I’m Jewish and I’m voting Labour in the general election. Here’s why | Jonathan Lis

Yes, antisemitism exists in Labour, as in other parties. But we can tackle it and still elect a progressive government

In three weeks’ time I will do something that shocks many of my closest friends and relatives. The mere mention of it can provoke amazement or outright hostility. In many cases the unspoken – or spoken – accusation is that I am throwing my community under the bus. Why? I am Jewish, and in the general election I will be voting Labour.

In the Jewish community, there is genuine fear about a Jeremy Corbyn-led government and anguish that this fear is not being taken seriously. Earlier this month, the Jewish Chronicle appealed to non-Jewish people to vote against Labour. One prominent rabbi emailed his congregation to request they “vote for whichever party is most likely to defeat Labour”.

The first thing, then, is to accept that the problem exists and has been terribly mishandled. Jewish Labour members (and members of parliament) have been made to feel unwelcome, while too many bigots and bullies have escaped discipline.

It doesn’t follow, though, that Labour is an institutionally antisemitic party. Nobody can identify any specific policies or threats made by the Labour leadership against Jewish people. Nobody accuses the vast majority of Labour MPs or activists of being antisemitic. Indeed, the party is full of people who are appalled by antisemitism and want to stamp it out.

What about Jeremy Corbyn himself? It is certainly true that he was too careless with his words and company before he became Labour leader; since then, he has been too defensive in the face of legitimate challenge, and too quick to assume bad faith on the part of his critics. For these reasons he was much too slow to acknowledge the problem and respond to it. It is an enormous leap, however, to claim that he is personally antisemitic. There is significant evidence to suggest that he is not. And there is no evidence that he poses any kind of risk to Britain’s Jews.

A common response to this is that a Labour victory would embolden racists. Certainly, the antisemitic fringe on the left might cheer. But as the recent attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and Halle illustrate, the gravest and most palpable danger to Jewish people comes not from the far left but the far right.

We must also tackle the absolutism of this discussion, which sometimes labels any Labour vote as a tacit endorsement of antisemitism. This is false and offensive. First, many Labour voters have criticisms of the party but don’t want to see it sink altogether. More broadly, voting always involves some degree of compromise, particularly in a non-proportional voting system. If you believe that the prospect of Labour in power is truly beyond the pale, then Britain’s electoral system and politics compel you to prefer a Conservative government. That is a perfectly valid opinion, but it deserves scrutiny.

Put simply, it’s hard to see a Tory government as a price worth paying for abandoning Labour. Brexit is of course the big issue – and as things stand, under Boris Johnson we are heading for an extremely basic trade deal in December 2020 or none at all. But this also goes well beyond Brexit. There are millions of people who have already suffered under nearly ten years of Tory rule and cannot afford another five: people who are homeless, or access food banks, or depend on schools, and a health service cut to the bone.

Boris Johnson
‘Brexit has cemented the Tories as a party of English nationalism.’ Boris Johnson in Saltburn-by-the-Sea. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Antisemitism exists across Britain’s political spectrum. This week both Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates have been suspended for offensive remarks. We also need to discuss other forms of racism. It is not whataboutery to point to the endemic problem of Islamophobia in the Conservative party, or to note the prime minister’s description of African people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, or his likening of Muslim women to letterboxes, which reportedly provoked a surge in anti-Muslim attacks, or his leadership of a referendum campaign that threatened voters with the arrival of 76 million Turkish migrants. The only candidate for prime minister who has repeatedly written racist things and promoted racist policies is Johnson.

Xenophobia and anti-migrant sentiment are not simply present within the Tory party, but underlie its whole election platform. This week Matt Hancock tweeted disparagingly about the “International Health Service”, while Priti Patel has enthused about ending free movement. Brexit has cemented the Tories as a party of English nationalism, able to attract the tacit support of Nigel Farage and other figures from the hard right.

History shows us that a political climate hostile to foreigners and minorities will not spare Jewish people. The Community Security Trust recorded a 30% increase in antisemitic attacks in the months following the Brexit referendum. No government can ensure the safety of Jewish people while it simultaneously promotes an exclusionary discourse around migration and nationality.

I would never judge a Jewish person for not voting Labour, or seek to persuade them otherwise. The Labour party has, in many ways, failed the community. But it is also full of people who have fought racism, including antisemitism, all their lives, and who intend to keep fighting it.

I will be voting Labour because I want a progressive government that rebalances the economy, helps the people who need it most, promotes migration and migrant rights, and offers the only credible route to remaining in the EU. I will also challenge antisemitism wherever I see it. Those ambitions are not mutually exclusive – we must work tirelessly for them both.

• Jonathan Lis is deputy director of the thinktank British Influence


Jonathan Lis

The GuardianTramp

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