Britain: the shocking history of Tory Party antisemitism

The Orthodox Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Ephraim Mirvis, has launched a vicious attack against Labour, claiming the party is not doing enough to root out alleged anti-Jewish racism. In an article in the Times newspaper, the Chief Rabbi claims "the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety" at the prospect of a Labour victory in the general election.

He says that it was "not my place to tell any person how they should vote" but he urged the public to "vote with their conscience" – that is, not to vote Labour in the general election. The message could not be clearer: vote whichever way you like, but on no account vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

The article asks if Jeremy Corbyn is fit for high office and calls on voters to consider what the result of this election "will say about the moral compass of this country?" If this is not telling people how they should vote, it is an extraordinarily good imitation. And might one not be excused for thinking that the fact that this strange intervention has occurred precisely at a time when the polls suggest that Labour is gaining ground and the Tories are falling may not be altogether a coincidence?

When the Chief Rabbi invites people to vote “according to their conscience”, what does he mean? Vote Conservative? Or Lib Dem? Or maybe the Brexit Party? The choice is rather limited. But since everybody knows that only the Labour Party can defeat the Conservatives, what he is really advocating is support for Boris Johnson. That is the inescapable conclusion from everything he says and writes.

But this is strange indeed. The Labour Party has been fighting against racism and anti-Semitism since its foundation. The Conservative Party, by contrast, has always been riddled with racism and anti-Semitism. Boris Johnson’s racist comments on Muslim women, whom he likens to bank robbers and letterboxes, have now come under public scrutiny. But these racist remarks are only the tip of a very large and ugly iceberg.

Since the Chief Rabbi appears to be completely ignorant of the history of British conservatism, we take the opportunity here to enlighten him. In particular, we respectfully draw his attention to the fact that anti-Semitism and the Conservative party have always enjoyed a very comfortable relationship, and one that endures to the present day.

Anti-Semitism of the Conservative Party

Anti-Semitism has existed in the Conservative Party ever since its foundation. It is quite true that Benjamin Disraeli became Britain’s first (and last) Jewish prime minister, but he suffered prejudice from his Conservative colleagues throughout his political career. He himself commented on the “great anomaly” of being the Conservative chief given the “prejudices” held from within the party against his “origin”. He was described by one Conservative as “that hellish Jew”, but others merely described him as “the Jew”.

According to R. Philpot, “Disraeli's position [on Jewish emancipation] was deeply unpopular in his own party”. The same writer says that: “The underlying current of antisemitism which coursed through sections of the Conservative party until well into the 20th century found an outlet in the persona of its long-serving leader” (The Times of Israel, 22/02/18)

The British Brothers’ League (BBL) was founded in 1901 by a group of anti-immigration and anti-Semitic Conservative MPs. These were the lineal ancestors of the present-day Tory Brexiteers. A leading member of this group, William Evans-Gordon, was elected to parliament in 1900 on an “anti-alien” platform. By “aliens”, they usually meant Jews.

Aliens act Image fair useThe British Brothers’ League, founded in 1901 by a group of anti-Semitic Conservative MPs, are ancestors of Tory Brexiteers / Image: fair use

Evans-Gordon began campaigning for changes to the government's immigration policies as soon as he was elected to office. The BBL stirred up racism against Jewish immigrants who had fled to Britain to find refuge from anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia and elsewhere. As a parliamentary group, they pressed for restrictive immigration controls (AKA: “get control of our borders”, “get our country back”).

In 1902, under the pressure of this group, a Royal Commission was set up. It served as a respectable parliamentary front directed against Jewish migrants, while outside parliament in November 1903, using the services of Harry F. Smith, a Conservative Party agent, they organised a big anti-immigrant demonstration.

In 1903, Evans-Gordon wrote a book called The Alien Immigrant based on the reports he had made to the Royal Commission, in which he deals with what he calls “the Jewish question”. He stated that “the settlement of large aggregations of Hebrews in a Christian land has never been successful”, and that the “Hebrew colony... unlike any other alien colony in [Great Britain], forms a solid and permanently distinct block — a race apart, as it were, in an enduring island of extraneous thought and custom”, to the extent that “east of Aldgate, one walks into a foreign town”.

This vicious campaign led directly to the passing of the Aliens Act of 1905, which proposed a restrictive policy on immigration to Britain. The anti-Semitic strain in British conservatism was later maintained by prominent Conservative politicians such as William Joynson-Hicks, an active member of the so-called Die-hard group in the 1920s, which was fanatically anti-Bolshevik and overtly anti-Semitic. He described the Jewish immigrants to Palestine as “the sweepings of the ghettos of Central Europe”.

Stanley Baldwin, who led the Conservative Party in the 1920s and 1930s had strong ties to Joynson-Hicks, whom The Jewish Chronicle described as “the most avowed and determined anti-Semite in the House”. When Baldwin became prime minister in 1923, he promoted Joynson-Hicks to the Cabinet as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.

The Zinoviev letter

In the notorious 1924 general election, when the Conservative establishment organised a dirty campaign against the Labour Party (just like the one they are carrying out today), they made use of a forged letter, allegedly written by the Russian Bolshevik Zinoviev, in order to discredit Labour and drive it from office. The Zinoviev letter scandal was heavily tinged with anti-Semitic overtones.

Zinoviev letter Image public domainIn 1924, the Conservative establishment used a forged letter, allegedly written by Zinoviev, to discredit Labour and drive it from office. The scandal had clear, anti-Semitic overtones / Image: public domain

Baldwin and other Conservatives deliberately linked the alleged threat of Bolshevik revolution with the presence of aliens in Britain as one of the key themes in their election propaganda. The term 'aliens' was used as a codeword for “Jews”. Anti-alienism, anti-Zionism and anti-Bolshevism were always linked together, so that they became indistinguishable in the popular imagination.

Racists and xenophobes like Joynson-Hicks had been spreading their anti-Semitic poison openly in the Conservative Party for decades. But this blatant racism was not something confined to the margins of the Conservative Party. It was deliberately fostered and encouraged by the establishment. Xenophobia featured in many of Baldwin’s speeches. Take for example the party-political broadcast which he delivered on 16 October. He said:

"We cannot afford the luxury of academic socialists or revolutionary agitation... I think it's high time somebody said to Russia ‘Hands off England’... I want to examine the laws and regulations as to entry of aliens into this country, for in these days no alien should be substituted for one of our own people when we have not enough work at home to go around.”

The Zinoviev letter smear campaign worked like a charm. In November 1924, the minority Labour government fell. After the Conservatives won the election, Baldwin made the racist Joynson-Hicks Home Secretary, a post he occupied until 1929. He naturally used position to tighten laws on immigration. Here is what he had to say on the subject of people requesting British citizenship:

“The chief test... is whether the applicant has, so far as can be judged, become an Englishman at heart and has completely identified himself with English interests. I will give you an example. If two brothers came to this country and one of them settles in a district where only aliens live, continues to speak his native language, marries a woman from his own country, sends his child to a school where only foreign children are kept, keeps his account in a foreign bank, employs only foreign labour, while the other marries and Englishwoman, sends his children to an English school, speaks English, employs British labour, keeps his accounts in a British bank, it is the second brother and not the first who will stand to obtain naturalisation.”

Joynson-Hicks, like many other Conservative leaders (including Winston Churchill) was known to be sympathetic to the fascist regime in Italy. He became known as 'Mussolini Minor’. In the 1930s, the Conservative Home Secretary refused to meet a delegation from organisations combating antisemitism.

Winston Churchill’s anti-Semitism

Winston Churchill was another admirer of Mussolini. He was also a declared anti-Semite. Churchill believed that communism was part of an international Jewish conspiracy, aimed at world domination, dedicated to "the overthrow of civilisation and the reconstruction of society" (Quoted by Michael Cohen, Churchill and the Jews).

In an article entitled 'Zionism versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People,' Churchill wrote:

“In violent opposition to all this sphere of Jewish effort rise the schemes of the International Jews. The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race. Most, if not all, of them have forsaken the faith of their forefathers, and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world. This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing. It played, as a modern writer, Mrs. Webster, has so ably shown, a definitely recognisable part in the tragedy of the French Revolution. It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the Nineteenth Century; and now at last this band of extraordinary personalities from the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America have gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire.” (Rt. Hon. Winston S. Churchill: 'Zionism versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish People', Illustrated Sunday Herald, February 8, 1920, p 5.)

Churchill Image public domainChurchill was a declared anti-Semite / Image: public domain

Churchill had told Lloyd George that the Jews were “the main instigators of the ruin of the Empire”, that they had played a “leading part in Bolshevik atrocities” that the presence of Jews in radical groups was due to “inherent inclinations rooted in Jewish character and religion”, and that a government should not have “too many Jews in it”. (See G. Lebzeiter, Political anti-Semitism in England, 1918-1939)

He warned Britain to beware the “international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew” and that he had found evidence of a “very powerful” Jewish lobby in the country. (Michael J. Cohen, Churchill and the Jews). His wife, Clementine, shared his anti-Semitic opinions. She wrote to him in 1931 that she could understand “American Anti-Semitic prejudice” (ibid).

In June 1937, the American magazine Liberty asked Churchill to write an article on the “Jewish problem.” Churchill entrusted the task to his ghost-writer Adam Marshall Diston, to whom he gave some suggestions. Churchill made some handwritten marks on the manuscript. The article expressed the idea that Jews themselves were responsible for anti-Semitism, by keeping themselves separate from the rest of society. It also contained objectionable stereotypes of Jews (Shylock’s pound of flesh, Jewish usurers, “bloodsuckers”, and so on).

Here is an extract:

“The Jew in England is a representative of his race. Every Jewish money-lender recalls Shylock and the idea of the Jews as usurers. And you cannot reasonably expect a struggling clerk or shopkeeper, paying forty or fifty per cent interest on borrowed money to a ‘Hebrew bloodsucker’ to reflect that, throughout long centuries, almost every other way of life was closed to the Jews; or that there are native English moneylenders who insist, just as implacably, upon their ‘pound of flesh’” (quoted in Michael J. Cohen, Britain’s moment in Palestine, 1917 – 1948).

In the end, the article was not published, despite Churchill's efforts to sell it. Apparently, he was quite happy to publish it under his own name and therefore assume full responsibility for the views contained in it. However, in 1940, Churchill refused permission to have the article published. By this time, Britain was at war with Nazi Germany and Mr Churchill was sitting in number 10 Downing Street. His office stated that it would be “inadvisable to publish the article... at the present time.” (my emphasis, AW)

For obvious reasons, Churchill kept quiet about his anti-Semitism in later years, just as he never reminded anybody about his earlier enthusiasm for Mussolini’s fascism. To this day, these facts have been consigned to oblivion and most people have never heard of them. But these are facts, and facts are stubborn things.

After the War

Anti-Semitism raised its poisonous head once more during the election of 1945, when it was used by Conservative candidates against the Labour Party. In August 1945, The Jewish Chronicle reported that “antisemitism on the part of [Conservative] party supporters had led many local political associations not to select Jewish candidates”.

Harold Macmillan Image public domainTory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was known to have anti-Semitic views, a fact that is reflected in his diaries / Image: public domain

During the election campaign, Conservative candidate Wavell Wakefield advocated the repatriation of Jewish refugees as the solution to London’s housing crisis. The Daily Herald accused the Conservatives of making anti-Semitic remarks about Labour’s Harold Laski. In 1945, the local Hampstead Conservative group began agitation against Jewish immigration.

In October 1945, an antisemitic petition was drawn up by residents of Hampstead, with the help of the Conservative MP for Orpington, Waldron Smithers, requesting “that aliens of Hampstead should be repatriated to assure men and women of the Forces should have accommodation upon their return” from World War II. The petition was signed by Sydney A. Boyd, the anti-Semitic Conservative mayor of Hampstead, and was backed by the Conservative members of the council. Charles Challen, Hampstead's Conservative MP, promised to give the petition his “unstinting support.”

Many similar examples can be found. In the 1950s, Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was known to have anti-Semitic views, a fact that is reflected in his diaries. And so the story goes on and on. Margaret Thatcher included several Jewish ministers in her cabinet. But all of them had experienced anti-Semitism from their colleagues. After the resignation of Leon Brittan from the cabinet, John Stokes commented that the “replacement should at least be a ‘proper red-faced, red-blooded Englishman"', a remark that was interpreted as anti-Semitic both by Brittan’s non-Jewish wife and the Jewish Board of deputies.

Edwina Currie was described by her colleagues as a “pushy Jewess”, despite being a member of the Church of England. In October 2004, a Conservative frontbencher was quoted by the BBC’s James Naughtie as saying: "The trouble is that the [Conservative] party is being run by Michael Howard, Maurice Saatchi, and Oliver Letwin [all of them Jewish] – and none of them really knows what it is to be English". This is the authentic voice of the present Tory leadership – a right-wing, reactionary gang of xenophobes who are using demagogic appeals to “get Brexit done” to whip up the most-disgusting, chauvinist and racist sentiments among backward layers of the population.

A new Zinoviev letter campaign

An advisor to John Moore commented that the Conservative backbenches were "riddled with prejudice of every kind", with "anti-Semitism [being] secondary only to the male chauvinism". There can be no doubt whatever that this is a true and faithful description of the Conservative Party at all levels to this day, and that nothing whatsoever has changed.

On the contrary, the party in recent years has swung violently to the right and is completely dominated by a reactionary clique of anti-immigrant, racist and xenophobic bigots of the worst kind. This undoubtedly represents an “existential threat” to Jewish people and to every other ethnic minority in Britain. But the Chief Rabbi cannot see this. All he can see is the mirage of a non-existent threat from Jeremy Corbyn. And there is none so blind as they who will not see.

If there is any party in Britain that has the worst record on racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, it is the Conservative party. And yet, for some peculiar reason, it is only the Labour Party that is singled out for its alleged anti-Semitism. This is repeated time and time again in the newspapers, on the radio and on the television screens. The headlines constantly scream the same monotonous message: Labour is a racist party! Corbyn is an anti-Semite! Do not vote Labour! Whatever you do, do not vote for Corbyn!

Chief Rabbi Image Flickr Foreign and Commonwealth OfficeThe Chief Rabbi launched an unprecedented and venomous attack on the Labour Party and its leader / Image: Foreign and Commonwealth Office

I will make a personal declaration here. I have been a member of the Labour Party for the last 60 years. In all that time, I have worked in Labour Parties in many different parts of Britain. I have met many people in the party who have held all kinds of ideas, many of them very different to the ideas which I hold. I have met left-wingers, right-wingers, pacifists, chauvinists, feminists, and people I feel would be far more comfortable in the Conservative or Liberal parties.

But I must say, and I will say it clearly and emphatically. I have never in my life met a single member of the Labour Party who could be described as an anti-Semite. Never. Not only that, I am firmly convinced from many conversations I have had, that not a single one of my friends and comrades have ever met such a person. There is a very clear reason for this strange omission. If there are any anti-Semites in the Labour Party, their number must be so insignificantly small that they are virtually invisible.

This fact has been borne out by the statistics, which show that the number of cases of alleged anti-Semitism amounts to 0.06 percent of the total membership (and I emphasise the word "alleged" because “anti-Semitism” is being defined in so wide a sense as to be virtually meaningless).

This is really an insignificant number from any point of view. The whole issue has been grotesquely exaggerated to the point of absolute and cynical mendacity.

There is nothing spontaneous about this campaign. It has been systematically orchestrated from the very first day that Jeremy Corbyn became party leader. The right-wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which consists entirely of the worst kind of careerists, renegades and closet Tories and Liberals, have dedicated all their time, not to fighting the Tories or winning elections for Labour, but exclusively to getting rid of the man who was democratically elected leader of the party and who enjoys the overwhelming support of the membership.

In this vicious campaign of vilification, the Blairite faction of the PLP has enjoyed the wholehearted support of the Tory media, which in turn is only the mouthpiece of the bankers and capitalists. They have tried everything in this unscrupulous attempt at character assassination. They have hit Corbyn with everything, including the kitchen sink. But they have failed. Labour’s left-wing programme is gaining support, and the Tories and Liberals are sinking. It was therefore necessary to resort to more drastic measures.

Corbyn change Image Socialist AppealAll the attention of the ruling class and its agents in the religious establishment is concentrated on one aim: stopping Jeremy Corbyn / Image: Socialist Appeal

Enter the Chief Rabbi with his unprecedented and venomous attack on the Labour Party and its leader. Never mind that there is not one single shred of truth in anything he said and wrote. Never mind the fact that the poison of racism is being actively disseminated by Boris Johnson and the right-wing gang that leads the Conservative party. All the attention of the ruling class and its agents in the religious establishment is concentrated on one aim, and one aim only: stopping Jeremy Corbyn!

That is precisely what is happening now. Last year, three Jewish newspapers – The Jewish Chronicle, The Jewish News and The Jewish Telegraph – published exactly the same front cover on 25 July, arguing that a Labour government under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn would prove "an existential threat" to British Jewry. The same nonsense is now repeated by the Chief Rabbi, and echoed and magnified a thousandfold by every newspaper, radio station and television programme in the land.

What we have before us is neither more nor less than a new and monstrous edition of the notorious Zinoviev letter campaign. It is a dirty smear intended to blacken the name of Jeremy Corbyn and, if possible, remove him from leadership of the Labour Party.

The Chief Rabbi is supposed to represent the interests of Jewish people in Britain. But in what way will the re-election of Boris Johnson serve their interests? By sabotaging Labour’s election campaign, he is preparing the ground for the return of a viciously reactionary Tory government, whose xenophobic ranting serves to arouse and encourage the most backward racist elements in society. It is this that ought to frighten Jewish people, not the prospect of a Corbyn Labour government.

In 1924 the Zinoviev letter – a cynical invention of the British ruling class and its agents in MI5 – was successful in overthrowing a Labour government. But this is not 1924, and the people of Britain are not so easily fooled by lying inventions and unscrupulous smear campaigns. Experience tells them that the defeat of Boris Johnson and a reactionary Conservative government is the first necessity for anyone who wishes to fight against xenophobia and racism, which are implicit in the entire narrative of these gangsters.

The labour movement must stand united in rejecting the vicious, and entirely unfounded slander of Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism. Let us step up the campaign to kick out Boris Johnson and his reactionary crew and elect a Labour government pledged to genuine socialist policies: the only way to defeat reaction, austerity and racism, and open the way for a new and better future for Britain.

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