Clearly Van der Zyl cares about the sensitivities of the Tories much more than she does about those sitting in power in Hungary. She didn’t mince her words about them: she attacked Orban’s description of migrants as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” and decried his “vivid antisemitism” expressed in a “relentless campaign against Jewish philanthropist George Soros.”
I am rather hoping she will copy this statement to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who recently hosted his good friend Viktor Orban on a state visit, but never seems to draw any official criticism from the Board, whether for his apartheid policies within Israel, repression in the West Bank and Gaza, or his very cosy alliances with far right governments. It’s a funny old world.
On the day before the vote happened, Orban arrived in Strasbourg later than scheduled, and then made a bullish speech saying Hungary was being punished simply for not becoming a “country of migrants”. He reminded MEPs (and no doubt the minority populations in their countries, such as Muslims and Jews,) that Hungary had been part of the “family of Christian nations for a thousand years.” Appeals to Christianity and defence of the Christian family are going down well with white working class voters in central and eastern Europe.
Our Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May, regularly stretches credulity when claiming anti-racist credentials, and she knows it, do, but what does she do when she sees her MEPs taking the side of the racists and fascists? She refuses to take any responsibility for the way her MEPs were voting to defend such a man, and such a regime.
She insists it is nothing to do with her. But who then is it to do with? Her predecessor David Cameron clearly had enough authority to remove the Tory MEPs from the Euro group they previously inhabited, and place them in a new group (Conservatives and Reformists) that the Tories were fashioning together with the Polish Law and Justice Party. Why doesn’t she have the same authority? And if not now when? (in the words of someone probably dismissed by Orban as “not national, but international… not generous but vengeful.”)
While any distance that appears between the Board of Deputies and the Tories, over matters of antisemitism and other forms of racism, is welcome, it is hard not to notice a very stark contrast between the gently expressed “disappointment” with their “friends”and the much more strident, even rabid attack on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when allegations of antisemitism surface. He is incidentally believed to be responsible and castigated for every person around the globe who says something stupid but claims to be a Corbyn supporter. She gets away with saying that the Conservative Prime Minister has no say on what Conservative MEPs do.
And while Labour’s press team have rightly contested allegations of antisemitism where any hard evidence is wanting, these real and verifiable links between the Tories and antisemitic and Islamophobic parties in Europe are plain for all to see.
Even apart from the way the Tories’ MEPs voted to defend Hungary, they (with their partners in crime, the Polish Law and Justice party) are also guilty of welcoming the Sweden Democrats into the Conservatives and Reformists Group and of using this group to build alliances with a range of ultra nationalist, populist, far right parties that stretch back several years, with none of the media establishment batting an eyelid.
A previous slightly left-leaning president of the Board of Deputies, Vivian Wineman, expressed concern in 2010 about David Cameron’s decision to link with the Polish Law and Justice Party in founding the Tories’ current Euro Parliament group. Unfortunately that seems to have been the very last time the Board commented negatively on Tory behaviour and alliances in Europe. There is really no excuse for the Board of Deputies’ shameful silence that has persisted until this week’s events. And there are certainly no excuses now, having expressed concern, for the Board of Deputies not to demand some action by the Tories now that the vote has taken place .
Labour meanwhile, in keeping with its traditions, has reiterated its opposition to all racism. Its MEPs voted unanimously against Hungary this week, with the same determination that their MPs in Westminster, led by Diane Abbott, David Lammy and Dawn Butler, are chasing down the treatment of minorities and migrants in Britain, be they the shamefully treated and destitute citizens of the Windrush generation or the brutally treated inmates of immigration detention centres.