Daniel Pitt once wrote on this site that love is at the heart of conservatism. Whatever one thinks of his take, hate is certainly at the heart of the Far Left, just as it is at the heart of the Far Right – or, to label it more accurately, the neo-nazi fringe. The first has a class enemy; the second a race enemy. And where there are enemies, there is hate. That much of the Far Left is itself now middle class is an irony that need not detain us.
It is a statement of the obvious that the Far Left has a grip on the leadership of the Labour Party. How has it happened that the leadership of a great spiritual enterprise here (for to define the Jews as a religious group is the least inaccurate shorthand description of them) is publicly at odds with the leadership of a major political party? And how did the Jewish people become a target for the hate of the Far Left in the first place?
Part of the answer lies in Labour’s own lurch to the left. Another bit is to be found in the movement of Jewish voters to the right. In broad terms, ethnic minority and migrant voters start left, because they tend to be poorer than many others, and voting left is what poorer people have traditionally done. They then move right as their incomes grow and they integrate into the mainstream. There is some evidence that Indian-origin voters are beginning to do this. The Jews have gradually been doing so for over a century. One estimate is that 63 per cent of them voted Tory last June.
A second reason is to be found in the relationship between the Jewish people and Israel. Obviously, not all Jews are Zionists. But most in Britain are supporters of Israel. And Israel itself is a country that has travelled rightwards. Its Labour Party last played a part in the government of the country from 2006 to 2009. But it was a minority player: Ehud Olbert, the then Prime Minister, was from Kadima, a centrist party. The last time Labour led an Israeli Government was back in the days of Ehud Barak. His Government fell as long ago as 2001, the best part of 20 years ago. A country of the Right and parties of the Left abroad will have a strained relationship.
This explanation has a deeper component. Israel is a liberal democracy – complete with free elections, an independent judiciary, the rule of law, a flourishing civil society, rights for women and gay people, and so on. Certainly, this status will not survive if its governments and people try, as a matter of policy, to hold the West Bank by force, and give the Palestinians second-class status. Since most Israelis would like a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians – though very many have given up on them – the country is still a distance off this objective, though it certainly contains its fanatical minorities. Some of these have found their way into Israel’s governing coalitions, empowered by the same proportional system that ensures the country’s Arab minority is fairly represented in the Knesset.
But since Israel remains a liberal democracy, it is part of the western enterprise. And since the Far Left, whose psychology is driven by adolescent protest, hates this enterprise (deeming it racist, sexist, imperialist, and so on), it follows that it must hate Israel too. Hence the frenzied and obsessive targeting of a country that is surrounded by others that don’t usually have free elections; in which judges aren’t always independent; in which women mostly have fewer opportunities, and in which there are no civil rights for gay people. Hence the opportunistic and mutually exploitative alliance between the traditional Far Left and the Islamist Far Right.
The latter bring us to a third reason. The relationship between Jews and Muslims is historically complex. The two religions are more closely aligned to each other, at least on paper, than either is to Christianity – both being religions in which law is the primary form of expression. There is busy Jewish-Muslim interfaith engagement in Britain today. And for a long period, the Jewish people got a better deal in the Islamic world, at least in some times and places, and albeit with a second-class status, than they did in the Christian West.
But the relationship has never been a easy one, and the existence of Israel has complicated it. For very many Muslims, Israel squats on Islamic territory. Its existence has speeded the import of western anti-semitic propaganda, such as the blood libel, which has then been re-exported back to Europe, and its Muslim populations. And while Jews have moved right, Muslims are staying left. 85 per cent of them backed Labour last June. This attachment of Muslim voters to the party appears to be relatively resistant to rises in income.
For the most of the Far Left, however, Jews are no longer defined by religion – nor by ethnicity, as they are for the neo-nazi right. Since they have moved right, they must be categorised by class. And since class is a definer of emnity for them, it follows that the Jewish people, or at least a big swathe of them, are part of the class enemy. That way of putting it is a bit neat: in today’s swirling mass of net and social media conspiracy theory, there is cross-pollination between different ways of hating Jews. But there can be no doubt about it: the Jewish people are being caught up in the Far Left’s class war.
All this does the Conservative Party no harm at all. But it is disfiguring a great political party, Labour, in the same way that acid rain might disfigure a great historic building. And it is doing Jews in Britain no good either – not just for the obvious reason, but for a more subtle one. A very big tranche of them lean left by preference and conviction. But some of these now feel that they can no longer vote Labour. In the book of Exodus, Moses says that he has been a stranger in a strange land. This is part of the Jewish experience – universalised to become part of the human one. In an act so maladrioit that it has a kind of weird genius, Corbyn is making some Jewish voters strangers in their own party.