Racism in today’s Britain: What it is and How to Fight it

Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ) is the home of the New York Jewish Left

JVL Introduction

David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group contributed to an online event organised by Durham North West CLP on 7th July on Racism in today’s Britain: What it is and How to Fight it 

He talked about over his involvement from the seventies in the real struggles against racism, fascism and antisemitism in Britain; the chequered history of the Jewish communal leadership in that struggle; and the resurgence of a real threat of antisemitism in recent years. And of course the institutional racism that Black and migrant communities suffer daily.

And he concludes that “In uniting with Black, Asian and other migrant communities against the racism they suffer, the Jewish community must also tackle racism within. And the time to do that is now!”

This article was originally published by Rebel Notes on Tue 7 Jul 2020. Read the original here.

Circles of solidarity and resistance

Thank you for inviting me. I want to begin with a quote:

“We are full of grief and outrage over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade and all black lives lost to police brutality and white supremacy. As a multiracial Jewish community committed to racial justice and a better world for all, we mourn together, we protest together, and we recommit ourselves to work together for racial justice within ourselves, our communities, and our country.”

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 22.45.56This statement was published last month in Boston, Massachussets by one of seven remaining North American branches of the Workers Circle: a Jewish mutual aid society founded in New York, in 1900, by Yiddish-speaking immigrant sweatshop workers, that fought against “sickness, early death and capitalism”!

In Coronavirus times, we have rediscovered Mutual Aid, and its philosophy: “solidarity not charity”

The Circle* once had branches in 34 American states. It would have been 35, but Alabama’s laws required societies to register and confirm all members were white. The Circle would not legitimise racism, so It operated informally there.

The Workers Circle are very proud of two consecutive campaigns from the 1940s. They helped pressure a reluctant US government to admit Holocaust survivors from Displaced Persons camps in Europe. Then in 1947 they co-sponsored a tour through the American South to test a Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation on interstate buses. They joined anti-lynching protests in the 1950s and freedom marches in the 1960s.

They fought for the oppressed, exploited, and those suffering discrimination. Today, they identify completely with “Black Lives Matter!”

In my late teens I joined a Jewish group here with similar values: the Jewish Socialists’ Group (JSG). I’m still a member. The anti-fascist struggle of the late 1970s dominated my early Jewish Socialist years, as the National Front were terrorising and intimidating Caribbean and Asian communities.

We were energised by the slogans “Black and White Unite and Fight”, “Self-Defence is Nobrick-lane-black-white-unite-2 Offence”, “Here to Stay, Here to Fight”. But one well-meaning slogan was problematic. It said. “Yesterday the Jews, Today the Blacks”. It highlighted vicious racism against Caribbean and Asian communities but relegated antisemitism to history. I knew then, as now, that antisemitism was still breathing. Fascists don’t replace targets – they accumulate them.

While fascist foot-soldiers physically attacked Black and Asian communities their internal propaganda was pushing wild antisemitic conspiracy theories to core members, accusing Jews of masterminding mass immigration to dilute the white race.

Those ideas have returned today as the “the great replacement theory” that accuses Jews of driving immigration by Muslims and refugees to the West to replace the white race.

As a young anti-fascist I heard about the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. Members of my family and community came together with non-Jewish Londoners to form mass blockades and build barricades to prevent 7,000 police from forcing a path through for Mosley’s fascists to invade London’s East End.

I learnt about the Jewish People’s Council against Antisemitism and Fascism who mobilised Jews, while building links with non-Jewish anti-fascists to cement a local anti-fascist majority.

But the Jewish People’s Council had one additional battle: against their so-called community “leaders”, the Board of Deputies, who told people: stay indoors; don’t join public demonstrations.

In the 1970s, the Board of Deputies told Jews: keep away from the Anti-Nazi League. Trust the state authorities. But these authorities included police using SUS laws against Black youth, and immigration officers targeting Asian communities. Left wing Jews ignored the Board and we threw ourselves into the struggle.

Today the Deputies claim the threat of antisemitism is not from the right, but from the left, from Islamic groups, from my MP Jeremy Corbyn, who I have known personally for decades. They accuse Corbyn of tolerating antisemitism as party leader and being antisemitic himself.

Britain Refugee March

Jeremy is a rock-solid anti-racist and anti-fascist in both word and deed. Jewish members in our CLP work very closely with him and see him much more frequently than his detractors do. If he held antisemitic views would we not notice?

I want to be clear. I know that there is, and has been, some antisemitism among Labour members that must be dealt with appropriately. I’ve seen it immediately challenged by Labour members when it has very occasionally surfaced in our CLP.

Sometimes, though, comments on the separate matter of Israel/Palestine, borrow antisemitic stereotypes, consciously or unconsciously. That needs challenging. Some comments impugn all Israelis, when they mean the government, the military, or settlers, and talk as if there were no internal opposition, which there certainly is. More precise language and more vocal support for Israeli oppositionists would undercut false claims that attacks on Israel = attacks on Jews.

In most cases, though, when Labour members support Palestinian rights, condemn Israeli policies and military actions, and criticise Zionist ideology, they express perfectly legitimate views, shared by increasing numbers of Jews, including myself. It is bizarre that some 25 Jewish LP members, including longstanding anti-racist activists, have been suspended or investigated, accused of antisemitism.

So where does antisemitism really live in Britain? How is it manifested?  until WW2, At least, Jews in Britain suffered state racism and frequent discrimination, as well as attacks by antisemites. I was born in 1958 and I have heard more antisemitism spoken in the last five or six years than ever before, especially on buses, tubes and planes, in cafes and pubs, and at football grounds. There are around 1,500 reported antisemitic incidents a year in Britain, far fewer than Muslim communities endure, but growing. They are mainly carried out in London and Manchester.

These include verbal abuse and threats; physical attacks especially on ultra-orthodox Jews; desecrations of Jewish cemeteries and synagogue; social media comment ranging from negative stereotypes to outright hatred, frequently including Holocaust denial, and praise for Hitler.

Perpetrators, where identified, tend to be white and far right, but a significant minority of attacks are by individuals from groups that experience racism themselves. We need to combat that through education and learn more about each other’s oppressions.

Serious ideological antisemitism remains, as it has for more than 120 years, among upper-middle/upper classes on the right and far right of British politics, and among those segments of the working class and lower middle class they have won to fascism.

Far Right movements in Britain are fragmented, but through YouTube and other social media channels, they can mobilise large numbers for certain actions

We will eventually emerge from the COVID-crisis but straight into a huge economic recession. Racists and fascists are rehearsing arguments to blame immigrants, refugees, and groups they define as not fully English, for that crisis. But they can’t credibly blame other poor people for running the economic and political system, so they revive conspiracy theories against wealthy figures who happen to be Jewish, like Rothschilds, Goldman Sachs, and George Soros.


in Hungary and Poland where Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-feminism, anti-Roma prejudice and antisemitism ride together, conspiracy theories about Soros circulate freely. In Trump’s America too. Our local Soros-haters include Rees Mogg, Johnson, and Nick Timothy (Theresa May’s key advisor).

The Black Lives Matter! movement has started to rebalance and re-politicise discussion about racism in Britain where systemic state and institutional racism that Black and migrant communities suffer daily, had been relegated by the media below vicious but less frequent random hate crimes against Jews. We are now starting a long overdue conversation about decolonising our schools, our institutions, and our public spaces. We must all be engaged in the fight against systemic daily state racism and against fascist ideology and hate crimes. In America, Trump himself recognises the links, describing Black Lives Matter! protesters as “looters, thugs, Radical Left… Lowlife & Scum” and by targeting Antifa.

Screen Shot 2020-07-07 at 22.58.45I want to end by returning to the Boston Workers Circle who described their community as a “multi-racial Jewish community”. That is true in Britain too, though not recognised enough. Since the early 1980s, we have had JSG members who are Jews of Colour. In uniting with Black, Asian and other migrant communities against the racism they suffer, the Jewish community must also tackle racism within. And the time to do that is now!

* It was originally called the Workingmen’s Circle, although two women workers were involved in the meeting that founded it.

My co-speakers were former international footballer Curtis Fleming, of Show Racism the Red Card, and Local Labour member and Romany Gypsy Jane Lee. The meeting was chaired by Laura Pidcock.

Comments (10)

  • Hugh Wallis says:

    Is David saying we shouldn’t use the word Israel when we mean the Israeli government or state apparatus? For any other country, whenever we use the name (e.g. France thinks ..) we mean the government (it doesn’t mean everybody in France thinks that). I’m not totally comfortable treating Israel different (some might say that’s antisemitic!).

  • RH says:

    “There are around 1,500 reported antisemitic incidents a year in Britain, far fewer than Muslim communities endure, but growing. They are mainly carried out in London and Manchester.”

    I think that proportionality is indeed important (and not to be confused with complacency).

    Being sensitized in my teenage years, I reckon I might have noticed over the past 50 years if anti-semitism had emerged in the (fairly typical) local Labour Party of which I was an active member. Or, indeed in the community of which it was a part. I can honestly say that it didn’t – although lots of prejudices of varying degrees of seriousness did.

    Which raises the question of how much the weaponisation of ant-semitism by the right has actually brought about a wider increase (not, in my experience, again, in the Labour Party) of what it pretends to villify.

  • RH says:

    As an addendum to my earlier comment, the recent suspension of Yvonne Davies raises another key issue about the abusive use of the ‘antisemitism’ charge for sectarian ends. In addition to raising the undead, it trivializes the notion in an incredibly insulting way for those who are actually serious about combatting prejudice.

    Essentially, the trivialization says ‘It’s just a bit of sweary quasi-political game-play – don’t take it too seriously.’

  • we need to put these 1500 antisemitic incidents into perspective. The CST which is largely Home Office funded intensively scours for such incidents and has a clear incentive to maximise them as part of a narrative that Britain is more anti-Semitic than ever.

    Israel, as Tony Lerman described in Smoke Without Fire how Mossad had taken over responsibility for Monitoring Antisemitic Incidents world wide driving out the Institute of Jewish Affairs project. Why would an intelligence agency do this if it was part of a genuine attempt to monitor antisemitism?

    I dont accept t he 1500 figure. In the case of Black and Asian communities the incident of physical attacks to overall incidents is about 1 in 3. It is less than 10% in the case of Jews and serious physical attacks are minute. In many years there are none whereas with all other groups they form about one-third overall physical attacks.

    I suspect that there is a deliberate conflation of actual antisemitic incidents with utterly trivial matters such as social media antisemitism which cannot be measured, yet the CST do measure it.

  • Helen Richards says:

    “Perpetrators, where identified, tend to be white and far right, but a significant minority of attacks are by individuals from groups that experience racism themselves. We need to combat that through education and learn more about each other’s oppressions.” Agree, education is the key. I also think the use of Israel can be unhelpful. I prefer ” the current Israeli administration’.

  • After the witch hunt on Jeremy Corbyn and the left by the tory media is anyone surprised that there is an increase in attacks on the jewish community, they have brought it on themselves its has simple as that and will increase due to the Israeli policies against the Palestinians.

  • DJ says:

    I think you are on a sticky wicket here Dave. We can not condone attacks on the Jewish community in the UK because of Israeli government treatment of Palestinians. It is wrong to make it collectively responsible for the actions of that government. Also the witch hunt on the left of the party was carried out by organisations only representing part of the Jewish community along with non Jewish actors on the right of British politics

  • With reference to David Bradley’s comments: Attacks on the Jewish community are 100% wrong as are attacks on any other ethnic minority. Full stop. Racism is always wrong. It has no justification.
    I presume no one on here would justify Islamophobic attacks on Muslims here because of policies or actions by states that describe themselves as Islamic States.
    Unless I am reading it wrong, he also seems to conflate the Jewish community with the Tory media in his remarks.
    Re comments further above re figures for attacks: you don’t have to agree with the CST’s framing and analysis of antisemitic attacks in Britain to recognise that their basic data incidents is quite sound. They don’t scour for incidents but include in their reports only incidents that are reported to them, and usually leave out hundreds of reported incidents in each annual report, where after investigation they have concluded that they do not believe an antisemiitic intention was present. Certainly the point is correct that attacks on Black/Asian communities involve a far higher proportion of physical attacks, but that lessens considerably if you compare attacks on outwardly very distinctive ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, whose experience of antisemitism is very similar to physical harassment especially of hijab-wearing girls/women. One recent attack on an ultra-orthodox Jew in Hackney is being investigated as attempted murder.

  • DJ says:

    ‘It is bizarre that some 25 Jewish LP members, including longstanding anti-racist activists, have been suspended or investigated, accused of antisemitism’They were targeted precisely because they are Jewish critics of Israeli policy and stand on the left. The witch hunt against them suited the interests of an unholy alliance between the right of the LP and the Israeli Lobby.. The Israeli Lobby is particularly hostile to these comrades claiming they are not proper Jews or that they are bad Jews. They do this because they are either incapable or unwilling to accept it is possible to have a Jewish identity which is not intrinsically linked to the State of Israel. This why they conflate any form of opposition to Israel as anti-semitic.

  • DJ says:

    My message to the 25 and the countless others who have left the party out of disgust or for fear of being branded as an anti semite not give up the fight and to support this site.

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