Feb 2006 Journal

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Point of View

Are there too many immigrants?

In January 1939, when I saw Piccadilly Circus for the first time, British fascists were selling their antisemitic journal Action at every street corner. In Trafalgar Square a speaker was telling the crowd: 'These German Jews come to Britain in their fur coats and we are supposed to feel sorry for them.' In April 1939 the Daily Express, which at that time had the largest sale of any paper in the British Isles, wrote: 'We don't want antisemitism in this country. The British Government must forbid more German Jews to come here.'

Others supported us. The Conservative leader, Lord Baldwin, started the Baldwin Fund to pay for Jewish refugees to seek refuge here. I went to a cinema in Ware, Herts, where, following the newsreel, the Archbishop of Canterbury asked the audience to donate to the cause of German-Jewish children, and boxes were passed round the cinema. This fund was later used to finance the Kindertransports. Other politicians, such as Michael Foot, Lord Wedgewood-Benn, his son Tony Benn, Eleanor Rathbone, and many others supported us.

Today's asylum-seekers are not Jewish, and in the last general election the Conservative leader, himself the son of Jewish immigrants, led a campaign against further immigration. The media has blurred the difference between asylum-seekers and economic migrants, and complains that millions of pounds are spent every year on their social security. The media omits to tell its readers that asylum-seekers are not allowed to work, as was the case with Jewish refugees in the Thirties.

However, we did not receive any social security. There were no economic immigrants then because Britain had almost three million unemployed. Today Britain is crying out for labour, and yet work permits for immigrants are strictly limited. While critics bemoan the large number of immigrants the government, instead of defending immigration, prides itself on its restrictive entry regulations. We are told that there are not enough workers to replace the growing number of pensioners. But there are millions of people wanting to come here to work! The Economist recently published statistics showing that we need a million immigrants per year to prevent us from curtailing future pensions. Politicians and the newspapers have completely ignored these statistics.

We've also been told that England is too small to accept more people. We are overcrowded. But Israel may teach us a lesson. When the Soviet Union opened its doors to emigration, one million Jews emigrated to tiny Israel - the size of Wales and much of it desert. Their labour has completely transformed the country. Engineering industries have been created and this small country is now competing with Silicone Valley in California. The new immigrants into the Uk are black or brown, or speak a different language. The Jewish immigrants from Russia 100 years ago also spoke a different language and had a different religion and completely different customs. At the time, there was a great outcry against these people - who were supposed to increase unemployment, reduce the wages of working people, and lower moral standards by bringing crime and prostitution to the East End. The first Aliens Registration Act was passed before the First World War with the specific purpose of keeping Russian Jews out. All Jews - Russians and Germans - are now integrated.

Many Jews are apprehensive about the influx of so many Muslim immigrants and believe it will increase the danger of terrorism. This belief is as prejudiced as the belief of those who claim that Jews control the media and are tricky in business. There is no reason why more recent immigrants should not similarly integrate and be an asset to this country.
Peter Prager

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