The ‘anti-Europe, anti-immigration’ party UKIP is predicted to gain nine to 10 percent of the vote in next month’s election. With its yet-to-be-resolved stance on wanting to ban shechita, warnings on the wearing of religious garments and shabby alliances with far-right Holocaust apologists in Europe, the party should – on paper at least – be anathema to Jews.
Yet Nigel Farage’s party has attracted Jewish followers from across the UK, just as Marine Le Pen’s ultra-nationalist Front National has done in France. Supporters even include community grandees such as Norwood’s outgoing president Richard Desmond, who reportedly donated £300,000.
What’s more, a Jewish News survey late last year suggested UKIP would get eight percent of the Jewish vote in the UK – close to the national average and twice that predicted for the Liberal Democrats. Why? What is the attraction? Are these Jews not latkes voting for Chanukah?
Why, for a start, would Jews be against immigration, when as a people we owe no small debt of gratitude to those open doors when we, too, needed shelter?
“Jews know what it means to be an outsider, to be looked at askance, to be feared and reviled and, ultimately, blamed for society’s wrongs,” says Kingston Liberal Synagogue member Andree Frieze. Her words strike many a chord. There are few Jews in Britain whose relatives were not once in a similar position.
But is all that now just distant memory? It seems so for Jewish News reader Raymond Peentner, who says: “I’ve always voted Tory, but no longer. They’re not honest about immigration, which cannot be controlled while we are part of the EU. I intend to vote UKIP at the election.”
Perhaps many feel as Hendon’s former UKIP candidate Jeremy Zeid did last year – that Britain’s high streets are being “ethnically cleansed” by today’s immigrants. Yet as Jews, do we not know a thing or two about ethnic cleansing? The term’s casual usage by Zeid, who is Jewish, disappointed so many, who asked whether he had had no family members perish in the last century’s most infamous example of it. But vocabulary aside, was he on to something? Do we now feel like strangers in a once-strange land?
Our feature on page six this week helps unravel the mysteries of the Jewish UKIP supporter’s mind. Not for them is the party “racist,” as almost half our readers thought back in November, when UKIP entered into an alliance with a Polish MEP, whose party leader said Hitler was “probably not aware Jews were being exterminated”. That European Parliament tie-up was – for 42 percent of our readers – “crossing a red line”.
Yet should all this realpolitik be forgiven? Is it but a battle in a bigger war? The great unmentionable is that UKIP and Front National are seen to be hard on radical Islam and its breeding grounds.
Have Jews simply sided with those who oppose the source of so much anti-Semitism? Or is that just wilful ignorance, an excuse for racism and hatred of more recent immigrants, mostly Muslim?
It seems the community is split on whether the rise of UKIP and the intolerance it represents is a cause for alarm or hope. By mid-May, thoughts may have crystallised.