Sean Fear looks back to the Jewish boys during his school-days and wonders just what has happened to LABOUR

Sean Fear looks back to the Jewish boys during his school-days and wonders just what has happened to LABOUR

The row that just won’t go away

Between the ages of 11 and 18, I went to University College School in Hampstead. UCS was founded by Jeremy Bentham in the early nineteenth century. Jeremy Bentham is probably most famous today for having had his body embalmed and placed in a display cabinet at University College London. It used to be a tradition for students at other London colleges to steal the body and carry it off as a trophy.

Bentham was an agnostic. As a result, UCS was and remains non-religious in nature, unlike the large majority of private schools at the time. As a result, from the late nineteenth century onwards, it attracted a large Jewish intake, at a time when some other private schools either barred Jews completely, or else operated an informal quota system to limit their numbers. It remains the case today that many boys are Jews. When I was there, they probably made up about a third of the pupils.

Although some were religious, the majority were secular Jews. Their parents tended to be intellectuals, such as writers, artists, journalists, university lecturers, and they were predominantly Labour-supporting (Labour comfortably won UCS when we held a mock election in 1983). To them, supporting the British Labour Party was as natural as supporting its Israeli counterpart, and spending the Summer holidays at a kibbutz.

I often think of them, now, and wonder what they make of the modern Labour Party. One of them, Jonathan Freedland, has written at length of his despair at Labour’s behaviour and I’m sure he’s representative of the opinions of this group. What they must feel is not just anger at what is happening, but a real sense of betrayal that the party they strongly identified with now contains people who hate them, and whose behaviour is tolerated by the party leadership.

Ten years ago, if someone had told me that a political party contained activists who praised Hitler , accused Jews of drinking the blood of children , branded the holocaust a hoax, insisted that Hitler was a Zionist told Jews to get out of the country or claimed that it was up to the Jews to mend fences with such a party, I would have assumed that the party in question was the British National Party. Although I have never been a Labour supporter, it would never have crossed my mind that such views would be expressed by some of its members.

Many people on the left (including many of the people I was at school with) are very critical of the Israeli government, and sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians. But, it is surely not hard to express such criticism without having to resort to the sorts of arguments that are expressed on websites like Stormfront. In general, mainstream socialists have agreed with August Babel that “anti-semitism is the socialism of fools”, and for many years, Labour was the party of choice for British Jews.

Mainstream socialists and social democrats detest anti-semitism, but it is rife on the extreme left. Anti-semitism is an unusual form of racism in that is based on envy, rather than contempt. Jews tend to be successful, and the extreme left, by and large, hates successful people. Unfortunately, many of the people who have joined Labour since 2015 are on the extreme left, rather than being mainstream socialists.

Never having supported Labour, I don’t share the same sense of betrayal that many of my classmates must do. It’s more that I’m just baffled at seeing beliefs that were, until recently, limited to the lunatic fringe, now becoming almost mainstream.

Sean Fear

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