Dame Margaret Hodge draws in the crowds as antisemitism debated in Hadley Wood Jewish Community
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Thursday 27th December 2018

A full crowd gathered in Hadley Wood’s new synagogue to hear a discussion between three of the key figures on the hotly debated anti-Semitism issue. The debate, named “Antisemitism: Facing The Facts”, gathered visitors also from Barnet and Cockfosters US communities to hear from Dame Margaret Hodge who has openly challenged the Labour leadership on the issue, Dr Dave Rich, Director of Policy at the CST and Dr Jonathan Boyd, Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research who has just published highly controversial and revealing research into anti-Semitism in Europe.

Dame Margaret regaled the crowd with some of the more forthright messages she has received from her “Fan club” and the language was very unusual for the synagogue setting. She made clear that Labour was the natural home for her and had been for many years the natural home of most Jewish voters. There had always been some lingering antisemitism in Labour basically as a combination of anti-Israel or anti-Zionist, anti-capitalist and anti-American feeling but it had always been clamped down by previous leaders. However, first Ed Miliband, and now, to a much higher degree, Jeremy Corbyn, had let the problem fester and grow. Dame Margaret said that through his lack of action and response clearly Jeremy Corbyn now “very sadly” had to be defined as an anti-Semite himself.

On the other hand she stated that should he come to power (and it wouldn’t be before 2022) it would not be as bad as feared by some in the Jewish community and she also said that once Corbyn was no longer leader of the Labour party, the party would quickly return to the party that had always been the friend of Jews in the UK. She also reiterated that there still was no support for Corbyn in the parliamentary Labour party.

Jonathan Boyd showed some of the conclusions of his recent study that has already been widely reported, but also gave some reasons for optimism in that the perception of antisemitism amongst Jews in the UK was not mirrored in the wider population and also that there were clear indications that an increase in antisemitism had caused a stronger Jewish identity and as Dame Margaret also had indicated a stronger feeling amongst Jews of belonging and togetherness. He said that although it wasn’t any comfort, there was still a greater dislike of other minority groups such as Muslims and Romanis than of Jews in the UK. The increase in antisemitism we had seen was quite often associated with an increase in the conflict in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Dave Rich mentioned that there was a natural tendency in societies that are facing difficulties to blame minorities so with ten years of austerity and the present uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it was no surprise to see an increase in incidents. He stressed CST’s role not just being protecting and advising the Jewish population on securing themselves, although this would be necessary for a long time to come, but also helping in spreading awareness and education so that ignorance would not lead to further antisemitism. Despite the increase in antisemitism and antisemitic incidents reported he was convinced that UK could not be described as an antisemitic country. He urged the community to live a full and active Jewish life and not to hide away.

In the ensuing Q&A and discussion there was 3 subjects that dominated:

1) The increase in social media antisemitism and racism and the need for the government to step in and create better monitoring and regulation.

2) The need for more education not just on Holocaust but maybe more on Jewish life in the present day.

3) The need for a far more active effort in multi faith activity especially between Jews and Muslims around the country.

John Melchior, Chair of Hadley Wood Jewish Community, thanked the three speakers and said that the evening sent people home with a full awareness of the serious situation we are in but also with hope that there are signs that things could get better in the medium terms and that we ourselves, could play a big role in combatting antisemitism both by being active in our communities and by working closely with other minorities in increasing awareness of Judaism.

by John Melchior, Chair of Hadley Wood Jewish Community