A vote for the Conservatives is not a vote against antisemitism

Don't let the Tories use Jews as a political football


Anyone who reads this blog regularly or follows me on Twitter will know that I see Labour antisemitism as a real and massive problem: there is a shocking level of antisemitism among grassroots Labour activists (including candidates for office), a chronically insufficient response to this from a leadership that at best suffers from a deep inability to recognise contemporary antisemitism, and a massive amount of denial and defensiveness that itself shades into paranoid conspiracism. Many British Jews and their good faith allies may decide not to campaign for Labour or even not to vote Labour; this position can be legitimately reached out of sincerely grounded existential fear, or out of anti-racist principle.

However, in a context where objectively the most likely alternative to Corbyn (probably the only alternative) is the re-election of the current government, to declare for "anyone but Corbyn" - or to go one step further and actually endorse the current government, as Ian Austin and John Woodcock have done - exceeds that legitimate position.

In this post, I will be arguing that - even if we ignore the most pernicious aspects of Johnson's Conservative party (its disastrous hard Brexit strategy and its awful record on basically every single economic and social issue from the NHS to industry) - a vote that leads to a Johnson government is a vote for racism, both racism against Jews and racism against other minorities.

Tory racism

Let's start with the Conservative Party's racism towards non-Jewish minorities. Conservative policy since 2010 has been objectively racist and discriminatory towards migrants in particular and BME people in general. The Cameron government made reducing net migration a central target, a task given to the hapless Theresa May, who vigorously set about making the UK a "hostile environment" for migrants, complete with vans in diverse areas telling people to "Go Home", a slogan many remembered from the National Front of the 1970s. Among the scandals of her policies were the many wrongful deportations of the "Windrush generation" who came to Britain from its colonies decades ago. In addition to these policies which directly discriminate against migrants and minorities, other Tory policies have indirectly discriminated. The research evidence shows that we were not all in it together in the harsh austerity regime: black and Asian people were disproportionately affected.

As well as this objective racism, the party is riddled with hostile attitudes. While taking pleasure in the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation of institutional antisemitism in Labour, Tory ministers have shown a fundamental lack of interest or awareness of what racism is. Dominic Raab, the second most senior member of the Johnson government, suggested that as a white, middle-aged male MP he was hiumself the victim of racism and classism from the EHRC. In a single week in 2018, environment secretary Michael Gove described Meghan Markle as "exotic", while Nadine Dorries told commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown (born a British subject, and resident in Great Britain since 1972) that she should "appreciate just a little the country... you benefit from". Other Dorries hits include thinking Chuka Umunna looks like Chris Eubank.

The widespread Islamophobia that former party chair Sayeeda Warsi has been focusing on has not been addressed in any meaningful way. Zac Goldsmith, previously seen as one of the more moderate and liberal of Tories, as Johnson's successor as Tory mayoral candidate in London ran an essentially Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan, orchestrated by Lynton Crosby, who had already complained in 2012 of Tories seeking votes from "fucking Muslims". Shaun Bailey, Goldsmith's heir as the candidate for the 2020 London mayoral election, wrote a pamphlet in 2005 complaining that immigrants to the UK being allowed to "bring their culture, their country and any problems they might have with them" and observing non-Christian festivals has turned Britain into a "crime-ridden cesspool" and "robs Britain of its community". Last year, Bailey shared a tweet referring to Sadiq Khan as "mad mullah Khan of Londonistan".

And then there's Brexit, a movement which Johnson, Gove and their fixer Dominic Cummings have led, a movement premised on dog whistle racism against migrants and which has led to a wave of hate crime incidents, including attacks on Jews, and whose negative impacts, the evidence shows, will disproportionately hit minority ethnic Brits (as well, of course, as European citizens and their families). And then there's the traditional Tory promotion of anti-Roma racism, as most recently shown by Priti Patel's demonisation of Gypsies.

Johnson's racism



As Wikipedia summarises:
As editor of The Spectator, Boris Johnson was strongly criticised for allowing columnist Taki Theodoracopulos to publish racist and antisemitic language in the magazine, including the claim that black people have lower IQs than white people.
In other Taki Spectator articles from Johnson's period as editor, "New York Puerto Ricans have been described as “a bunch of semi-savages … fat, squat, ugly, dusky, dirty”, Kenya... as “bongo-bongo land”, and black people referred to as “Sambo”. After Charlene Ellis, 18, and Latisha Shakespeare, 17, were shot dead in Birmingham in 2003, Taki blamed “black thugs, sons of black thugs and grandsons of black thugs,” adding for good measure that “West Indians were allowed to immigrate after the war, multiply like flies and then the great state apparatus took over the care of their multiplications”. And in other articles: "Orientals ... have larger brains and higher IQ scores. Blacks are at the other pole." In another, he described black American bastketball players as having "arms hanging below their knees and tongues sticking out".

Johnson's own "journalism", though, was only a little better:
In 2002, Johnson described black people in The Telegraph as "piccaninnies" with "watermelon smiles", and his 2006 comparison between the frequently changing leadership of the Conservatives to cannibalism in Papua New Guinea drew criticism from the country's high commission. In April 2016, in an article for The Sun, in response to the removal of a bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office following Barack Obama's inauguration, Johnson wrote that Obama was motivated by "the part-Kenyan president's ancestral dislike of the British Empire – of which Churchill had been such a fervent defender."
Other phrases appearing in Johnson descriptions of Africa in The Spectator include "little Aids-ridden choristers”, “disgusting” fruits and “tribal conflicts”. Back in 2008 I posted about a whole load more of these comments, such as this: As a journalist in 1999, Boris accused the Macpherson Inquiry, which reported on police racism following the Lawrence murder, of 'hysteria', adding that the "weird recommendation" the law might be changed so as to allow prosecution for racist language or behaviour "other than in a public place" was akin to Ceausescu's Romania". And the list goes on...

Tory antisemitism 

To dismiss these examples of racism against other minorities - racism that seems to me baked in, systematic, institutional - as somehow of lesser concern than antisemitism is not anti-racist. But even if you  focus only on antisemitism, the Tory party does not look good.

Friends with fascists
Image result for "david cameron" "european conservatives and reformists group"
Cameron with other ECR leaders
While Corbyn has rightly been condemned for the international antisemitic organisations he has described as his "friends", the Conservative Party has cultivated a series of dubious friendships in recent years (partly to position itself as more right-wing than the mainstream European conservative movement in order to placate the Brexiteers in its base). In 2009, Cameron, under pressure from his party's now-dominant hard right, fulfilled a 2005 general election pledge to withdraw the Tories from the mainstream centre-right European People's Party–European Democrats (EPP-ED) grouping in the European Parliament, forming the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group. ECR was led by the Tories and included the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) party and Czech Civic Democratic Party (ODS). Michael Gove described PiS leader Michael Kaminski "a good friend of the Conservative party". Kaminski had recently told the Jewish Chronicle that the the Jedwabne massacre, in which hundreds of Jews were murdered by Poles, was not to be condemned in the way German Holocaust crimes were. He was also a former member of the neo-Nazi National Revival of Poland party (NOP), which, quoting Hitler's Mein Kampfsaid in its manifesto that "Jews will be removed from Poland, and their possessions will be confiscated". Kaminski was invited to the Tory Party conference, as was Latvian Roberts Zile of the For Fatherland and Freedom party – some of whose members support commemorations of the Latvian Waffen SS (a party spokesman responded that the Waffen SS legionnaires were "tragic heroes"). At the time, the Tories were widely condemned by mainstream Jewish groups for consorting with extreme right-wingers.

The Tory alliance did nothing to temper the extremism of its European "good friends". In 2012, PiS MEPs attended rallies with virulent antisemites. Latvia's National Alliance (successor to Fatherland and Freedom) have recently called for a national holiday to commemorate its Waffen SS "tragic heroes", while PiS initiated legislation to criminalise anyone who criticised Poland's role in the Holocaust. (The Polish prime minister defended that by saying the Jews were also Holocaust perpetrators.) Another recruit to the ECR is Brothers of Italy, the successor party of the Mussolini-ite MSI. And in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (from which we will not withdraw in the case of Brexit), the Conservatives lead a related group that includes ANEL, the Greek right-wing party whose leader thinks Jews pay less taxes than others, along with Erdogan's AKP and Putin's United Russia, both riddled with antisemitism.

Related image
Orban's anti-Soros billboard campaign
"Friends" is also the word Boris Johnson used to describe Hungary's ruling Fidesz Party. In 2018, Conservative MEPs were whipped to vote against a censure motion condemning Victor Orbán's government in Hungary for breaching core EU values due to authoritarian measures such as its "Stop Soros Law"; Tory opposition placed them in the same camp as the Le Pen, the Liga and the rest of the European far right, and was rightly stringently condemned by Marie van der Zyl of the Board of Deputies. And this circle of friends is of course backed by Steve Bannon, who Johnson met in 2017.

Antisemitism in the Tory party
Turning to domestic politics, there are innumerable examples of antisemitism in the Conservative Party, from the grassroots to parliament. I'll just focus on the Cameron/May/Johnson years. In 2011, MP Aidan Burley organised a Nazi-themed stag do, and Oxford University Tories were reported to regularly sing a song with the lines "Dashing through the Reich / killing lots of Kike.'" (Burley was investigated by the party, who found “he was not a racist or antisemitic".) In 2014, Conservative MP Patrick Mercer was recorded saying that an Israeli soldier looked like a "bloody jew". Also in 2014, MP Andrew Bridgen spoke of "the power of the Jewish lobby in America", comments echoed by Alan Duncan; neither was disciplined. The same year, UCL's Tory society apologised for a toxic environment including jokes about Jews’ noses and ‘Jews owning everything’. Tory peer Lord Sheikh went with Jeremy Corbyn the same Tunisia conference that Corbyn was widely condemned for.

During the same period, the Conservative press attacks on Ed Miliband felt like antisemitism to a lot of us, with Cameron minister Michael Fallon using the Nazi phrase "stab in the back" about him. In 2015, Gulzabeen Afsar, a Tory candidate in Derby, said ""Never ever will I drop that low and support the Al Yahud [the Jew]!". In 2016, MP Richard Fuller used the phrase "30 pieces of silver" in relation to Jewish businessman Philip Green.

Many Tories have links with the antisemitic far right. In 2013,  Jacob-Rees Mogg was revealed to have been the guest of honour at an annual dinner organised by the Traditional Britain Groupdescribed by Hope Not Hate as "one of the most important offline networking points for the more 'high brow' end of the UK far right" (its guests last year included representatives of Jobbik,  the AfD and the Austrian Freedom Party). More recently, Rees-Mogg promoted a speech by the AfD leader.

Moving into the Brexit era, during which the Tories have radicalised and their far right empowered, in 2016 Theresa May's denunciation of "citizens of nowhere" was widely seen as echoing Stalin's antisemitic "rootless cosmopolitan" slur on Jews. In 2017, a Welsh Tory activist called for a new Spanish Inquisition. In 2018, May's closest ally Nick Timothy spoke of Soros' "secret plot" to stop Brexit, echoing similar Soros conspiracy theories from Orban and other antisemites. The chair of the youth section of the Scottish Conservatives in 2018, a 2018 Conservative Party Conference pamphlet by the hard right Bruges Group, and MP Suella Braverman in 2019 have all spoken of their "fight against Cultural Marxism", using a term originally used by the Nazis which is widely regarded as an antisemitic code word . ("Cultural Marxism" is also a favoured term for Turning Point, the US hard right group endorsed by Priti Patel, Rees-Mogg and other Conservative leaders earlier this year; Turning Point is close to the alt-right and its spokesperson Candace Owens has said weird things about Hitler that make Ken's "before he went mad" quote seem mild.) These examples are not explicit antisemitism, of course, but then neither are many of the anti-Zionist and conspiratorial tropes we see on the left.

In 2017, a Conservative candidate in Birmingham was found to have made a series of social media posts in which he used 'Jew' and 'Athiest' as terms of abuse and accused his enemies of being backed by ‘foreign Jew agents’. In 2018, Hope Not Hate revealed a Tory-linked far right Facebook group, the Young Right Society, awash with antisemitism and Holocaust denial. In 2018, three Tory candidates were suspended for antisemitism: one in Cambridgeshire who commented that he was "Sweating like a Jew in an attic", one in Stevenage who referred to the Star of David as the "Mark of the Beast", and one in Sunderland who wrote "I can honestly say that this morning was the first time I've had to scrub off a Hitler tash with a toothbrush after a night out". Hitler tashes are a bit of a recurring theme with Tories. The same year a Tory councillor in Scotland was revealed to be a former British National Party activist. In 2019, a Tory councillor in the Southwest apparently supported the claim that Mossad agents pose as Labour members to commit acts of antisemitism as part of a smear campaign.

Under Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg described Jewish Remainers as members of the Illuminati and ramped up the Soros conspiracy theories. Priti Patel took a similar tack, talking about the North London metropolitan liberal elite. Again, like much left antisemitism, not explicit, but common tropes used against Jews. Also in the last couple of months, Crispin Blunt MP attacked Jewish demands for "special status" in the UK. And in this election campaign, an Aberdeen candidate was reported to have posted that he found "some of the events [of the Holocaust] fabricated", while a candidate in Leeds called British Jews who visited Israel "brainwashed extremists". And, finally, Tory chair James Cleverly spoke bizarrely about Jewish "friends" who would leave the country if Corbyn was elected: "entrepreneurs and business people, the kind of people that fill the coffers of the chancellor, and employee tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people in the UK". (This echoes an association drawn by Ken Livingstone in 2014 between Jews, wealth and voting Tory.)

To conclude, people should be allowed to choose who they vote for in this election based on whatever their electoral priorities they have: Brexit, austerity, migration, the NHS, antisemitism. But if you are voting for Boris Johnson - or casting a vote that will help Boris Johnson win - to protest the other party's antisemitism, you're making a grave mistake. 

Comments

Michael said…
Bob,
Would you say that it is equally true that "if you are voting for Jeremy Corbyn - or casting a vote that will help Jeremy Corbyn win - to protest the other party's racism, you're making a grave mistake"?

Must we all hold our noses and vote for the racists on one side or the other?
Graham said…
'..if you are carrying a vote that will help Boris Johnson win - to protest the other party's antisemitism, you're making a grave mistake'
You recommend holding your nose and voting for corbyn's party?
bob said…
I would say that protesting Tory antisemitism would not be a good reason to vote Labour. There are many perfectly legitimate reasons to make a decision how to vote in this complicated election, but the anti-racist record of either main party cannot be a positive reason to pick either one of them.

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