This is a column about an event I went to and an event I didn’t. As you will see, I chose wisely.
Some time in November, an envelope containing a heavy card invitation arrived with the post. The Prince of Wales was delighted to inform me that there was to be a drinks party to celebrate the contribution of the Jewish community to British life to be held at Buckingham Palace and would I like to come along and celebrate myself?
The answer wasn’t obvious. I am mildly unclubbable and suspicious of the “great person” thing. Second, as regular readers will know, I was not brought up “in a Jewish household”, and what I know about Judaism and the Jewish communities has almost all been learned in the past 20 years. I have no ability to represent (as opposed to think about) Jewish life in this country.
So, naturally, I said yes and pitched up one Thursday evening outside the Palace. “Is this the Jew queue” I asked the people at the end of a line that had formed by the gates.
It hadn’t been intended, but the event was held three weeks into an election campaign where — of course — for many British Jews, the issue of antisemitism had become important.
During that campaign, I had seen, as had others, people we’d thought of as staunch friends and comrades in effect telling us not to mind the anti-Jewish thing and concentrate on the greater goal of whatever it was they thought a Labour victory might bring.
People in the Jew queue were bruised. Jews in the great, chandeliered reception hall were hurting. The great novelist. The legendary food writer. The famous doctor. The famous lawyer. The comedian who is a household name. The editor of a Jewish publication. The lords, ladies, knights and dames of Jewdom. The rabbis, the shul presidents, charity workers, philanthropists. Everyone I spoke to felt in some way that whatever else they were, Jews were not being celebrated in the Britain of 2019.
Then the Prince of Wales made a speech. “In every walk of life,” he said, “in every field of endeavour, our nation could have had no more generous citizens, and no more faithful friends.” And there was something like a collective sigh of relief. The novelist whispered that this was just want we needed to hear. And off we all went, looking for the coaches to Radlett.
A week later, we had the election, then Chanukah. Then, in my neck of the woods, some man with a spray-can and (I would guess) a moped, spent a night daubing the star of David and “9.11” on a series of Jewish and non-Jewish linked properties. This was something that even the far left could agree was antisemitic.
Some of us inhabit the news world where such events are common and a few of us even dwell in an intellectual place where we can spot a Trotskyist with a bad intention from several miles away. So I knew two things. First, that the graffiti, though unlovely, was not something that required the SAS. Second, that if someone organised a picket or, even worse, a “vigil” to protest about it, the far left would be likely to hijack it.
But many people I know locally have spent lives being useful and haven’t developed the ability to tell their Workers’ Struggle from their Liberation League. So when they heard on the cyber grapevine that there was to be a vigil, they whatsapped each other and planned to attend. I went to see Little Women.
The front organisation for the Socialist Workers Party that organised the vigil later released the list of those who spoke at it. There was a “beard” of kosher speakers. But a quick glance showed that the politics was supplied by a succession of far left and avowedly anti-Zionist activists. There was Julia Bard, of the Jewish Socialists’ Group who wrote to the Guardian in the wake of the antisemitic mural scandal of “the malicious intent behind the latest flimsy accusations of antisemitism against Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party…” coming from “the unrepresentative Board of Deputies and the unelected, self-proclaimed ‘Jewish Leadership Council’, two bodies dominated by supporters of the Tory party.”
Why was she chosen to speak? Or Louise Raw, a regular contributor to the Morning Star, fierce Corbyn defender who, as reported here, had recently retweeted a claim about Mossad being behind accusations of Labour antisemitism? Or Newham teacher and SWP member Rob Ferguson who once boasted that “all my adult political life I have been an anti-Zionist”?
Afterwards, I met some people who had mistakenly wandered along. And they’d been bruised all over again. The irony was obvious. Who’d have thought that one day I’d count Prince Charles as a reliable ally and “anti-racist” campaigners as anything but?
David Aaronovitch is a columnist for The Times