It was a heartbreaking moment. Driving down the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, on holiday in Israel, my husband and I were discussing the demonstration against antisemitism outside Labour’s headquarters, which was to be held later that day. We were upset not to be able to attend and were worried sick about the rising levels of antisemitism we were witnessing back home. Then, from the back seat, a voice piped up.
“Ima,” asked one of my young daughters. “Why do so many people not like Jews?”
I had grown up in complete security as a Jew in the UK. Yes, I was aware of antisemitism — in a vague, theoretical way. It was something out of history or happening somewhere else. It wasn’t personal.
The reality of contemporary antisemitism didn’t really sink in until I was much more politically aware, in my 20s.
I would never have believed that, one day, I would have to explain to my pre-teen why people so close to home seemed to dislike Jews. I could not have imagined that I would have to find the words to reassure her that the problem was them, not us, and that she was safe.
Tears filled my eyes, and then I filled with rage at Jeremy Corbyn, who had created this reality for my innocent child.
In that split second, it became clear to me. No matter how the next few weeks and months pan out, our family’s long-term future cannot be in the UK.
I resolved to visit Israel more often; to make sure that all my children speak fluent Hebrew; and to encourage them to see Israel as their ultimate destination.
It’s the ultimate irony — or perhaps the law of unintended consequences. Jeremy Corbyn has spent his career fighting against Zionism, and allying with people and organisations who want to destroy the Jewish state.
And yet, with Corbyn at the helm of the Labour Party, the need for Zionism has never been clearer.
Corbyn embodies the reason why Israel’s existence is forever necessary, as a refuge for Jews fleeing persecution and distress.
In the early years of the state, in the wake of the Holocaust, this was self-evident. But, latterly, for the Jews of the West at least, this fundamental rationale for Zionism had begun to fade.
For several decades, the Jews of the diaspora never had it so good. The United States, UK, France — the countries where the majority of diaspora Jews lived — were wealthy, democratic, liberal, and broadly speaking, economically and politically stable. Jewish life flourished, with Jewish schools and synagogues popping up everywhere.
There were some tremors — 7/7, Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London (in retrospect the canary in the coal mine) — yet it was hard to imagine that we would ever need to flee anything ever again.
Despite the best efforts of Israeli politicians to convince us that Israel was our true home, Western aliyah rates remained minuscule. Many people believed that Israel had completed its role gathering in the exiles, and we had entered a “Post-Zionist” era.
Israel became a country Western Jews like me visited, loved and supported. But move there? Only if they were attracted to the lifestyle or Jewish life, or felt compelled to turn their large fortune into a small one.
It was entirely a matter of choice, not necessity — unless of course you were Russian or Ethiopian. But that was “them”, this was “us”.
Or so it seemed back then.
Perhaps, miraculously, Corbynism will be defeated politically and in due course, the Absolute Boy and his antisemitic followers will disappear from public life. But this period has left its mark on me, and I suspect many of us, forever.
We’re not ready to leave quite yet. But I will never again pooh-pooh suggestions that there might arise a time when British Jews feel compelled to seek a haven elsewhere.
And Israel has a new meaning and relevance to me. I see now that its historic role as a place of refuge is far from over — indeed, will never be over.
So, thank you, Mr Corbyn, for making me a more ideological, committed Zionist. I take great pleasure in telling you: It would never have happened without you.