Anti-Semitism is an Integral Part of British Culture

Interview series: Prof. Robert Wistrich, Director of Int'l Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at Hebrew Univ.: "Anti-Semitism is embedded in British culture for a thousand years. Britain was the first to expel the Jews in 1290."

Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld

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Manfred Gerstenfeld
Manfred Gerstenfeld

“The anti-Zionist discourse in the UK probably exceeds that of most other Western societies. Anti-Semitism has achieved a degree of resonance, particularly in elite opinion, that makes the country a leader in encouraging discriminatory attitudes. The United Kingdom holds a pioneering position in promoting academic boycotts of Israel in Europe. The same is true for trade-union efforts at economic boycotts. Trotskyites who infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions back in the 1980’s 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 Anti-Semitism at that university. A Lethal Obsession, the latest among his many books, discusses anti-Semitism from antiquity to the global jihad.  He is a contributor to the oped section of Arutz Sheva.

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

“Anti-Semitism in Great Britain has been around for almost a thousand years of recorded history. Medieval England already led in anti-Semitism. 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 the Passover unleavened bread (matza).

"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.

"Britain was not only the first country in medieval Europe to expel Jews, but also one of the last to take them back after more than 350 years.

“The long absence of Jews from the British Isles did not mean that in the intervening period, anti-Semitism 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. The force of the anti-Jewish stereotype in classic English literature is so powerful, that it ultimately is retained in the contemporary ‘collective unconscious’ of the country’s culture.

“The ‘Shylock’ image influenced the entire West because it fits so well with the evolution of market capitalism from its early days. 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.

“In Britain, as in much of Europe, the proclaimed anti-racism of the left-wing variety often feeds the new anti-Semitism—which is primarily directed against Israel. If one suggests that such leftists are anti-Semites in disguise, they are likely to become enraged and retort that one is ‘playing the anti-Semitic card.’ This has become a code word for saying, as it were, ‘You are a dishonest, deceitful, manipulative Jew,’ or a ‘lover of Jews.’ Zionists supposedly use the ‘accusation of anti-Semitism’ to distort and silence the 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 anti-Semitism in our time.

“Britain can pride itself however, on the publication of the Report of the All-Party Inquiry into Anti-Semitism, which did a thorough—though not perfect—job of investigating the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the UK. The Report does not contradict anything I have been saying, though it was too soft on Muslim anti-Semitism.”