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8 November 2019

Why I warned non-Jews about Jeremy Corbyn on the front page of the Jewish Chronicle

My hope is that our front page will lead to some soul searching by potential Labour voters.

By Stephen Pollard

There is a fine line between frustration and anger and, truth be told, last week, as election campaigns creaked into action, I may have slipped into the latter.

Watching assorted Labour MPs, from Corbynite hardliners to so-called moderates, extolling the need for a Labour government and talking about the NHS, schools and other public services, I found it hard not to scream at the TV. So hard, in fact, that I did scream.

My words were mainly unprintable but were variations on one theme: that their party is led by a man I believe to be a racist and that the vast majority of British Jews fear the prospect of him becoming prime minister. How could that not be a pretty big – fundamental, indeed – election issue?

But there was barely more than the odd mention of any of it. Labour politicians, as one would expect, ran a mile from acknowledging any of it. But so, too, did reporters and interviewers. The one time it surfaced was when Andrew Marr lobbed a question at John McDonnell. But rather than then cross-examining the shadow chancellor on his answer, Marr sat back and allowed him to spout his usual guff about how Labour is now doing everything asked of it by Jewish groups and is, verily, the very model of a modern anti-racist party. There was not a word in response from Marr to point out that this was pure rubbish.

Every communal organisation, from the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council through to the Jewish Labour Movement itself remains incandescent with anger at Labour’s ongoing refusal to deal in any way satisfactorily with anti-Semitism. The JLM – the oldest affiliate to the Labour Party – is so angry that it is now refusing to campaign for any Labour candidates, bar the two remaining Jewish women, Ruth Smeeth and Dame Margaret Hodge.

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But as a newspaper editor, I do not just have to scream at the TV. I am in the privileged position of being able to do something. Indeed, after over a decade as editor of the Jewish Chronicle, I have a relatively good feeling for what our readers expect. And having led the way in investigating this story from the very start, when we asked seven questions of Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism in a leader on our front page during the leadership campaign in 2015, I knew they would expect us to do something.

I had an idea.

The problem is that not enough people are taking notice of an issue that is of all-consuming importance to the Jewish community. Writing about it for our fellow Jews is all very well but misses the point. We needed to highlight it for non-Jews. How about, I asked our team, using our front page to speak to those non-Jews?

I can usually tell when they think I’ve gone mad. There’s a silence followed by a Yes Minister-esque, “That could work, yes. Let’s have a think.” But this seemed to go down well. They liked it. So I mulled it over for a couple of days and in my mind drafted the leader I’d write. On Monday, I sat down and bashed out some words which I circulated. With some helpful tweaks, we had the words.

But a front page – any page – is nothing without design. And it was our brilliant creative director, Gus Condeixa, who instantly knew what was needed. “Let’s do it as a billboard,” he said. “Get rid of the masthead and have only bare text.” Removing the masthead for a newspaper is sacrilege – but the moment I saw his first design I knew he was spot on. That was when I realised this idea would work and that it would have an impact.

Here’s our front page this week – addressed not to our usual readers but to our fellow British citizens

— The Jewish Chronicle (@JewishChron) November 7, 2019

You can’t see a front page like that and not wonder what it’s about – which was exactly the point. We wanted people to talk about it. We needed people to read it or at least to hear coverage of it on radio and TV, on social media or wherever – because we wanted people to be aware of how it feels to be a Jew during this election.

This is the crux of it. I rarely claim to speak for anyone but myself. We are just a newspaper. But when you see the polling evidence – that 87 per cent of British Jews consider Corbyn to be an anti-Semite and – surely even more shockingly – that 47 per cent of us say we are seriously considering leaving the UK if Labour wins, I know I am speaking for the vast majority of my fellow Jews when I say that we implore non-Jewish voters to think about how they vote in that context.

Since its publication, I’ve been told that there are Jews who support Corbyn. There are indeed. But they are a tiny fraction of the mainstream community – indeed, they set up their own organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, specifically because they were such a minority and were, as such, out on a limb from existing Jewish bodies.

I’m also told that by endorsing Johnson we have given away our political motivation. But at no point have we endorsed any candidate. The JC has always been, and always will be, independent. All we have done is point out to non-Jews what it feels like to watch this campaign essentially ignore the fact that one of the main party leaders is believed by Jews to be an anti-Semite, and to act accordingly when they vote. It says so much about the Corbynite world-view that they cannot conceive that anyone could, in good faith, be implacably opposed to the Dear Leader but not also be dreaming of a Conservative government.

My hope, obviously, is that our front page will lead to some soul searching by potential Labour voters. My fear is that, like everything else in this awful campaign, it will merely be yet more noise.

[See also: Will Jeremy Corbyn agree to step aside in Islington North?]

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