Jewish UKIP candidates this week defended “nonsense” criticism that their Jewish identity was at odds with the party’s policies.
Less than a month before the General Election, the community’s attention has focused on the UK Independence Party, which is expected to gain 8-10 seats.
With a growing Jewish membership, a Friends of Israel group and a number of Jewish Parliamentary candidates, there are strong indications of support, but there is also recognition that UKIP’s tough stance on immigration has forced many British Jews to consider today’s priorities in light of their families’ histories.
Nigel Sussman, a Jewish UKIP candidate for Westminster North, thinks his Russian grandfather would be “amazed” if he could see him now, and that his Jewish roots act for – not against – his party allegiance.
“As a Jew, and given our history, my parents taught me that it was very important to recognise the signs of an oppressive regime, so you can do something about it,” he says, referring to the EU as a “federalist dictatorship”.
UKIP is, says Sussman, “libertarian, not racist,” adding: “We have the largest diversity of candidates of all the parties in this election. That speaks for itself.”
Sussman also rubbishes the claim that UKIP is “anti-immigration” but says it is opposed to the “totally open borders”. “We recognise and applaud the importance of Britain’s great heritage in both the diversity and contribution of immigration to this country.”
UKIP candidate for Hendon, Dr Raymond Shamash, agrees that his constituency has “benefitted from immigration”, listing “Irish pubs, bagel bakeries and Indian restaurants” as examples, but says: “The sheer scale and pace of immigration is tearing at our social fabric and swamping our unique British culture.”
Shamash, a surgeon who recently replaced Jeremy Zeid as candidate, emphasises both his London roots (his father fought the Luftwaffe during World War Two) and also his Jewish heritage and links to Israel (he served as a Medic in the IDF in the Yom Kippur war).
Like Sussman, his family came to the UK a century ago, and this now prompts questions. “I’m asked how can I support UKIP as a Jew, as a descendent of immigrants?” he says. “My family came as economic migrants, with no NHS, no social housing, no benefits, no support from the host nation. They prospered by their own hard work,” he says, comparing this difference in mindset to today’s immigrants.
“Jewish immigrants then were European, with western values, and helped build this country… [They were] not hostile to our values, our state religion or who justify the slaughter of their fellow citizens based on their interpretations of religious texts.”
Shamash says the influx has led to fears for the Jewish community’s safety and future. “My children went to Jewish schools in London and I never thought they might be a target for attack. Now our schools are fortresses,” he says.
In what critics may denounce as fear-mongering, he asks: “Will our London synagogues one day be empty museums? Will our children drift away to the US or Israel because they see no future here?” Further, he says many of today’s immigrants are “uneducated people… vulnerable to ideologies that endanger our community”.
For Keith Fraser, another Jewish UKIP candidate, this time for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, this is loose talk. “Some say it will be the Jews next. Nonsense,” he says. “Wanting to be in control of our borders is not about race. It’s about economics. You can’t plan a wedding if you don’t know how many will come.”
If UKIP win ten or more seats next month, it will indeed feel like a simcha, but Fraser thinks prospects may have been hampered by bad press, which he compares to that bestowed on the Jewish state. “I feel a parallel between UKIP and Israel,” he says. “Both face accusations by an irresponsible media who create too much propaganda.”
Will the Jewish community come to their senses and vote UKIP? According to Fraser, it is a personal choice, not a Jewish one. “I don’t think there ever was, is, or ever will be a party that is pro-Jewish or for the Jews per se,” he says. “I am in UKIP because I feel that the political mainstream continue to make failed promises to the people, and that UKIP really do offer something different.”