Jewish families in Dollis Hill, north-west London, woke yesterday to find they had been the targets of a horrifying antisemitic attack. This was not an unpleasant Facebook post, or a garbled report of what someone said to someone else about what was said at a meeting, but huge swastikas and Nazi SS symbols painted on the pavement outside houses in a street where many Jewish people live, on the window at a bus stop and on street signs. It was similar to a spate of incidents that targeted Jewish families in another part of north west London in January 2017. On that occasion the attacks included a brick with antisemitic messages arriving through one family’s window. The victims of this weekend’s outrage must have been thinking, if only there was an organised campaign against antisemitism that would come down immediately, give support to the families, tell them who they think the perpetrators might be, and offer them a plan of action.
Well, it turns out there is such a campaign, but it was too busy to help yesterday. The self-styled “Campaign Against Antisemitism” (CAA), was instead standing in the rain holding Union Jacks as it demonstrated outside the national office of the political party that has brought in almost every single piece of equalities and race relations legislation in Britain, and whose MPs can regularly be found addressing anti-racist and anti-fascist gatherings. The crowd the CAA attracted booed the name of Labour politicians, and at least one speaker compared Jeremy Corbyn to Adolf Hitler.
If there was one crumb of comfort for rational, sane people from this Alice in Wonderland scenario, it was that despite many thousands of pounds being spent on targeted advertising for this “national” demonstration, all they could muster was a few hundred. The Jewish Chronicle, whose reporters are no Corbynistas, put the figure as low as 500 demonstrators. Even if these were all Jews – and evidence provided by photographers of faces in the crowd and placards of Christian Zionists organisations who were bussed down from Scotland belies this – we are talking about a mobilisation of, at most 0.2% of Britain’s Jews. Other observers who took panoramic photos of the crowd at its height put the figure at no more than 150-200. The organisers, used to inflating their own importance, naturally inflated the figures as well – to 2,000, a figure repeated in Israeli newspapers. Our domestic newspapers, which failed to report a considerably bigger demonstration in central London the day before, to protest the killings of unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, nevertheless reported yesterday’s flop uncritically.
If the larger protests in Parliament Square led by the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council on 26th March, alleging “endemic” antisemitism in the Labour Party, could draw a thin veil over a patently pro-Tory agenda, by offering speaker slots to anti-Corbyn Labour representatives, there were no pretences yesterday. One invited speaker, a former Labour Party donor who quit the party last month, who spoke of the need to rebuild relations between the Jewish community and the Labour Party, was shouted down with cries of “Off! Off! Off!” and “Vote Tory!”
Nobody can or should seek to deny that antisemitism has deep roots in many European societies, including Britain, but to imagine it arises disproportionately within the party which has the strongest record of opposing all racism, is perverse (and contradicted by the latest You Gov analysis). Antisemitic attacks should never be downplayed. Unfortunately there are elements within the left who mistakenly do that. But it is also important to keep matters in perspective. It tends to rise and fall in tandem with other forms of racism that have been fuelled in Britain in very lean years economically that have heightened social stresses. Islamophobic hate crimes in London soared 40% in 2017 from 1,205 to 1,678. The perpetrators, where identified, are usually white racists. National figures last updated in March 2018 show Black people and especially Black youth, are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Roma people and Poles have also been targeted in viciuous racist hate crimes.
So, who can turn this racist tide around? The party whose Foreign Secretary talks of piccaninnies, led by the former Home Secretary who introduced the infamous “go home” vans, targeting migrants who had “overstayed”? A party whose policies on every reliable measure have increased poverty, despair and homelessness, leaving increasing numbers of people prey to those who will seek to turn their anger, hopelessness and frustration into scapegoating of immigrants? Really?
There is an opportunity on 3rd May to answer this question by electing committed anti-racists and anti-fascists as councillors, from a Labour Party that has unequivocally positioned itself, under its current leadership, as an anti-austerity party. Less than a month ago, the Tories were on the ropes and fighting with each other over Brexit. Many Tories wanted Theresa May to quit but feared an even more divisive and incompetent successor. The polls were showing that they would struggle to hold on to their flagship councils in London such as Westminster and Wandsworth, and that they could even be in trouble in Barnet, where Jewish voters, conditioned by constant propaganda to see Labour as the home of the “new antisemitism”, make up 20% of the electorate.
But that palpable sense of panic in Tory ranks has been pushed out of the news by an opportunist campaign that has latched on to a tiny number of real incidents involving Labour members and antisemitism that need to be addressed. That campaign has wildly and deliberately exaggerated their overall significance, thrown in ambiguous historical incidents as if they are of burning significance today; and completely obscured the bigger picture of rising racism against a range of communities that has occurred on the Tories’ watch and with Tory complicity.
Those pushing that campaign – right wing dominated Jewish bodies, falsely claiming to be representative of the politically and economically diverse Jewish community in Britain – have acted predictably. But the real culprits are the mainstream media, from the “quality“ broadsheets to the tabloids (with a couple of honourable exceptions), who have willingly fallen into line behind this campaign, and have ignored or marginalised other critical Jewish voices. The media are quite cynically betraying the victims of Tory misrule over the country – people from all communities, including the Jewish community – who are experiencing the Tories’ heartless attack on health, social services and social care, the working families forced to use food banks, the spiralling numbers of young workers on zero hour contracts, and the growing numbers of homeless.
It is time for the Labour leadership to call the bluff of these newspapers and of the opportunistic campaigns promoted by puffed-up but unrepresentative Jewish “leaders”. Labour needs to set rather than follow the agenda here, and state boldly that it understands exactly what is at stake for the most vulnerable sectors of society in these elections, sectors which include many members of ethnic minorities.
Labour must declare that between now and those elections, it will not be diverted by negative headlines and accusations of being soft on antisemitism, from the task of delivering a result that will bring many more anti-austerity and anti-racist councillors into office, who will make a profound material difference on the ground in their local communities. Labour should state that it expects every single Labour politician at national and local level to make this their number one priority. It was a good sign that no Labour politicians joined the CAA rally yesterday.
Labour should declare that it will take no lectures on this from the Tory Party that, at the
European level, happily works with openly xenophobic, anti-migrant and antisemitic parties, while here in Britain it maintains fluid boundaries with antisemites, Holocaust deniers and revisionists, alt-right eugenicists and identitarians, through the Traditional Britain Group which is led by the active Tory members, Lord Sudeley and Gregory Lauder-Frost.
And Labour needs to demand something of its own supporters and activists: that they should be wise to provocations, and refuse to be drawn into any more petty confrontations with those perpetuating diversionary debates.
We need to keep our eyes on the prize – an overwhelmingly positive result in the local elections that will be the springboard for defeating the party of privilege and division, and their cynical supporters, at the General Election.
There will be a vigil in Dollis Hill from 7-10pm Tuesday 10th April: https://www.facebook.com/events/435612193528744/