Marcus Dysch

Year in review: Politics 2016

Was it a completely grim year in politics for British Jews?

December 29, 2016 09:25

If a week is a long time in politics, then 2016 has felt like a decade. Reviewing the past 12 months in one column barely seems plausible  a book would be more appropriate.

But focusing just on the impact on British Jewry of events in Westminster and other political arenas produces a result you might not expect.

Everyone knows the stand-out issue of the year was Labour’s inability to deal with antisemitism in its ranks. The story has done the rounds more times than a plate of greasy latkes at an interminable Chanukah party, and has been about as palatable.

Two days stood out for me as incomprehensibly crazy, even in this most mind-boggling of years.

I have never experienced a morning like that of April 28, when Ken Livingstone, a Labour veteran and former London Mayor, once a giant of British politics, toured television studios repeating his views on Hitler and Zionism.

With each appearance, the reaction grew more outraged.

The footage of John Mann, the chairman of parliament’s leading group tackling antisemitism, screaming “you’re a Nazi apologist” at his former colleague as the pair almost came to blows, will be the defining image of Labour’s desperate, catastrophic Jew-hate omnishambles.

The second memorable morning was spent, two months later, with a colleague at the launch of pre-peerage Shami Chakrabarti’s investigation into the problem.

I will never forget how we sat open-mouthed as a hard-left activist lambasted Ruth Smeeth, adopting antisemitic tropes to accuse the Jewish MP of collusion with the right-wing media.

The feeling as Ms Smeeth ran from the room was almost incomprehensible. A Jew baited at an event supposedly outlining Labour’s efforts to tackle antisemitism? How could this be happening?

Yards away from us, the Leader of the Opposition, holding the power to end the abuse, stood apparently impervious as the scene unfolded in front of him.

It has been a sordid year for Labour and it would take a miracle of Chanukah proportions for 2017 to see the party’s relationship with British Jews restored to its former status.

The Liberal Democrats meanwhile have renewed confidence and while leader Tim Farron’s appeal to the community was laughed off by many, his party may become a popular option for those ideologically turned off by the Tories and morally repulsed by Labour.

The Scottish National Party, so unfavourable for many years with Scottish Jews, is keeping an eye out for the communities in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly defended Scottish Jewry, met Jewish students, and worked to further Shoah education, working with the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Her efforts are unlikely to cover the misdeeds of some of her SNP colleagues in Westminster, who seem hell-bent on targeting Israel at any opportunity. But, on the home front, Ms Sturgeon could have done little more to make apparent her philosemitism.

I have heard friends ask— in reference to a number of world events this year, including the election of Donald Trump and surge in race hatred following the EU referendum — whether this is what it felt like to be alive in the 1930s. Is this how it begins?

Consider this as you light the final candles on your menorah: our community ends the year better protected than when it began.

Why have I waited this long to mention the Tories? Because the government did much the same — it made us wait until the third week of December to feel the weight of its power.

Announcements earlier this month of its plans to crack down on antisemites are likely to have a greater positive impact on life for British Jews than anything any other party or politician has achieved this year.

There are, it seems, reasons to be cheerful after a year of misery.

December 29, 2016 09:25

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