August 17, 2019

Anti-Semitism in the UK: What Now?

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, leaves his home on the morning after Britain's election in London, Britain, on June 9. Photo by Neil Hall/Reuters

How do you solve a problem like Jeremy Corbyn? I just returned from England, and everyone is concerned. An anti-Zionist prime minister might be elected, and some Jews are considering emigrating.

If Jews in Britain did Facebook status updates on our feelings about the Labour Party, it would change from “in a relationship” to “it’s complicated.”

Fear is rising, but I am undecided. How bad is it? Auschwitz-bound trains are not waiting at London’s King’s Cross station. The primary danger at King’s Cross is tourists hurling themselves at a brick wall beneath the sign “Platform 9 3/4, direct train to Hogwarts.” Nevertheless, anti-Semitism comes in many forms, and left-wing hate is different from Nazism.

What follows is my personal perspective.

Corbyn leads Her Majesty’s opposition, the Labour Party. Eighty-five percent of British Jews think Corbyn is anti-Semitic: He has shared platforms with his self-declared “friends” Hamas and Hezbollah and laid a wreath at the graves of Palestinian terrorists who slaughtered Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972. He claims not to be anti-Semitic but stated in 2013 that British Zionists “have two problems. One is they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand English irony either. They need two lessons.”

Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? But what do I know as a British Zionist? Even though I clearly don’t want to study history, we know anti-Zionism is an anti-Semitic trope. The United Nations resolution that “Zionism is a form of racism” was revoked but hateful seeds were planted.

Corbyn’s Labour Party poses a major threat to British Jews. Left-wing momentum activists have infiltrated regional Labour organizations, threatening to deselect any members of Parliament who criticize Corbyn. He also speaks of reclaiming empty private property to house poor people. This strategy was a hallmark of Communist Russia. The Wall Street Journal clarified it: Corbyn is a Marxist.

His opposition to capitalism includes the European Union, the U.S. and Israel. Israel’s existence goes against his beliefs because it is a nation state, the homeland for a specific people. This Communist logic explains why Corbyn can claim he’s anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic (he doesn’t apply this ‘logic’ to Palestinian nationhood). These nuances are lost on the populace, paving the way for Jew-hatred.

“Eighty-five percent of British Jews think Corbyn is anti-Semitic: He has shared platforms with his self-declared “friends” Hamas and Hezbollah and laid a wreath at the graves of Palestinian terrorists.”

This view might be an oversimplification. Life is different than its media portrayal. The English often think the United States has daily school shootings. We think most Jews have left France. Some Americans think I am from the Islamic Republic of Great Britain. There are kernels of truth, but I just spent three weeks in England and saw few hijabs. We must also be careful not to confuse peaceful Muslims with extremist Islamists.

Meanwhile, the British government pays for free Jewish schools and their security guards. A Los Angeles family with three children in Jewish schools could move to London and save $90,000 per year.

Britain also hosts the sensational Limmud Festival of Jewish learning and culture, which attracts 2,500 participants, and a further 89 groups running events in 42 countries. The influence of British Jews is phenomenal and communities thrive. Limmud LA was the reason I first came to Los Angeles in 2008.

As for the European mainland, French Jewry may be flourishing: The Jewish Agency states that after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris in 2015, only 7,795 French Jews made aliyah, compared with 3,067 from the United States. Five hundred thousand French Jews choose to stay and live in France.

With this in mind, I think there are three possible doomsday scenarios:

1: The post-Brexit economy collapses. The ruling Conservative Party is defeated by the Labour Party in 2022, or earlier if they lose a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Britain becomes more uncomfortable for Jews. Perhaps things improve a few years later if Conservatives win back power.

2: Jews leave Britain en masse. This is unlikely. London’s Jewish Chronicle ran a story on how Germans ignored the early warning signs in the 1930s.

3: Nothing happens. Labour isn’t elected. Jews have good friends in former Labour Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and there was nearly a Jewish Labour prime minister with Ed Miliband in 2015. They might work to reclaim Labour from the Corbynites.

Scenario 4: The Jewish population depletes due to assimilation, regardless of external threats. 

Perhaps Corbyn is pandering to British Muslims who dislike Israel. There are 1 million Muslim voters versus 200,000 Jewish voters, but there are also Muslims speaking out against anti-Semitism. They know that Jews are “canaries in the coal mine” and they could be next. Additionally, Muslims have their own Islamist problem.

Is it possible that Corbyn has helped British Jews? When Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks released a statement for Corbyn to “repent and recant” lest he sparks “the flames of hatred,” most British rabbis were in agreement. Jewish unification is very un-Jewish and, if we continue this behavior, we might accidentally usher in the Messianic Age of global peace.

I want to stay in the United States because I find it better as a Jew. As a religious actor, I found it hard to practice my art in England. In my experience, the culture suppresses Jewish expression. For years, I sought role models who were shomer Shabbat professional artists but found nobody. It felt lonely.

Then I discovered Los Angeles, where observant Emmy winners pray, Hollywood showrunners teach shiurim, and Grammy-winning musicians lead services. Discovering Pico-Robertson felt like finding my lost city of Atlantis. I miss London’s West End but love America’s diversity.

There but for the grace of God (and Homeland Security) go I.

But many British Jews are worried. We will see how the political landscape is affected when Britain leaves the EU on March 28, 2019. British Jews can vote Conservative in the next general election. We can go to shul and, we the people, pray for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Shanah tovah.

Marcus J Freed is a Los Angeles-based actor.