Northern Lights shining over Cable Street

I am indebted to Richard Burgon, MP for East Leeds, one of the rising stars of the Labour Party since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, for highlighting an important moment in Britain’s anti-fascist history that took place in Leeds, which was overshadowed by the iconic clash a week later 200 miles south in London’s East End.

Yesterday he tweeted: “81 years ago today – Labour party, Communist party and others stood in solidarity with Leeds Jewish community and sent fascists packing.” This tweet linked to an article in the Yorkshire Post recalling the day in late September when 1,000 members of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts had planned to march right through the Leylands, a working class Jewish district of Leeds, later demolished in slum clearances . Leeds, of course was much smaller than London, but whereas Jews comprised around 3.5% of London’s population at the time, they comprised more than 6% of Leeds’ inhabitants.

The Yorkshire Post article recalls that the night before the march “swastikas and slogans were daubed on the area’s Jewish owned shops”. The article described how Mosley marched his supporters to Holbeck Moor for a rally but: “Waiting for them were 30,000 Leeds residents, many of them Communist Party members who had been mobilising in local pubs during the previous week.” It went on to describe how they sang the Red Flag as Mosley began his speech and pelted him and his bodyguards with stones. One apparently hit him, and  in total 40 fascists were injured during the clashes. The report says “Only three people were arrested, and all were given light sentences.”

imageI can add some detail to this story. When I was researching my book Battle for the East End, published in 2011, I found other reports of this event. What interested me most was the story of one of those who ended up in court. His name was John Hodgeson, a 19 year old, non-Jewish warehouse worker. He was charged with throwing a stone at Mosley, which sadly missed. In my book I wrote:

When magistrate Horace Marshall asked Hodgeson which words of Mosley’s annoyed him, he said that Mosley “made a reference to the ‘Yids’ and referred to the crowd as ‘socialist scum’, to which Marshall replied: ‘I do not in the least understand why these remarks offend you if you are none of these things.’

Hodgeson was fined £2. Clearly the magistrate had no concept of empathy or solidarity. What was also interesting was that the police, with the support of the local authority, chose to redirect the fascists’ march away from the Jewish area. A week later 7,000 police, including every mounted policeman in London descended on the East End precisely to facilitate Mosley attempting to march right through the the most heavily Jewish-populated streets of the area.

Remembering John Hodgeson, and the lessons of solidarity.

If you want to know more about how Mosley fared on 4th October, come to my Anti-Fascist Footprints guided walk on 8th October. Further details and booking at http://www.eastendwalks.com

 

 

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Always with the oppressed

My speech at the public launch of Jewish Voice For Labour, at a fringe meeting of the Labour Conference 2017, attended by more than 200 people.

A few weeks ago I was in Poland. My fifth visit to a country that many describe simply as the biggest Jewish graveyard. Three million of its 3.3m pre-war Jewish population were exterminated by the Nazis. Today it has a very right wing government and active far-right groups. You see antisemitic graffiti on some walls.

And yet in 15 Polish cities Jewish communities are reviving and growing. In Kazimierz, Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, there are several very old synagogues. Two function as synagogues; others house exhibitions, bookshops, cultural initiatives. Their doors are open. There is no grafitti on them. Yet none of them are bristling with CCTV, high fences, or hyped-up, walkie-talkie bearing Israeli guards.

A Jewish community centre founded in Krakow in 2009, offers cultural activities that appeal across the Jewish spectrum from secular to religious. It positively welcomes visitors. Many non-Jews come to events there. It also hosts Roma Gypsy community meetings and refugee support groups.

In Warsaw I revisited the remarkable Polin Museum which opened in 2013. It depicts

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Bund poster 1919

1,000 years of Polish Jewish history and culture – golden ages and times of danger and crisis. One display depicts the range of ideologies competing for support among Jews at the turn of the 20th century: assimilationism, cultural autonomy, religious orthodoxy, integration, territorialists seeking a national home, somewhere; Zionists seeking one too, but only in Palestine, and then, the movement which towards the end of the 1930s commanded the largest political support among Polish Jews, Bundism. The Bund rejected God and nationalism; Their slogan in Yiddish was “Dortn vu mir lebn – dort is unzer land” – “Where we live, that is our country”.  The Bund promoted socialism, multiculturalism, secularism, and internationalism. For them, the liberation of Jews was tied to the liberation of all who are oppressed, exploited, and discriminated against, and all who fight for equality, human rights and social justice. They physically defended religious Jews attacked by antisemites but supported free thought and enlightenment.

Whichever of those ideological paths you would have chosen, just contrast that vibrant, open-minded, political debate then, with Jewish life in Britain today, where our self-proclaimed spokespersons – the Board of Deputies, the Chief Rabbi, the Israeli Embassy, the Jewish Chronicle – try to constrain us within a narrow range of conservative orthodoxies and imperatives, centered on Zionism and religion, and even Zionism as religion, as they label critics “self-hating Jews”.

How can we rebuild open-minded debate in the Jewish community today? How can we strengthen left-wing and liberatory ideas in a community taught to be fearful and paranoid? How can we rebuild Jewish support for Labour, which took a battering during what was mostly a manufactured smear campaign about antisemitism and the Labour Party, a campaign that targeted the Labour left, and Jeremy Corbyn in particular, despite Corbyn’s total commitment to human rights, and his lifelong opposition to all racism and discrimination?.

Of course, we are far from the times when solidly labour- supporting working class Jews formed the bulk of our community, but there are still some struggling working class Jews, unemployed Jews, Jewish single parents just getting by, pensioners whose living standards are falling. Many Jews work in the underfunded and threatened public sector as teachers, college lecturers, social workers, health workers, community workers. There are Jewish cab drivers who have been undercut by Uber’s disgraceful work practices, small shopkeepers squeezed by bigger enterprises, and Jews who suffer racist and fascist abuse, threats and violence…

All of those Jews would benefit from a Labour government that has a manifesto for social justice and is serious about tackling racist and fascist threats. Should their needs and interests be sacrificed, because our more comfortable so-called “community leaders” are discomfited by critical words from the Left about Israeli policy, Israeli military actions, the settlers, the occupation? Should the real needs and interests of diaspora Jews be sacrificed because they conflict with the priorities of Israel’s leaders who insist that they put Israel at the centre of Jewish life, and make defence of Israel their biggest political priority? Should we cut ourselves off from allies in other ethnic minorities, because Jewish leaders don’t like what they say, or might think about Israel?

These questions have been raised sharply for American Jews in recent months. They now have a president, who combines pro-Zionism with racism towards Mexicans, Muslims, Blacks and refugees, and has an open door for fascists and antisemites. Even some centre-right Jewish bodies there have become alarmed. Jews on the left have been active in the protest movements and very supportive of Black Lives Matter and refugee support campaigns, but right wing Zionists and some orthodox Jewish religious bodies have embraced Donald Trump.

Trump’s election adverts included a picture of Hilary Clinton in front of stacked up dollar bills, with the words “Most corrupt politician ever” encased in a Star of David. Another, which promised to rescue America from powerful global interests, fingered three wealthy Jews. Trump’s appointee Steve Bannon, said he didn’t want his daughters to go to school with Jews. Yet the day Donald Trump took office, our Board of Deputies President here, Jonathan Arkush, was one of the first to congratulate him.

A bit of personal biography to amplify these points. I became politically active in the mid-1970s aged 16. I was in a kibbutz-oriented Zionist youth group that encouraged us to see our future in Israel. But I also started attending anti-fascist demonstrations. The National Front, led by Nazi antisemites, was growing and marching through immigrant areas. In 1978 a huge anti-fascist initiative was launched – the Anti-Nazi League. The impetus was from the left.  Its sponsors and supporters encompassed trade union leaders, Labour MPs, footballers, musicians, actors, academics, and grassroots activists, and included several Jewish names. Alongside it, a brilliant campaign called Rock Against Racism, attracted youth from all communities, including young Jews.

IMG_2856In April 1978, 80,000 people marched from Trafalgar Square to Victoria Park in the East End for the first Rock Against Racism Carnival. I was already active in the Jewish Socialists’ Group by then. As we left Trafalgar Square, members of left wing Zionist groups, Habonim and Mapam, marched near us.

But we were flouting the wishes of the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Chronicle, who used all their energies to persuade Jews not to join with other minorities and the labour movement against the fascists because they might mix with people they disagree with over Israel.

I remember Jewish Socialists’ Group founder, Aubrey Lewis, a veteran anti-fascist from Manchester, telling us: “This has actually got nothing to do with Israel or Zionism. The Jewish establishment just want to keep young Jews away from the left.” And I can’t help thinking that, alongside a desire to shield Netanyahu’s government from criticism, some very similar plain anti-left motives have been at play in the last couple of years, as Jewish community spokespeople have jumped on the anti-Corbyn bandwagon.

Take for example Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who does not actually represent secular, Reform, Liberal or ultra-orthodox Jews, though the media treat him as if he does.

How many Jews here voted for him?

Last year, when the Tories ran a filthy Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan for London Mayor, anti-racist activists from all communities were livid. The day before that election, Chief Rabbi Mirvis was handed a front page slot in the Daily Telegraph. He wrote not a single word about that racist Tory campaign. How would Muslim communities receive that? I don’t think he cared. Instead, he devoted his article to a full-on attack on Labour, smearing them as antisemites, claiming ridiculously that Zionism was an essential part of Judaism.  He obviously has not been to the Polin Museum. He described anti-Zionists and, effectively, all critics of Israel, all Palestinians, as antisemites. But the point of his intervention was not just to defend Israel – it was to strengthen a political alignment of the Jewish community with the Tories.

So who can challenge this? Left wing Jews surely. Up until now, though, the sole representative of Jews within the Labour Party has been the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). They turned out in force on the march and rally marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street last year, but I haven’t seen them on any other significant anti-racist or anti-fascist protest for years, decades even. What prevents them participating is their fear of standing alongside those with less generous views about Israeli policy and Zionism. The JLM cannot lead that challenge, but perhaps a broader, more inclusive, more open-minded group – not fixated on defending Israel – can do so. I hope that is what Jewish Voice for Labour is starting to build.

To return momentarily to the 1970s and early 1980s: two other significant events that cemented my personal rejection of Zionism and highlighted its negative effect on diaspora Jewish communities.

In 1976 I joined the Anti-Apartheid movement. I protested outside South Africa House, gave out leaflets, boycotted… The idea of a country passing specific laws to make the majority of its inhabitants second and third class citizens, was an outrage. South Africa’s apartheid regime had very few friends. But the Israeli government was one… And the Israeli politician most deeply involved in collaborating with South Africa was not even a far right fanatic like Netanyahu, Sharon, or Begin, but Shimon Peres of the Israeli Labour Party.

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Jewish ANC members Joe Slovo (left), Ronnie Kasrils (middle)

Apartheid was defeated in South Africa. Many white ANC activists who were part of the Black-led struggle for liberation, were Jewish communists and socialists, descended from Bundists. I don’t think they thought much of Shimon Peres. Several of those Jewish ANC veterans have since condemned the apartheid-style policies of the Israeli government today as very similar to what they were fighting against.

In the late 1970s, Israel was a major arms supplier to another despicable right wing regime – the junta in Argentina, where 30,000 people “disappeared” between 1976 and 1983. Jews comprised 1% of the Argentine population: they made up more than 12% of those that disappeared. So were those arms to defend Jews from the junta or defend the junta from the Jews? You know the answer.

These are very stark cases, where Israeli policies are diametrically opposed to the interests of diaspora Jews. Most cases are less extreme but if we allow ourselves, as Jews, to examine the relationship between the Israel and the diaspora, we will then be more able to rebuild the association of Jews with progressive politics, human rights, and anti-racism. And our community will also speak out more against the daily human rights abuses committed by Israeli authorities against Palestinians – and support a growing number of young Israelis who are doing so too.

So, in Jewish Voice for Labour, we are about reviving Jewish radical thought and action today. But people don’t abandon previously held positions overnight, especially those so tied up with their identity and sense of self. What helped me and others in the Jewish Socialists’ Group, was having a very positive attitude to Jewish culture, being proud of our progressive Jewish identities and heritage and keen to rediscover and renew radical Jewish culture, I hope Jewish Voice for Labour will reflect that too.

My talk started in Poland. I want to finish with the words of two outstanding Polish Jewish socialists from rival political groups in the 1930s. One was in the Polish Communist party – albeit its left opposition. The other was in the Tsukunft, the Bund’s youth organization. But there is a symmetry to their philosophy that still applies to this day.

deutscherThe first is Isaac Deutscher who died in London in 1967: He asked what makes a Jew.  He answered: “Religion? I am an atheist. Jewish nationalism? I am an internationalist. In neither sense am I, therefore, a Jew. I am however, a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated.”

The second is Marek Edelman The last surviving commander Marek_Edelman_Polen_polennuof the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, whom I met briefly in Warsaw in 1997. He died in Poland in 2009. This hero was persona non grata in Israel for remaining an anti-Zionist, and for saying about that incredible Uprising: “We fought for dignity and freedom. Not for a territory, nor for a national identity”. But the very most important thing he said was: “To be a Jew means always being with the oppressed, never with the oppressors.” Never with the oppressors.

The last straw

My philosophical engagement with religion did not last long. Despite going to a Jewish Primary School in Hackney, and attending kheder (Jewish supplementary classes) two nights a week and on Sunday mornings until I was 14, I can’t remember believing in God. My synagogue attendance – decided by my family rather than me, tailed off rapidly after my barmitzvah. From the age of 8, going to football on a Saturday afternoon was the ritual I really looked forward to on a Saturday, and the only place where I actually  prayed – though I am not sure to whom. Of course I was not alone. When I stood on the terraces at West Ham on a Saturday afternoon I would see faces I had seen two or three hours earlier in shul (synagogue). For those who think synagogues – even those that are nominally orthodox  – are places purely of worship, let me disabuse you. While prayers were being alternately sung and mumbled, at least as far as the khazan (cantor),the rabbi and other synagogue officials believed,  I would be listening in to some of the conversations going on around me in the men’s section – family gossip, work troubles, horse racing and football news. My late friend and comrade Charlie Pottins used to describe the United Synagogue (mainstream orthodox) the kind which I attended as a place where “Jews pray in a language they don’t understand to a God they don’t believe in, for the security of a state they don’t want to live in.”

But, I had a sense of family obligation, and even in my early 20s, when it came to the High Holy Days – Rosh Hashona (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) I would return to my parents’ home and go with them to the synagogue. That all ended after Rosh Hashona 1982. that was The. Last. Straw.

In addition to a bizarre prayer for the Royal family intoned every shobbos (Sabbath), the state whose security we prayed for was Israel. Only by now I was no Zionist. Just a few weeks before I had marched, in a large contingent, behind a large yellow banner of the Jewish Socialists’ Group in a demonstration some 25,000 strong, to protest the horrendous war Israel had unleashed in Lebanon that summer, its tanks roaring through the homes of terrified Lebanese and Palestinian villagers, heading for Beirut where Yasser Arafat and Palestinian forces were concentrated. It was the first time our group had taken a banner on a Palestine Solidarity demonstration, and it was the sole Jewish banner there.

Just days before Rosh Hashona that year, there was the most sickening event of this whole war of destruction. Israel had allies within Lebanon – right-wing Phalangist Christian forces who hated the Palestinians with as much vigour as the Israeli commanders. Israel had asked local Phalangist forces to “clear out” any PLO fighters based in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The Israeli army stationed troops at the exits of the camps and, at night they lit flares to assist the Phalangists in their task. Over a period of 36 hours a gruesome massacre of the residents of the camps children, women, men took place.  Israeli officials acknowledged that there had been 700-800 deaths. The Palestinian Red Crescent estimate was 2,000. More than 1,200 death certificates were issued to survivors. Horrific photos in the aftermath showed indisputable evidence of mass executions.

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after the massacre

It could not but be on the minds of those attending synagogues that Rosh Hashona. At that time the Jewish community where my parents lived, in Redbridge, was still expanding, and we went to High Holy Day services in a makeshift synagogue in a large room of the Redbridge Jewish Community Centre, nearer to our home than Ilford’s main purpose-built synagogue. Perhaps we came in a bit late but I remember sitting right at the back in the corner.

It was a period of transition in many branches of the United Synagogue. Those leading the services, and longstanding rabbis of some congregations, were being replaced by young, and sometimes charismatic adherents of an entryist, more orthodox, fundamentalist, movement, the Lubavitch. One of their rising young men, “educated” at a yeshivah (seminary) in Gateshead, was taking our service.  Three-quarters of the way through the service came the sermon. This moment was usually marked by a few older people deciding they needed a toilet (actually cigarette) break, some temporarily taking their hearing-aids off, others gently closing their eyes for a few minutes. But most of the congregation would at least give the appearance of listening.

Having heard so many anodyne, safe sermons over the years, with stock religious platitudes that meant nothing to me, I was mentally switching off, when my ears pricked up. In his sermon this young Lubavitcher had started to comment on the war in Lebanon and the massacre that had just taken place at Sabra and Shatila. His words are still burned into me. “Jews have suffered 2,000 years of persecution. We should worry about a few hundred Palestinians who would grow up to be terrorists?” There was an audible intake of breath, then his sermon meandered off and people relaxed again. I wanted to run out screaming but was stuck right at the back in the corner with rows of people in front. I felt sick inside and my head was thumping. I struggled to sit through the rest of the service.

That was the last straw for me. Judaism, Jewishness, Israel, are all separate phenomena. You can appreciate Jewish culture without being religious. You can be a pious Jew and reject Zionism and so on… but what this person did was manipulate his position of power in a local Jewish community to tangle things together, in a religious context, to propagandise his racism, his fascistic variant of Zionism, his utterly inhumane political position.

I made a vow to myself never to return to synagogue for a service, save weddings, barmitzvahs etc. that I am invited to, which I’ve kept to. Many people are still fooled by the Lubavitch movement, who present themselves as vibrant, and charismatic in contrast to the more staid, conservative rabbis. But they are a cult of true fundamentalists, enticing people into their narrow ideological world which incorporates support for the most revanchist, intransigent, elements in Israel.

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Israelis of “Yesh Gvul” (There is a Limit) protesting agaisnt the Lebanon invasion, 1982

The 1982 war in Lebanon, though, was also a watershed moment. The honeymoon period of diaspora Jewish support for Israel was starting to come to an end, and support for Israel among diaspora Jews has slowly declined since then. Within Israel itself, the Yesh Gvul movement of army refuseniks began in earnest during that war. Huge demonstrations of a wider peace movement condemned Ariel Sharon – Israel’s military chief – for his role in that war. A small but growing number of young people are now refusing all army service for Israel on political grounds and expressing their open support for justice for Palestinians. Two more of them – young women – have recently been thrown in jail. The times they are a-changing.

 

 

 

Paradoxes in Poland

In Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, a throng of visitors of many nationalities look round a set of beautiful 16th and 17th century synagogues that miraculously survived Nazi occupation. Some have begun to function again as synagogues servicing a revived community – others have been turned into museums, exhibition sites, and bookshops. A lively, outward-looking Jewish Community Centre, opened in 2009, runs a range of activities that appeal to secular and religious Jews, and curious non-Jews, and welcomes visitors warmly without fear. Restaurants serving traditional Jewish food are thriving and some have klezmer musicians regularly performing. The paranoid, heavy-handed security industry, typified by threatening, walkie-talkie-bearing Israelis in sunglasses, at the doors of Jewish institutions in Western Europe, is completely absent in a country in which neo-Nazi movements are supposedly thriving. Interesting.

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Stripped back walls of an old Krakow synagogue now used as an exhibition space about Jewish families from Krakow during the Holocaust

A couple of streets away is Plac Nowy – a small market area shared by pigeons and customers in the day and younger people in the evenings buying their beers and zapiekanki (pizza-style long breads). The stalls offer a mixture of food, clothes, souvenirs and cheap jewellery, including Stars of David. Also present are weather-beaten, middle-aged and older stall-holders, selling antiques and memorabilia. Old Jewish items, such as menorahs (candlesticks for Chanukah) surface here. You can’t help wondering about their provenance, or how comfortable those menorahs feel  standing a couple of feet away from Nazi medals and paraphernalia. There are other items bearing Stars of David – facsimile armbands of the type Jews were forced to wear by Nazis in the wartime ghettoes. Who makes those? Who on earth would want to buy one? The odd bit of antisemitic graffiti adorns Krakow’s walls, typically a Star of David with a diagonal line through it – indicating the intention to eliminate a Jewish presence. And yet Jews in Krakow go about their everyday lives, some in full ultra-orthodox garb, looking relaxed, comfortable, and at home.

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Warsaw Ghetto resisters Monument erected in the late 1940s

In Warsaw, where in contrast to Krakow, there was massive destruction of the city during the war, there are few synagogues but many memorials associated with the Nazi ghettoisation, oppression and deportation of the Jews, a task that some Poles enthusiastically assisted with, while others stood by, and some resisted and helped the Jews. The memorials are not hidden away. You encounter them in everyday places. Some were put there by the Soviet-controlled authorities in power until 1989, others have been erected more recently. Both sets indicate Poland’s willingness to face its past. You perhaps see more antisemitic graffiti in Warsaw, and yet there is no special security around memorial sites and no signs that they have been attacked.

My partner and I have just returned to Britain this week from a summer trip, more than half of which was spent in Warsaw and Krakow. We spoke to Jewish and non-Jewish Poles, among them Polish Christians whose academic studies have led them to learn Yiddish and delve into the history of the Bund, (the Jewish socialist workers’ movement), and also Poles brought up as Catholics who are delighted to have relatively recently discovered some Jewish heritage.

Given these experiences, and the impressions we were formulating, I was struck by two news reports we came back to, which both relate to the far right and antisemitism in Poland today. One, in the latest issue of the anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight, focuses especially on the NOP –  Narodioewe Odrodzenbie Polski (National Rebirth of Poland) – which it describes as “one of the largest and most violent Nazi groups in Poland.” The implication that they are part of a flourishing wider neo-Nazi scene in Poland is clear.

The article focuses mainly on the small number of NOP activists who have been coming to Britain under EU freedom of movement – a right they no doubt oppose ideologically while taking full advantage of it.  But Searchlight also describes the movement in the opposite direction – fascist activists from Britain First (a splinter of the fast imploding British National Party) – heading to Warsaw to find their counterparts and especially to seek out very right-wing, antisemitic Catholic church figures to invite to stir up trouble in Britain. That they can find such people testifies to a politically unhealthy climate in Poland. The individuals we spoke to on our visit were certainly alarmed at the tendencies within the mainstream right, who hold power, to provide a more favourable climate for those pushing far-right ideologies. But there are also countervailing tendencies. These are found not just in antifa activism – which also came up in our conversations, and whose graffiti work was also prominent. It was also in the clear evidence of a reviving Jewish life in both cities we visited.  Jewish communities are now  firmly established in 15 Polish cities.

The second report was from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) who were describing an apparent rift within the reviving Jewish communities about whether or not antisemitsm is growing, and whether the government is doing enough about it. The JTA quoted Anna Chipczynska,  President of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland describing  far-right circles acting with impunity, an increase in racist rhetoric online, antisemitic remarks by lawmakers and even Cabinet ministers, as well as expressions of revisionism by historians. One of her examples was Bogdan Rzonca, a prominent politician in the Law and Justice Party  who recently tweeted: “I wonder why there are so many Jews among those performing abortions, despite the Holocaust.”  Chipczynska accused certain leading Jewish individuals such as Artur Hofman, the President of the TSKZ, Poland’s largest Jewish cultural organisation, and representatives of the ultra-religious Chabad movement, of cosying up to Poland’s very right-wing government rather than being openly critical of it when they needed to be. Last week, the JTA reported that the European Jewish Congress expressed “grave concern over the dramatic rise in antisemitism in Poland.”

This dispute cuts across other battles waged among Jewish tendencies internationally. Chabad for example, is very pro-Zionist, and Zionists are usually determined to prove how bad things are in terms of antisemitism, in order to bolster support for Israel and encourage emigration there, but Chabad also wants to expand its influence and grow within Poland, and here its local empire-building overrides its Zionist imperatives.

We found more nuanced thoughts on these issues through individuals we talked to

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The devastated Brodno cemetery which served the Praga district of Warsaw

, such as Andrzej, a young man who didn’t know of his family’s Jewish identity until he was around 10 years old. He now works on a long-term reconstruction project and exhibition at Warsaw’s devastated Brodno Cemetery on the poorer east of the city. He identified how the very socially conservative, anti-immigrant, anti-refugee right-wing policies of the governing party open up more space to those even further right while simultaneously blurring the space between them. But he was cautious about accepting that there was an upsurge in antisemitism.

He felt the far right were concentrating their sights more on attacking gays and Muslims, and even the antisemitic graffiti was more directed at one set of football fans by another rather than being directed at Jews per se. Though it is surely a worry that “Jew” is used as an insult between non-Jews. That needs to be tackled, and the case for solidarity between the targets of the far right – gays, Muslims, refugees, Jews – surely makes sense. As one of Warsaw’s heroes – Marek Edelman, the Jewish socialist who was the last surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto –  said: “To be a Jew is always to be with the oppressed, never with the oppressors.”

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Mural of the Bundist Ghetto Resistance commander Marek Edelman in the garden area of the Galicia Jewish Museum, Krakow

Like other people we met, Andrzej expressed an optimism about the renewal of Jewish identity and life in Poland, which  was advancing more quickly and deeply than the antisemitic tendencies. Let’s hope he is right, and let’s hope that in the not too distant future, Poland’s rightward drift can be reversed.