:35 07 November 2019

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against anti-semitism. Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against anti-semitism. Photo: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

Archant

ADAM LANGLEBEN makes a plea to not overlook the issue in the desperate fight to stay in the EU.

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Last week BBC News ran a tragic investigation into a slum landlord that allowed residents to live in horrific conditions, with cockroaches, damp, heroin addicts shooting up in the hallways and faulty security doors for years, with residents just waiting to be made homeless through demolition of their homes on an estate sold to a developer for just £3. This slum landlord wasn't just any old landlord. It was Conservative-run London Borough of Barnet, where I live, and the West Hendon estate.

I had the tremendous honour of serving as a Labour councillor for West Hendon in Barnet until the local elections in 2018. I became a Labour councillor - and indeed many years before, a Labour member - to tackle injustices in the world just like that injustice close to home.

My drive and burning desire for social justice is still the same now as it was but I find myself politically homeless. I am no longer a Labour councillor. I am no longer a Labour member. This is because I am a Jew. While some have been able square the moral dilemma of Jew-hatred in Labour, I have not.

Today's Labour Party, led by the most unlucky anti-racist in history (I will come back to that), Jeremy Corbyn forced me and countless other Jews and many non-Jewish allies to make a choice. Him or our values and identities, and in my case my own Jewish identity.

My Jewish identity is one shaped by a concept in Jewish tradition called Tikkun Olam - repairing the world. It is what drove me to become politically active and has shaped my political outlook. That concept, alongside an internationalism built into my community's history, lived memory and thus DNA, is also what has shaped my views on the European Union and was the reason why I didn't need to give my position a moment's thought when the referendum was announced in 2016.

I voted Remain. I campaigned for Remain. And to this day I want Brexit to end and to remain in the EU. I don't need to give readers of this newspaper a history lesson, but the origins of the EU came in part directly out of the suffering of my people.

For some of its founders it was a direct response to the Second World War and the Holocaust. It was an attempt to remove walls and barriers between nations and to bring peace to a continent at war with itself for hundreds of years, that ultimately ended with the murder of half of the world's entire Jewish population and millions of others.

And I am not alone. About two thirds of British Jews voted Remain in the referendum and much like the wider population, their views are unlikely to have shifted much, but for one critical factor: Jeremy Corbyn.

A Survation poll published two weeks ago by the Jewish Chronicle showed that 78% of British Jews would prefer a catastrophic no-deal Brexit to a government led by Corbyn. Now that might sound extreme, but for the Jewish community the idea of a Corbyn government represents for many an existential threat.

For the first time in living memory, a man who most Jews believe holds political anti-Semitic views is perhaps close to power and his leadership has directly transformed Labour from the natural and historic home of British Jews into a party beset by racism and under the highest level of investigation by the country's equalities watchdog, the EHRC - a level of investigation only initiated once before against the Metropolitan Police. The Labour Party has joined the select club of political parties placed under investigation by the Commission, joining the fascist BNP.

Corbyn, by his actions of hosting, condoning, praising and defending racists who hate Jews, in some cases genocidal anti-Semites, over a number of years could have been forgivable if there was any acceptance of the community's concern. But the problem with Corbyn and his devout followers is that they do not recognise those anti-Jewish racists as being racist.

For many, including Corbyn himself, anti-Semitism is in some way separate and less bad as other forms of racism - or justifiable in a way he could and would never justify for other forms of bigotry.

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He cannot bring himself to accept that racism because by doing so he has to accept his own complicity in it. Countless times he has found himself in a room with Jew-haters and Holocaust deniers.

Like Corbyn, I also define my politics by my anti-racism, but somehow, unlike the Labour leader, I have avoided constantly bumping into, being photographed with and endorsing such bigots. Astonishing really. As Dr Dave Rich, author of The Left's Jewish Problem has written, Corbyn must be the world's most unlucky anti-racist.

And that's just the leader. The wider Labour Party membership, in their total devotion to Corbyn, perform intellectual gymnastics to defend his record. In doing so they have been whipped up and been radicalised into a frenzy of hate directed towards British Jews, all for questioning Corbyn platforming and endorsing racists.

This isn't unique to the Jewish community and anti-Semitism, this is the general reaction to anyone who has offered any sincere critique of his leadership on any matter, including Labour's position on the EU.

At first, in 2015, the membership wasn't like it is today. But through various 'outriders' and outlets, such as the Canary and Skwawkbox, which have been pushing a narrative about anti-Semitism in the party, we have seen hostility to the Jewish community grow to considerable levels within Labour's ranks. It's not everyone and there are of course notable exceptions who, despite having much to lose, have spoken out without fear, to name one, Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield stands out.

I helped compile the initial complaint from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) to the EHRC and some of the content is frightening. The Labour leadership have let this happen, to the point now where the JLM is seriously considering ending its affiliation to the party, after 99 years.

Now this brings me to a direct plea to those reading this. This election is going to be the most important of my lifetime. What is at stake is the kind of society that I will be raising my family, and young son in. I understand and believe that everything must be done to stop Brexit. I believe that Brexit isn't just about our trading relationship with the continent but, rather, represents how our country thinks of itself.

Are we a country that is forward looking open to the world or are we a Little Britain harping back to the days of empire? I get it. And I also get that many will decide that Labour is the best way of pushing back against this government.

Labour's recent pivot back towards a semi-Remain position will be tempting for many, however imperfect. But think about this: When Corbyn utters his opposition to anti-Semitism, Jews don't believe him because he doesn't sound like he really means it. I think many will have the same feeling when he says anything positive about the EU or a second referendum. That gut feeling should be enough - and sadly it is for me - despite the good people who I still respect within the party. He doesn't mean it and as the Jewish community have learnt over the past four years, you cannot trust him and his senior leadership team.

Most British Jews see through his insincerity on anti-Semitism, much like many others do on Europe. What saddens most Jews I speak with is how little the wider public seem to care about how we feel. It's depressing and for those who believe in the same values as us it represents a betrayal, a feeling that actually, when push comes to shove, we cannot rely on many of our non-Jewish friends and neighbours to stand with us when we say loudly and clearly that there is a serious problem.

So, I ask that when you receive a knock on the door from a Labour candidate, please do not just challenge them on Brexit, challenge them on anti-Semitism on behalf of the Jewish community who number just 260,000 people - or 0.3% of the population.

For me, the choice is clearer and easier, especially in my constituency. I have a Conservative hard Brexiteer who has a history of baiting many Muslim voters, a Labour Lexiteer who has a history of baiting Jewish voters and a Liberal Democrat candidate. The Liberal Democrat candidate was more than 20,000 votes behind the two other parties in 2017.

It makes little tactical sense to vote for him, but the stench emanating from the two other parties, and Labour's weak and untrustworthy position on Brexit, makes a vote for him the only one I can cast while still feeling able to look at myself in the mirror. That's f*cking depressing.

Adam Langleben was a Labour councillor in Barnet between 2014 and 2018. He resigned from the party in March 2019 citing institutional anti-Semitism

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