Queen Elizabeth Gave a Nazi Salute - And I Couldn't Care Less

There are many reasons why recently-released footage of the Queen giving a Nazi salute as a young girl are intriguing. But none of them have anything to do with anti-Semitism or the plight of European Jewry.

Ari Soffer

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

A British tabloid has just touched off major controversy by publishing old footage showing Queen Elizabeth II - then a young girl of about six years old - giving a Nazi salute, together with her mother and uncle, the then-heir to the throne Prince Edward VIII.

Under the kind of over-the-top, provocative headline you might expect from The Sun ("Her Royal Heilness"), a screenshot of the grainy, black-and-white footage showing the future Sovereign of the UK performing a gesture synonymous with one of the most evil ideologies to ever appear on this earth is indeed oddly chilling.

And here's why I, as a Jew, really couldn't care less.

First of all, its context: As sources close to the Royal Family point out, the date in which the footage was taken is crucial.

To quote a "Palace source" cited by Sky News:

"Most people will see these pictures in their proper context and time.

"This is a family playing and momentarily referencing a gesture many would have seen from contemporary news reels.

"No one at that time had any sense how it would evolve. To imply anything else is misleading and dishonest.

"The Queen is around six years of age at the time and entirely innocent of attaching any meaning to these gestures.

Indeed. Remember, this was 1933, just months after Hitler took power in Germany. The holocaust had not yet happened, and - unlike the empty claims of "we didn't know" offered by Allied powers following the war, by which time intelligence services were indeed aware of the Nazi genocide (if not necessarily its full scale) - no one in that picture could have known what that salute would in later years come to symbolize. Not least a six-year-old girl.

Of course, as some have pointed out, the presence of Prince Edward (a known Nazi-sympathizer) certainly says something - but about him, not his young, clueless niece.

But even more important is the simple fact that Queen Elizabeth is not an anti-Semite.

How do I know this? Well, I don't. 

I don't know if, before she gets into bed, the Queen spends her evenings brooding over a drink, muttering about "the Jews" with her husband Prince Philip (in between the other casually offensive things he is prone to muttering). Yes, it is incredibly, absurdly hard to believe for a whole host of reasons, not least of which is the Queen's record of actions towards and good relations with the Jewish community, all of which indicate she is as far from such things as possible. But admittedly it's impossible to know what people think or say behind closed doors.

The point is it does't really matter.

It doesn't matter to the Jews gunned down in Paris, Toulouse, Copenhagen or Brussels, or to their families. It doesn't matter to Jewish communities throughout Europe - including the UK - who are forced to live with security measures the likes of which no other minority is forced to endure, due to very real threats of attack. It doesn't matter to the constant stream of victims of anti-Semitic assaults or other anti-Semitic hate crimes in Europe.

It doesn't matter because contemporary anti-Semitism in Western Europe isn't about neo-Nazis and Hitler-admirers from the far-right - and in recent weeks this has been proven fairly decisively in none other than Queen Elizabeth's own back yard. 

Consider: Even with all the media coverage and controversy, when far-right groups attempted - twice so far - to organize anti-Semitic rallies targeting London's Jewish community, their events flopped spectacularly, even laughably. In both cases, at most two dozen of the usual, tattooed, beer-swilling suspects slithered out from under their rocks for their hour of fame, before slithering back quickly and disappearing from sight, returning to their online rants in delusional blogs and far-right internet chatrooms.

That's not to say neo-Nazism should be ignored - racist and anti-Semitic attacks by the far-right do still occur and the phenomenon must be fought - but the ideology simply isn't anywhere near the top of the list of concerns for Western European Jewry.

The primary threat to European Jews emanates instead from the marriage between Muslim extremism (or Islamism) and the far-left, and centers around attacking the Jewish right to political self-determination (Israel), as opposed to focusing on delusional notions of racial supremacy.

That a growing number of fascists and White Supremacists are hopping on for the ride is true, but they are simply taking advantage of the contemporary winds of anti-Semitism to fan their own dying embers of hatred for a while longer. They are not its drivers, and in fact can only survive or become at all relevant by adopting the aforementioned modern-day discourse of anti-Semitism. (This latter phenomenon was exhibited most graphically during the last neo-Nazi rally in London, when fascists waved Palestinian flags alongside Confederate flags and other far-right symbols.)

Consider as well, that while the Queen has never shown any tendencies towards Nazism or similar anti-Jewish prejudice, in all her nearly 63 years on the throne, the most-traveled British monarch has not once visited the Jewish state - the result, it is widely rumored, of an official Foreign Office boycott.

So while the footage may be historically intriguing, and while there may be some real legal questions to ask regarding how The Sun obtained the previously private video, here's one Jew with more pressing things on his mind.