I'm Coming Home
By Mandy Blumenthal
Over the past four years, something has begun to happen in London. You bump into a couple who you haven’t seen for a while in the supermarket or find yourself at a dinner party sitting next to an old acquaintance, and the conversation quickly turns to one topic: leaving. Quietly, without fuss or fanfare, Jewish people all over the country, people who were born and raised in Britain, have lived here their whole lives and contributed immeasurably to society, are packing up their homes, selling up and moving abroad. And I am one of them.
My partner Mark and I have always lived in the UK. I grew up in Birmingham, Mark in Manchester, but we’ve both lived in London for years. Don’t misunderstand me, we love our lives here. Mark, 53, is a hugely successful lawyer with four grown up children, we’ve been together for four years, are lucky enough to live in beautiful north London together and enjoy a very happy, busy, fulfilling life. It’s a life not without its challenges - Mark has Multiple Sclerosis which presents its challenges - but it’s a wonderful one. It’s also a life which I am no longer prepared to put at risk by staying in this country. I don’t wish to sound alarmist, but aged 53, I no longer feel welcome in my own country. I’m frightened, and it’s only getting worse.
There is always a snowball effect, you see, with these things. It usually starts small.
I can remember hearing older relatives and friends of my parents as a child talking about their escape from Germany, Poland and Hungary, how as people began to leave the country, there were always those who stayed back, maintaining: “it’s not that bad, it can’t get much worse than this. You could get used to it. So Jews have to go to Jewish schools now - what’s the problem? Does it really matter? So Jewish businesses have to be relocated - you’ve still got the business, there are just limitations. So you have to move house to a ghetto - well, it’s a Jewish area, what can be so bad about that?”
Then they got there and saw what hell it was. I’m not saying this is what is just around the corner in Britain in 2018, but who is to say it isn’t? We like to think we learn from the lessons of the past, but we don’t, do we?
Just like then, the build up of anti-Semitism in this country has happened slowly. There are the thoughtless comments from otherwise sensible people: the taxi driver who said to me recently, not knowing I was Jewish, “everybody’s equal and everybody’s good, except those effing Jews”; the hashtag trending on Twitter - “#HitlerWasRight”; the dinner party conversation peppered with subtly offensive jokes designed to make you feel isolated; the graffiti on a school wall saying “Jews go home”.
It wears you down, but it’s not enough to relocate your entire life over. Some things though, are harder to take. I know people who have been spat at in nightclubs. A friend’s child called me up the other day, terribly upset. She is a student at Birmingham and had ordered a pizza, and when she and her friends had got it home and opened it up they saw someone had drawn a swastika on it in hot sauce.
Another friend called recently. She had been in her local supermarket in Manchester with her ten year old son, who was wearing a kippah. He was running around, as kids do, and this bunch of youths started following him around hurling abuse at him. Thank God she saw them and chased them off. When she told the manager what had happened, he just said: “We have no policy for hate crimes”.
Of course it doesn’t help that one of the most powerful politicians in the country enables anti-Jewish rhetoric, and I was appalled last week to hear that the Labour party had approved a new code of conduct on anti-Semitism, which redefines the term. It states that anti-Semitism is “racism”, but fails to acknowledge the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition, which is more expansive. In response to this Margaret Hodge, the former chair of the public accounts committee, railed against the National Executive Committee’s decision in parliament, reportedly calling Jeremy Corbyn, who backed the change, an “anti-Semitic racist.” No wonder.
I felt physically sick the other day when I saw a headline saying Theresa May would call a general election if rebels in her party didn’t back down. Does she realize what could happen if there was another one? Jeremy Corbyn could very easily become the next Prime Minister: if that happens - from everything I have personally seen and experienced - the anti-Semitism already rife in this country will ignite. This is a man who called Hamas his friends. In their charter, it says that they want all Jews dead. I would find it just as alarming if it singled out any group, but it doesn’t: it singles out Jews, me, and my family.
These things are horribly upsetting - disturbing, even. Yes, you don’t die from being spat at. But why should anyone have to put up with that sort of behavior? Incidents like this are nothing, of course, compared to the acts of genuine violence which have also been happening all over the country.
In Borehamwood, a rabbi’s children were the targets of anti-Semitic abuse – one of them was even physically attacked. Other have been rabbis beaten up badly and hospitalized. My partner Mark has had death threats - just this week he had a horrible one on Twitter which the police have had to get involved with. He's had one death threat which said : “All Jews should be gassed, but you’re to be first”. Mark speaks up for what he thinks is right for a living - it’s what I love about him. And this is how he is treated.
I went to protest recently when the YouTuber Alison Chabloz was sentenced for posting horrendous anti-Semitic videos online. There were people outside the court shouting: “Jewish scum”. The police were there and did nothing. And people wonder why I feel I am no longer safe here.
In every case, some people seem to think the best way of dealing with it and to stop copycat incidents is to not talk about it and not report it. I am not one of them, but plenty of people I know are. I have a friend who, when I go to see him for lunch at his office in the City, will say to me: “Mandy, don’t mention to anyone I’m Jewish”. It is 2018, and successful, prominent people in this country are afraid to be Jewish. Surely something is deeply wrong here.
That’s why I can think of no other solution than to leave. Mark and I are getting our affairs together, and plan to move to Israel in December. Some of our friends understand it, some don’t. When we talk about it at dinner, some people will say “I’m going to stay and fight, I’m not leaving”. But others are, like us, coming to the realization that this is no longer a safe place for them to live.
What’s important is that whatever their stance, Jews up and down the country are having these conversations. People need to realize that and should, I think, be worried by it, because it affects everybody. I always say: “what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews”.
It would take an awfully big shift to persuade me to stay here; as far as I can see, nothing is changing. And so, with a heavy heart, I see no option but to leave. I love my life, and I want to continue to enjoy it fully. And I can no longer do that in Britain.