Jewish people have a collective history few white Anglo people can relate to. Scapegoated, persecuted, exiled and killed over centuries; the impact this has had on their collective psyche cannot be underestimated.
A feeling of fear and mistrust will have permeated throughout their families and communities. It’s easy for us to dismiss these fears as irrational, but they are anything but.
Alongside a decade of relentless and hope-stifling austerity, fascism is on the rise. The primary targets appear to be Muslims, but there were 1,382 anti-semitic incidents recorded against Jewish people in 2017, and particularly worrying is a 34 per cent increase in incidents involving violence when compared to 2016.
It is essential that Labour members validate the concerns of Jewish people. To dismiss the entirety of anti-semitism in the party as a fabrication or smear is downright damaging and wrong.
Some 0.1 per cent of Labour’s members have been investigated for anti-semitism over the past three years. We need to deal with each case that arises swiftly and by means of education wherever possible, so that we are not simply passing the buck onto wider society.
However in the same way we must never turn a blind eye to anti-semitism, we must never turn a blind eye to those who would weaponise it to further their own ulterior agenda.
Both are deeply destructive to the peace of mind and feeling of safety of Jewish people.
When I was 15 years old, I was taking a shortcut to school through my local hospital as per usual, but that decision on a sunny December morning changed my life and the way I looked at the world forever.
Without going into details, I was assaulted in that alleyway. My life was threatened and I believed I was going to die. My life was never the same again.
If a man walked on the same side of the road as me I’d go into a panic and cross over, heart pounding, breathless, terrified.
I didn’t know it then, but I was suffering from PTSD. This has had a knock-on effect throughout my entire life.
As my children entered their teens and sought greater independence, these old fears resurfaced with a vengeance.
I became an overprotective mother, which made me feel like a terrible person and parent.
After 18 months of counselling, the fear became more manageable, but as my counsellor said to me once: “Michelle, you will always worry more than other mothers. That is just how it is.”
Now imagine if Michelle, aged 18, say, had met a partner who was deeply insecure. Imagine if this insecure person went way beyond validating my fears, and instead compounded and exaggerated them by showing me every news article he could find about assault, rape and murder.
To keep me afraid and under his control, he might tell me he was the only one who could keep me safe in this big, bad scary world we live in.
If I tried to shed some of my fear by researching statistics, he might tell me statistics aren’t important when you are the one being attacked.
Now imagine another scenario, where Michelle meets someone who validates her fears, but tries to reassure her that statistically she is very unlikely to experience such a trauma again in her lifetime.
Imagine if this person, having my best interests at heart, encourages me to face my fears, and take small steps towards conquering them.
Whenever he catches 18-year-old Michelle reading news stories about rape and murder, he reminds her that they are very rare occurrences, and that millions of women go about their lives without anything dreadful happening to them.
Which is the healthiest of these two scenarios?
Many left-wing Jews are being labelled the wrong, or even non-Jews, for taking the second position in this debate about anti-semitism in the Labour Party.
They never doubt its existence or how dreadful it is for those who experience it. However they will put the stats out there and question the motives of those who would have the general public believe that Labour is a hotbed of fascism.
If we quote our left Jewish comrades, we are labelled as anti-semitism deniers, cranks, or even anti-semitic. There is a touch of McCarthyism around this discussion that makes me very uneasy.
Of course there will be Jews on the political right who have valid concerns and need to be listened to.
However, we need to question those who fan the flames of people’s concerns for their own agenda.
It is no coincidence that the same MPs who said we were mad to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, called him unelectable, blamed him for Brexit, conducted an attempted coup against him, labelled him a threat to national security, yelled at him to shut up when he apologised for Iraq, insinuated he was a Putin apologist, are the same MPs who are trying to smear this honourable and decent man as an anti-semite.
Corbyn never planned to be leader. He hasn’t conducted all his campaigning through a prism of what it would look like once he became leader.
He hasn’t vetted every single person he has spoken to or shaken hands with. He followed his instincts when using diplomatic language, because he never thought of the way it would be turned and twisted by his enemies.
If we want a leader who can’t be criticised by the mainstream media and the Blairites, we need a Blairite leader; someone who supports war over peace, privatisation over nationalisation, big business over ordinary struggling people and political expediency over principles. And I don’t think many of us want to go down that path again.
By Chelley Ryan
(first published in the Morning Star)