The Chief Rabbi has attacked Labour in no uncertain terms over its failure to deal with Anti-Semitism in its party. And he is utterly right about the fear that Jews hold about Labour winning and thus anti-Semites being emboldened to violence.
But he is also wrong that this is in any way “incompatible with the British Values of which we are so proud – of dignity and respect for all people”.
What Has Happened?
The Chief Rabbi wrote a piece in the Times attacking Labour for exactly what many Jewish leaders (though granted, not all Jews) have criticised repeatedly over several years now.
He dismissed claims that Labour has taken the issue seriously as “mendacious fiction” and he has warned this means that in the present election “the very soul of our nation is at stake”.
Is He Right?
Ultimately it is ridiculous to argue that British Jews do not fear a Corbyn government. Some fear a Johnson government more, citing that far right nationalists are the people emboldened to attack Jews in the USA. (See Jews Against Bojo for example). But there is still much to fear.
Under an increasingly Islamophobic Tory Party government – a party in which people treated islamophobia as a badge to be worn with pride at its conference this autumn) criminal attacks on Muslims have risen when figureheads appear to support ismapophobia.
So Jews rightly fear something similar happening to them under a Corbyn government.
But He is also Wrong
The problem is of course that while the Chief Rabbi is right, he is also wrong. Under the UK electoral system we are presently choosing between a government that occasionally sparks islamophobic attacks, or a government likely to spark anti-semitic attacks.
That being the case, the claim that there is a British value of “dignity and respect for all people” is presently weak.
This leads to the unedifying spectacle of two sides attacking bigotry on the other side while defending or denying bigotry on “my side”.
Ideally, criticism of racism should be met by “yes, it’s awful and needs punishing”, but in a UK election under an archaic electoral system, that would be like taste-testing cola, deciding Pepsi is nicest, and expecting Coke not to mention that wasn’t it wasn’t included in the test.
Punishing antisemitism with your vote means, in most seats, rewarding islamophobia – and vice versa.
Is There a Fix to This?
Without electoral reform, this is an intractable problem. Of course Jews care more about Jews being attacked than Muslims being attacked, and vice versa. Because we are all human beings and our children come first, second and third to us. Claiming that this is (or should be) less true for a particular race is, frankly, racist.
Meanwhile the vast majority of people are not Jewish or Muslim. So just like Jews and Muslims are motivated by their children and experiences, the majority are probably not emotionally more affected by Jewish suffering than Muslim suffering.
Which Urine to Drink?
That doesn’t mean people like it or don’t care. It just means two equally bad outcomes cancel eachother out in most people’s motivations when presented with a binary negative choice. As such they then vote on other motivations that they feel can make a difference – like Brexit, the NHS, Policing, and so on.
It’s like being told you have to drink one of two pints of urine. If you drink the first you get a bar of chocolate, if you drink the second you get a packet of crisps. The choice then becomes chocolate or crisps, not avoiding a terrible drink.
Those British Values
If our values as a country were as the Chief Rabbi describes (and they should be and maybe would be if elections gave true expression to our opinions) we would demand electoral reform so we could choose a different type of government that doesn’t undermine “dignity and respect for all”.
We don’t seem to be demanding it though, and even voted it down in a referendum this very decade, which raises big questions in and of itself.