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The Contribution of the Jewish Community to the British Society and the Anti-Semitism Row

By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)

The first recorded Jewish community in Britain was brought to England by King William the Conqueror, at least, as early as in 1070, due to their commercial skills and other such competencies. Even the first arrival of the Jews in England is believed to have taken place at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. William I, sometimes known as William the Bastard, but usually referred to as William the Conqueror, who was the first Norman King of England, reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087. Thus, the first written record of Jewish settlement traces back to 1070.  

The 2011 Census shows the Jewish population in the UK to be 269,568, but the core Jewish British population amounted to 290,000 in 2016 (“Jewish population – world, 2016”). http://www.jewishdatabank.org. Retrieved 25 October, 2018. However,  the population of Jews in the United Kingdom, as estimated by the Jewish Virtual Library (an online encyclopaedia/encyclopedia, published by the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise or AICE, in short) amounted to 289,500 out of the total UK population of 65,800,000 in 2017, which makes the Jewish community, living in the UK, to be the fifth largest Jewish community in the world and constitutes 0.44% of the total population in the UK and 2.0% of World Jewry. (“Countries with the Largest Jewish Population (2017)”. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-population-of-the-world.

Anyway, since their settlement in Britain, the Jewish people have played a great role and contributed to the British society in different ways and walks of life, ranging from social, scientific, agricultural, educational and military contribution to business, industrial, entertainment/media, sports and philanthropic or charitable contribution throughout the country.

There is a huge list of British Jewish politicians going back to Lord George Gordon (1751 – 1793), who had converted to Judaism, till present, come to around 188 Members of Parliament (MPs) and, approximately, 67 Peers in the British Parliament so far.

Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804 – 1881) was a Jewish by birth (even though joined the Church of England, later), who played a pivotal role in the political atmosphere of the United Kingdom and served in government for three decades, being the Prime Minister of the UK twice. He is mainly famous and responsible for creating the modern UK Conservative Party.

Sir Gerald Bernard Kaufman (1930 – 2017) was another British Jewish Labour Party politician, who served as a Member of Parliament from 1970 until his death in 2017, first for Manchester Ardwick and, then, for Manchester Gorton. Knighted earlier in 2004, he became Father of the House in 2015 and was very popular among the people and played an enormous and positive role in the British politics. Similarly, born to the parents from Jewish families, Michael Howard, Baron Howard of Lympne, is another British politician, who served as the Leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition from November, 2003 to December, 2005.

Born in 1965, to parents, both from Polish Jewish families, David Wright Miliband is a British Labour Party politician, public policy analyst and Charity Chief Executive, who served as the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2007 to 2010 and being the MP for South Shields from 2001 to 2013.

Edward Samuel Miliband/Ed Miliband, the brother of David Miliband, is another Labour Party politician, who was Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition between 2010 and 2015, thus, playing a significant part in the British politics.

John Simon Bercow is another famous British Conservative Party politician, born into a British Jewish family, in Edgware, England, in 1963, who has been the Speaker of the House of Commons since June, 2009.

Alan Michael Sugar is also a well-known figure in the UK, born into a Jewish family in East London, in 1947, who is a British political adviser, politician, business magnate (a wealthy and influential businessman), media personality and has been Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club from 1991 to 2001.

Likewise, members of the Jewish community have also contributed and are still contributing a lot to the UK economy in various ways. For instance, Sir Philip Nigel Ross Green (commonly known as Philip Green), who was born in a middle-class Jewish family in Croydon, Surrey, is a British billionaire businessman and the Chairman of Arcadia Group, a retail company that includes Top-man, Evans, Top-shop, Wallis, Miss Selfridge, Outfit and Dorothy Perkins, with a net worth of US $4.9 billion (2018) and a Conservative Party politician.

Other renowned figures from Jewish community, in the World of Business, who significantly contributed to  the British economy, include such names, as Michael Marks (1859 – 1907), a Jewish businessman, entrepreneur and one of the two co-founders of the British retail chain (Marks & Spencer); Sir John Edward Cohen, commonly known as Sir Jack Cohen (1898 – 1979), an English grocer and the founder of Tesco Supermarket Chain, coming from a Jewish family; Vidal Sassoon (1928 – 2012), born to Jewish parents in Hammersmith, West London, a British-American businessman, hairstylist and philanthropist; Sir Leonard Blavatnik, born to a Jewish family in Odessa, Soviet-Ukraine, a Soviet-born British-American philanthropist, investor and businessman, considered as the wealthiest person in the UK and the 50th wealthiest in the world, as of January, 2018; Sir Marcus Samuel (1853 – 1927), served as a Lord Mayor of London and being the founder of the Shell Transport and Trading Company and coming from an Iraqi Jewish family; Sir Bernard Nathaniel Waley – Cohen (1914 – 1991), a British Jewish-businessman and the 633rd Lord Mayor of London, elected in 1960; Sir James Michael Goldsmith/James Goldsmith (1933 – 1997), an Anglo-French financier, politician and tycoon, who being a member of the renowned/prominent Goldsmith family and father of Jemima Goldsmith/Jemima Marcelle Khan (ex-wife of the current Prime Minster of Pakistan, Imran Khan.

Some other British Jewish personalities and celebrities include such persons, as Lesley Diana Joseph (an English broadcaster and actress); Daniel Jacob Radcliffe (an English producer and actor); Stephen John Fry (an English writer, actor, comedian, presenter and activist); Helena Bonham Carter (a famous English actress); Sacha Noam Baron Cohen (a well-known English actor, screenwriter, comedian and film producer); Peter Sellers (1925 – 1980), a renowned English singer, comedian and film actor; Sharon Rachel Osbourne (an English media personality, businesswoman, talent competition judge, television presenter and promoter; Sir Clement Raphael Freud (1924 – 2009), a British writer, broadcaster, chef and politician; David Robert Joseph Beckham (having a Jewish maternal grandfather and considering himself as half Jewish and more linked and connected to Judaism than any other religion) is an English retired professional footballer, co-owner of Salford City and present President of Inter Miami CF (a professional soccer expansion team to be based in Miami, Florida).

Anti-Semitic Row in the British Society:

Notwithstanding the role played by the Jewish community in the affairs and activities of the United Kingdom, there is a continuous tension within the political circle of the country, in association with anti-Semitism, particularly within the Labour Party of the UK. Despite rejecting the criticism and accusations of the culture of intolerance, extremism and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, the current Labour Party Leader and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons, Jeremy Corbyn, has been criticised and blamed for not stopping and rooting out anti-Semitic elements from the Labour Party. He has been criticised for being involved with alleged anti-Semitic people and situations before he became the Leader of the Labour Party, which he replies by promising to have firm determination for discarding and eradicating any anti-Semitic, racist and fascist elements and such other activities from the Party while playing his role as the Labour Party Leader.

Anti-Semitism is the hostility to or prejudice or discrimination against Jews. Anyone holding such beliefs, activities or positions, as having dislike, antagonism, prejudice or discrimination against or treat the Jewish people cruelly, unfairly, unjustly and discriminately is known as anti-Semite.

Anti-Semitism in the UK is not a new issue, as it takes its roots back to the arrival of Jews in the UK soon after the Norman Conquest (The Norman Conquest of England, the 11th-century invasion and occupation of England by an army of French, Flemish, Breton and Norman soldiers, led by Duke William II of Normandy or William the Conqueror, as used to be called, later on). “Since the arrival of Jews in England following the Norman Conquest in 1066, Jews have been subjected to discrimination” (Cardaun, Sarah K. (2015). Countering Contemporary Anti-Semitism in Britain. BRILL. p.37).

“The earliest recorded images of anti-Semitism are found in the Royal tax records from 1233” (Lipton, Sara (6 June, 2016). “The First Anti-Jewish Caricature?”. New York Review of Books. Retrieved 30 November, 2017).

Similarly, it is found on the Jewish Encyclopedi.com that Jews were humiliated and discriminated against in the UK for several hundreds of years, but the same anti-Semitic behaviour towards the Jewish community in the country changed from worse to better slowly and, with the passage of time, as a result of the contributions that the Jewish people made to the UK philanthropically, commercially and in the field of sports. (“England- JewishEncyclopedia.com”). www.jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2016 – 10- 17.

According to a report, published by the Community Security Trust (a British Charity, founded in 1994 for ensuring the security and safety of the Jewish community in the UK), the trigger events of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK include such elements, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza; the outbreak of the Second Intifada (a period of severe violence between Israel and Palestine, described as an uprising against Israel by the Palestinians) in 2000; the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001; the Iraq War in 2003; the Second Lebanon War in 2006, and the terrorist shooting at the Ozar Hatorash Jewish school in Toulouse, France, in 2012. (“ANTISEMITIC INCIDENTS REPORT 2012” (PDF). Community Security Trust.

Although the UK Labour Party is the most-discussed and debated anti-Semitic political party in the media these days, yet a report of an August 2017 You-Gov survey shows that, almost, all the political parties of the UK have anti-Semitic attitudes and elements within in some way, when this comes to behaving towards the Jewish community in the country. You-Gov is a global internet-based market research and data analytics firm, with its headquarters in the UK, which conducted a survey in August 2017, in which as many as 2,025 British Jews took part and answered the questions regarding anti-Semitism. 83%, according to the survey held the UK Labour Party responsible for being anti-Semitic, while 41% of the respondents blamed the UK Independence Party (UKIP) for the same issue in the country. 40% participants of the survey took the Green Party responsible for anti-Semitism, while 36% blamed the Liberal Democrats and 19% said that the UK Conservative Party was involved in anti-Semitic activities. (“Most UK Jews think Labour is too tolerant of anti-Semitism, You-Gov poll finds”). timesofisrael.com

Anyway, the Britain’s Opposition Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is facing a huge pressure from within his own Labour Party and from outside, as well, to face the situation and resolve the anti-Semitism row for the benefit and future of the party and the country. On Monday, 18 February, 2019, seven Labour Party MPs left the Party and resigned in protest, while blaming the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, in regards to his way of handling Brexit and the issue of anti-Semitism within the party. Those who resigned from the party, include Ann Coffey, Gavin Shuker, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna, as told in the BBC News.

Similarly, it was reported by the political editor, Heather Stewart, in The Guardian, on Tuesday, 19 February, 2019, that another Labour MP, Joan Ryan, decided to leave the Labour Party and join the breakaway Independent Group, whilst blaming Jeremy Corbyn for having ‘a culture of anti-Semitism’ in the Labour Party. While criticising the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, she said that ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s party had become ‘infected with the scourge of anti-Jewish racism.’

As reported in the Independent by Lizzy Buchan (Political Correspondent) on Friday, 22 February, 2019, the Labour MP from Dudley North, Ian Austin, resigned, in protest, saying the resignation resulted from ‘the offence and distress Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have caused to Jewish people.’ The same report was made by the BBC News, as mentioning another Labour MP, Ian Austin, to resign from the party on the basis of the culture of intolerance, extremism and anti-Semitism in the Party.

Likewise, it was reported in the BBC News on Sunday, February 24, 2019, that the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, while warning Jeremy Corbyn, said that, ‘Jeremy Corbyn must take “personal lead” over claims of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.’

As mentioned in the Independent by Benjamin Kentish (Political Correspondent) on Monday, 26 March, 2018, Jeremy Corbyn and his team reiterate that ‘he has spent decades while campaigning against, not only anti-Semitism, but against all forms and sorts of discrimination and racism.’

In response to the current anti-Semitism row within the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has shared a video message on the website of the Labour Party about the anti-Semitism problem, in connection with the Labour Party, that, according to Jeremy Corbyn, ‘The Labour (Party) is working to overcome and the need to support and guarantee the security of Jewish communities.’

The Labour Party Leader made it clear in the video that there was no place in the Labour Party for those with anti-Semitic views and ideas and that the Jewish people had central role in the affairs of the Labour Party and in its movement throughout the history of the Party. He said that restoring the trust of the Jewish community in the Party and rooting anti-Semitism out of the Labour Party were the ultimate objectives, goals and priorities of the Party. He apologised for any hurt that might have been experienced by the Jewish community due to any anti-Semitic views or actions within the Party. He also made it clear that any government, led by him, would do its best to take every step for supporting and guaranteeing the protection and security of every Jewish community and the culture of the Jewish people. The Opposition Leader welcomed the Jewish people to feel at home in the Labour Party and encouraged them to fully participate in the activities of the Party for making the United Kingdom a better place to live in. More can be learned about Jeremy Corbyn’s video message on anti-Semitism issue at https://labour.org.uk/no- place-for-antisemitism/

Qasim Swati is a freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist, based in the UK, and can be reached at: https://qasimswati.com/ or qasimswati2003@yahoo.co.uk

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