Column for Jewish News issue Feb 26 2016 from Jenni Frazer
They were the pictures that were a gift to columnists – me included – up and down the land: the images of the UKIP leader Nigel Farage, sporting his green “Go” tie, with his arm around the shoulders of the one-time Respect MP and would-be mayor of London, George Galloway.
Tempted though I am to observe that anything embraced by that pair should be avoided like the plague by anyone with any sense, I don’t really want to get in to this week’s Big Story, the Cameron negotiations and the will-we, won’t we dance with the European Union.
No, I’ll leave that issue to others to dissect. But the truly weird F&G relationship made me think about other unlikely pairings and the problem with ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Politics, as has frequently been pointed out, makes strange bedfellows and sometimes, I think, the Jewish community should beware of getting into bed with what looks, on the surface, as an attractive proposition.
We are currently at a political crossroads in terms of our relationship with the Big Two parties. If, as with Farage and Galloway, every picture tells a story, then there could scarcely have been a better illustration of sheer boredom and disinterestedness with the issues of the Jewish community than the February 9 meeting between Board of Deputies leaders Jonathan Arkush and Gillian Merron and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Arkush and Merron – she a former Labour MP – sat on one side of the table, agendas in front of them, ready to deliver a litany of hurt and bruises, to tell Corbyn how things really are. And on the other side of the table lounged – there is really no other word – the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, slumped in his chair, face turned away from his Jewish interlocutors. Had a large pink balloon floated over Corbyn’s head, emblazoned with the words “What the hell am I doing here, wasting my time with these people”, no-one would have been surprised,
It’s plain to me that Corbyn, egged on by his retinue of advisers, has no interest in making nice to the Jews. Both he, and we, it appears, have written the other side off. For evidence of that, witness the Jewish community’s nigh headlong rush into the arms of the Conservatives, not least in its applause for the anti-boycott initiative announced by Cabinet Office minister Matthew Hancock during a visit to Israel last week.
It’s very clear what the Jewish community gets out of such an initiative – the hechsher, if you like, of the government’s voice. It’s not at all clear what the government gets out of it, although, at the moment, it doesn’t cost them anything and just has the effect of making them look good and the possessors of the moral high ground.
But the long-term, or knock-on effect, is even more to polarise the Jewish community’s hitherto relatively even-handed relationship with both political parties. Take – please, take! – Corbyn’s veteran adviser, the former London mayor, Ken Livingstone. I am indebted to a Twitter user in America for the opportunity to use on Livingstone my insult of the year, “repellent pustule”, which is almost, though not quite, perfect for him.
Livingstone has a new book out and in his masterly evisceration of the many, many self-serving pieces of drivel it promotes, the journalist Oliver Kamm nails him completely. Kamm, reviewing the book in The Times, writes: “Livingstone veers from the tendentious and absurd to the contemptible in claiming that low rates of antisemitic violence in London are thanks to him. How so? ‘Because you had a mayor who was prepared to be critical of Israel [and] that diminished antisemitism.’”
Kamm’s conclusion: “Livingstone’s belief that community relations are aided by inflammatory campaigning from a municipal politician on intractable international disputes is fantastical”.
Unfortunately the renewed presence of such figures as Livingstone, and the dismal goings-on within the Oxford University Labour Club, and the shrugging of Corbyn – and – let us not forget – his utter failure to do anything about that other repellent pustule, Sir Gerald Kaufman – all these things have conspired to give the Jewish community a one-note song to sing about politics in 21st century Britain.
And that is a mistake. We need to have friends across the political divide and not put all our eggs in one basket. We need to be re-energising our work for the day after Jeremy Corbyn, whose shambolic rule is rendering Labour pretty much unelectable – and disenfranchising a whole slew of Jews on the left who can’t bring themselves to vote for Cameron – or for Labour in its present incarnation.
Well, I say across the political divide. I except Farage and Galloway, of course.