The smear campaigns against Jeremy Corbyn aimed at dissuading voters in the Labour leadership election from backing him has been led by an undeclared alliance of Blairites, a swathe of right wing and liberal media commentators, and self-appointed leaders and protectors and “spokespersons” of the Jewish community.
The thrust from the Jewish press – whether it be the Jewish Chronicle or the Jewish News – and from other Jewish bodies, has been a morass of innuendo about Jeremy’s political positions and alleged friendships in his activity on Israel/Palestine. In addition to simply ignoring his longstanding support for Israeli Jewish peace campaigners, and his cooperation with Jewish bodies here such s Jews For Justice For Palestinians, in his work for Palestinian rights to self-determination, the thrust of the anti-Corbyn campaign from Jewish bodies has been to attempt to make Israel the key factor for Jewish voters – a continuation of how they approached the General Election. It is as if the lives of Jews as British citizens and the values they hold in relation to social and political issues in the country where they live, are asked to take second place to a distorted assessment about how the candidates’ views stack up on Israel/Palestine.
In the real lives of many Jews in Britain Israel is a factor, but it does not dictate their day-to-day actions or dominate their social and political perspectives. It is clear that Jews are very concerned about and involved in matters relating to immigrants and refugees, based on their own families’ historical experience and that of Jews in continental Europe during the Nazi period, and often state their fears about the rise of the far right in Europe and groups like UKIP here.
Toxic immigration headlines dominated much of the press in the run-up to the last election. These resurrected, albeit against different targets, the press clamour against Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, who were accused of swamping areas, taking homes and jobs and endangering local health. They also recalled the clamour against Jewish refugees allegedly “pouring in” from Germany and Austria in the late 1930s. Many Jews also know how cruel and false are the distinctions drawn by the media today between “economic migrants” and “refugees”.
My grandparents and great-grandparents fled in fear of pogroms and from an authoritarian political system but they were also fleeing economic discrimination and seeking better opportunities for themselves and their children. They were part of a wave of immigration over a period of 25 years. Most did not flee overnight, but did that make them less worthy of seeking a new home where there would be more freedom and more opportunities? In 1905 Britain passed the Aliens Act – its first modern immigration law. All the machinery of border control today – immigration officers, medical officers barring immigration on medical grounds; the right to deport people even after they have been given entry… are all enshrined in that first Act of 1905, an act by the way that was overseen by the Tory Premier Lord Balfour, yes, that Lord Balfour. That act didn’t completely end Jewish immigration but it made it much harder, and the principle behind it was one that distinguished “desirable” from “undesirable” migrants
Imagine for a moment that a newspaper such as the Jewish Chronicle gave prominence to immigration/refugee matters as the key issues to guide Jewish voters in the leadership election. OK, that is hard to believe given that the newspaper’s editor has made not just right wing Tory noises, but rather comforting noises for UKIP over the last couple of years, but park your scepticism for a little while and imagine…
They would have to report that Liz Kendall is partial towards Tory plans to bar migrants from claiming tax credits for four years. “That’s definitely something we should look at.” They would add that she is very much in favour of an Australian points system – that is one that takes a one-dimensional look at the needs of the economy rather than the individual need of the immigrants/asylum-seeker. As for those whom Kendall would “welcome”, they would report her somewhat intemperate tone in greeting them: ”You should come to work and not claim benefits. You should respect the community you live in and our culture.” I don’t think that is Jewish culture she is talking about. Or indeed any multicultural notion of culture.
Focusing on this issue they may not be able to report Andy Burnham in such a positive light either. He says that he “understands Labour members’ concerns about the levels of migration into their communities.” As if “Labour members” and “migrants” were two completely different categories. He advocates “a package of changes so that there is no entitlement to benefits [for immigrants] for at least two years.”
All the candidates understand the need to win back ex-Labour voters who have started to support UKIP but they would report that Burnham seems to imitate aspects of Nigel Farage’s style in developing a narrative about “British” workers. Farage complained about feeling isolated on a train journey where everyone around him is speaking every language except English (he is bilingual actually – he also speaks fluent Rubbish). Burnham tries to evoke sympathy for a man who says: “When you’re at work and you have a tea break, you go into the tea room and have a chat with people. When I’m at work I have my tea break on my own because I’m the only one who speaks English.”
Yvette Cooper comes out relatively better than these two contenders, arguing for discussing issues about immigration but without imitating the Tories or UKIP and wanting to develop a “moral” response to the “Migrants Crisis” that would see Britain taking more refugees than it does at present. Nevertheless on general immigration matters she likes to divide immigrants into the ones “we” want and the ones “we” don’t want… that old binary of “desirable”/”undesirable”. She says: “The system isn’t distinguishing between different kinds of migration – the migration we need and the migration that causes problems.”
Now, for the benefit of its readers, the Jewish Chronicle might even feel obliged to ask who this “we” are, recognising that it probably does not mean Jewish Chronicle readers.
Cooper adds, “We need different controls and targets for different kinds of immigration – so that we can get top university students and help those fleeing persecution, whilst reducing low skilled migration and strengthening action against abuse.”
So that leaves one more candidate – the one who asked in a parliamentary question last November: “Will the Minister for once acknowledge the massive contribution made to our economy and our society by those who have migrated to live here and who have sought and gained asylum in this country, which we are bound to offer under the Geneva Convention?” He is also the one who says he is “proud to live in a multicultural society” but “…not proud of the way we treat many of our asylum seekers.” That one is Jeremy Corbyn who can look back on a lifetime of anti-racist activism on the domestic and international front; who is often present at anti-racist and anti-fascist mobilisations, at Holocaust commemoration events, at events to support marginalised groups who are victims of racism such as the Roma.
The Jewish Chronicle will not tell you how to vote – you decide.