British Jews Take to the Streets

British Jews Take to the Streets

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Two things happened in London on Monday which have serious implications for British politics.  First, a demonstration was organized on very short notice by the united, mainstream leadership of Anglo Jewry to protest the persistent and growing tolerance of anti-Semitism expressed by the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn. As more and more of Corbyn’s affiliations and statements are discovered and displayed, most members of the Labour Party are rallying to his defense. With only a few exceptions, there are no voices within the Labour Party who are prepared to challenge Corbyn. While Corbyn is trying now to set the record in a more favorable light, he and his followers persist in associating tolerance of anti-Semitism with criticism of the Government of Israel. This unacceptable linkage has reached an unacceptable level. The leaders of the Labour Party need to repudiate this type of blatant prejudice as they no doubt would do if the attacks were anti-black, anti-women, or anti-gay.

The other political observation to be drawn from the Jewish led demonstration in Westminster, was the action of the leaders of the British Jewish community. Anglo Jewry has a long history of conducting its communal affairs unobtrusively. Whenever Jewish leaders had concerns concerning the needs of the Jewish community or matters involving the policies of the British Government towards the State of Israel they rarely supported or led street rallies in protest. In fact, there is a long history in Britain of clergy and lay leaders opting for a very quiet and decorous approach to redress perceived public policies and remarks. Ironically, public demonstrations were always seen as within the province of American Jewry, as the British saw themselves as an extremely small minority.  (Admittedly, Jews in the United Kingdom represent .4% of a total population 65 million compared to American Jews who represent a bit over 2% out of a total population of 325 million.)

This action, therefore, sanctioned and organized by the mainstream, organized Jewish community, may signal a significant awakening among Anglo Jewry that the old way was no longer acceptable. Whether this form of protest will be replicated again should the situation present itself is not clear. The Labour Party, as well as all politicians in Britain, need to recognize that it appears at least on the issue of anti-Semitism, the Jewish community is prepared to demand that political leaders be held accountable.


Meanwhile Across the Channel

Just to add a bit of perspective of how committed and courageous leaders can act, it is important to recognize that the French President Emmanuel Macron attended the funeral yesterday of Mireille Knoll in Paris.  The 85-year-old Holocaust survivor was allegedly killed by her Muslim neighbor in an anti-Semitic incident this weekend. Not only did Macron issue very strong public statements condemning the incident and anti-Semitism in general, but reports and photographs suggested that he was exceedingly moved at the service.  

Having been seen for many years as willing to tolerate or accept anti-Semitism, it appears that Macron, following in the steps of the previous French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, is taking anti-Semitism and all anti-bias activity very seriously. There are reports that thousands of people, including politicians, turned out for the march Paris; being held in solidarity with Mme. Kroll and others who recently have been murdered because they were Jews.

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