Antisemitism Embedded in British Culture

No. 70,

  • Antisemitism has been present in Great Britain for almost a thousand years of recorded history. In the twelfth century, Catholic medieval Britain was a persecutory society, particularly when it came to Jews. It pioneered the blood libel and the church was a leader in instituting cruel legislation and discriminatory conduct toward Jews.
  • English literature and culture are drenched in antisemitic stereotypes. Major British authors throughout the centuries transmitted culturally embedded antisemitism to future generations. Although they did not do so deliberately, it was absorbed and has had a long-term, major impact on British society.
  • In the new century the United Kingdom is a European leader in several areas of antisemitism. It holds a pioneering position in promoting academic boycotts of Israel. The same is true for trade-union efforts at economic boycotts. There is also no other Western society where jihadi radicalism has proved as violent and dangerous as in the UK.
  • In the UK the anti-Zionist narrative probably has greater legitimacy than in any other Western society. Antisemitism of the “anti-Zionist” variety has achieved such resonance, particularly in elite opinion, that various British media are leaders in this field. Successive British governments neither share nor have encouraged such attitudes-least of all Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They have shown concern over antisemitism and the boycott movement and tried to counteract them. However, Trotskyites who infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions in the 1980s have been an important factor in spreading poisonous attitudes. The BBC has also played a role in stimulating pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli attitudes over the years.

“The United Kingdom has been a European leader in several areas of antisemitism in the new century. It holds a pioneering position in promoting academic boycotts of Israel. The same is true for trade-union efforts at economic boycotts.

“Although the anti-Zionist narrative is worldwide and widespread in the European Union, this discourse in the UK probably exceeds that of most other Western societies. Thus antisemitism has achieved a degree of resonance, particularly in elite opinion, that makes the country a leader in encouraging discriminatory attitudes. Trotskyites who infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions back in the 1980s are an important factor in spreading this poison.”

Prof. Robert Wistrich holds the Neuberger Chair for Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Since 2002 he has been director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at that university and has been vigorously involved in the struggle against its inroads.

He adds: “There is also no other Western society where jihadi radicalism has proved as violent and dangerous as in the UK. Although antisemitism is not the determining factor in this extremism, it plays a role. This Islamist radicalism has helped shape the direction of overall antisemitism in the UK.

“Another pioneering role of the UK, especially in the area of anti-Israelism is the longstanding bias in BBC reporting and commentary about the Jewish world and Israel in particular. Double standards have long been a defining characteristic of its Middle East coverage. This has had debilitating consequences. The BBC plays a special role owing to its long-established prestige as a news source widely considered to be objective. It carries a weight beyond that of any other Western media institution.

“One characteristic of English antisemitism has been its often understated nature, in keeping with British tradition. That makes it more effective because one does not become aware of it so easily. One example among many is the British journalist Richard Ingrams, who was editor of the satirical magazine Private Eye for twenty-three years starting in the 1960s. He once wrote in the Observer that he threw away unread all correspondence he received from people with Jewish names regarding the Middle East because, he thought, they must be biased on the subject. If someone were to tell him he is an antisemite he would, of course, reject that. But would he publicly write the same thing about Arab correspondents?”

Medieval England: A Leader in Antisemitism

Wistrich observes that analyzing current antisemitism requires looking back in time. The present motifs often resemble ancient ones and have their roots there. “Nothing is ever as new as it appears. Antisemitism in Great Britain has been around for almost a thousand years of recorded history. Medieval England was already a leader in antisemitism.

“In the Middle Ages, England pioneered the blood libel. The Norwich case in 1144 marked the first time Jews were accused of using the blood of Christian children for their Passover matzot. In the twelfth century, medieval Britain was a persecutory Catholic society, particularly when it came to Jews. In this environment the English church was a leader in instituting cruel legislation and discriminatory conduct toward Jews, unparalleled in the rest of Europe.

“From the Norman Conquest of 1066 onward there was a steady process-particularly during the thirteenth century-of persecution, forced conversion, extortion, and expropriation of Jews. This culminated in the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 under Edward I. It was the first ejection of a major Jewish community in Europe. It is important to bear this in mind because it is not widely known, least of all in England. I grew up there and went to grammar school and to Cambridge University and do not recall that this was ever mentioned. On the contrary, we were taught at school about the chivalry of Richard the Lionheart, not the massacres of Jews by Crusader kings.

“Britain was not only the first country in medieval Europe to expel Jews but also one of the last to take them back. It took slightly more than 350 years for this to happen. The return of the Jews to the British Isles began very quietly and informally in 1656 under Oliver Cromwell. This was the beginning-drop by drop-of the formation a new community that over time would contribute a great deal to British society.”

Antisemitism without Jews

“The long absence of Jews from the shores of the British Isles did not mean that in the intervening period, antisemitism disappeared. This is an instructive early example of how society does not need the physical presence of Jews for the potency of the anti-Jewish stereotypes to penetrate the culture.

“I grew up on English literature. When I was sixteen we had to prepare for the advanced-level certificate. In our syllabus were several of the classic English works. They included Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from the late fourteenth century; Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta from the late sixteenth century; and William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice of the same period, which until today has remained one of the most popular plays of the English theater.

“One interesting question is how could Shakespeare draw such a portrait of Shylock probably without ever encountering a real flesh-and-blood Jew? There are many theories about that. Yet he and Marlowe before him managed to portray the Jews as major villains whom the populace would instantly recognize as the ‘antitype.’ I am not, of course, saying Shakespeare was an antisemite in the ideological sense (his portrait of Shylock is more complex than that). But the force of the anti-Jewish stereotype is so powerful that this is what is ultimately retained in the ‘collective unconscious’ of English culture.

“This Shylock image influenced the entire West because it fits so well with the evolution of market capitalism from its early days. Shakespeare portrayed the subject in a way that is to a certain extent realistic, reflecting the rise of a commercial society in Venice and of economic competition. But Shylock has come to embody an image of the vengeful, tribal, and bloodthirsty Jew, who will never give up his pound of flesh. Rightly or wrongly, this is what most people remember. Shylock is the English archetype of the villainous Jew. Those who talk about how humanistic, universal, and empathetic his portrait is, are ignoring not only how it was perceived at the time but its historical consequences.”

Literature Drenched in Antisemitism

“We also studied Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist, from the Victorian era, in which a Jew is again the archetype of the villain. In addition, there were modern twentieth-century authors who portrayed their characters in a partly antisemitic way. Among them were Edwardian writers like John Galsworthy, H. G. Wells, and Nobel Prize winner T. S. Eliot. The latter was the major twentieth-century poet whose work we had to study. There were few authors devoid of any antisemitism. One exception was George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), an eccentric though remarkable woman who understood the Jewish plight. Her book Daniel Deronda can be considered a pro-Zionist work, as well as being a classic Victorian novel.

“From my experience with this syllabus, all these authors, however admirable their contribution to English and world literature, were unintentionally transmitting culturally embedded antisemitism to future generations. The influence of such a process should not be underestimated. It is difficult to neutralize antisemitic images like that of Judas-the betrayer of Christ-in the Gospels.

“English literature and culture are drenched in anti-Jewish images, perhaps even more than many of the great literary traditions of Europe. Obviously, though, there are analogies in France, Spain, Germany, Romania, and Russia. One cannot understand attitudes toward Jews in Britain today without taking into account the antisemitism embedded in the national culture. It exists without even being noticed and is often silently soaked up. Many well-educated and well-meaning people fail to understand the long-term impact of such a cultural factor on their society, and are not even aware of their own latent prejudices. That was my experience during the thirty years I lived in Britain and it has got much worse because of anti-Israeli sentiment.”

The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

During the nineteenth century, matters evolved more favorably for the English Jews. Says Wistrich: “The British Empire reached its pinnacle of power and influence. England had become a relatively liberal society. Jews could feel proud and self-confident in proclaiming that they were British citizens. In the Middle East, Britain was even considered a protector of the Jews. It was more tolerant than most of its rivals and more open to intervening and trying to correct the disabilities of Jews in other parts of the world. So this was a kind of ‘golden age.’

“Yet here, too, the picture is more ambivalent than is often assumed. This was particularly so in the late nineteenth century with the immigration of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe into Britain. At that time there was strong xenophobia. This dislike of foreigners has always been a factor in the insular British mentality. There was a conservative antisemitism resistant to the Jew as an alien who could never be fully English. The Aliens Bill of 1905, directed at halting the immigration of Russian Jews, was a case in point.

“In the twentieth century, after the Russian Revolution, a linkage between Jews and communism that was intertwined with antisemitism became a pronounced theme in British public discourse. There was considerable publicity around the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This ended when Philip Graves, a London Times correspondent, exposed it as a forgery. Until then, one could read editorials in The Times that were based on the belief that Britain had spilled much blood in the First World War only to fall into the hands of a world Jewish conspiracy-a Pax Judaica!

“Similar accusations had been made before that, during the Boer War in South Africa. There were insinuations that a small clique of cosmopolitan Jewish financiers had dragged the British Empire into a futile, useless, expensive, and wholly destructive war for their own narrow financial interests. It was stressed that these ‘foreign Jews’ were well-connected in the upper echelons of British politics. Such claims could also be heard from leading figures in the emerging British Labour Party and trade unions, which were promoting an antiwar sentiment resonant with anti-Semitism.

“In the literature around 1900, one often finds examples of a full-fledged left-wing conspiracy theory in which British imperialism is being manipulated and controlled by ‘Anglo-Hebraic’ financiers. The entire issue was connected to the discovery of gold in South Africa. This theory was promoted by distinguished English intellectuals, enlightened journalists and writers, as well as the prominent liberal economist John Hobson.

“The entire episode shows striking similarities with trends in left-wing political circles in recent years. The radical Left asserts that former prime minister Tony Blair was led by the nose into a disastrous, neo-imperialist war in Iraq by a clique of rich British and American Jews. The so-called American neoconservative conspiracy had spilled over to Britain, serving Ariel Sharon and the Likud government that was then in power in Israel. British trade unionists, then and now, proved susceptible to this kind of conspiracy theory.”

Right-Wing Antisemitism

“The theme of ‘warmongering Jews’ became especially popular in the 1930s with the rise of British fascism under its aristocratic leader, Sir Oswald Mosley, who came originally from the Left. British fascism was stopped by active mobilization against it. Contrary to what would happen a few years later, the communists were among the most militant antifascists in the East End. The Jewish community, which included many working-class Jews, had a kind of unwritten alliance with the Left to stop fascism. That tradition unfortunately seems to be dead and buried today.

“In the Second World War, Britain was not willing to attempt to rescue the Jews of Europe in any meaningful way. It was not only imperial Realpolitikthat made the British close the gates of Palestine. We know that officials in the Colonial and Foreign offices and people in the administration in Palestine were far from immune to antisemitic sentiment while supporting an Arab state after the 1939 White Paper.

“During the war the British government was obsessed by the fear that their fight against Hitler could be construed as a war on behalf of the Jews. To avoid ‘fighting a Jewish war’ became a kind of alibi for the British authorities to do almost nothing for the Jews. Britain’s solemn commitment to create a Jewish National Home in Palestine was in fact betrayed in the hour of greatest need for European Jewry. This is a serious stain on the British record, which until then had many positive sides.”

Toward Israel’s Creation

“After 1945-in the three years before the creation of the state of Israel-relations between Britain and the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine, reached their lowest point. For example, in 1946 the commander of British Forces in Palestine, Lt. Gen. Evelyn Barker, ordered his men to avoid fraternization with Palestinian Jews and to ‘punish the Jews in the manner this race dislikes as much as any, by hitting them in the pocket, which will demonstrate our disgust for them.'[1] Antisemitism was also very virulent in Britain at that time.

“After the Mandatory Government in Palestine executed members of the Irgun, a Jewish underground organization, the latter reacted by hanging two British sergeants. This led to anti-Jewish riots in 1947 in a number of British cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, and London. No lives were lost, but it was a very nasty time. Britain was far from immune in this postwar period to the kind of antisemitism that existed elsewhere on the European Continent, in the Americas, or the Middle East.

“Ernest Bevin, the foreign secretary in the Labour government of Clement Attlee, was convinced that a Jewish conspiracy existed, supposedly in alliance with the Soviet Union. A commonly held view, both in London and Washington at that time, was that ‘the Jews’ were determined to bring down the British Empire. The empire did indeed crumble, though it was not due to any Jewish conspiracy but to more mundane economic and political factors.  The war against Hitler had sapped British strength.

“Bevin made a number of antisemitic statements. He made remarks about Jews trying to jump to the head of the queue even after Auschwitz and the Holocaust. His attitude was also recorded by people who knew him well. The young Labour MP Richard Crossman, who was close to Bevin, emphasized that he was ‘obsessed by the Jews’ and wanted to teach them a lesson they would never forget.

“Another eyewitness testimony was that of James McDonald, the first American ambassador to Israel, who had been actively involved in the refugee issue in the 1930s. In London, on his way to Israel in August 1948, he had a conversation with Bevin. McDonald mentions in his diaries how shocked he was by the antisemitism emanating from the British foreign secretary. It was hatred of Israel, of the United States and, in particular, of the Jews.[2]

“Winston Churchill’s record on Zionism was, of course, far more positive. But it was not as unequivocal as we often assume. There is a discrepancy between his wonderful rhetoric and what Churchill-as a lifelong Zionist-actually did for the Jews when he was in power. He was very intransigent on key issues. The gates of Palestine were kept shut under his premiership.

“During the Second World War, Churchill was in favor of the White Paper and kept it in place, despite his strong condemnation of it in 1939 when in opposition. His wartime actions regarding the Jews were no better than those of Franklin D. Roosevelt, which is to say, unimpressive. Nor, after becoming prime minister again in 1951, was Churchill’s record on Israel particularly brilliant, though he had the historical vision to understand that Israel’s re-creation was a major event in modern history. In expressing its meaning Churchill was at his best.”

The British Roots of “Zionism Is Nazism”

“It is important to remember that in the 1940s the ‘Zionism is Nazism’ libel was rather popular among highly placed Englishmen. True, the Nazi-Zionist equation was predominantly a Soviet contribution to postwar antisemitism. But it did not originate there. Indeed, a number of Britishers can claim first-class honors in this field. An example is Sir John Glubb Pasha, who was commander of the Arab Jordanian Legion fighting against Israel in 1948. He was an upper-class conservative Englishman and a lifelong Arabophile, with a special love for desert Arabs. He was also a convinced antisemite.

“Glubb was obsessed with the idea that Jews had anticipated Hitler’s master race theory. Nazism, in his view, was a pale copy of the Hebrew original as revealed in Old Testament sources. In memos he sent to London he branded Jews as Nazis who combined their East European fanaticism with a narrow Hebraic cast of mind, based on biblical vengeance and hatred. He described Israel from the outset as a Nazi state, as the historian Benny Morris has demonstrated.

“Glubb was not alone. One can find in British documents similar statements from high-ranking officials in the Palestine administration. Most probably when all the papers of the High Commissioner for Palestine from the last years of the Mandate are revealed, further statements of this kind will come to light. One figure high up in the Palestine administration was Sir Edward Grigg, later Lord Altrincham. He referred to what he called the National Socialist character of what became the Israeli Labor Party (Mapai) and of the Hagana (the core of the Israeli army). He saw in the Zionist youth movements a copy of the Hitler Youth.

“The perverse theory that the Jews were not ‘Semites’ or connected to Palestine but descendants of the Khazars in Asia was also very popular among important people such as Sir Edward Spears, who headed the Committee for Arab Affairs in Britain in the late 1940s.[3] Even today one can hear this theory cropping up in conversations with certain members of the British elite after a few glasses of port.”

Toynbee

“In the 1950s and 1960s Arnold Toynbee, the renowned British philosopher of history, was immensely popular. I had to read him at school and as an undergraduate at Cambridge University. He came to shockingly anti-Zionist conclusions presented in the grand style of historical generalization. As an Englishman he felt superior to the German Gentile barbarians who had infamously inflicted the Holocaust on the Jews. But he also claimed that the Jews were worse than the Nazis because they had knowingly imitated their evil deeds and become ruthless persecutors. Today, a disturbingly large number of English people-misguided, intoxicated, and half-brainwashed by parts of the media-would probably agree with Toynbee.

“Toynbee ranted on about the ‘expulsion’ of the Palestinians, which he considered a crime of a greater order than that committed by the German Nazis! Israeli ambassador Yaacov Herzog demolished his arguments in a debate in the early 1960s in Montreal. But the mud stuck. After all Toynbee was an elite figure of the British establishment. He promoted these ideas before they became fashionable. The Left only fully embraced these distorted views after 1967.

“In the 1970s, I was actively involved in such debates when I wrote my doctorate at University College, London. The campus war had heated up and was at full blast in 1975 after the UN ‘Zionism is racism’ resolution. There were efforts to ban all Jewish societies on British campuses. This was stopped by a militant and determined campaign. The time was not yet ripe for the brazen antisemitism of the kind we find today in Britain and much of Europe, but it was certainly there beneath the surface.

“In the 1970s, the anti-Zionists in Britain-some of them Jews and expatriate Israelis-were already vilifying Israel as an ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘racist’ state. Even then there were claims that Zionism equals apartheid. Among the most extreme demagogues were Jewish Trotskyites, who were the most vitriolic in their loathing for Zionism.”

Trotskyites

“It is a curious fact that Trotskyites have been influential in left-wing circles in the UK-at least in comparison to other European countries. Only in France does one find anything equivalent. There seems to be no obvious reason connected to British society or culture. Perhaps it is related to the weakness of the Communist Party, which faded quickly in the 1950s in Britain. Unlike in France and Italy, communism was never very powerful on the British Left. Trotskyism could therefore fill the vacuum. It is an alternative form of communism that bears many parallels with the Stalinism that the Trotskyites love to hate and vilify. Of course, the Trotskyites were hunted down in the Soviet Union and eliminated by Stalinist communists. This persecution had antisemitic undertones.

“Trotskyites have been characterized by an intense polemical energy and have often been in the forefront of the ‘anti-imperialist struggle.’ With the collapse of official communism after 1990 in most parts of the world, they saw a chance for themselves to become what they call a ‘revolutionary vanguard.’

“In their concept of the world, Zionism has for decades been inextricably linked with global capitalism and American imperialism. These were also the hackneyed phrases of Soviet propaganda. The communist empire has collapsed, of course, but the Trotskyites are still running with the ball. Their numbers are small but they have tenacity, ideological discipline, and use clever tactics of infiltration. They have practiced these more effectively in recent decades in the UK than perhaps anywhere else. Trotskyites infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions in the pre-Blair era. We see the bitter fruits in boycott actions today against Israel, sparked by people who went through this anti-Zionist indoctrination and have passed it on.

“Trotskyites are organized in the Socialist Workers Party, which was very active in the 1970s. It has become a larger political factor in recent decades. I watched the huge antiwar demonstration in London in February 2003. The two main organizers were the Muslim Association of Britain-close to the Muslim Brotherhood-and the Socialist Workers Party. They formed a Marxist-Islamist alliance against the war in Iraq and on the issue of Palestine-which was a major unifying factor. In my forthcoming book on global antisemitism since 1945 I analyze this ‘Red-Green Axis’ at considerable length.

“In the demonstration there were antisemitic insinuations and intonations in the slogans and catchwords used. The protest came at the time when the ‘cabal’ theory that the Jews had seized control of American and British foreign policy was being widely advanced. It was crudely asserted in Britain, Europe, the Middle East-and to a lesser degree in the United States-that Bush’s war in Iraq was being fought on Israel’s behalf. This echoes the antisemitic notions of the late 1930s about ‘warmongering Jews’ pushing the West into an unnecessary conflict with Nazism.”

The Respect Party

“There is also a relatively new party called Respect led by MP George Galloway from Scotland. He was on the left of the Labour Party before he went independent. Galloway at one time received generous assistance from Saddam Hussein and defended him regularly on British television. He has always been a militant anti-Zionist, an antiglobalist, and is ferociously anti-American. The actual name of his Islamist-Marxist movement is a complete misnomer. The Respect Party shows no respect for anyone, much less for Jews or Israel, which it constantly vilifies.

“Galloway is an intellectual lightweight and rabble-rouser. He sees a revolutionary potential in the Muslim immigrants in Britain, a kind of ‘substitute proletariat’ that could help revive the lost dreams of international socialism. Being against Israel and America is what brings the far Left and radical Islamists together. They have very little in common on issues such as feminism, attitudes toward homosexuals, or secularism.”

Muslim Antisemitism

“Then there is the more general Muslim contribution to antisemitism in Britain, which is growing all the time and has become a significant factor. The exploration of Muslim attitudes in the UK is still in its infancy. Nevertheless, it appears that close to half of British Muslims believe in a Jewish conspiracy that dominates UK media and politics.[4] The percentage of Muslim perpetrators of violent antisemitic acts is nearly ten times greater than the Muslim percentage of the general population. Muslims from Britain have been involved in a series of high-profile cases. One leading terrorist was Omar Sheikh, the alleged mastermind of the beheading of the American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl in Karachi. The horrific video emphasized Pearl’s Jewish origins. Sheikh, an Anglo-Pakistani, was born and bred in Britain and educated at the London School of Economics.

“In 2003 Abdullah al-Faisal, a black Jamaican who had converted to Islam was tried on charges of racial hatred and incitement to murder Jews in a London criminal court. His videotapes included statements about the need to kill ‘filthy Jews.’ He also called for the murder of Hindus, another target of Muslim extremists in Britain.

“Al-Faisal encouraged British Muslims to carry out bombings in Israel. One of his cassettes was prophetic. He called upon British citizens to fly into Israel and carry out mass murder as a contribution to the global jihad and to Allah. Not long afterward, two British Muslims executed a suicide bombing at Mike’s Place, a bar on the Tel Aviv waterfront. I was the historical adviser for a British TV documentary that dealt with this topic in 2003.

“At the other extreme, the far-Right British National Party sees a climate emerging where it might do better than in the past. The fascists would frankly like to see a Britain without Muslims. On the other hand, they also see eye to eye with many Muslim extremists on issues concerning Israel and the Jews. These British fascists admire Osama bin Laden.”

The BBC and Other Media

“Since the Second Intifada, the BBC as well as some major British newspapers have reported daily on Israel in an often tendentious, biased, and one-sided fashion. Under no circumstances will the BBC refer to any act of Hamas or other Palestinian terrorist organizations as terrorism. These killers are always referred to as militants, which has trade-union connotations in Britain. It is the term used when, for instance, shop stewards advocate a factory strike.

“Within the distorted BBC system, the reporting of Israeli civilian fatalities and Palestinian suicide attacks made them seem no more than minor pinpricks compared to the retaliations by Israel, the definitive ‘rogue state.’ The BBC invariably disconnects jihadi terrorism from any notion that it is part of a hate culture and the result of ideological indoctrination. The explanation is that these murderous deeds are driven by the relentless, ‘racist actions’ of the Israeli government. It is Palestinian misery and oppression that allegedly brings about suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. I believe this is a false, simplistic, and one-sided account. Terrorism is mentioned without connection to an ideology and the issue of antisemitism in the Arab or Islamic world is virtually nonexistent.”

The Jewish Lobby

“Another favorite topic of the British media is the power of the Jewish lobby. One well-publicized example occurred when the veteran Labour MP Tom Dalyell said in a 2003 interview in Vanity Fair that Tony Blair was surrounded by a ‘cabal’ of Jewish advisers. Of the three people he mentioned, only one was Jewish, Lord Levy.

“A second exemplar, Peter Mandelson, did have a Jewish ancestor but never claimed to be a Jew; while the third was Foreign Minister Jack Straw, whom many Jews consider anti-Israeli. Straw, it turned out, did have a Jewish grandfather but had never advertised the fact. Dalyell claimed these people were linked up with the neocons in Washington in a pro-Israeli Jewish world conspiracy. Many others on the British Left have held virulently anti-Israeli views, including former minister Claire Short who, at one point, blamed the Jewish state for global warming!

“There are exceptions to the anti-Israeli attitude. The most important was former prime minister Tony Blair, who was as sympathetic to Israel as one can reasonably be under the circumstances. The paradox is that, while Blair and his successor Gordon Brown have been pro-Israeli and pro-Jewish, Britain is still one of the leaders of current European antisemitism. That is the sobering reality and it needs to be honestly addressed.

“There is much to be said for the claim that Blair’s support for Israel during the Second Lebanon War was the straw that broke the camel’s back and brought him down as prime minister. He was undefeated in elections yet had to resign under pressure from his own party. Blair and Brown fit into a line of statesmen who came out of the British Christian tradition, which has a historic affinity with Zionism. These leaders include Arthur Balfour, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Harold Wilson, and Margaret Thatcher-individuals of vision and great political talent. In my opinion they represent the best in the British political tradition.

“Britain can also pride itself on the publication of the Report of the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, which did a fair and thorough-though not perfect-job of investigating the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the UK. I gave extensive evidence to that inquiry, though for some reason the recording equipment did not function properly and hence there was only a brief summary in the final document. The Report does not contradict anything I have been saying, though it was too soft on Muslim antisemitism and lacked any historical perspective.”[5]

Ken Livingstone

“Among those who have contributed to the current hostile mood is Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London until May 2008. In the 1970s, he knocked on my door to ask for my vote in a local North London election. It turned out he was a passionate admirer of Leon Trotsky and was enthused to learn that I had just written a book on the Bolshevik leader-the kind of Jew he could empathize with-a radical leftist, an international socialist, and an ‘anti-Zionist.’

“A few years later he became a coeditor of the Labour Herald, the Labour Party’s paper in London. In 1982, during the First Lebanon War it published on its front page a caricature of then-Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin in full SS uniform with the skull-and-bones insignia on his head. He was standing atop a mountain of skulls. The caption was in big, black Gothic script: ‘The Final Solution.’ Underneath it Begin was saying: ‘Who needs shalom when you have Reagan behind you?’ This cartoon could have come straight out of Pravda.

“Livingstone always presents himself as an antiracist. He claims to be against any form of discrimination that affects minorities and outsiders. Supposedly he was the friend of gays, lesbians, new immigrants, Afro-Caribbeans, and Muslims. Yet Livingstone has often related to Anglo-Jewry as a kind of Israeli fifth column in Britain and as accomplices of its ‘racist’ policy.

“Livingstone not long ago gratuitously insulted a Jewish reporter of the Evening Standard by likening him to a concentration-camp guard. Even though then-prime minister Tony Blair asked him to apologize to the Jewish community for his offensive remarks, he consistently refused to do so. On the contrary, he insisted on attacking Ariel Sharon as a ‘war criminal’ and it didn’t hurt him with the general public in Britain.

“Another case concerned his remarks about the Reuben brothers, who are property developers in London. They are of Iraqi Jewish origin and have lived in Britain for forty years. Livingstone was apparently exasperated by the prices they charged. He accused them of parasitic behavior and told them to ‘go back to the Iran of the ayatollahs.’ At that time Iran’s president was already threatening to wipe Israel off the map.

“On two occasions Livingstone gave red-carpet treatment to Sheikh Youssef Qaradawi whom he invited to London. This Egyptian sheikh lives in Qatar and has supported suicide bombings as being consistent with Islam. He was presented by Livingstone as a ‘progressive’ and the kind of moderate who could positively influence British Muslims. In reality, Qaradawi is a bigot and a homophobe as well as being a blatant antisemite.

“What is interesting is that in Britain, as in much of Europe, the proclaimed antiracism of the left-wing variety often feeds the new antisemitism-which is primarily directed against Israel. Of course, if one suggests that such leftists are antisemites in disguise, they are likely to become enraged and retort that one is ‘playing the antisemitic card.’ This has become a codeword for saying, as it were, ‘You are a dishonest, deceitful, manipulative Jew’ or a ‘lover of Jews.’ Zionists supposedly use the ‘accusation of antisemitism’ to distort and silence the fully justified criticism of Israel and its human rights abuses. The word ‘criticism’ in this context is misplaced. It is a euphemism or license for the demonization of Israel. And that in turn is a major form of antisemitism in our time.”

                                                             Interview by Manfred Gerstenfeld

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Notes

[1] Sidney Sugarman, The Unrelenting Conflict: Britain, Balfour, and Bevin (Sussex: Book Guild, 2000), 200.

[2] James G. McDonald, My Mission in Israel, 1948-1951 (London: Gollancz, 1951), 22-24.

[3] See Rory Miller, Divided against Zion (London: Frank Cass, 2000), 23-54.

[4] The Times, 7 February 2006.

[5] Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism (London: HM Stationery Office, Ltd., September 2005).

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Prof. Robert Solomon Wistrich has held the Neuberger Chair for Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for almost twenty years. Since 2002 he has been director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Hebrew University and is editor of its journal Antisemitism International. He is the author and editor of many prize-winning books and over three hundred academic articles. His most recent published book, Laboratory for World Destruction: Germans and Jews in Central Europe (University of Nebraska Press), appeared in May 2007. Prof. Wistrich has just completed a book on global antisemitism to be published by Random House at the end of 2008.

About Prof. Robert S. Wistrich

Prof. Robert S. Wistrich is Neuberger Professor of Modern European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He previously held the Chair for Jewish Studies at University College, London. Between 1999-2001, Professor Wistrich was one of six historians appointed by the Vatican to the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, which examined Pope Pius XII’s record during the Holocaust.