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I WENT on my first anti-fascist demonstration as a teenager in the 1970s. Ten years later I began working for the Runnymede Trust — a body providing research and information on racism and discrimination.
My ears may occasionally need syringing but they are exceptionally well attuned to hearing expressions of any kind of racism or bigotry.
I turned 61 last January, and in the last five or six years I have overheard or personally encountered more anti-semitism than in the previous 55 combined.
I have heard it on buses, Tubes and planes, in pubs, and inside and outside football grounds. As I left a match at West Ham a few years ago a gaggle of men in their mid to late twenties were discussing forthcoming fixtures.
“Who we got next, then?” asked one. “The Yids” (Tottenham FC), answered the second, after which a third shouted “Gas ’em all! Gas ’em all!”
Three years ago I was flying back from Krakow, where I had helped lead an educational trip to Auschwitz for trade unionists and anti-racist activists.
The plane was very crowded. A large extended family group, just in front of me, were unable to secure a block of seats together.
One had to sit a few rows away, next to an orthodox Jewish man. One family member exclaimed: “She has to sit next to a front-wheel!” For the uninitiated: front-wheel-skid = Yid (pejorative term for Jew). “I couldn’t be doing with that!” he added.
The place where I hardly ever hear it, though, is in the Labour Party, despite the epidemic of media stories proclaiming that the party is in the grip of a full-blown anti-semitism crisis.
And when it does surface there, it gets challenged. The guest speaker at our last last ward meeting was discussing the mysterious internal workings of the banking system.
I missed the talk because I was addressing a neighbouring ward about “anti-semitism in Britain” that night.
The talk on banking was apparently laced with hints of conspiracies in which Jewish names featured. I was gratified to hear that several members of the branch challenged him strongly.
These painful allegations returned centre stage this week when the BBC heavily trailed its Panorama programme by a right-wing journalist, John Ware, entitled: “Is Labour Antisemitic?”
It was a shoddy piece of work based around several individuals who formerly worked in the party’s “disputes unit” and seamlessly conflated opposition to Israel’s deeds and zionism with anti-semitism.
The programme opened with a statement by a young Jewish Labour member, who became tearful as she recounted her bad experiences.
Ware forgot to inform us that this was Ella Rose, who used to work for the Israeli embassy.
It relayed individual stories but without reference to any of the key research information provided by several professional and academic bodies that have confirmed that anti-semitism in Britain today is far more widespread on the right than the left.
It did platform two academics, though. One was Dave Rich who authored a book denouncing “left anti-semitism,” especially in Corbyn’s Labour Party.
The other academic was “Professor Alan Johnson.” Viewers were not told that since 2011, Johnson has edited the quarterly journal of Bicom, the most active pro-Israel lobbying organisation in Britain.
Bicom is funded mainly by a Finnish billionaire, Poju Zabludowicz, who is a generous donor to the Tory Party as well.
The Labour Party officially denounced the Panorama programme before and after it was aired, in the strongest terms, for false and malicious claims, and Ware’s political bias.
If the BBC was seeking to investigate racism in British political life, its programming and priorities would surely look very different.
There is a mountain of evidence that racism in its many varieties has become more severe since the Tories took power in 2010, aided and abetted by the Lib Dems until 2015, and on their own since.
The referendum result of 2016 undoubtedly raised nationalist feelings and emboldened racists and fascists.
That is clear in the levels of street level abuse, but the Tories’ hostile environment policies, targeting migrants and refugees, and also devastating members of longstanding Caribbean communities, began in 2012, well before the referendum.
Anti-semitism in British society increased too in this same period. The main statistical rise occurring in 2013-14. That was well before Corbyn led Labour.
It was in the time when the Sun and the Daily Mail were mocking Jewish Labour leader Ed Miliband over his clumsiness with a bacon sandwich, and the apparent lack of gratitude to Britain of his east European refugee father.
What does that anti-semitism consist of? Verbal abuse and threats, anti-Jewish hatred and Holocaust denial expressed on social media, attacks on Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, and physical harassment and assaults on individuals or small groups of Jews (especially ultra-orthodox Jews and school students).
Where the perpetrators have been identified, they are largely white and far right, though there is a disturbing rise in the number of attacks on Jews from members of communities that also suffer racism.
It is incredibly frustrating that one of the most obvious political points about anti-semitism in Britain is completely ignored by the media: that anti-semitism has increased under a Conservative government.
Since 2010 that government has enjoyed direct links to a host of anti-semitic, Islamophobic, anti-migrant, populist, right-wing parties in Europe, such as the Polish Law and Justice party and United Poland, the Bulgarian National Movement, the National Alliance in Latvia, the Brothers of Italy, and more recently the Sweden Democrats and the Vox party in Spain. It has also championed Viktor Orban’s anti-semitic and authoritarian regime in Hungary.
Meanwhile the Tories maintain their alliance to the West with Donald Trump, who emerged from within alt-right circles.
Trump has breathed new life into fringe white supremacist groups in the US, including those who chant on their demonstrations “Jews will not replace us!”
Around the country Labour Party members I speak to are mostly baffled by claims of anti-semitism against Labour. In general, they don’t hear it in branch or committee meetings or in canvassing work, though the media tells them it is happening elsewhere.
The danger is that this sense of bafflement and anger about false accusations will engender complacency and cynicism.
We must ensure that it doesn’t. The growth in anti-semitism here, and even more so in the US, Poland and Hungary, is real enough.
Far-right conspiracy theories that are gaining in traction since the banking crash 10 years ago continue to spread in cyber-space.
We must strengthen our own awareness of the extent to which anti-semitism is central to those conspiracy theories.
A brilliant exhibition called “Jews. Money. Myth” is currently displayed at the Jewish Museum in Camden Town, London.
It reveals the extent to which anti-semitic tropes and stereotypes have been deeply ingrained in British culture over several centuries.
Seventy-five years ago Oswald Mosley mobilised support for a fascist movement here, drawing some support among every class of the population.
His biggest branches were in working-class areas, though he also had branches within 20 major public schools.
However unfair accusations seem of anti-semitism against the left, we have to ensure that we are not reproducing any vestiges of anti-semitism within our own political arguments.
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