A rally in Trafalgar Square, January 2009.(Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)
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British Jewish Vote ‘Alive and Well’

Despite what anyone said in the 1970s, declares columnist

Hadara Graubart
April 20, 2010
A rally in Trafalgar Square, January 2009.(Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

Guardian columnist Geoffrey Alderman recalls researching a textbook on the British electoral system in the 1970s and being stonewalled by “an organisation calling itself the Board of Deputies of British Jews”: “I was ordered—repeat ordered—to cease forthwith my investigation of Jewish voting habits. Jews, I was told, voted just like everyone else. … There was, therefore, no ‘Jewish dimension’ to an election, and to suggest otherwise was to place the entirety of British Jewry in some (ill-defined) jeopardy.” Never mind that the BOD of British Jews has been an influential body since its founding in 1760 and may have been skeptical of a researcher unfamiliar with their community, or the fact that this encounter took place nearly 40 years ago. Alderman is sticking with at least one of the conclusions he drew from it: “Within British Jewry, image is everything.”

Whether or not this generalization holds any merit (for a more nuanced perspective on British Jews, check out today’s Tablet article by Margaret Drabble), it certainly seems to be the case, as Alderman states, that Jewish voters have been “pivotal” in the careers of many politicians in his nation’s history. He cites “the epic struggle of Lionel de Rothschild”; MP Samuel Montagu, “a Yiddish speaking banker”; Britain’s last Communist MP Phil Piratin; and Maurice Orbach, “a self-proclaimed Labour Zionist who had conspicuously failed to support Israel during the Suez crisis.” However, Alderman’s disdain for complexity is evident in his willingness to define the Jewish vote as akin to the Zionist vote in discussing the current run of MP Andrew Dismore as well as his smug conclusion that “Whatever the present Anglo-Jewish leadership may wish, the Jewish vote, in other words, is very much alive and well.” Although we’re inclined to agree on that point, we’re not sure why the author of The Communal Gadfly: Jews, British Jews and the Jewish State—who, one imagines, has had some further dealings with the BOD since 1970—seems stubbornly determined to make his case with few statistics and no sources.

Hadara Graubart was formerly a writer and editor for Tablet Magazine.