Three weeks to go until the general election, and anti-Semitism is firmly rooted as one of the key issues of the election campaign. Ministers have used it as a talking point in the media and online, the biggest British Jewish newspaper, the Jewish Chronicle, published a front page calling on all non-Jews to vote against Labour, and public figures – left and right – are weighing in through open letter, op-eds and social media threads. Today, the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis published an unprecedented article in The Times condemning the Labour Party, and declaring that “the soul of our nation is at stake” in this election.
In one way, the Chief Rabbi is absolutely right about “the soul of our nation” and what this election means for the future of our country. There are definitely problems in Labour with anti-Semitism that need to be addressed swiftly and clearly. But in an election where the Conservatives are embracing the far-right and demonising minorities to hold onto power, then that is the single biggest threat facing both the Jewish community and the country as a whole.
We cannot let the Tories be seen as a safe alternative to Jeremy Corbyn. The idea that a Johnson-led government would be a safe environment for Jews is a dangerous lie.
Failing to recognise that Jewish safety is inherently bound up in our solidarity with other communities creates a hierarchy of oppression.
I know that there are many in our community who are grateful that this issue is on the political agenda. There is no question that the past four years have been extremely difficult for British Jews across the political spectrum and that anti-Semitism has left many of us feeling hurt, angry and frustrated about the Labour party. It is going to take hard work from both sides if the left’s relationship with the Jewish community is ever to be healed. While I don’t believe that the party poses an existential threat if it enters government, I understand that the pain and difficulty of the last few years may mean that there are those in my community who feel unable to cast their vote for Labour at this time.
But it is also becoming increasingly clear that the Jewish community has become the political football of this election. For the Chief Rabbi to say that “hateful prejudice is always wrong, whoever the perpetrator, whoever the victim”, whilst not acknowledging the threat and misery a Tory government will cause to other marginalised or minority groups is deeply disappointing. Failing to recognise that Jewish safety is inherently bound up in our solidarity with other communities creates a hierarchy of oppression. It is dangerous that those seeking to keep a progressive government out of power are exploiting the real worries of the British Jewish community to divide us from those who should be our natural allies in the fight against racism and anti-Semitism.
When non-Jews claiming to be in support of the Jewish community imply that Corbyn is the only party leader whose racism is worthy of people changing their vote, it sends the message that other groups who suffered as a result of the racist politics and policies of Johnson are somehow less important or worth fighting for than Jews. Progressive members of the British Jewish community must reject wholeheartedly these attempts to use us to sow such division.
Johnson is leading a government which deported the Windrush generation, and is promising to crack down on immigration further. His comments comparing Muslim women who wear Burkas to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes” were linked to a 375% rise in anti-Muslim hate crime.
We need to realise that the same people walking into mosques to shoot muslim worshippers, are the same people who are walking into synagogues to shoot Jews. If we truly want to root out ant-Semitism, we must fight Islamophobia, xenophobia and all other forms of racism along with it. That’s why the Conservative’s strategic embrace of nationalism and the far-right is so horrifying. We must do everything in our power to resist this—which is why I am part of Jews Against Boris, a collective of British Jews organising to confront the far-right and tell the Tories we won’t be instrumentalised for political gain.
If Johnson and his colleagues were genuinely concerned for the welfare of Britain’s Jews, they would not align themselves in the European Parliament with Hungary’s far-right led by Viktor Orban – a relentless purveyor of anti-Semitism. Johnson would not have held secret meetings with Breitbart founder Steve Bannon. Two different Conservative cabinet ministers would not have used anti-Semitic dogwhistles in the space of a week.
The people who have spoken out about anti-Semitism so far in this election clearly have their own agency, and any suggestion that they are puppets in some right-wing plot should be disregarded as pure fantasy. But the Conservatives’ willingness to use Jews for their political ends shows a disregard, rather than concern for our welfare, and rings hollow when they fail miserably to confront racism in their own ranks.
The best way to fight anti-Semitism is through building solidarity with those who are also on the frontline of fighting racism. I understand the Chief Rabbi’s urge to speak out against anti-Semitism and the real fears of my community that he represents, but this is categorically the wrong approach. We must unite everyone who is threatened by the far-right direction Johnson is taking the country, and organise to remove him from power next month. British Jews have a proud tradition of standing with other oppressed groups. This election, Jews Against Boris is here to continue it.
Em Hilton is a writer and Jewish activist and organiser for Jews Against Boris.