Antisemitism Here and There

I know I’ve written in this blog about hate before, and I find myself thinking about it again as my two home countries experience waves of antisemitism. Some are saying that antisemitism has long been pervasive in Britain and France, but now people are being more forthright, aided by social media, in these contentious times. Perhaps that’s so.

In the UK, the Labour party has been dealing – clumsily and insufficiently – with antisemitism among its ranks and last week saw nine of its MPs leave the party, citing antisemitism (along with Brexit positions) as one of their main reasons. On the other side of the channel, the French are dealing with antisemitic attacks, which have risen from 311 to 541 in the past year. Whereas the British conduct their antisemitism in a subtle, office bullying sort of way, with the occasional MP making insensitive comments, the French have engaged in violent acts with the desecration of Jewish graves and images of Simone Veil, a holocaust survivor who later become a national heroine. The response has also been characteristically French, with tens of thousands marching against antisemitism in the streets of major cities, including my home of Nice (also, incidentally, the birthplace of Simone Veil).

SimoneViel 1
One of many images of Simone Veil in France.


When it comes to this form of hate I have only observations to offer. My own sense of this being wrong I know is shared by most, if not all, of my readers and perhaps that’s why I haven’t bothered writing about it until now. I don’t know if I have anything else to add to an argument that for me doesn’t seem real. The hatred of Jews feels like a throwback to WW2, acted out by a testosterone-fuelled fringe group. Or I could look further back still to the Middle Ages when Louis IX of France banished the Jews because they were money lenders. With these references, are a couple of reasons why being anti-Jewish became fodder for the bigotry of the far right and the anti-capitalism of the far left.

I admit with some embarrassment that I’ve also been slow to act on this issue. It was only last year that I attended my first ever anti-fascist/anti-racist rally, where antisemitism was part of a larger mix of hate. I wonder now, if that rally were only about antisemitism, would I have attended? Probably not. And probably, without articulating it even to myself, it would have been because I’m not Jewish. But that was then. They say a week is a long time in politics – therefore, a year must be akin to a decade. Having passed through a political decade, well, I’ll see you at the next antisemitism march.



A week in the life of a pro-Europe activist

Saturday: Spent one and a half hours in bitterly cold Ely Market Square working at the Liberal-Democrats’ Exit-Brexit market stall. One passer-by screamed at us, once he was far enough away to avoid conversation “The majority voted!” Another man blames the EU for Eastern European workers. I briefly told him how Britain invited Eastern Europeans here in 2004 and that other EU countries have different immigration policies – but I stopped myself. I’m grateful Eastern Europeans are here working on our farms and in our hospitals, making our country culturally richer. The man continued to say that because of the EU he can no longer go to his local pub.  At that point, I gave up and stepped away.

Sunday: Too cold to go out. Stayed indoors and wrote my blog about hearing Lord Adonis addressing Brexit issues earlier that week at a town hall meeting in Peterborough.

Monday: Ely for Europe co-chair Virginie stopped by with Open Britain and European Movement surveys. We discussed a strategy for getting our members to fill them in and get people they know to fill them. With hostilities in the post-referendum air, we can’t expect people to knock on strangers’ doors.

Tuesday: Sent an email to MP Lucy Frazer about the debate on how Brexit will impact the NHS in Parliament scheduled for Thursday. Urged her participation. Started following Lord Adonis on Twitter.

Wednesday: Signed online government petition demanding that the Referendum vote be made null and void due to illegal activities and influence surrounding Cambridge Analytica. A long shot, but worth a try. At least the act of signing the petition felt good.

Thursday: Attended a Q+A session hosted by Ely for Europe with MEP Alex Mayer. Met more pro-Europe supporters, mostly from Labour. Left the event thinking that maybe it’s not a matter of hard Brexit or soft Brexit. It might be a symbolic Brexit that does the trick. In March 2019, British MEPs leave Brussels (and lose their jobs) and the Union Jack is lowered. With the new passports, these gestures might be enough for the Brexiters. Other issues to do with trade, borders, funded research and so on could remain in limbo for years as people in the EU and Britain work around them, effectively remaining linked.

Friday: Learned that 15 cross-party MPs stood up in Parliament to debate how Brexit will impact our NHS – none of them was MP Lucy Frazer. No evidence that she was even there.  Engaged in stealth activism by delivering pro-Europe flyers from the Lib-Dems and the European Movement to unsuspecting letterboxes. Very satisfying and less angering than working market stalls.

Saturday (in France, a week is 8 days): Attended Exit Brexit march in Ipswich. Excellent turnout with pro-Europe groups from across East Anglia. On the train returning to Ely, while reading The New European, I looked up a few times at the flat landscapes, the farms, the villages and wondered what the future holds.

A Cross-Party Spirit for the Pro-Europe Movement

As party politics in Britain is being reshaped – maybe to the point of extinction – I find myself increasingly involved in cross-party events. This week it was a town hall style gathering billed as a ‘Brexit Listening Tour’ in Peterborough and led by Lord Adonis, a Labour Peer. The attendees for the most part didn’t identify themselves as belonging to or supporting one party or another. Those who did label themselves came from Labour, Lib-Dems, Greens and Conservative parties. Naturally, no one from UKIP, but I suspect they’re not in ‘listening’ mode these days.

From the timing of the applauses, along with the comments and questions, this was clearly an event for those who want the UK to remain in the EU. If you’ve been following my blogs, you know that this is not the first time I’ve been to such an event.  Adonis

I came away from the evening invigorated and inspired to get back to the type of face-to-face activism that I do when I’m back here in Ely. I also came away with a few points worth sharing.

First of all, perhaps the time has come for Brexiters and Remainers to unite against our government for running the simplistic in/out referendum in the first place. It’s easy to accuse the Brexiters of lacking knowledge as there was no mandate in the referendum explaining how we would leave, along with the assumptions (and lies) that made people believe that leaving the EU would make Britain better off. Even though those who voted remain obviously had some sense of what it would be like to stay in, there were still many things about how the EU works that Remainers- and I include myself in this- simply didn’t know. Had we known more about the customs union, the various immigration policies across EU member states, or the problems now facing Ireland and Gibraltar, our arguments would have been different.

Secondly, let’s not forget that Brexit is a symptom of the problems the UK has been unsuccessfully dealing with for the past few decades. Problems like unemployment, housing and a weakening health care system.  Perhaps this point is just another angle on looking at how the pro-leave vote was really a protest vote against life in Britain. Labour, the Greens and the Lib-Dems could easily unite on tackling these problems along with undoing the mess that has become Brexit.

A final point is more a turn of phrase than a point. It’s an answer to the tabloid press and The Daily Telegraph which continue to publish stories about the NHS being drained by immigrates and their children needing medical services. One of the attendees at this cross-party event said ‘You’re more likely to be treated by an immigrant than you are to see them in the waiting room.’  Well said.