Weaponising prejudice

Millie Miller, 1974. Photo courtesy the author

JVL Introduction

Bernard Miller’s article below, timed to coincide with the launch of an exhibition about the life of Anne Frank, appeared in slimmed-down form in the Camden New Journal on 2nd May.

Perhaps to avoid antagonising a dominant group within the local Labour Party the paper amended the headline, toning down the assertive “Weaponising prejudice” to a wishy-washy “Are they weaponising anti-Semitism?”, in contradiction to the evidence and argument of Miller’s article.

We are pleased to print the full version here.


Street Artist Jimmy C. aka. James Cochran portrait Anne Frank. Photo: streetartbln.com


Weaponising prejudice

Bernard Miller, 3rd May 2019


This week sees the launch at Swiss Cottage Library of an exhibition about the life of Anne Frank, thanks to her diary, one of history’s best known victims of anti-Semitism. For many years it has toured the world teaching about the dangers of prejudice of all kinds and how to combat them. Camden, since its inception, has been part of that struggle.

Discrimination and prejudice wherever they occur, against whomever directed, must be fought. For that they must be identified. At a recent Holborn and St Pancras Labour Party monthly General Committee, one long-standing member, distantly related to me, stated that anti-Semitism in the local Labour Party was rife and increasing. With criticisms of anti-Semitism repeatedly levelled against the party nationally, that is serious and worrying and since many of our shared relatives were murdered in Auschwitz, I understand that concern personally.

One holocaust-survivor Party Member immediately wrote to the Chair requesting details of these anti-Semitic incidents, how they are recorded, investigated and dealt with. He received the reply that there were no reports received, no procedures in place for recording or addressing any. No cases have been forwarded to the national Labour Party. In a party with a large number of Jewish members we might expect that if anti-Semitism were occurring, somebody would have come forward with concrete complaints.

Anti-Semitism has a long history in Britain. In the last week I have visited Lincoln where the Jewish population was effectively wiped out by an Anti-Semitic mob in Jews House around 1278, York, where, in 1190, some 150 Jews chose to commit suicide in the Clifford Tower of York Castle, rather than be murdered or forcibly converted and the National Holocaust Centre near Nottingham where victims of the Holocaust, including my great grandparents and many immediate relatives who died in WWII are commemorated. There have been many more incidents over the centuries including expulsion of the Jews from England from 1290 to around 1700.

Modern anti-Semitism may be harder to identify. At a subsequent Labour branch meeting it was suggested that anti-Semitism was ‘implied’ or ‘subtle’. Some examples of prejudice including anti-Semitism are clearer.

Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA’s founder, was an anti-Semite. That’s no anti-Swedish slur. His Swedish Nazi party membership number was 4013. Many anti-Semites say their best friend is Jewish. Ingvar’s was. That did not stop him being a lifelong admirer of one of Sweden’s most anti-Semitic fascists, Per Engdahl.

Kurt Waldheim, United Nations Secretary General and President of Austria was an anti-Semite. That’s not anti-Austrian. As a senior Nazi officer responsible for deporting Jews from Salonika, Greece, in WWII, he later claimed he didn’t know 96 per cent of the 56,000 were being sent to their deaths.

Roberto Calvi, nicknamed ‘God’s banker’, was a convicted Vatican banker, fraudster, Freemason, murdered in London by the mafia while fleeing prosecution in Italy. That’s not anti-Catholic, Freemason, mafia or banker, just sad truths.

Pakistani financier Agha Hasan Abedi set up and crashed the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, then the world’s 7th largest private bank. At the time of his death he was facing criminal charges in multiple countries.  That is neither Islamophobic nor anti-Pakistani rhetoric.

1912 Nobel Prize winner in medicine for pioneering suturing techniques that made modern microsurgery and transplants possible, French doctor Alexis Carrel was an anti-Semitic eugenicist who developed and promoted use of gas-chambers for and during WWII. That’s not francophobic or anti-medic.  Carrel died facing war crimes charges.

One Carrel invention, a perfusion pump that made heart transplants possible, was developed with American aviation innovator and visionary, Charles Lindbergh, anti-Semite and early promoter of an ‘America First’ movement. Exploiting centuries old tropes he used radio, the 1940s equivalent of social media, to demonise Jewish ownership of the media and banking,

The current exhibition at Camden Town’s Jewish Museum, ‘Jews, Money and Myth’, highlights these and another anti-Semitic trope, very poor immigrant Jews, beggars and scroungers.

Hungarian-born, Jewish George Soros, holocaust survivor, ultra-wealthy investor, is known as “The man who broke the Bank of England”. Short-selling $10 billion worth of sterling during the 1992 financial crisis earned him a billion dollar profit. Loved as a philanthropist by some, hated as an evil-capitalist by many more, in Hungary his name is used as a synonym for ‘Jew’ by anti-Semitic President, Viktor Orbán.  In Britain his name attracts similar anti-Semitic insults from Brexiteers (he argues for Remain) and in America from Trump supporters (he criticises The Donald). Dangerously, some people claim criticism of Soros equals anti-Semitism.

Bernie Madoff, a Jewish Ponzi-scheme fraudster, stole some $65 billion from investors, mainly Jewish, including many Jewish charities. Was he anti-Semitic? Is it anti-Semitic to criticise him?

When, in 1974, my cockney mother, Millie Miller, born to poor Dutch, Jewish immigrants, Camden’s first woman mayor, first woman to become Leader of a London Council, stood for Parliament in Ilford North, then the constituency with the largest Jewish electorate in the country, she faced a dual anti-Semitic onslaught from sitting Tory MP, Thomas Iremonger. In the 1960s he had placed an advert in the Jewish Chronicle denouncing Labour Party ‘Red Nazis’.  In 1974 he distributed election leaflets and voter reminders playing on two anti-Semitic themes. Jewish homes received a blue and white election address warning of ‘’the Swastika in the Red Rosette” and “Labour’s Red Nazis”.  Non-Jewish households received a red-on-white reminder leaflet exploiting another anti-Semitic stereotype, the Jewish revolutionary. In fake Cyrillic script, looking like Russian letters, with hammers and sickles (Communist Party symbols), it invited “Comrades, Vote Labour”.

For Millie, then vice-President of her synagogue, who lost countless Jewish, socialist, disabled, trade unionist and LGBT relatives to real Nazis, and fought all racism and discrimination throughout her life without ever talking of her murdered relatives, that hurt. Centuries earlier Millie’s family had sought refuge from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions in the Netherlands.  She knew that other groups, Roma, African-Germans, the mentally ill or anyone viewed as critical of the Nazi regime fared equally badly.

Over the same period my father lost relatives in pogrom-like acts in ghettos and towns in Russia, Poland, Ukraine.

Prejudice is bad enough in itself but it takes a particularly despicable kind of politician to deploy anti-Semitism, real or imagined (or Islamophobia or xenophobia) as a weapon in an electoral campaign.

The Holocaust was unique in being the first time hi-tech industrial systems were used to attempt genocide on an entire identified group but exploitation of technology in similar situations has occurred throughout history. The newly opened slavery exhibition at the Museum of London in Docklands, illustrates how much of London’s wealth was generated by the slave trade.  Some torture technologies used on slaves 3 to 4 centuries ago is as terrifying as and comparable to some from 20th century Nazis. More can be found in the earlier history of the inquisitions.

How can we categorise Dr Edwin Katzen-Ellenbogen? From a centuries-long family of distinguished rabbis in Germany, he emigrated to the USA early in the 20th century and worked on eugenics at the Carnegie Foundation, returning to Germany in 1939 to offer his eugenicist skills to Hitler’s ‘final solution’ (extermination of the Jews). As a Jew he then found himself incarcerated in Buchenwald Concentration Camp. That did not dampen his enthusiasm. A Nazi-collaborating prisoner-medic, he inflicted such medical and other cruelty on fellow inmates that he was later sentenced to fifteen years prison for war crimes. He was Jewish. Was he anti-Semitic? Is criticising him anti-Semitic?

 

In over 50 years of Labour Party membership I have witnessed some crude, anti-Semitic statements, all by Jews against Jews, but never seen or experienced anti-Jewish prejudice first hand.  In the early days of Camden Council, Jewish and Catholic Councillors revelled in politically incorrect jokes against each other which nobody would dare make today. Camden’s first two mayors, Jewish Sammy Fisher and Irish Catholic Paddy O’Connor could pull each other’s leg in each other’s voice and accent in Council meetings. Today one word or phrase could be taken out of context and broadcast around the world to discredit them (as might happen with the first part of sentence one of this paragraph).

21st century social media adds a frightening new dimension, individual members expressing unacceptable, racist, discriminatory views online which they would not dare do in public. Caricatures of Jews (or any other group) as animals or criminals or identifiable symbols, calls for their elimination or stories intended to spark hatred should be sufficient grounds for the perpetrators to be removed from the Party.  Every effort must be made to root them out. The Party must take a clear stand.

Frequently condemnation of Jeremy Corbyn (including by members of Holborn & St Pancras Labour Party) for failure to eradicate anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, implies or states it is Jeremy’s personal responsibility that cases occur because he encourages it or is anti-Semitic. I disagree. Jeremy cannot control the internet or social media. No individual can. He has not made or supported anti-Semitic statements himself. As with terrorist grooming or child pornography, without international legislation and co-operation it will be impossible to control and prevent escalation. And if local branches do not record, process and forward complaints or reports to the Party centrally, it cannot act.

So is the Labour Party anti-Semitism-free? I doubt it just as I doubt any large organisation is entirely prejudice-free. The Labour Party must adopt and use robust procedures to address anti-Semitism and all other forms of discrimination.

Complicating matters, criticising actions by the State of Israel is increasingly treated by some as criticism of the existence of Jews, therefore anti-Semitic.

I do not consider myself anti-Semitic and make no apology for criticising actions by Israel’s government if I feel they are unacceptable, breach human rights, discriminate against non-Jews or Jews, violate international laws or standards or target or demonise any groups. That does not mean I am calling for destruction of Israel or elimination of Jews. Nor do I feel anti-American for criticising Trump or anti-British for condemning Theresa May. I do consider that if I criticise it is my duty to support criticism with facts.

If I use the word ‘ghetto’ to qualify Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement, I make sure I have the facts to compare with similar constraints on European Jews at various historical periods. If I equate treatment of people living in Israeli-occupied territories with South African apartheid or discuss unfavourably side-by-side readings of Israel’s marriage laws, against the 1935 Nazi Nuremberg marriage laws, I am not being anti-Semitic, just analysing information which others can corroborate and which we need to fight prejudice and discrimination. When I lived in Canada I likened Quebec’s language laws breaking the population into Anglophone, Francophone and Allophone with Hitler’s Nuremberg laws dividing Germany’s populace into Aryan and non-Aryan.  That did not make me anti-Quebec. I was later informed that many Quebec Jews left the province when those laws were introduced.

As we have seen recently in the USA, New Zealand, Norway, Sri Lanka, France and Poland, unchallenged, prejudice can lead to synagogue, mosque and night-club shootings, massacre of politically involved young people, church, concert, hotel bombings, or the symbolic beating and burning of effigies of orthodox Jews.

Here one Westminster MP has been murdered, others threatened, many in connection with Brexit.

Like all discrimination and prejudice, anti-Semitism is dangerous when expressed or applied. It could become even more dangerous if weaponised to discredit, as with the current Labour leadership. Some may be real but there is a danger that if uncorroborated or false accusations of anti-Semitism are bandied around, we may find that when real, serious incidents do occur, they are not believed. People who have genuine examples must report them.

As part of my resolve to battle against prejudice, including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, disablism and more I have volunteered as a guide to the impressive Anne Frank exhibition. I have a personal interest. Anne was a relative of mine

What can you do?


PS: A crass comment by the youth officer of Bernard Miller’s CLP:

 

 

Comments (3)

  • John Lipetz says:

    Well done, Bernard. An excelent article. I knew your mother when on Camden Council in the 70’s.

  • TP says:

    All of us that have experienced actual horrific racism and prejudice know exactly what it feels like. It’s dehumanising. The weaponising of it by the far right to remove Jeremy Corbyn is a dangerous watershed moment in our history. These vile slurs cannot be allowed to continue, the terrible witch hunt explosions of great anti racism campaigers reversed immediately and our party not held hostage by backstabbing Israeli government cronies. This article needs to be shown to them before they harm our values and I decency any further. They have gone too far.

  • Ruth Appleton says:

    Thank you Bernard, I made my contribution by attending a consultation prior to the launch of the exhibition and made my views known about what I’d like to see locally to educate children and adults on how certain politically motivated jews in the Labour Party are using the accusation of anti-semitism as a whip to beat our leader. I was challenged by Jews present and had to defend my claim. It is unforgiveable and those making unsubstantiated claims must own up. I have for 18 months been the subject of hate mail and know what it can do. I am not a shrinking violet. I stand up for justice and in this case antisemitism has never in all my 30 years membership of the party been an issue until now that we have a socialist leader. I called for the officers of the Executive Committee of our Constituency to state how many cases there have been and to set up a panel to consider procedure. There has been no response. I will be pursuing this with our officers so do all join me in calling for the same. Thank you…

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