The Conservative Party anti-Semitism crisis nobody talks about

[JVL ed: We draw your attention to two comments  on this article – click on “comments” below – which show that a statement by Amjad Bashir’s, strongly criticised in this article, was taken out of context and distorted. We do not condone the misuse of selective quotation whatever the political views of the person in question.]

Britain’s Conservative party has a long history of institutionalised racism. Barely a month passes without Tory MPs, councillors, members, and donors making derogatory comments at branch meetings, parties, and on social media. Their abuse is typically aimed at LGBTQ+, BAME, and Gypsy-Roma. Disciplinary action ranges from nothing to brief suspensions, and in rare cases expulsion.

And there isn’t room here to touch on Boris Johnson’s racist record – from slurs like “piccaninnies” and “puffing coolies” to accusing Nelson Mandela of moving Africa towards a “tyranny of black majority rule.”

The most common abuse is directed at Muslims. Fifty-six percent of Tory members believe that Islam is a threat to British “values.” But there is another form of institutionalised Tory racism that few in the mainstream media seem keen to acknowledge: anti-Semitism.

Ignoring the polls

Successive polls suggest that there are higher levels of anti-Semitism among Tory and UKIP voters than there are among supporters of other parties. (The polls were published prior to the founding of the Brexit Party.) The Tories have seen these polls but they have done nothing to address them.

In 2015, the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAAS) found that more than three in ten Tory voters believe that “Jews chase money more than other British people.” Twenty percent believe that “Jews think they are better than other people.” One in ten think that in business, “Jews are not as honest as most people” and would be unhappy “if a family member married a Jew.” Seventeen percent think that Jews have too much “power” in the media. Twenty-two percent think that Jews are more loyal to Israel than Britain and 12 percent think that “Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to get sympathy.”

In 2017, these figures were re-confirmed when CAAS’s Antisemitism Barometer found that 40 percent of Tory voters “endorsed” at least one anti-Semitic statement. But Tory anti-Semitism has a long history.

Churchill and Astor

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hero, Winston Churchill, a figure revered by establishment Tories, wrote: “The dual nature of mankind is nowhere more strongly or more terribly exemplified” than in Jews. “Good” Jews conformed to Churchill’s politics. “Bad” Jews did not. Writing in the 1920s, specifically in opposition to Jewish communists and anarchists–including Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, and Emma Goldman–Churchill wrote of a “world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstruction of society on the basis of  arrested development.” The “madness” of supposed Jewish “terrorism … has been allowed to prey upon the temporary prostration of the German people” in Bavaria.

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Churchill’s opinions are swept under the carpet by his contemporary supporters. Boris Johnson has never denounced them. Mainstream media refuse to call them out.

More recently, last week Boris Johnson attended a ceremony where his predecessor former PM Theresa May unveiled a statue of Britain’s first female to take her seat in Parliament, Nancy Astor. Astor took her seat in 1919 and held it until 1945. In 1934, Astor told a delegate of the League of Nations: “there must be something of the Jews themselves which had brought them persecution throughout all the ages.” Separately,  Astor complained that The Observer, then owned by her family, was “full of homosexuals and Jews.”

Not only did Boris Johnson and Theresa May fail to denounce these views, May tweeted of her “pride” in unveiling the statue.

Rees-Mogg: It runs in the family

In the 1980s, the Tory Sir William Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times, co-authored a book entitled, Blood in the Streets, in which he repeated the false claim that Nathan Mayer Rothschild shorted the pound during the Battle of Waterloo to make “millions” from the chaos.

More recently, Rees-Mogg’s son Jacob, replied to evidence that hedge funds profit from the Brexit that he supports. He countered this by pointing out that a billionaire investor, George Soros, supports Remain. Of all the wealthy Remain supporters, Rees-Mogg chose to single out a Jewish man—and a survivor of the Nazis—who is regularly abused by the “alt-right” and other racists, as a “globalist.” On another occasion and apparently in reference to two Tory MPs of Jewish descent (Oliver Letwin and John Bercow), Rees-Mogg referenced the 18th century Bavarian Jesuit group, the Illuminati; now an alt-right, anti-Semitic dog-whistle describing a supposed Jewish global conspiracy.

Rees-Mogg has not been investigated, suspended or even asked to apologise by the party.

Other Conservative cabinet members

Similarly there were complaints this year about Home Secretary Priti Patel referring to the “North London metropolitan, liberal elite” at the Tory party conference using a common Anti-Semitic trope. She was criticised in the Jewish News for inventing “an imagined metropolitan, liberal conspiracy to undermine societal norms”, and setting it in North London, home to many Jews.

There was outrage when Michael Gove refused to apologise for sharing an antisemitic tweet from a Twitter account falsely claiming to be run by a Labour member.

Similarly Sajid Javid was accused of whipping up fear in the Jewish community and using Jewish New Year as a “political football” By David Schneider for tweeting Jews a Happy New Year while saying they were under threat from Jeremy Corbyn, tweeting about holocaust denial and attempting to link it with the Labour party leader. Javid was forced to retract his comment.

Yet James Cleverly, felt comfortable claiming that Jewish “individuals and groups, including entrepreneurs and other business figures” – people he had known “much of life” would leave the country if Labour won the 2019 election, leading to more accusations of attempting to whip up fear in Britain’s Jewish community.

“To get away with dog-whistle antisemitism and at the same time in the chase for votes shamelessly exploit Jewish fears is quite something,” wrote Antony Lerman in Open Democracy.

Conservative candidates

The party was forced to suspend Ryan Houghton, standing in the Aberdeen North constituency in next week’s election, when sick comments made seven years ago on social media on the Holocaust, homosexuality, and Islam were uncovered. Houghton discussed freedom of speech and comments made by Holocaust denier David Irving.

The party was forced to suspend Ryan Houghton, standing in the Aberdeen North constituency in next week’s election, when sick comments made seven years ago on social media on the Holocaust, homosexuality, and Islam were uncovered. Houghton discussed freedom of speech and comments made by Holocaust denier David Irving.

Yet despite that, Houghton is still the Conservative candidacy for Aberdeen North.

Amjad Bashir has also somehow retained his Conservative candidacy for Leeds North East after his wrists were slapped with a suspension after The Jewish Chronicle reported on his claim that British Jews who visited Israel were returning as “brainwashed extremists”.

These aren’t the first Tory candidates to have got into such hot water. Tory MP Aidan Burley, was found by the party and its then-leader David Cameron not to be anti-Semitic, despite helping organise a Nazi-themed stag do with Nazi chanting.

Unlike Bashir and Houghton, Burley eventually stood down and did not contest his seat after the scandal refused to go away. Yet for some reason the Conservative party is allowing Bashir and Houghton to stand in the 2019 general election.


More sinisterly, Conservative policies have empowered anti-Semitism abroad.

Under successive Tory governments, including those led by David Cameron, Theresa May, and now Boris Johnson, Britain supported US efforts to install a pro-Western, pro-European government in Ukraine. British armed forces train the Ukrainian military. But the Ukrainian armed forces work with various paramilitary units, including the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, whose members carry the flags of the fascist party, Svoboda. In Parliament in 2012, Svoboda’s leader Oleh Tyahnybok  berated what he called Ukraine’s “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Under the Right Sector, government-backed neo-Nazi groups include the Social-National Assembly, Trident, UNA-UNSO, and White Hammer.

Yes still the Conservative government maintains military, political, and economic ties with the Ukrainian government, let alone raising concerns or considering sanctions.

Backing Europe’s far-right parties

The virus of anti-Semitism also infects the Tories’ alliances in Europe. Parties from all EU member states typically group in accordance with their political leanings. Through the Cameron-initiated European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, Tory Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are allied with Poland’s Law and Justice party. As early as 2009, the Jewish MP and then-Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, raised concerns that the Tories were allied to anti-Semites. When in government, the party threatened to outlaw criticism of Poland’s participation in the Nazi Holocaust.

The Tories made no effort to expel the party from the ECR or even denounce them.

Hungary’s far-right Fidesz party runs on a platform of opposing supposed “globalists” in favour of self-professed nationalists. The “globalists” are allegedly corrupting Hungary’s identity by encouraging migration and ethnic integration. Many of these “globalists,” says its leader Viktor Orbán, are supposedly Jews. They include Soros (again) and Andras Heisler, President of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities; both of whom have been racially stereotyped on posters and magazine covers in pro-government propaganda.

In 2018, two-thirds of the parties in the European Parliament backed a motion against Fidesz. The Tories whipped 19 of their MEPs to reject the motion. Tory housing advisor, Sir Roger Scruton, described anti-Semitism in Hungary under Orbán (whose party Scruton had helped to set up) as “nonsense.” Scruton was sacked for making coded remarks about Soros and Jewish intellectuals, but other Tories, such as LBC radio’s Iain Dale leapt to Scruton’s defence.

Call it out

In addition to holding a specific inquiry into rampant and prima facie Islamophobia (which they refuse to do), the Tories must immediately begin a specific inquiry into  anti-Semitism, especially given the suspension of several of its members during this election campaign, specifically for making anti-Semitic comments. Failure to do so will show that the party simply doesn’t care about racism. In addition, mainstream media should stop enabling Tory anti-Semitism and do more to call it out.

By T.J Coles, with additional content from Ben Gelblum

T.J. Coles is a postdoctoral researcher at Plymouth University’s Cognition Institute and the author of several books, including Human Wrongs (iff Books) and Privatized Planet (New Internationalist).

Comments (7)

  • different frank says:

    The Tories are, and always have been a very racist group.
    This Tory election slogan from 1964 says it all.

  • George Wilmers says:

    This is a timely reminder of the historic and continuing antisemitism of the Tory party so conveniently overlooked by the Chief Rabbi and Israel’s apologists. However it is vital that JVL take great care to avoid repeating, even accidentally, unfounded accusations against political opponents who happen to have rightwing views. We must consistently observe higher standards than the mainstream media. The former Tory candidate Amjad Bashir has political views which are surely at odds with JVL’s values, but I have seen no convincing evidence that he is an antisemite, and the quotation above, taken out of the context in which it was made, does not in my opinion provide any. I may be wrong, and stand to be corrected if there is other evidence, but if there is no such evidence, I believe the antisemitism charge against him for his criticism of militant Zionists should not be posted on this website.

  • Philip Ward says:

    [JVL ed: In response to this comment and that by George Wilmers we have inserted this at the start of the article:

    “We draw your attention to two comments  on this article which show that a statement by Amjad Bashir’s, strongly criticised in this article, was taken out of context and distorted. We do not condone the misuse of selective quotation whatever the political views of the person in question.”]

    I agree with George Wilmers. Ahmjad Bashir may have been a UKIP MEP when he made the statement, but that does not justify it being distorted in the way it has been.

    Here is what The Independent reports him as having said in the Gaza debate in 2014:
    “As far as brainwashing by the rabbis and the politicians are concerned – I can testify to that. Young men are going over from England where I come from – people of the Jewish faith who my grandchildren have grown up with as decent young men. But have come back as extremists – as people that are brainwashed. They will not listen to reason. There is something very peculiar and wrong going on in Israel.”

    This is the headline of the article: “Tory election candidate said British Jews return from Israel trips as ‘brainwashed extremists’”.

    I never thought I would defend Michael Gove, but this article implies he “shared and antisemitic tweet” because he approved of it, whereas he was using the tweet to smear Corbyn, claiming it came from a labour party member, when it was a troll.

    If you want to find Tory antisemitic crimes perhaps you should look at the refusal of the Chamberlain and Churchill governments to allow in refugees or to take action to prevent the transport of Jews, gays, communists, socialists, Roma, Sinti and people with disabilities to the extermination camps. They could have prevented hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of deaths.

    This is what Norman Finkelstein says in the free e-book “Antisemitism and the Labour Party” about antisemitism and antisemitic tropes:

    “Were popular stereotypes plotted along a spectrum from benign to malignant, most antisemitic ones would fall near the benign end whereas those of truly oppressed minorities would cluster at the opposite end. Yes, Jews must endure the reputation of being stingy, pushy, and clannish – but Muslims are profiled as terrorists and misogynists, Blacks are despised as chronically lazy and genetically stupid, and Roma/Sinti are loathed as dirty beggars and thieves. Nor do Jews suffer the losses attending actual victimhood. How many Jews qua Jews have been refused a job or flat? How many Jews have been shot dead by police or railroaded into jail? Whereas being Black or Muslim closes doors, being Jewish opens them. If whites occupying seats of power discriminate in favour of other whites, and men occupying seats of power discriminate in favour of other men, it would be surprising if largely successful Jews didn’t discriminate in favour of other Jews. Not only is it no longer a social liability to be Jewish, it even carries social cachet.”

    Islamophobia and racism in the Tory Party are a far bigger problem, at the moment, than antisemitism.

  • Neelu Hasnat says:

    Do they care about millions of children in poverty, hundreds of thousands for homeless people or elderly people waiting for a hospital appointment? Do they care at all about the change the country needs so badly?

    Last but not the lest, also quite worrying thing is their counter productive egotistic action might eventually backfire and make the antisemitism issue worse within the party. 🙁

  • Emma says:

    Thankyou for writing this article I have been putting this point to some in the media for a while with no response. It shows there is something wrong when they don’t want to highlight all forms of anti semitism only what suits them. All forms of racism are wrong not such a select few.I find it worrying that this is going on. I only hope labour get into power this christmas. If so it will be the best christmas present ever.

  • Samantha Bentley says:

    Thank you for this article. I have been accused of anti-Semitism for criticising Israel and it’s occupation of Palestine, this was on Twitter where ‘trolls’ also attempted to get me and others expelled from the Labour party for supporting Palestinian activists. The rise in racism in the UK under the Tories is horrendous. The number of Brexit and Tory candidates caught using racist language is disgusting. Yet no main stream media sites have commented. There was an absolutely horrendous assault on a Muslim schoolgirl in Sheffield and a Muslim family in London were subjected to a terrifying assault on their car. Jewish voters and rabbis who stand up for Jeremy Corbyn have been subjected to the most awful verbal abuse and sometimes death threats. This has to come to an end and people need to be held to account

  • Chris Finlay says:

    It is fairly clear that the only motivation of the Chief Rabbi’s and others is to equate Criticism of Israel’s policy against the Palestinians with Anti Semitism
    All the other traditional forms in their view don’t really matter.

    Once that is understood then the only way the false allegations of Anti Semitism will end is if the Labour Party stops criticising the Israeli Government. The critics should be called out for what they are namely stooges of the Israeli Government and every Labour politician when asked by a Journalist about the so called Anti Semitism in the Labour party should ask the Journalist just precisely what it is they are claiming

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