My re­grets at be­ing ex­iled

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Oliver Kamm

POL­I­TICS HAS ALL changed, and at the same time not changed at all. Over the past few weeks, al­most all JC reg­u­lar colum­nists, in­clud­ing me, have had some­thing to say about the im­plau­si­ble rise of Jeremy Cor­byn to lead Bri­tain’s main op­po­si­tion party. It is ex­tra­or­di­nary that the far left, which has never be­fore held power in the Labour Party, now dom­i­nates it. Yet the like­li­hood that Mr Cor­byn can defy elec­toral history and win of­fice on a pro­gramme so fan­tas­ti­cal is ex­tremely re­mote.

My guess — and it’s scarcely a rash pre­dic­tion — is that Labour un­der Mr Cor­byn can­not re­cover and will be se­verely blood­ied in the 2020 elec­tion. And I re­gret that, be­cause I want a mod­er­ate, re­formist left-of­cen­tre party to be at least a plau­si­ble con­tender for of­fice. Such a party usu­ally wins my vote; a party led by Mr Cor­byn will not.

Yet Labour’s tra­jec­tory has big costs not only for it­self. It has caused se­ri­ous con­cern among Bri­tish Jews, and with rea­son. Read­ers of the JC will re­call that Mr Cor­byn of­fered an in­ter­view to this news­pa­per dur­ing his lead­er­ship cam­paign, and then with­drew on learn­ing that his ques­tioner would be me. The ques­tions I would have asked him about his views and al­liances re­main cur­rent and press­ing. They’ve be­come still more salient by Mr Cor­byn’s ex­tra­or­di­nary per­for­mance at this week’s Labour con­fer­ence where he ad­dressed a Labour Friends of Is­rael re­cep­tion but was ap­par­ently loath even to ut­ter the word “Is­rael”. What’s go­ing on here is a pathol­ogy that has taken hold in the fam­ily of lib­er­al­ism in re­cent years. It’s the no­tion that pol­i­tics and diplo­macy are about val­ues that are clear, fun­da­men­tal and at­tained through an ef­fort of will. That’s not true of some of the things we hold most dear, such as the bal­ance be­tween lib­erty and equal­ity, or the trade-off be­tween per­sonal wealth and eco­nomic se­cu­rity. It’s es­pe­cially de­struc­tive when ap­plied to na­tional or re­gional dis­putes where rights con­flict. Be­cause Mr Cor­byn and his al­lies see the Is­raeliPales­tinian con­flict through a prism of colo­nial­ism, they don’t grasp the ex­tra­or­di­nary vi­tal­ity of Is­rael’s democ­racy and its im­por­tance for the val­ues of sec­u­lar­ism and plu­ral­ism in a re­gion that is short of them.

Put bluntly, the strug­gle for Pales­tinian state­hood is not the equiv­a­lent of the anti-apartheid move­ment of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It is a calumny to sug­gest that Is­rael is an apartheid state but, still more, it’s a fac­tual er­ror. The plu­ral­ist ethos of Zion­ism will be ful­filled when there is even­tu­ally a two-state so­lu­tion be­tween a safe Is­rael and a sov­er­eign Palestine, and in the mean­time pol­icy-mak­ers have a re­spon­si­bil­ity not to in­cite di­vi­sions that ham­per it.

This used to be a com­mon­place no­tion of the left. It is held by the many ded­i­cated Labour MPs and ac­tivists who are aghast at the way that Labour is be­com­ing an in­sur­rec­tionary and anti-Is­raeli cause. And when an en­tire na­tion­al­ity is be­smirched in the name of pro­gres­sivism, some­thing has gone badly wrong with the ide­al­ism that in­forms it. The left now places it­self not on the side of plu­ral­ism, democ­racy and the ex­pan­sion of women’s rights, but with theo­cratic move­ments such as Ha­mas and Hizbol­lah that re­vile these val­ues. Bri­tish public life is be­ing tar­nished that way.

For us on the mod­er­ate left it will be a long ex­ile, and a time for sol­i­dar­ity with Bri­tish Jewry in all its po­lit­i­cal di­ver­sity.

Cor­byn and his al­lies do not grasp the vi­tal­ity of Is­rael’s democ­racy

Oliver Kamm is a colum­nist on The Times

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