The Corbyn Question: What’s Driving UK Jews to Israel
For months, the Labour Party, and its leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been caught up in a storm of antisemitism allegations leading many British Jews to contemplate moving their lives to Israel.
The question on everyone’s lips: What will happen to UK Jewry if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister?
Over the first six months of 2018, the Community Security Trust recorded 727 anti-Semitic incidents across the UK, which it said is the second-highest total ever recorded in the January to June period of any year – 2017 being the highest with 786 incidents. That same year saw a total of 1,414 Anti-Semitic incidents.
Many of these incidents are taking place amid Corbyn’s anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and comments.
Aron Lipczer, 20, was the last member of his family to make aliya from the UK. His siblings and parents doing so slowly over the past 13 years.
He said several reasons had contributed to his decision to depart British shores – anti-Semitism and Jeremy Corbyn’s actions amongst them.
“The fact that I’ve been born and raised as a religious Zionist, and that my family has been active in the Bnei Akiva youth movement instilled within me my then-dream to move to this country, which I’ve [now] turned into a reality,” he said, adding that seeing his older brothers make aliya made him realize this.
“Last year my parents made aliya, and just a month before me, my sister too made aliya leaving me to finally complete the puzzle last week, which was a very special moment for me surrounded by all my family in Israel, all as Israeli citizens for the first time,” Lipczer said.
Asked about the recent rise in antisemitism in the UK, Lipczer said it had definitely contributed to his reasons for making aliya.
From “stories from my close friends about receiving anti-Semitic abuse on the streets, synagogues being covered in disgusting slurs and swastikas or on university campuses where one is made to feel guilty for being a Jew as if they’ve done something wrong,” Lipczer expressed deep concern for the situation.
“Regarding Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-Semitic party, I’m just in disbelief at how he has come so far and how the country is okay with him being the likely future Prime Minister,” he continued. “I do not want to raise my kids…in that country. If the country is going to stay as unwelcoming as it is to the Jewish community, I don’t want to be a part of it,” he added.
Despite these concerns, aliya numbers over the past few years tell a different story.
Although there has been a small but steady trickle of UK immigrants in the past decade – stemming between 500 and 700 new immigrants, on average – there was no massive jump in aliya over 2017, and in fact, it was the lowest in two years with 544.
The Jewish Agency for Israel’s director of Communications and Public Affairs Yigal Palmor told TPS that the numbers from the UK are low, “in comparison with France, for example, where they are counted by the thousand.”
Palmor said that between January and July this year 274 Jews had made aliya – a 7% rise in comparison to the same period as last year – however, he said “the rise noted in the first half of the current year is too small to draw any conclusion.
“And even if we end the year with, say, around 10% more than the previous year, that will not be above the average of the last 10 years, so we have to be very careful before we can denote a trend,” Palmor explained. “We know that many people within the UK community are talking about aliya as a real option, and many have shown interest by calling the Jewish Agency offices, and even opening aliyah files. But current numbers of actual immigrants do not bespeak a rush.”
Nadav Lawrence moved to Israel from Liverpool in 2017 after converting to Judaism. His first year as an immigrant has been positive overall, although there have been a few ups and downs.
“I’m grateful to live here – no matter the stresses of life and the challenges, I feel at home here, there is an overall sense of togetherness and a bigger sense of solidarity here, not to say there aren’t divisions but overall there is a sense of belonging that I didn’t feel in the UK.”
Lawrence said some of the more difficulties he’s had to deal with include what he wants to do career-wise and also the non-stop buzz of the country.
“Israel is constantly on the go, there’s no downtime and sometimes it does get a bit much,” he said.
Asked what led him to make aliya, Lawrence said he had visited Israel many time and coming from a small and “sadly dwindling community, I knew I was going to have to move to either London or Israel. As a convert, I don’t have a Jewish family or Jewish background and I realized that to live a fully, 100% Jewish lifestyle I would need to live in Israel.”
He added that 9.9 times out of 10, he was also the only person on the streets of Liverpool wearing a kippah. “When I visited recently I was very conscious of this.”
Although anti-Semitism and the concerns over Corbyn were not his main reason for leaving, Lawrence said it did stop him from delaying his aliya decision.
“Corbyn and his supporters claim he has met the likes of Hamas members because he’s interested in bringing about peace in the region. But that is nonsense, because far from meeting ‘all parties’ in the conflict, not once has he championed a meeting with the Israeli right, or even left.
“His longstanding policy in the region has been the delegitimization of Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people and the eradication of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people… It’s no wonder Jews, including British Jews – a great many of whom have deep personal and family connections to Israel – view Corbyn…as a threat,” Lawrence concluded.
However, for Debra Powell, who came on aliya four years ago, it was personal reasons that pushed her to come – antisemitism, she said, played no role at all.
Also from Liverpool, Powell said there were two reasons that pushed her to make aliya.
“I dated my non-Jewish ex for 10 years [in Liverpool], I’d moved away from the small Jewish community and he was not interested in becoming Jewish,” she said. “Towards the end of the relationship I started thinking about issues like would my children be baptized in a Church – I didn’t want my children to be baptized, if I have a son I want him to have a brit [circumcision]. He will be Jewish – Judaism is from the mother’s line. I came to this realization and we broke it off.”
Soon after, her grandfather, whom she was incredibly close with passed away, deeply affecting her. “I just needed to get away – I felt I needed to get to Israel,” which she did, spending five months on a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. “I wanted to see if Israel was right for me.”
She then went back to England for a short time, but soon after, Powell decided to make aliya.
Although she had loved her time in the South, she wanted to be where the majority of people her age would be and after completing ulpan in Jerusalem, she moved to Tel Aviv. “I have an incredibly diverse range of friends – many who have become my family. From Italy to Guatemala and New York, the bonds of friendship here are a lot stronger here,” she said.
Although the language has been difficult and life in Israel is expensive, she deeply appreciates the country, its people – who all want to help, its beauty, and even the blue sky and warm weather.
“I’m not religious or Zionistic but there is just something special about living here and being able to walk the land,” she said, concluding that although she doesn’t follow politics, she knows Corbyn is bad for the Jews.