Op-Ed: Britain's Love-Hate Relationship With the Jews
Victor SharpeVictor Sharpe is a prolific freelance writer with many published articles...
It is uncertain when the first vestiges of Jewish life in the British Isles occurred. Ancient Phoenicia, which lay along the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the north of the biblical Jewish Kingdom of Israel was a seafaring nation and its fleets may well have voyaged as far as Britain, possibly with crews that included Jewish sailors.
Sir Edward Creasy in his History of England wrote: “The British mines mainly supplied the glorious adornment of Solomon’s Temple.” This ties in very well with the involvement of Phoenician builders in the time of King Solomon and the Phoenician king, Hiram of Tyre, who helped construct the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed Solomon himself employed fleets of sailing craft, which traversed the eastern Mediterranean and beyond – perhaps even to the same distant tin mines.
The Christian story of the Jewish tin merchant, Joseph of Arimathea, visiting Britain and planting a holy thorn bush in Glastonbury adds to the numerous theories of early Jewish travel to and possible settlement of Jews in ancient Britain.
According to the same legends, Joseph made many trips to Britain in pursuit of his tin mining business and made contact with several British tribal kings who gave him and his Jewish companions some 2,000 acres of land. Where that land was remains unknown, if it ever existed, but it would have presumably been in south western Britain and probably in today’s Cornwall. Interestingly, Jews may thus have lived alongside the early Britons before both the Saxon and later Norman conquests.
When the Roman Emperors Julius Caesar in 55 BCE, and later, Claudius in 43 CE, invaded Britain, Jewish soldiers, traders and scribes may have been serving in their respective armies and, as we know, Roman influence lasted in Britain for some 400 years. But it is still later when, in 1066, William the Conqueror and his Norman army invaded England that Jewish life began to grow significantly in England and Wales especially when, in 1070, William gave them land in Oxford and London.
But William, his son Rufus, and the following English kings used the Jews for one purpose only; to help finance their building schemes and wars. The hapless Jews, however, were allowed by the pervasive influence of the Church to have only one occupation; money lending.
Thus the kings and the barons used and abused the Jews – some with relative fairness and others with utmost brutality – always overseen by the severe strictures of the Church. Indeed, no guilds were open to Jews so that they were forbidden to practice farming or join in the industries of their Christian neighbors. As the Church forbade Christians the lending of money on interest, the Jews were thus forced to engage in it or starve.
This, of course, aroused the enmity of the ignorant peasantry who saw the Jews, under the self-serving protection of the kings and barons, living in stone houses while they survived in wattle huts. The nobles and the kings forced their Jewish victims to extend financial help for the construction of abbeys, castles and cathedrals but often reneged on paying back their loans.
Indeed, huge and onerous taxes were often imposed upon the Jewish citizens until they were beggared. Meanwhile, in the churches the common folk were indoctrinated into absurd beliefs that the Jews were devils and thus implacable enemies.
The fact that Jews worshipped the One and only God, invisible and indivisible, and steadfastly rejected belief in any other divine being caused friars and priests to demonize them in church sermons so that a hatred bordering on genocide grew amongst the Christian peasantry and nobility. But to England’s shame, the hideous Christian anti-Jewish belief known as the “blood libel” was first invented in Norwich in 1144 followed by the most infamous of all such evil creations; the invented story in 1155 of Hugh of Lincoln.
Such unspeakable libels, suggesting that Jews killed Christian babies and children for their blood, resulted not in Christian blood being shed, but rivers of Jewish blood spilled from torn and broken bodies after repeated pogroms - often led by friars and princes of the Church.
The frustration of Holy Mother Church at the continuing existence of the Jewish people has been the impetus for the Christian dogma known as Replacement Theology, which posits that the Church is the new Israel and that Judaism is now a withered vine replaced by the sturdy vine of Christendom.
This belief tragically poisons Jewish-Christian relations. Its proponents attack pro-Israel Christian Zionists for following a different light and it’s pernicious influence is alive and well among many Christian clerics in England to this very day. They are often the ones who slavishly support those Arabs who call themselves Palestinians, and routinely ignore each and every Palestinian atrocity against Israeli civilians while at the same time work ceaselessly for the elimination of the reconstituted Jewish state.
After several centuries of bigotry, along with the frightful tax burdens routinely imposed upon them, the Jews in medieval England were bled dry and their usefulness to despotic kings and barons disappeared.
Interestingly, life had become so intolerable to the English Jews that they had begged to be allowed to leave a land that had become so hateful towards them. But they were forbidden to leave so long as more money could be squeezed from them. In other words, the Kings and nobles refused because they still needed their pounds of flesh from the hapless Jews.
But in 1290, King Edward 1 expelled them from England, partly because Italian Christians, the Lombards, with Church sanctification, were now the new money lenders who extended loans with interest; a profession the Papacy now strangely approved of.
Even with the absence of Jews in England, various writers such as Matthew Parrish, were busy writing scurrilous poems depicting Jews as devils with exaggerated features.
In Elizabethan times the works of Christopher Marlowe and others took their cues from the inherited warped history of the Jews as money lenders, even though the Church was responsible for them being prohibited from engaging in the guilds, occupations and professions of their Christian neighbors.
Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta, first produced on Saturday, February 26, 1592 became an overnight success because it demonized the Jewish lead character; a guaranteed delight for a Christian audience of the time; such intolerance and bigotry existing even with the absence of any known Jews in England.
The play became a big money maker for Marlowe’s theatrical company. So it is little wonder that Shakespeare needed to write his own play thereby competing with a theme that was such an obvious and popular money maker. He wrote The Merchant of Venice. In both plays the created villain is a Jew: Barabbas in Marlowe’s play and Shylock in Shakespeare’s.
Cromwell, a Puritan, permitted the Jews to re-enter Britain in 1657 and their contributions to the nation in medicine, music, the arts, science, politics and culture since then have been immense. Yet still scurrilous plays and books presenting the Jew in wholly negative ways were written. There were, however, English writers who wrote of the great gifts and contributions of the Jews to the progress of Western civilization. George Eliot (Mary Evans) was one.
However, squalid screeds by so many English authors continued, only abating somewhat after the Holocaust. No doubt, guilt lay upon the citizenry, which made overt anti-Jewish sentiments unfashionable: A guilt which is now fast evaporating and allowing the ancient contagion of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism to once again infect much of the British population.
This has been exacerbated by the huge Muslim minority within Britain, which has brought its vicious Islamic hatred of the Jewish state into the general British population. As a result, some members of Parliament with large Muslim populations in their constituencies have sought to ingratiate themselves for votes by expressing increasingly anti-Israel policies.
The irrational bigotry that infected England in medieval and later times is again oozing out across the land, except that now it is not only the person of the Jew who is persecuted, demonized and de-legitimized, but the very embodiment of the Jewish people in their ancient, ancestral and biblical homeland: the reconstituted State of Israel.
Anti-Jewish propaganda has now reached levels unknown in Britain for several generations. Everywhere Brits, from the lordly Arabists of the Foreign Office to the journalists in the mainstream media, especially the broadcasters in the ever hypocritical BBC, all falsely accuse the embattled Jewish state of every sin imaginable.
We see the increasingly liberal and leftist churches and the young empty headed students waving socialist and Marxists banners all piling on their corrosive and aberrant hatred towards the beleaguered Jewish state, in what in reality is age old anti-Semitism.
In modern Britain, an ugly reflection of the same age old hatred of the Jews stares out from a 21st century warped mirror with its distorted image of the Jewish spiritual and physical homeland: Israel. The Jewish state has now become the tormented, isolated and persecuted Jew of history.
There is a stark contrast between the writings of Leon Uris, who told in the pages of his novel, Exodus, of the searing passion of the Jewish rebirth of Israel and the words of Peter Kosminsky, who wrote a TV mini-series titled The Promise. Not content with adopting every anti-Israel trope that Israel bashers can think up, Kosminsky distorted history to such an extent that to call it pro-Arab propaganda is a monumental understatement.
How strange this is, even as Britain is becoming prey to Islamic violence in its cities and towns and Sharia law is infiltrating its courts system and more and more facets of its embattled culture, spitting on its Judeo-Christian heritage, and witnessing Muslims freely screaming insults at returning British soldiers in the streets. What a supreme irony.
Here is a historical fact no Brit should feel proud of. Just before the Second World War began on September 3, 1939, Jews were already suffering extermination at the hands of Nazi Germany. But the British government, ever appeasing the oil rich Arab world, chose such a time to issue the infamous White Paper, slamming the doors of British Mandatory Palestine to the Jewish people who desperately sought refuge from the Nazi killing machine. Reneging on the promises made to the Jewish people in the Balfour Declaration, Britain imposed an immigration quota of just 75,000 Jews annually over the next five years. The war against Nazi Germany lasted the same 5 years and 6,000,000 Jews in Europe perished.
The White Paper was a perfidious act by Britain, which effectively closed the doors to the persecuted Jewish populations in Europe. So many Jews could have been saved if Britain had permitted them to find refuge in their ancestral and biblical Jewish homeland.
Brits should be reminded that the only “Palestinians” fighting with Britain against the Axis powers were Jews. Indeed, the very word Palestinian was understood before, during, and after World War 2 to refer to Jews. The Arabs of Mandatory Palestine supported the Nazis and rejected the word Palestinian as a Zionist invention.
None of these facts appeared in Kosminsky’s revisionist screed. Indeed, Brits should be reminded of an even earlier British betrayal. Britain, which since 1917 had liberated the geographical territory known as Palestine from its 400 year old Turkish Ottoman rule, issued in that same year the Balfour Declaration promising to establish within what was called Palestine a Jewish National Home. This was confirmed at the San Remo conference by the League of Nations and Britain was subsequently granted the Mandate over the entire territory on both sides of the River Jordan.
But in 1922, Britain arbitrarily tore away all of the vast territory east of the Jordan River and reduced to a mere 40 miles the territory the Jews were left with – the slim slice of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The much larger territory east of the river was given away to a Hashemite Bedouin Emir and was immediately closed to Jewish settlement. It is now called the Kingdom of Jordan, but is Palestine in all but name.
The Arabs who lived in the geographical area of Mandatory Palestine were, in the main, descendants of illegal Arab immigration into the territory, which began in the early part of the 20th century when Jewish pioneering work was returning the neglected homeland from a desert wasteland into a green and pleasant land.
Jewish agricultural work was an attraction to thousands of Arabs from the neighboring failed and stagnant Arab territories who looked with envy at what the Jews were creating. The occupying power, the British Mandatory government, from the early 1920s turned a blind eye to the flood of illegal Arab migration
Kosminsky’s The Promise, shows scenes from the Holocaust but viewers would be led to believe it was only that which drew Jews to Israel. They would not be told of the previous thousands of years of Jewish history in the ancestral homeland or of the Jewish communities during the last 2,000 years existing in whatever numbers they could sustain in the face of the depredations they endured from alien invaders. This is one of many gratuitous sins of omission on the part of Kosminsky.
Richard Millet writing in his blog, Word Press, on February 28, 2011 about The Promise complained about a particularly despicable and manufactured scene. He stated: “Kosminsky had Jewish children in the West Bank (which is biblical Jewish Judea and Samaria) attacking Arab families with rocks while the IDF looked on and using a child as a human shield. This is a gratuitous reversal of what, in reality, takes place today where Arab children throw rocks at Jewish families while the Palestinian Authority police look the other way and the Arab terrorists routinely use their own women and children as human shields. This is all straight out of the scurrilous and extreme propagandistic anti-Israel ISM handbook.”
Millet adds: “The Promise had everything for the Jew hater and Israel hater, but what you won’t see is a series about the Arab violence in British Mandate Palestine between 1936-1939, which was brutally put down by the British and in which some 5,000 Arabs, 300 Jews and 260 Britons were killed, and during which the Peel Commission offered the Arabs 80% of British Mandate Palestine, which the greedy Arab leadership duly rejected.” Then, as now, they wanted it all.
And one other thing the Brits, who watch this nauseating TV series, should know: There has never in all of recorded history ever existed a sovereign, independent state called Palestine: Certainly never an Arab one. But with that empirical fact, I fear that the age old anti-Semitism that befouled so many of their ancestors may still infect far too many of today’s Brits, except for a blessed and principled few.
Let me in conclusion, honor some of those remarkable British Christian Zionists whose Christian faith led them not to despise the Jewish people or to denigrate the eternal truths of the Jewish faith, but to offer respect and provide invaluable help. They include, Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, Lt. Colonel John Henry Patterson, Major-General Orde Charles Wingate and, last but not least, The Hon. Terence Prittie – a man I had the honor and privilege to work with in supporting and defending Israel in an often hostile British media.
Their blessed names are a rebuttal to the twisted minds so prevalent today.