An article by David Rosenberg handpicked from our archive (1985) to give perspective and history to the debate surrounding anti-Semitism:
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher’s infamous anti-immigration speech of 1978, before she became Prime Minister, served as a reminder and a warning. Legitimising the alleged “fears” of Britons that they would be “swamped by people of another culture”, she continued, “We are a British nation with British characteristics”. And so she gave the green light to those forces within the Tory Party and in other positions of influence which hold to a restrictive view of what the British nation is, and whose needs it should serve. In its most blatant expression, Andrew Alexander, political correspondent of the Daily Mail, began a major article in 1981: “The time has come to make a stand in favour of racialism.” He appealed to “natural” inequalities in an article littered with racist stereotypes. Claiming that we Britons have been “brainwashed” by the race relations industry, he later accused Jews of having disproportionate influence on the formation of opinion. Elsewhere the British “national spirit” has been elevated by Peregrine Worsthorne in his regular Sunday Telegraph column. In an article menacingly entitled “Race and the pull of patriotism”, written during the Falklands War, he argued that although Britain was a multiracial society, it was not a multiracial nation. Using traditional kith and kin arguments, he placed Britain’s black citizens outside the emotional boundaries of the nation: “The truth of the matter is that most white Britons still identify more easily with those of the same stock 8,000 miles away in the South Atlantic … than they do with West Indian or Asian immigrants living next door, who the law says are more fully British.”
The closing ranks of the white British majoritarian state and the more overt expression of harsh and authoritarian political solutions to the country’s problems, should be treated as a danger signal by our community. However, a different reaction has been forthcoming, for these developments have coincided with the rise to prominence of Jews in the very party propagating these ideas. The presence of Leon Brittan, Nigel Lawson and Sir Keith Joseph in the cabinet (recently joined by David (now Lord) Young) was welcomed as a healthy sign of the times by a Jewish Chronicle editorial, as if the interests of the Jewish community as a whole were strengthened by their presence. A more sober analysis would recognise that they are not representative of Jews in Britain, certainly not in a constitutional sense, and only marginally in a socio-economic sense as available demographic data places most Jews in Britain in considerable lower social and economic brackets than those from which these individuals derive. They have attained their prominence in politics and government by their absolute conformity to the prevailing values and style of Thatcher’s Tory Party.
In the last year this party has come under close scrutiny, internally and externally, concerning the infiltration of extreme right-wing elements associated with openly fascist and antisemitic groups. A report by the Young Conservatives revealed the alarming extent of such infiltration and the continuing contact between far right elements within and outside the Conservative Party through mediating organisations such as WISE (Welsh, Irish, Scottish, English), and ad hoc anti-EEC and anti-immigration campaigns. Such information was available much earlier in Searchlight, which traces these contacts to the late 1960s and early 1970s, following Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.
Following the Young Conservatives’ report and its subsequent media coverage, we are told that the problem of infiltration of personnel is being dealt with. But a crucial point has been missed. Of more far reaching importance is the infiltration of ideas deep into the mainstream of the Tory Party. This is demonstrated in the strengthening of immigration and nationality legislation and consequent deportations practice as well as the increasing respectability afforded to racist sentiments. Many Jews consider that political antisemitism is solely the province of neo-Nazis who, in great disarray, are confined to the fringes of British politics. Such a static view must be seriously challenged and the real factors recognised. Certainly antisemitism remains the central and guiding principle of British fascist groups, even if, initially, their newest recruits are not obliged to “intellectualise” their commitment, and are often recruited on the basis of a populist anti-black racism. Despite their current organisational difficulties, we must not underestimate the potential of these groups, nor ignore the dynamics of their predicament.
David Rosenberg was Co-ordinator of the Jewish Cultural and Anti-Racist Project (JCARP), an initiative of the Jewish Socialists’ Group grant assisted by the Greater London Council.