The ostrich farm
August 2, 2019
Published on ‘The Jerusalem Post’ Website on August 1st, 2019:
“If he becomes Prime Minister, I’m out of here the next day”.
Commonly-heard comment from British Jews.
The ‘he’ referred to in the quote is not Boris Johnson, the country’s new premier — but rather Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party. It is Mr Corbyn, not Mr Johnson, from whom British Jews are threatening to run away.
There can be no question that Anglo-Jewry — is concerned. Not panicked, of course. Not even very worried. But ‘concerned’ — stretching from mildly, via somewhat and rather to very — is an apposite description of how the majority of British Jews currently feel.
The source of their concern is the relentless rise in antisemitism in their home country. Although dislike of Jews has always existed in the UK, taking various forms among different sections of the population, it was limited in both prevalence and practical expression. In the half-century following the Holocaust, overt anti-Semitism became legally and socially unacceptable and hence quite rare. But in the 21st century, it has rebounded very strongly.
That is reason enough to be concerned in general. But the concern, at whatever level of intensity, has in recent years had a clear focus: the Labour party.
For most of the twentieth century, the majority of British Jews voted Labour, many were party members and not a few became activists, then candidates and representatives at all levels of government. As recently as the beginning of this decade, two brothers of Jewish origin battled each other for the leadership of the Labour party, and the winner was leader until 2015.
How and why the Labour party changed from being the natural political home for Jews to a party now engaged in expunging Jews from the ranks of MPs and even local councilors, is a complex issue, worthy of and subject to considerable debate.
But the great majority of British Jews say that they have no need for academic analysis; they firmly believe the Labour party has become institutionally anti-Semitic. As time goes on, the volume of evidence supporting this belief has become overwhelming and, it seems fair to say, much of the wider public now agrees with the horrific assessment that one of the two main political parties in the UK is institutionally anti-Semitic.
When a public figure or a political party can accurately be described as ‘anti-Semitic’, that is clearly bad news. But the label ‘institutionally anti-Semitic’ is much worse and denotes a crisis situation. Therefore, even if a small or marginal party — such as the Scottish Nationalists or the British National Party – were to become institutionally anti-Semitic, that would be grounds enough for concern.
But this is Labour — Her Majesty’s Opposition and a party that could soon return to government — that has become institutionally anti-Semitic. Furthermore, the party’s leader is perceived as being unwilling and unable to deal with this situation.
The fact that the Labour party has been shown to be institutionally anti-Semitic should therefore have generated not merely some degree of concern, but rather a sense of imminent crisis among British Jews. Yet despite the kind of talk encapsulated in the opening quote, their behavior betrays no such feeling. Why?
The most frequently-heard answer is that “Jeremy Corbyn will never win a general election”. This may well prove delusional, given Corbyn’s impressive performance in the 2018 election. But even if it is an accurate political assessment, it is delusional in other senses.
First, the problem is not solely, or even primarily, Jeremy Corbyn — but rather the Labour party as a whole, which has been captured from within by the Hard Left. Corbyn is certainly a problem, but his departure or even removal may actually make matters worse, by increasing the party’s chance of an election victory.
Second, given the determination of the Conservative party to sacrifice itself at the altar of Brexit, more correctly of anti-Europeanism, Labour may find itself brought to power by default — as almost happened in 2017.
Third and most fundamentally: even if Labour doesn’t come to power, the mere fact that a major British political party and movement has become institutionally anti-Semitic is, in and of itself, a crisis situation for British Jews. If it were to actually achieve power, that crisis would be far greater — but the present situation is crisis enough, by any historical standard and by any substantive measure.
Keep calm and carry on?
British Jews do not want a crisis. They desperately want to be left to continue their comfortable lives. Most of them have assimilated or are well along in that process. The minority of committed and/or observant Jews are highly acculturated. They don’t want to make a fuss or draw attention to themselves.
Unfortunately for them, the crisis has been imposed upon them. Their response, at the collective level, has been remarkable, unprecedented and, by their standards, heroic. Rival leadership bodies have come together — always the yardstick of whether a Jewish community feels genuinely threatened — and rival Jewish newspapers have published a joint editorial declaring ‘an existential crisis’, no less. Leaders and laymen demonstrated outside the Houses of Parliament, Jewish MPs and Lords delivered impassioned speeches in both Houses.
Seemingly, the sense of crisis has percolated down to individual Jews as well. Pronouncements such as “If he becomes Prime Minister, I’m out of here the next day” resonate around dinner tables on Friday nights, garden tables on Sunday afternoons and card tables on weekdays. Their forthright tone is meant to convey clarity, decisiveness and determination.
In reality, they are hollow bombast, covering up wishful thinking, indecision and a sub-conscious effort to prepare excuses for inaction.
Two simple questions need to be addressed to anyone who delivers a resounding declaration à la ‘the next day I’ll be out of here’. First — where to? Second — what with? Applying even a smidgen of practical thinking suggests that in a scenario in which Corbyn/ Labour have come to power, ‘the next day’ will be at least two days too late — and more likely two weeks or even two months.
Corbyn/ Labour’s programme for when they take office is not a closely-guarded secret, known only to the inner circle. On the contrary, it is public knowledge, openly discussed and written about. It envisages sweeping changes in the socio-economic structure, a massive shift of resources from the private sector to the state and a systematic effort to redistribute income by heavy taxation of the rich.
Labour’s leaders are well aware that the domestic and global financial markets will take a very dim view of their programme — and the closer they come to power, the fiercer this reaction will become. The value of the pound, of British government bonds, of UK-based financial and real assets (including the God of Gods of British Jews, property), will all fall sharply. By the day after Corbyn/ Labour take over, most of the damage will have been done.
That won’t stop the new government imposing capital controls, to try and prevent further damage. Or moving rapidly to block the use of tax havens, especially those under the control of Her Majesty’s Government. Or other moves with similar goals.
So what exactly do the “if…then” people envisage themselves doing “the next day”?
When facing a potential threat, people tend to adopt one of two general responses. The sensible one is to consider the relative seriousness of the threat, what responses are available to prevent, mitigate or remove the threat, the availability and cost of each of these options — to decide which response to adopt and then to implement that decision. A simple example is house insurance against burglary, fire, flooding, etc.
The more common response, especially to potentially severe and life-changing threats, is to behave like an ostrich. People bury their heads in the sand and hope that nothing will happen. When they are disturbed — usually when the threat begins to materialise — they run around squawking and flapping, generating a lot of noise and dust but no substantive action.
The reason why “I’m out of here the next day” is now the common refrain of Anglo-Jewry is because most British Jews are behaving like ostriches. They want to pretend that the threats they face will somehow dissipate so that they will not be disturbed. When they are disturbed — an increasingly frequent occurrence — they run around, squawk and flap, apparently hoping that this response will prove effective.
So far, it has not, but down on the ostrich farm they have not given up hope. That may be because ostriches are well-suited to run, squawk and flap. But they can’t fly.