November 29, 2019 - 10:51am

Kudos to Sir Richard Evans, distinguished historian of the Third Reich and expert witness in the famous Deborah Lipstadt trial in 2000. Lipstadt had called David Irving a “holocaust denier.” Irving sued for defamation and lost. Evans’ testimony was crucial in Lipstadt’s victory.

Given all this, it was disappointing to many when Evans tweeted out that he was going to support Labour notwithstanding the “cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected” it. This ill-judged tweet met with a howl of outrage. Was Evans really saying that a little bit of Jew hatred was a price worth paying for an otherwise anti-austerity and Remain agenda? Anthony Julius nailed it when he wrote in the New Statesman:

“British Jews have heard for some weeks now the argument that the anti-Semitism is all very unfortunate; it is limited (to the leader, to a small fraction in the party enabled by him); there are bigger issues (Brexit, austerity, etc). There is even an implication that it is a little parochial — perhaps even, selfish — of Jews to insist on their own special suffering, their own local fears, in these times of national crisis. So what if the party is contaminated by Jew hatred if it is also the party that will save the country?”
- Anthony Julius

It would be terribly easy to hunker down after such criticisms and try to justify your mistake. But Evans was a bigger person than that. Yesterday he responded:

“Back from a visit to Germany to find Anthony Julius’s persuasive open letter to me in the New Statesman. As much as Corbyn’s lamentable failure to apologise in his TV interview, or the intervention of the Chief Rabbi, this has persuaded me to change my mind and not vote Labour.”
- Sir Richard Evans

So, given the question of anti-Semitism, is it immoral to vote Labour?

There are many of us who admire Labour’s economic policies. And one rarely, if ever, has the chance to vote for a party that gets things 100% right as we see it. Indeed, don’t we all have to weigh up the things we like about a particular party against the things we don’t like, as Richard Evans originally did? And perhaps if you don’t think Labour really is institutionally anti-Semitic — a few bad apples etc — then it might be OK to undertake this sort of calculation.

But if what we see in the Labour Party is something more than that, if what we see are perfect conditions for the oldest and most resilient of hatreds to re-invent itself, and given an alibi by nestling alongside otherwise admirable policies, then Julius is surely right. We cannot think of it as simply one consideration among others. Many don’t believe that this is where we are at. But if it is true, as many Jews believe (and so do I) that the Labour Party has now become an incubator for the hatred of Jews, then yes, it would be immoral to vote Labour.

Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.