UK Jews face 'perfect storm' of left-wing and right-wing antisemitism, Anthony Julius warns

Leading lawyer and JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein were speaking at a discussion of the future of Jew-hate


Britain’s Jews face a “perfect storm of pressure” from the left and the right, as a "street-smart" far-right movement has risen alongside far-left antisemitism in Labour, leading lawyer Anthony Julius has warned.

Mr Julius also said it was “deeply worrying” that a “significant fraction of the electorate” no longer had a centrist, pro-European political party that represented them which “should be a matter of deep concern for those of us who are Jews.”

The deputy chairman of the law firm Mishcon de Reya, who made his name representing Princess Diana and historian Deborah Lipstadt, said: “I am concerned by the threat from a disaffected street smart, social media adept, right in this country, that is learning from the populist right in Hungary, Poland and also the United States.

“What worries me is that the Jews in this country... may find ourselves in a kind of perfect storm of pressure from left and right.

“My concern is that things might get even worse than they are now.”

He said, during Holocaust denier David Irving's failed libel action against Prof Lipstadt in 2000, it was "very easy to listen to (Mr Irving) and think his antisemitism was antisemitism" but "actually the problem was quite different".

He said the case created "a false understanding" that Jew-hate came from the right, adding: "We are now living with the consequences of a belated recognition that antisemitism has other homes."

Speaking alongside Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein, he added Labour had "contributed to" the problem, "not simply because of its utterly stupid antisemitic positions, but because it has shown itself to be incapable of giving leadership on the main political question... Brexit".

Mr Julius said Mr Corbyn's spokesman Seumas Milne believed the main political question was "1947", the year before Israel's foundation, implying the senior aide to the Labour leader was unduly obsessed with the Jewish state.

Mr Julius, who has also written extensively on antisemitism, and Mr Goldstein were speaking on Monday at an event held at Brampton College in Hendon, about Jew-hate in 2019.

Bernard Canetti, principal at the top-performing independent sixth form, introduced the two communal figures to the packed audience who had gathered for the talk.

Mr Julius and Mr Goldstein spoke of their concerns but they also urged against over-reaction to the rise in extremism and to the prospect of a Labour government under Mr Corbyn.

Mr Goldstein said his position had “hardened" on the party's leadership in the 10 months since he played a leading role the Enough Is Enough demonstration in Parliament Square against antisemitism in the party which galvanised the community.

He said: “The really disappointing aspect about the current leadership... is that they’ve shown an utter disregard for the pain and the worry that the Jewish community has gone through in 2018.”

Following his meeting with Mr Corbyn and his team last April in an attempt to resolve the growing split between Labour and the community, the JLC chairman said he was left with the belief that left-wing antisemitism had “two prongs".

He said one was “the classic trope of the oppressor and the oppressed. The classic trope of the wealth of the Jewish community, or the control of the business world, the control of the banks", which meant many of Mr Corbyn's supporters cannot grasp how Jews “can suffer oppression".

Mr Goldstein said the second part of it was "the demonisation of Israel and the right of Jews to have their own nation state".

He said, when he met the party's leadership, including Mr Milne, he found their opposition to Israel predates the Occupation in 1967.

“In our meeting, we said to Mr Corbyn, 'the problem you've got is that you see absolutely no nuances about Israel. You see no positives'. 

“The answer came back from Seumas Milne - 'that is because people cannot get beyond the ethnic cleansing'.”

But both Mr Goldstein and Mr Julius spoke against kneejerk reactions to the prospect of a Labour government in increasingly uncertain political times.

Mr Julius predicted there would not be "violence against Jews in the street".

He said: “You will not find we will lose our jobs, that we are called to account for ourselves as Jews or held to a higher standard for our personal and domestic lives by discriminatory legislation.

“We are not as a community facing an existential threat, language that suggests we are hysterical and misinformed.”

But he added a Labour government would not be "neutral”, predicting a “general sense of gloom, of demoralisation in the Jewish community”.

He said a Corbyn government would likely leave people having to “justify one's attachment to Israel, one's wish for the Jewish state to prosper, the salience of Zionism in one’s political and moral life.

“You cannot, in the end, defeat stupidity that passes as common sense – it’s demoralising."

He said he feared British Jews might "retire to a private life, look after family, worry about a career, step back from politics".

"I think the exiling of Jews out of political life into private life - this is what we have to worry about,” he says.

But Mr Goldstein said he was concerned there were “a number of ways day-to day-life for the community” could change.

“I don’t know if Corbyn represents an existential threat,” he said, “but in global terms one must not forget Britain still has a seat on the UN Security Council.

“We still have a very loud voice in the world to fundamentally represent issues that are important to us a Jews. 

“I think when Corbyn became leader of the party there was a consensus that didn’t expect him to become prime minister. The legitimacy his position has given him from the despatch box means he is able to argue certain perspectives that I think are deeply uncomfortable for the Jewish community.”

Domestically, Mr Goldstein said he feared changes “in the way our schools operate, our shuls operate, in security and the levies we receive from the government.”

He added: “I’m not sure these issues are totally understood by the current leadership of the Labour Party. Whether or not it’s an existential threat, I do think the environment will change should Labour get into power.”

But Mr Goldstein was also careful to urge the community to “keep a perspective on where we are today”.

He added: “There have been far worse times in Jewish history in Britain. We must not be over sensitised to the situation. We must be available to debate about issues on the way we operate as Jews.”

Mr Julius praised the role the JLC and the Board of Deputies played in galvanising the community after last year’s Enough Is Enough demonstrations.

“For the first time in its history the Anglo-Jewish community has been absolutely equal to the challenge of antisemitism,"  he said.

“It is remarkable thing that has happened. As a community we have stepped up to the challenge...

“I think we shown we have the resource to see off, if not quite to contain, the challenge to Jews represented by elements in the Labour Party."

He added that Labour's eventual adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, the party's "still inadequate, but nonetheless much developed" complaints procedure and "the sheer weight of the opprobrium" put "on the heads of the Labour Party leaders has confined and contained the threat presented to Jewish morale in this country”.

Mr Goldstein also praised Labour MP Luciana Berger's role in raising concern over how Mr Corbyn questioned the removal of an antisemitic mural in Tower Hamlets in 2012, which sparked the anger ahead of the Enough is Enough demonstration and, Mr Julius said, “gave the opportunity for the community to have a voice”.

But he said he questioned on a daily basis whether the demonstration was the right thing to do. “Our objective was to reduce the amount of antisemitism but actually what has happened since in the short term is that it has heightened this antisemitism,” he said.

But the JLC leader said he was encouraged by how the issue of Jew-hate is now so widely discussed at a national level.

Mr Goldstein also suggested that the Labour MPs, who had dismissed concern about Mr Corbyn’s alleged antisemitism during the 2017 general election by suggesting he would never make it into Downing Street, did not have that excuse in the future.

“It will be for those MPs to look into their conscience and make their own personal decision on whether or not the current leadership of the Labour Party represent the British values we understand,” he said.

Mr Goldstein revealed that, because of the Brexit turmoil, the JLC had decided to be “quieter” about antisemitism “otherwise we would have been seen as terribly self-indulgent.”

The pair were asked about Brexit's potential impact on Britain's relations with Israel.

But Mr Goldstein said the election of Labour government would have a likely “negative” impact on relations, with Mr Corbyn keen to “play to Labour’s base” in his dealings with Israel.

Mr Julius said he believed the Jewish State would be “an irresistibly attractive business partner” for this country.

He lamented how Labour used to be "the home of aspirational Jews" because it had not excluded Jewish people as the Tories historically had.

When he entered the law, he said it was taken for granted that Jewish lawyers were "one of the constituencies" of the party.

“We were all commercially driven, anxious to make the best of our careers, but we were absolutely solid Labour members, and that has changed," he said.

“Although I see some drift... I don’t think the Conservative Party is still a natural home for Jews, for many reasons.”

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