Why is antisemitism such a big issue in the General Election?

Jeremy Corbyn stopped short of offering an apology for antisemitism in the Labour partyReuters

What is going on in British Politics? In an election which was supposed to be all about Brexit, and which Labour want to make all about the NHS, there is another issue that is just as predominant – that of antisemitism.

In these past few days Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath SNP candidate Neale Hanvey has had his support withdrawn from the SNP after allegations of antisemitism. Falkirk Labour candidate Safir Ali has been suspended for antisemitism. And the Tory candidate for Leeds North East, Amjad Bashir, has also been suspended for the same reason. And these are not the only ones.

The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, in a column in The Times last week, made an unprecented attack upon Labour because of its failure to address antisemitism. He stated that the "overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety" at the prospect of a Corbyn-led government.

Given that there are only 300,000 Jews in Britain, why is this considered such an important issue? It's complex, but I think the reasons are good.

Wipe Out Israel

I was once at a meeting with the Israeli ambassador, Mark Regev, in Edinburgh Theological Seminary. It was enlightening. The previous night he had been in Glasgow speaking at a university there – he was picketed by people chanting 'from the Jordan to the sea, Palestine shall be free'. This was a less than subtle reference to the wiping out of the State of Israel.

A couple of years ago at Celtic Park, where Celtic were playing an Israeli team, hundreds of people waved large Palestinian flags and sang "we are Scottish, we are singing for Palestine and we won't be denied". Whilst there were those who argued that this was just people standing up for an oppressed people one has to simply ask: where were the anti-Chinese flags for oppressing the people of Tibet, or anti-Saudi flags for oppressing the people of Yemen, or anti-Burmese flags for oppressing the Rohingya Muslims? Or for countless other situations far worse. The fact is that being anti-Israel has become a cause celebre for the British Left and such faux concern for oppression provides a real cover for antisemitism.

I spoke to a leading representative of the Scottish Jewish community and asked him if my impression that antisemitism was on the rise in the UK and even in Scotland (I say even because as far as I know, Scotland is the only country in Europe that has never had anti-Jewish laws and, because of our Christianity, we always felt an affinity with the people of Israel). He answered unequivocally: yes.

I also know a homosexual activist who said that he was thinking of leaving the UK, not because of homophobia, but because of antisemitism.

What is causing this increase in antisemitism?

Firstly there is the traditional European antisemitism. This is something that runs very deep. I have come across it in various forms, not least in one lady who told me that "if" the Holocaust happened, the Jews probably deserved it. I have been astounded at how ingrained antisemitism seems to be in many of our European cultures. Another man I know – nice, middle class, left-wing and liberal – told me that the Jews were responsible for the evils of capitalism.

Islam

There really is no way around this. The primary cause of the increase in antisemitism in the UK is because of the increase of Islam. When the film Schindler's List came out in 1993, I asked a Muslim friend if she wanted to come and see it with me at the local Odeon. She flat out refused because she said that the Holocaust probably did not happen – it was Jewish propaganda. I was astonished because she was as liberal a Muslim as I have ever met.

It began to make sense to me that Mein Kampf became a best a bestseller in Turkey in the first decade of this century. It also made sense to me that several Christians I know who work with Muslims seem very quick to adopt the anti-Israel zeitgeist (although they would deny it was antisemitic). They are often the ones who engage in the game of 'what abouterry?' Every time you mention antisemitism, they ask: but what about Gaza or the West Bank? As though somehow this was a justification.

The Radical Left

This has led onto another major cause. Traditional ingrained antisemitism, combined with Islamic antisemitism has now been joined by the new kid on the block – left wing antisemitism. This is seen in the radical Left, and especially in the extreme Left of the Labour party. Corbyn says he opposes antisemitism, but he supports those who are clearly antisemitic – Hamas, Hezbollah and some of the more radical Islamic groups. Despite the denials, Corbyn's refusal in his interview with Andrew Neil to apologise for antisemitism within the party was telling.

Recall the antisemitic banner from the 2017 election.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, click here to view it

Notice what May is 'wearing' – two Star of David earrings and note the word 'Balfour'. This is a reference to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which was the basis for establishing the Israeli state today. It is a profoundly disturbing and antisemitic poster. And it is only one sign of an increasing antisemitism – not only in its traditional home, the far Right, but now on the radical Left.

Sometimes they combine. When Corbyn spoke about 'British Zionists' in 2013 he was enthusiastically endorsed by Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party. David Duke, former leader of the KKK, spoke in support: "It's a really good kind of evolutionary thing, isn't it, when people are beginning to recognize Zionist power and ultimately the Jewish establishment power in Britain and in the western world."

In two further developments this week, a video has emerged which shows Corbyn complaining that the BBC has a bias towards saying that Israel has the right to exist. And the historian Sir Richard Evans, who had stated that he was going to vote for Labour "not withstanding the cancer of antisemitism that has infected it", has now announced he has changed his mind and will not be voting for Labour.

It's not just the Labour party but also other parties. You would think that the SNP of all parties, as wannabe leaders of an independent small state of five million people, would be keen to support the independence of another small state of five million people facing overwhelming odds.

But when has a Scottish government minister ever visited Israel? How did SNP MSP Sandra White get away with posting a cartoon on Twitter showing piglets suckling a large pig with the word 'Rothschild" written on it, and a bank with the Star of David?

This is also the case in academia where being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli is almost a necessary qualification for any self-advancing academic. How many academic institutions, so impeccably PC on so many issues, have turned a blind eye to the illiberal policies of their sponsors, just because of the money? How many have turned a blind eye to the implicit antisemitism on their campuses?

Why the focus on Israel?

I am not a Christian Zionist, although I believe that the Jewish people have a right to their own homeland – especially after centuries of pogroms, persecutions and ultimately the Holocaust, in Europe. I do not think that to criticize the country of Israel is necessarily antisemitic. But I do believe that the focus on Israel above all other countries is because of antisemitism. For example, the Scottish Parliament has had 59 motions on Israel (despite the Scottish Parliament having no responsibility for foreign policy), of which 52 have been anti-Israel. Why?

The Peace of Israel?

If I were Jewish I would be deeply fearful of the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum-controlled Labour party being elected to power in the UK. Not just because of what may happen here but because of the signal it would give to the enemies of Israel whose desire is to see them destroyed. Can you see Corbyn lifting a finger to help Israel if they are attacked?

As a Christian and as a Scot, I will stand with the Jewish people and oppose, with every fibre of my being, this grotesque and evil increase in antisemitism – whatever political party it is found in. I would hope that all Christians would stand with the Jewish people. They are right to be afraid and we have a duty to stand with them.

"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure." (Psalm 122:6)

David Robertson is director of Third Space in Sydney and blogs at www.theweeflea.com