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What Exactly is Anti-Semitism?
Last uploaded : Saturday 19th Aug 2006 at 23:54
Contributed by : Carol Gould


The Editor has been recuperating from illness and has taken time to reflect on thirty years of life in Britain. In order to deflect the usual handful of letters from Anglo-Jews insisting that we 'imagines' nasty incidents or 'exaggerates' our perception of anti-Jewish abuse, we attach below a link to a scholarly article written a year ago by the distinguished writer Robert Wistrich about the spread of anti-Semitism in mainstream Britain, the world we have tried to inhabit but with increasing hostility and intimidation. Our Editor is in the USA and would not have taken the trip but to escape from the rhetoric all around her.

Wistrich's article corroborates our views and can be read at:

What Exactly is Anti-Semitism?

Over the past year the expression ’anti-Semitism’ has begun to be used at an alarming rate, culminating in the comment by the traditionally decorous Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks of the United Synagogue of British Jews that we are experiencing a ‘tsunami of anti-Semitism.’

Notwithstanding the fact that my native United States has had, and is still experiencing its own share of ugly waves of anti-Semitism, it has been necessary for me to turn my thoughts to personal experience to attempt to illustrate why I believe Great Britain is descending into a less-than-glowing period in its attitude towards Jews.

Throughout my thirty years in the UK things have been said to me that have caused me such shock that I have been unable to respond in a rational way, if at all. Anglo-Jews love to tell me that ‘America is far more racist’ even though they never grew up there, but recent events have made me sit down and collate a mental inventory of experiences that have left indelible marks on my psyche.

When I arrived in London in 1976 I was a twenty-two-year old who had been raised in an enlightened, liberal home. My great-grandfather Karash had been a revered scholar in Lithuania and my grandfather was a much-loved cantor in Philadelphia. At home we celebrated the Jewish holidays and my mother, despite a demanding teaching schedule, made all the wonderful foods associated with them. However, growing up Jewish in Philadelphia was a far cry from what I have gleaned, after thirty years here, was a London Jewish upbringing. We had no Mosleyite blackshirts. We got on famously with our non-Jewish friends. The huge majority of American Jews were assimilated, and my non-Jewish friends loved going to Sederim, to Chanukah latke parties and visiting Sukkot. In turn, I sang in a gospel choir. Throughout my childhood only one person ever said anything untoward to me about my faith or about Israel. He was a Polish-American who informed me that ‘the next Holocaust was on its way to punish you people once and for all for killing Christ.‘

The sum total of my memory of anti-Semitism in my Philadelphia childhood was one incident involving some recently arrived Ukrainian immigrants who had brought their hatred of Jews across the ocean and who called my parents ‘cheap mockeys’ because they had complained about their noisy children.

When I arrived in Britain to embark on my postgraduate studies in film and television I realised to my horror that I could not just wander out and down the road to get bagels and lox, borscht, whitefish, a liver knish or a portion of lockshen kugel. I met uptight secular Jews in London who recoiled when I made hearty Yiddish jokes. I met Orthodox Jews who recoiled when I told them how my mother and I were experts at picking out the best lobster at the Manayunk Market. Even at the Liberal shul an elderly man berated me about the evils of entering a church when I told him I had been one of only three white girls in a gospel choir.

It rapidly became evident to me from the communities I was encountering that this was a conflicted and deeply repressed Jewish community. It is said that Ahad Ha’am, on assignment with Wissotzky Tea to the UK, described living amongst Anglo-Jewry as being in a graveyard.

It was therefore all the more troubling to me to then have to deal with the bizarre comments I began to receive from non-Jews. When I worked with Ed Berman’s Almost Free Theatre we had trouble with one of the non-Jewish actors in ‘The Irish Hebrew Lesson’ by Wolf Mankowitz. He was so disgusted by the taste of gefilte fish that he refused to eat it onstage and we had to replace it with porridge. His anger, foul language and utter revulsion about gefilte fish was way out of proportion to a simple dislike for a food. Was this anti-Semitism? I thought so. I was twenty-five, knew how much my non-Jewish friends in Philly loved gefilte fish with chrain and felt mortally offended by the actor’s attitude.

When I went into network television the weird comments came with speed and fury. In my first year I did not receive a Christmas Bonus. When I told my Jewish boss he said he would look into it. As it turned out, he reported back to me that I had been just short of a year’s full employment, and only those with more than one year of service received a Christmas Bonus. Fine. But one day, one of the senior management passed by my door and sneered, ‘I gather you were moaning about not getting a Christmas Bonus. Just remember that you slipped through the net. It isn’t your holiday anyway, and a Bonus is at the discretion of the management.’ Anti-Semitism? Yes! My immediate boss asked me if I wanted to take it to the Board of Deputies but I said no. Incidentally, there were only three Jews in a workforce of nearly nine-hundred, so I guess I did slip through the net.

During the television years I was asked ‘Is it another one of your holidays next week where you stuff your faces yet again?’ I was told by a member of staff in our provincial office, ‘My family goes back a thousand years here and I’d never seen a Jew until John (my slipped-through-the-net boss) came up on location! We thought you all had horns!’ One perky lady asked me ‘How many slices of meat can your papa cut in a minute?’ I asked her what on earth she meant. ‘Well, I assume he is a meat-cutter in a delicatessen. ‘ I calmly told her my father was an esteemed naval architect and she actually said ‘Oh, nonsense! You needn’t be ashamed -- all New York Jews run delis!’ Anti-Semitism? Maybe not. But to a a sophisticated Philly lass who summered with her family in Tanglewood, Saratoga and Marlboro these were jarring moments.

Things became nastier when I was poached by a Dutch TV conglomerate. To my utter disbelief, they made endless jokes about Jews in the office. When I was asked what I would like to do for leisure whilst in Amsterdam, I replied that the first thing I wanted to do was to visit the Anne Frank House. My colleague said ‘I have lived in Amsterdam all my life and have no desire to visit this Anne Frank House.’ After that my colleagues became cold and distant. The Jewish jokes stopped but then the tactics changed: I was asked, when we walked past Minsky’s at Lord’s Roundabout ‘ This is where I guess you eat every day?’ The final straw came when I was ordered to work on Christmas Day. I explained that in the UK this was a holiday for everyone but I got a fierce telling off about it not being my holiday. Anti-Semitism? And how. The same company drove my black secretary to distraction with their outrageously racist comments (‘She must not sit in our chairs -- she will make them smell.’ ) Such behaviour would have been unthinkable in 1990s USA.

In the course of my time in Britain things have been said to me that no doubt could have popped up in the United States as well. Since the Mel Gibson incident some uncomfortable realisations have emerged in frank discussions amongst Jews and non-Jews in the USA. I remember my high school friend telling me that her grandparents in Philadelphia were horrified when the waves of Jewish immigrants began arriving. But I would like to record here a few more troubling moments in Britain.

When a neighbour in London was having problems with her nextdoor resident, I offered to help by giving a statement to her solicitor. He came to see me and in the course of the process said ‘Oh, well, of course, what can one expect from Jews?’ I protested that the offending party was a regular attendee at my local Catholic Church but to no avail. He calmly remarked that only a Jew would behave this way.

At a residents’ meeting in my community of flats in London a neighbour, bitterly complaining about our management company, said ‘Well, they are Catholic Jews!’ I had to laugh considering the company was an old an dwell-known Irish Catholic family, and said so. ‘Oh, no,’ she said, ‘they are Catholic Jews.’ Apparently this meant they were Catholics but ‘behaved like Jews.’

When I first arrived in the UK in 1976 I decided I would visit Israel as the flight was relatively short from London. I went into a large bookshop in Charing Cross Road and asked for the section on Israel. ‘Section? Section?’ scowled the bookshop clerk. ‘We have no such section, and you mean Occupied Palestine.’ Indeed, in the shop, inbetween Ireland and Italy, the section with books about Israel was marked ‘Occupied Palestine.’ When I protested the gentleman became apoplectic. I left.

A very, very dear friend whom I had known for many years and with whom I had spent many happy times suddenly piped up one day with ‘What language did you speak when you were a child?’ I replied that I was born in the USA and spoke English. ‘Oh, no, no, my dear, you people all speak some gibberish until you go to school.’ I was stunned. She then explained that ‘all Jews have to learn English from scratch.’ She might have been forgiven had she grown up in the early 1900s and lived in the East End of London, but she was my age. No matter how hard I tried to explain that my parents were also born in the USA and that American Jews speak English, she insisted that all Jews ‘speak that gibberish.’ She also reminded me that my film company had too many Jewish-oriented projects and that I really needed to ‘de-Jewify the company if you expect to get investors.‘
Needless to say I never felt quite the same about the friendship.

I used a non-Jewish firm of lawyers for a bitter and contentious problem and thought I had closed their account when nine months later I received a hand-delivered demand-on-the-spot for five-thousand Pounds for ‘other work done.’ The courier arrived at 6Pm on Kol Nidre evening. Was it a coincidence? They later insisted it was, but I still have my doubts.

On another Kol Nidre evening a publisher rang me about a piece I was writing for him. He said he needed it sooner than expected and would I please try to sit down and do it that evening and fax it to him? I said it was Kol Nidre and that my 24-hour observance was about to start for the Day of Atonement. He barked, ‘Well you can just atone another time, but do the piece tonight.’ I told him it was impossible so he persisted and snarled that I had just better sit down and write it when I came back from ‘wherever it is you are going for this mysterious rite.’ I did not.

Ignorance of Jewish customs is not anti-Semitism, but I had to chuckle when a colleague who was a big admirer of Israel and of Jewish klezmer music invited me to his country house and throughout the weekend I was served endless portions of bacon, ham, pork, rabbit, pigeon, shrimp, clams and quail. I do not keep kosher and did not ask for a special diet but found the menu amusing. In a similar vein, a prominent rabbi was invited to dinner by a non-Jewish couple who supported a Jewish charity for which I had been fundraising. I went through all the rules about what could be on the table and I ordered outside-catered kosher meals for the rabbi and his wife. Lo and behold on the night the other guests were served shrimp cocktail, quail wrapped in very fragrant bacon and pork stuffing. Not anti-Semitism, but something that I do feel might not have happened in the more sophisticated-about-faith USA.

Now let us jump to 2006.

I went to my favourite tape duplicating shop to have copies made for the actors who had appeared in the video of my new play in London. I handed the master tape to the proprietor, whom I have known for some ten years. He seemed unusually agitated and flushed. He looked at the material and snarled, ‘Is this another one of your Jewish-Holocaust things?’ I was speechless. He scowled and continued, ‘You know, Carol, I want to get something off my chest that I’ve been dying to say to you for years. Number one, just don’t say Israel to me. Number two, you people should look at yourselves in the mirror and wonder why every so often there is a Holocaust or massacre or pogrom. You bring it on yourselves. Just look at the way you are and then figure out why the rest of the world wants to flatten you. Number three, America throwing money at Israel has to stop, and hopefully all hell will break loose. Israel is not a country. I just hear the word and I turn peuce.’

By this time his anger was so visceral that I wanted to head for the door, but I had to take a stand. ‘Let me tell you,’ I said, ‘If the USA or Israel came under threat I know many Americans who would die for either country,’ to which he replied, ‘ Israel is not a country. The Jews have no right to a country. What makes you people think you have a right to a country? ‘ Me: ‘There are over a hundred Christian countries and fifty-five Muslim countries.’ He:’ The Jews have no right to a country.’ Me:’ What, a strip of land the size of Wales?!’ He (grinding his teeth and close to hitting me) ‘ Just say Israel and I can’t be depended upon for the consequences of my actions, Carol.’ His litany of offences committed by the Jews, Americans and Israel continued for another twenty minutes or so and I came away realizing that a man who had always greeted me with genteel, cheery sweet nothings was actually a rabid Jew-hater.

In June 2006 I attended a lecture by Rabbi Janet Burden entitled, ‘The Shixeh in a Kippa,’ in which she recounted her journey from a Christian home in Iowa to her conversion to Judaism and ordination as a rabbi at Leo Baeck College in North London. During the Q&A she told us that she and her rabbinic colleagues can no longer walk around in W1 where the synagogue is located -- right in the Tottenham Court Road area in central London -- because of the taunts they get. She expressed her alarm at the level anti-Semitism and anti-Israel feeling has reached in her years as a rabbi in London.

On my way to my trip to the USA the man who drove me to the departure gate harangued me for the whole hour with angry epithets no different from those uttered by Mel Gibson. My elderly driver was sober and articulate. He had been a brave and decorated member of the SAS and RAF. He threw the usual slurs at me about ‘the Jews inventing terrorism’ and that ‘hopefully a time will come when Israel will lose its next war and disappear’ and ‘the Jews are the worst fighters, second only to the Yanks -- they are al, yellow and they run.’ He gave me the standard tirade that I have heard countless times from British men about the King David Hotel being bombed by Jewish terrorists and British soldiers being lynched, and that the people getting off the ships in Palestine ‘should have all been shot on the spot.‘ Then ‘all Israelis are bloody war criminals and terrorists’ and ‘those people from the Holocaust used it to massacre Arabs and lure British sailors with prostitutes and pick them off with guns as they left the ships.‘ When I arrived at the gate I paid him and went off but he was still ranting. I had ranted back but to no avail.

In recent years life in Britain has become intolerable, not because of beatings and lynching but because of a steady trickle of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel rhetoric that starts one’s day on BBC morning radio and continues all day on radio and TV. The daily papers are heavily slanted with articles denigrating the USA and Israel, as well as nasty pieces that in recent weeks have been inspired by the Mel Gibson episode. Daniel O’Hagan in ‘The Daily Telegraph’ - usually a pro-Israel paper -- used the nasty old formula about ‘Jews and by extension Israelis’ expecting everyone to give them special treatment. It was a pernicious piece but it conveyed many of the nastiest comments at which I have been at the receiving end for thirty years.

Although one likes to think that England (I stress England because Scotland has a more admirable history regarding its Jews) has progressed from medieval beliefs, it was the first nation to expel its Jews, in 1290, after one-hundred years of Blood Libels and unpleasantness for its then-burgeoning Jewish population. The York massacre and the prohibition of Jews from entering England’s shores until the time of Cromwell in the seventeenth century is past history. But when an otherwise genteel and decorous colleague at Anglia TV told me at lunch that ‘the very sight of Jews in black coats makes me want to murder them. I hate them. The hairs on my back stand up. I can’t help it, Carol., I think it is in my genes,’ I still shudder.

When the clerk at a London grocery store becomes apoplectic with rage when I praise her shop for stocking Israeli corn, pulls it out of my hand and refuses to sell it to me adding, ‘We will remove it from our shelves -- thank you for pointing it out -- we will not sell anything from that apartheid state.’ When I angrily challenge her she says, ‘It is a vile, genocidal little nation and it should be annihilated.’ I remind her of the Holocaust and she says ‘Yes, that is always wheeled out to make excuses for their genocides.’

I think you get the picture, dear reader. A Jewish Londoner recently told a paper that she feels as if she is in a ‘mental ghetto.’ She is afraid to let people know she is Jewish in social situations and is terrified of the anger she sees wherever she goes.

Readers of this piece will already know about the cover of ‘The New Statesman’ magazine showing a large Star of David impaling a British Union Jack flag. They will know about the British MP Tam Dalyell telling Vanity Fair that Blair and Bush are unduly influenced by a cabal of Jews. They will know about journalist Richard Ingrams saying he tosses into the wastebin letters with ‘Jewish sounding names’ on the envelopes.

This poison is fed by the BBC‘s heavily biased reporting on Israel, by Channel Four and the newspapers. The BBC’s Adam Curtis used Dr Azzam Tammimi, an avowed Israel-hater, as his on-screen consultant for ‘The Power of Nightmares,‘ an award-winning documentary suggesting that the mostly-Jewish American neoconservatives concocted scary myths about Muslims that have frightened the world into a war on terror.

The brave and wonderful non-Jewish Britons John Ware of BBC ‘Panorama;’ Martin Bright of Channel Four, Charles Moore of the Telegraph, Winston Churchill, Beryl Bainbridge, Jimmy Savile, Michael Portillo and Simon McIlwaine of Anglicans for Israel are in a minority but are to be admired.

It is not a happy time for Jews -- or their supporters - in Britain.

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