February 18, 2005

British anti-semitism

Lance Knobel has got me wondering today. I've always thought that Britain was not a very anti-semitic country, largely, I admit, on the evidence of my own eyes. I never saw any anti-semitism at first hand; the one time I heard about it at second hand everybody I knew was genuinely shocked; and the extended Gluckstein/Joseph/Salmon family, one of the older and more successful Jewish families in Britain, certainly didn't seem to have encountered it much.

Yet Knobel can still point to the mayor of London making Nazi remarks to a Jewish reporter; the Guardian talking about "a piece of jewellery a South African Jewess might wear" a propos of virtually nothing; and Princess Michael of Kent dusting off that old canard about the Jewish media, despite the fact that the only Jewish media baron I can think of is Richard Desmond – nobody's idea of a behind-the-scenes schemer. (The unlamented Robert Maxwell and Conrad Black* are, thankfully, now in the past tense.) And all of this has happened within the past few days.

What's more, the BBC report about Princess Pushy's interview rushes past the Jew stuff, saying that "her most controversial comments" were the standard upper-class twaddle she spouted on the subjects of religion and marriage. Maybe it's just that I've been living in Jew York for long enough that I've become more attuned to such things, but I think it's equally possible that Britain really has become more racist since I left. Could the fearmongering surrounding immigration really have triggered a new round of anti-semitism?

*Update, Feb 20: I'm now informed that Conrad Black is not Jewish.

Posted by Felix at 01:25 AM GMT

My impression is that a lot of Europeans blame Jews for both the problems in the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East, and that it is becoming less socially objectional to give voice to these feelings.

Once when I was visiting the U.K., the wife of a friend let slip that she thought less of me after learning that I was of mostly Irish descent. I saw her flinch when she realized what she'd just said and I managed to keep my jaw from dropping open. Another friend in London has an Irish surname, and he had told me a year or two beforehand that it's a burden socially and career-wise. I didn't really believe him.

I doubt the British are any more racist than Americans - maybe they're just not as skilled at concealing it?

Posted by: Sterling on February 18, 2005 06:08 AM

It seems bizarre to base an argument that Britain is anti-semitic or racist on the basis of comments by a member of the royal family, who the press rarely refer to without the epithet 'whose father was a member of the Waffen ss' and as coming from bohemia (wherever that is). In other words not British. And comments by a Jewish journalist (Tanya Gold) referring to a light-hearted sterotype. Yes many of the great south african diamond magnates were historically jewish and to describe a bauble in that way is in no way offensive. How amusing that dear old sterling has suffered his own munchhausens racism by proxy. It's interesting to speculate o that scene in Britan where sterling's friend admits to her doubts about his ancestry. Do you think she might have been having a stab at irony. Would Sterling have noticed? Of all the things that might cause concern about you sterling your Irish ancestry comes low down the list.

Posted by: Jez on February 18, 2005 08:53 AM

Actually, anti-semitism is extremely fashionable right now. It's the new black!

Posted by: eurof on February 18, 2005 02:48 PM

was Ken Livingstone's comment anti-Semitic, or just plain rude and stupid, showing yet again that too many Brits are just too hung up on WWII?
I feel the same as u though, Felix, though did so within 6 months of arriving here: we Brits like to pride ourselves on our worldliness and knowledge (yeah yeah, I can;t believe I wrote that eitehr), yet we are far too often little more than parochial, biased and bitter.

Posted by: murray on February 18, 2005 03:38 PM

Of all the things that might cause concern about you sterling your Irish ancestry comes low down the list.

I agree wholeheartedly. Thus my surprise.

Posted by: Sterling on February 18, 2005 03:51 PM

To suggest an entire nation is parochial biased and bitter on the basis of one remark by red ken seems a little disproportionate. But if you're looking for validations for an opinion you clearly hold anyway sure you'll find them. Funny how being in the US broadens one's mind eh.

Posted by: Jez on February 18, 2005 03:59 PM

Er, re-read what i wrote, Jez. I didn't write what I did based on one comment by Red Ken. What I said was that after living in the US for 6 months - today is, in fact, six years to the day since I moved here, how nice- I started realising that we were "too often little more than parochial, bitter than biased", and thus not always not the lovely cuddly clever nice people we so often take ourselves to be.
Do try and read these things properly; it might stop you writing pointless pap. Staying at home clearly is dulling your senses

Posted by: murray on February 18, 2005 04:52 PM

You are all confused. I wouldn't call Red Ken racist by any stretch. I understand he was actually inveighing against the Daily Mail, for whom the reporter worked, part of his point being that they, the newspaper, were in fact a bunch of racist twats who are stirring up racial discrimination in trying to make everyone be nasty to forringers and thus more like Nazis. All credit to him for carrying on when his opponent played the race card and plead(ed?) Jewishness. Thus his comments were in fact an indication of racialism in british public life being less universal, not more so.

Not living there myself any more, I do note that they seem to hate foreigners a bit more, however, and all political parties being "forced", in their words, to pander to anti-immigration sentiment is distasteful.

Them forringers, I think it is coz they is black. Black is the new Jew.

Posted by: eurof on February 18, 2005 05:29 PM

Never tell someone to read closely when you manifestly fail to do so yourself. Your original quote: "too often little more than parochial, biased and bitter". second - and this is when you have the nerve to pick me up on my attention to detail: "too often little more than parochial, bitter than biased". Big difference murray, which do you mean? twat

Posted by: Jez on February 19, 2005 01:04 AM

Yeah, I mistyped in the second, and failed to check. Ouch. I am embarrassed, and I admit it. You still misread the first, and probably could've guessed that I mistyped in the second. But no, much better, and easier, to be obnoxious.

Posted by: murray on February 19, 2005 02:54 PM

And it's encouraged too.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on February 19, 2005 08:44 PM

British anti-semitism: I don't think it exists. By which I mean that there doesn't exist a discernible such strain of mainstream public opinion, 'respectable' or otherwise.
There are, of course, British anti-semites. I'm sure that some/most members of the British National Party are anti-semites. I'm sure that some/most members of Hizb ut Tahrir are anti-semites. But these are wackos. [Yes, one could argue that the BNP has occasionally done relatively well in local elections over recent years, to which I would respond that (i) they have only done well relative to their own dismal past performance and still do a lot worse than, say, the equivalent party in France; think Nader, divide by a number of your choice; (ii) anti-semitism and (more generally) xenophobia have little to do with their relative success.]
There are also British anti-Zionists, amongst whom I do not count myself. However, anti-Zionism does not anti-semitism imply.
The Tory Party has a Jewish leader, Michael Howard; the shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin, is Jewish. Were it not for the shambles of a party that Howard inherited (and his slightly disappointing performance so far) we could be looking at a Jewish PM. Nobody cares. Nobody has even commented on it. Lieberman could never get near the top job, at least not directly.
Some might point to the recent malarkey with the Labour campaign posters showing Howard and Letwin as flying pigs (because of their 'unrealistic' tax plans), which some hysterically deemed anti-semitic. I suspect (but have no proof, obviously) that it didn't even occur to the advertising agency responsible that it might be thought anti-semitic. For some reason they just didn't immediately equate 'pigs' with 'jews'.
If there is English suspicion of a shadowy cabal of 'foreigners' secretly running their lives, it's of the Scots. And before anyone goes off, my dad's from Aberdeen.
Now, as for hating foreigners and being parochial, again not not so sure. 'Ah, but what about the tough lines on immigration the parties are taking?', I hear you cry. Well, most surveys show that the public has no problem with people coming here to work, but are concerned with 'asylum-seekers', whom they view (unfairly) as shiftless types come to sponge off the state. The public is largely misinformed about the nature of immigration flows, not xenophobic.
And has anyone been to London recently? A much more international city than it was even a decade ago, thanks to the influx of Eastern Europeans to take jobs in the service sector. Obviously the wages are high enough to make the locals' hatred bearable. I can go a whole day and not speak to anyone with an English accent, only Poles and Czechs. It's great. The UK may be hung up about WWII, but parochial it is not.
Excuse my ranting. I just get very annoyed when statements like some here get bandied about. I am married to an American and spend roughly half my time in the Midwestern US. I love America, have great admiration for the historical US attitude towards immigration, 'bring me your huddled masses' and all that. However, I have detected, in mainstream media, more undercurrents of anti-semitism in the US ('jewish neocons', 'jews run hollywood') than in the UK.
And a cheap parting shot. I may be wrong about this, but as far as I know not being born in the UK does not disqualify one from becoming PM. Unlike a certain other country.

Posted by: rw on February 19, 2005 10:01 PM

"Were it not for the shambles of a party that Howard inherited (and his slightly disappointing erformance so far) we could be looking at a Jewish PM."

Surely a second one... D'Israeli got there first.

Posted by: Auz on February 21, 2005 11:28 AM