Since October 7, I have had to say I am also a Jew

Though I defended Jewish Labour members in the Corbyn years, the antisemitism they faced never felt personal. But this time it is different

November 10, 2023 11:29

These are lonely times for the left-winger who supports Israel at the moment. According to a recent poll — I’m afraid I don’t have chapter and verse, but these numbers feel about right – only 9 per cent of Labour voters stand with Israel at the moment.

The figure among Conservative voters is 29 per cent, which, to tell the truth, isn’t much better. But that 9 per cent is still pretty shocking. Why has the left such a problem with Israel?

Why don’t they stand behind the only state in the Middle East that offers protection under the law to all the minority groups that are dear to the hearts of the left? And weren’t, historically, the Jews’ worst enemies meant to be on the right?

I think I can answer this. Until about 20 years ago I would have stood or even marched in solidarity with the Palestinians. I did march in solidarity with the protesters against the 2003 Iraq war — but I now think that was when things began to go wrong.

I marched because I thought the war was a catastrophic mistake that would cause problems for decades to come, and wasn’t even going after the perpetrators of 9/11, the crime declared as being the reason for the invasion in the first place.

But I noticed in the crowd, for the first time, the green shoots of a new kind of antisemitism: one that masqueraded under support for the Palestinian cause.

And since then, this has grown, mostly underground, with shoots popping up here and there, and coming into full flower under the Labour leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. And it’s now growing faster than knotweed. There are a few reasons for this.

The first can be politely called naivety. Or, to put it impolitely, stupidity. This can be found in the minds of many of the people who help hold up banners with slogans such as “Queers for Palestine”.

As I am by no means the first person to point out, these people wouldn’t last a day in any country in the Middle East apart from the one they hate. To the more reflective, this is a further token of their magnanimity: that they are so virtuous, that their desire to help transcends their cause’s desire to kill them. “We’re that good!”

The second is the left’s unshakeable belief in its own moral rectitude. Quite literally no belief of theirs can be wrong, because they are on the side of Justice, and all that is good in the world.

True, this can be found all over the political map, but you can still find occasional moments of self-awareness among the wetter corners of the Conservative Party: the recognition that they are known as “the nasty party” for a reason.

The third, more common the further left you go, is the conviction that everything the West does is wrong, ergo everyone else is right. The US is the worst of the lot; the US supports Israel; therefore Israel is bad.

As it happens the West has indeed done appalling things, but the overthrowings of Mossadegh and Allende happened a long time ago; and the Vietnam war has been over for nearly 50 years.

It took the disaster of 2003 to spark the embers of anti-Americanism back into life again, and since then that fire has been glowing brightly, even to the point where many on the left, who should have been holding Barack Obama to their collective bosom, denounced him as a war criminal at least as bad as his predecessor.

A fourth factor is the simple power of a crowd with a unified slogan. For some people, there are few better days out than a rally or a march.

It doesn’t matter if these are futile: to count only the marches I’ve been on, the Gulf War still happened, Trump still had his state visit, and Brexit got done. At least the Anti-Nazi League marches I went on in the 1970s had some effect, and you were guaranteed some good music at the end of them. That is certainly not the case now.

And the fifth reason — forgive me if there are others I haven’t listed — is good, old-fashioned antisemitism. Here I surely do not need to elaborate on this. This can masquerade as anti-capitalism, because capitalism is bad, obviously, and Jews run capitalism and are all filthy rich, even if the one writing these words is almost invariably broke at the end of the month.

Antisemitism is also a key ingredient of the loopier kind of conspiracy theory, but I am trying to restrict my analysis to those who are at least vestigially sane. (Although I do sometimes wonder if anyone has gone “aha” when they notice that my name practically is “lizard”.)

That said, you do have to wonder about the kind of mind that can denounce Israel for committing war crimes when the outrages that caused the retaliation are called no such thing.

A common formulation these days, among backtracking celebrities who have been caught signing unfortunately-worded round-robins is “of course, it goes without saying …”

Well, I’m sorry, but it needs to be said, especially now. But in their eagerness to proclaim their compassion for Gaza, they fail to read the small print.

Actually, they fail to read the big print. I recently refused to sign a counter-letter because it contained the line “as Israel takes the necessary steps to …” I am not happy with the current steps and there could well be worse ones in the next few days or weeks.

The interesting thing is that when you try to remind people of the medieval sadism of Hamas, or point out that an insurgency that hides behind the population it says it fights for might not be the honourable soldiery that some claim it is, the anger and bile suddenly becomes directed at you. In this case, I mean me.

The other day a friend wrote a poem called I Stand With Babies (“my flag would be a moon-white nappy/And my placard a breastful of the starry milky way” etc) and put it on Facebook: I pointed out that Hamas really went the extra mile when it came to killing babies, and the wrath that descended on me was impressive to behold. “You disgust me.”

(This after I’d asked if another commentator knew what “from the river to the sea” actually meant.) “Don’t put f***ing words into my mouth,” said another. “Trump would be proud of you.” (Eh?)

A few of her friends wrote to me privately to say they supported me but couldn’t say so publicly because they couldn’t face the certain reaction. I quite understand this.

There are many on the left who do not like to be reminded of Hamas’s atrocities because deep down, they know that in this instance they are in the wrong. And, as I have said above, the left can’t be wrong.

As it happens, I still count myself on the left, because, with the likes of Hamas, we saw, in plain sight, the actions of everything the left professes to loathe. I won’t be voting Conservative at the next election, even if I find myself in the bizarre position of agreeing with the likes of Michael Fabricant on this issue.

But even during Corbyn’s leadership I never felt personally threatened, and my defence of Jewish Labour members was more theoretical, or based at a distance; this now feels real, and close. For ever since October 7 I have now had to say: I am also a Jew.

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November 10, 2023 11:29

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