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Oct 2009 Journal

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British first, Jewish second (Point of View Series)

Dominic Lawson wrote recently in The Sunday Times that he had ‘inherited a bit of my grandmother’s neurosis: a small part of me wonders if it is entirely wonderful that Britain’s two best-known Jews [Alan Sugar and Michael Winner] seem so comfortably to tally with the antiSemitic stereotype of the money-obsessed loudmouth.’

Jews have never been much liked here. There was the York massacre in 1190 and then the expulsion by Edward I in 1290 which lasted nearly 400 years. Shakespeare wrote about Shylock, Dickens about Fagin. Had Edward VIII not abdicated, we might have had a Nazi-sympathising monarch. The UK abstained in the vote on the creation of Israel and has always had a soft spot for the Arab nations. Ernest Bevin, the British foreign secretary at the time, certainly did. We did not endear ourselves to the British by what they considered Jewish terrorism in Palestine during their mandate, particularly the murder of the two British sergeants. It happened a long time ago, but these events have not been forgotten.

Even now, some of the media – the Guardian, Observer, Independent, Channel 4 and the BBC - are often accused of anti-Israel bias or anti-Semitism. There is no doubt that most of the British felt that Israel over-reacted to Gaza (the bombing of Gaza led to the highest number of attacks on British Jews in 25 years). Some of us Jews therefore blame Israel for the growing anti-Semitism of today because it is believed that many non-Jews confuse anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. This is a glib, simplistic argument. The upper classes have never been fans. Yes, Disraeli became prime minister but, generally, we were thought of as inferior beings. The working class didn’t like us either because some of them thought we made more money than they did. Today, it is very unusual for Jews to commit violent crimes but, sadly, a tiny minority is seen to get involved in fraud. Also, some Jews are considered ostentatious, which is seen as very un-British.

Judaism needs a re-launch. We have many enemies in the UK, inevitably among some of the Muslim population but also because it is thought that US policy unfairly favours Israel. However, due to the horrific Holocaust, Jews have mostly presented themselves as victims for the last 60 or so years. Instead, let us now talk about our achievements in the arts and sciences, law and medicine, and quote figures like the ones Dominic Lawson did - that Jews have won almost a quarter of the Nobel Prizes awarded. Our doctors, lawyers, accountants and businessmen are among the best. Many of our writers, artists, musicians, film directors and actors have become legends. There are great academics, philosophers, historians and politicians among us. Margaret Thatcher even had five Jews in her cabinet. The former leader of the Conservative Party was Jewish. The current Speaker is a Jew.

But please, those of you who feel the necessity to boast – don’t! Furthermore, let’s be seen to be giving to non-Jewish charities as well as to our own. Let the ultra-religious not be so insular. Let’s make close friends of those in other religions. Also, let’s realise that we are British first, Jewish second. I am proud of Israel’s achievements since 1948 but - using the Norman Tebbit test - when England played Israel at football, as they did recently, I supported England. Let’s prove our loyalty. Let’s together try to help stamp out anti-Semitism in the UK.
 

Peter Phillips

previous article:‘Inspiration by Goodness’
next article:‘Between silence and screams’: The Refugee Voices collection – seven case studies