'UK is European center of anti-Semitism'

Historian says "British detachment from Christian Bible-based roots contributes to changed society."

robert wistrich 224.88 (photo credit:)
robert wistrich 224.88
(photo credit: )
Britain has become the epicenter for anti-Semitic trends in Europe as traditional, age-old anti-Semitism in a country whose literature and cultural tradition were "drenched" in anti-Semitism has developed into a contemporary mix of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, an Israeli historian said Monday. The problem of anti-Semitism in Britain is exacerbated by a growing and increasingly radical Muslim population, the weak approach taken by a timid British Jewish leadership, and the detachment of the British from their Christian roots, said Hebrew University historian Prof. Robert S. Wistrich in a lecture on British anti-Semitism at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. "Britain has become the center point for the meeting of anti-Semitic trends in Europe," Wistrich said. In a wide-ranging two-hour address, the Cambridge University-educated historian, who has just completed a book on global anti-Semitism, traced the roots of British anti-Semitism to its history, culture and literature going back to medieval times. "Anti-Semitism in Great Britain is at least a millennial phenomenon and has been around for 1000 years of recorded history," Wistrich said. He noted that the expulsion of all Jews from Britain in 1290 by King Edward I following years of anti-Semitic violence was the first major expulsion of any Jewish community in Europe. Jews were banned from Britain until 1656, when Oliver Cromwell, who had overthrown the monarchy, authorized their return. Wistrich noted that a Jewish presence was not required in Britain to produce potent and resonating anti-Semitic stereotypes in classic English literature, including in works by Chaucer, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Dickens, Trollope, T. S. Elliot, and D. H. Lawrence, which he said continues to impact British society hundreds of years later today. "The authors are conveying and transmitting to a future generation an embedded anti-Semitism whose influence is impossible to underestimate," Wistrich said. "English literature and culture is in fact drenched in anti-Semitism," he said, adding that British intellectuals fail to understand the long-term impact of this phenomenon. During World War II, the British refusal to rescue the Jews of Europe and their decision to close the gates of Palestine stemmed not only from a policy of realpolitik but by anti-Semitic sentiments, he said. "Nothing was to be construed as fighting a Jewish war," he said. He noted that the famed British wartime leader, Winston Churchill's, record on Zionism was "far from brilliant, rhetoric aside" noting that he promoted the infamous White Paper, which severely limited Jews from immigrating to Palestine during World War II. The recent controversial contemporary theory of a Jewish lobby controlling American government policies in the wake of the 2003 Iraq War actually had its antecedents a century earlier, and dated back to the infamous anti-Semitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, while anti-Israel activities on British campuses was going "strong blast" in the 1970s, he said. In his address, Wistrich said that today's British media had taken an almost universally anti-Israel bias, especially but not exclusively on the BBC, with context removed from description of Israeli military actions, and Islamic jihadist activity such as suicide bombing never connected to ideology. "Under no circumstance will a Palestinian act of terrorism be referred to as terrorist, They are militants similar to the floor-shop dispute in Liverpool whose workers have decided to go on strike," he said. "Palestinian terrorism is portrayed as a minor pin-prick compared to 'massive' retaliation of this 'rogue' state [Israel]," he said. "You cannot read a British newspaper without encountering a variant of the libel that Zionism is racism or Zionism is Nazism," he said, describing a culture of "barely disguised hatred" when the subject of Zionism of British Jewry or Anglo-Israel relations is broached, unless they are "the good anti-Zionists." With the media and the elites skewed against Israel - aided by former Israeli academics who routinely condemn the Jewish state and who have attained "historic dissident status and are listened to as the authentic voice of Israel" - the whole discussion of anti-Semitism had become distorted in Britain, with the accuser becoming the accused, he said. "The self-proclaimed anti-racists of the [London Mayor Ken] Livingstone brand lead the pack when it comes to the prevailing discourse about Israel and by implication Jews." "If you bring up the subject of anti-Semitism you are playing the anti-Semitism card and you are [seen as] a dishonest deceitful manipulative Jew or lover of Jews who is using the language of anti-Semitism to disguise hide or silence criticism of Israel," he said. The tenure of former prime minister Tony Blair - considered to be the most favorable British premier to the State of Israel - was a paradox of the British situation today, Wistrich said. He said that Blair's support for Israel during the Second Lebanon War was "the straw that broke the camel's back" for a British premier who had already supported the Iraq War and was closely allied with US President George W. Bush, and helped bring about his downfall. Today, the rapidly growing Muslim community in Britain numbers at least 1.6 million, compared to about 350,000 Jews. Wistrich faulted British-Jewish leadership for taking a "softly softly approach," which he said was "very strange" and did not bear fruit in contemporary times. "There is a long tradition of doing things behind closed doors and it is different to break with tradition but it should be broken," he said. The historian noted that the straying of the British from their Christian roots has also created a changed reality in the Anglo-Israeli relationship with no Bible-based reasons or raison d'etre for a Jewish presence in the Holy Land. He cited the recent support of the archbishop of Canterbury for the adoption of parts of Sharia, or Islamic law, in Britain - the same country, which, he noted, was once the birthplace of the US evangelical movement. "The loss of Christian identity in what was the most Bible-believing culture in its day is one of the deeper layers of what has happened here," he said. He noted some of the biblical remarks of prominent British leaders such as Lord Balfour and Lloyd George would be viewed as anathema today. "You cannot speak or act that way today, or you would be considered the 'biggest threat to civilization' as American evangelicals are."