For Jewish News September 17 2018
Home Secretary Sajid Javid sent a message of support and solidarity to Sunday’s Manchester #EnoughisEnough rally, telling the Jewish community: “You are not alone”.
It was a heartfelt message echoed by the city’s mayor, Andy Burnham, whose deputy, Baroness Hughes, joined a huge crowd of 2,500 from all over the country to hear 10 MPs — mainly local — express solidarity and pledge to root out antisemitism from British society.
The rally was organised by North West Friends of Israel and 32 other sponsoring organisations, and drew groups from London, Brighton, Leeds, Liverpool, Glasgow, Sheffield — and even representatives from Plymouth and Canterbury.
Chair Stuart Ailion set the tone when he told the crowd that the level of antisemitism in Britain today had become “institutionalised. Make no mistake about it — it leaves our Jewish community feeling threatened, bullied, and vulnerable”. To cheers, he declared: “This is for sure: we pay our respects to the victims of terror. We do not lay wreaths to the perpetrators of terror”.
Speaker after speaker took to the stage in front of two giant draped Union Jack flags to denounce antisemitism and — in the case of the Labour MPs who spoke — express their support for colleagues who had been victims of abuse and frequent misogyny.
But perhaps the biggest cheers of the day — despite almost biblical amounts of rain — were reserved for Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and the Jewish community’s two “great dames” — MPs Dame Margaret Hodge and Dame Louise Ellman, the latter of whom was born and brought up in Manchester.
Dame Margaret declared: “I have lived my life as a secular Jew, but it is my heritage which has made me who I am. I cannot, and I will not, forget”. Despite having defeated the British National Party’s Nick Griffin in the 2010 general election, she said that since Jeremy Corbyn had become Labour leader, she had received more abusive antisemitic hatred than that emanating from the far-right. “One message said, Margaret Hodge is a Zionist pig, and hopefully Hizbollah will catch up with the bitch”. She said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “has to accept responsibility for what is going on in Labour today. He may be right to say that antisemitism exists elsewhere — but he is wrong to suggest that our mission to eradicate antisemitism from the Labour Party is simply an attempt to silence any criticism of the Israeli government… I will never accept antisemitism that is dressed up as something else, as a voice for Palestinian rights, when it is plain simple hatred of Jews.”
The Chief Rabbi, in a barnstorming address, told the crowd that there were essentially two kinds of Britain. There was one “where antisemitic incidents are at an all-time high… in which Jewish schools, our synagogues, our communal facilities exist behind walls, gates and guards, in order to protect us…in which people who previously were members of the British National Party and the Ku Klux Klan are praising public comments about the Jews which have been uttered by the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition.”
Nevertheless, he said, there was another Britain, in “which we can walk the streets of these country with a kippah on our heads without fear… in which society is proud to have a Jewish community in its midst and views us as an essential and integral part of the fabric of British society.
“So our question to everyone living in Britain today is — which Britain do you want to live in, in the future? Is it going to be a Britain that will make us proud, or will bring us shame?”
Perhaps most striking among the contributions from non-Jewish MPs was the fact that several chose to highlight their own close links with the Jewish community. James Frith, MP for Bury North, spoke about his Jewish wife; Kate Green, MP for Stretford and Urmston, has a Jewish father; and Jeff Smith, MP for Withington and a Labour whip, is the great-grandson of Rosa Simonson, a Jewish immigrant to Manchester from eastern Europe.
Other speakers included MPs Lucy Powell, Mike Kane, Ivan Lewis, Conservatives Chris Green and Mary Robinson, Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese. Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl and Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein also spoke.
In the only sour note of the proceedings, Manchester Central MP Lucy Powell was forced to tell the crowd: “Don’t heckle me, I’m on your side” as shouts of “Corbyn out!” grew ever more ferocious during her remarks. A number of rabbis have written to Ms Powell to apologise as have the rally organisers.
Separate anti-rally protests — under the banner of Manchester Jews for Justice and the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign — were organised but attracted tiny turn-outs.