Antisemitism In Britain – OpEd


Antisemitism in the UK has reached a level only surpassed in the 1930s, when Oswald Moseley and his blackshirt thugs, mimicking Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party, dominated Britain’s political scene.  

Moseley, like Hitler, based his political philosophy on identifying the Jewish people as the source of all the world’s economic and social ills.  In a telegram to Hitler sent in May 1935 Moseley wrote ”The forces of Jewish corruption must be overcome in all great countries before the future of Europe can be made secure…”  

In the UK today racist sentiments are considered unacceptable, and openly expressed anti-Jewish remarks risk being condemned, so the state of Israel stands proxy for them.  Since it is universally accepted that any government is a legitimate target for adverse criticism, anything that is done, or not done, by Israel is used as the excuse for protests, demonstrations and antisemitic incidents.  

The Community Security Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Jewish abuse in the UK, recorded 4,103 antisemitic incidents in 2023 – the highest total ever. Two-thirds occurred after October 7 – 2,699, compared with 392 over the same period in 2022.  The involvement of Israel, even as victim, was enough to unleash an unprecedented flood of antisemitic bile.

Every Saturday since October 7 huge pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been organized in London and in other major cities across the UK, with protesters carrying banners and shouting slogans which morph into calls for the elimination of Israel.  Whether well-meaning pro-Palestinian supporters realize it or not, the most popular slogan (“from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”) is a call for the state of Israel and its 7 million Jewish citizens to be removed, and its territory, which extends from the river Jordan in the west to the Mediterranean Sea in the east, to be handed over to Palestinians – a demand from the realms of fantasy. 

Anti-Israel demonstrations began not only in the UK, but worldwide,  immediately after the massacre of October 7, even before the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had taken any retaliatory action.  Since then the Hamas-provided narrative, statistics and data – believed to be carefully manipulated to achieve maximum propaganda effect – have been universally accepted as a true picture of events in the Gaza Strip.

Even so it is clear that the civilians of Gaza have been the main victims of Hamas’s 17-year-long regime, which diverted literally billions of dollars donated over the years for their welfare into constructing a sophisticated subterranean military system beneath the Gaza Strip. Israel’s battle to defeat its declared enemy is conducted by its forces against armed opponents who do not wear uniform, who merge into the civilian population and often cannot immediately be identified.  This must account for a fair percentage of the civilian casualties. 

Now a large segment of public opinion, in Britain and the wider world, is demanding a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict on humanitarian grounds, while those in Israel and elsewhere who have in mind the welfare of the hostages still held by Hamas, are pressing for a negotiated deal involving a ceasefire and a hostage release.  In effect the demand to lay down arms is being made only of Israel, for public opinion can have no binding effect on Hamas, which has declared that it intends to repeat October 7 again and again.

It was against this background that on March 14, 2024 the BBC aired its iconic TV show Question Time for its domestic audience.  Question Time, regarded as the BBC’s flagship political program, has been a regular feature in its schedules for 45 years.  Moving round the UK week by week, politicians, media figures and celebrities face questions from an audience carefully selected to be politically balanced.  On the panel on March 14 was Melanie Phillips.

Melanie Phillips is among Britain’s leading political journalists and media commentators, notable for her trenchant opinions well to the right of what is now universally acknowledged as the political centre ground.  She writes weekly in The Times, broadcasts regularly and speaks on public platforms throughout the English-speaking world. 

Born in London to working class Anglo-Jewish parents, Phillips has won a well-earned reputation as a stalwart opponent of the misrepresentations and downright lies about Israel that constantly fill the world’s media.  Yet until the year 2000 she had never visited Israel or, indeed, felt the least desire to do so.

During the broadcast on March 14 Phillips was strongly supported on the panel by UK Housing Minister Lee Rowley, and also by several members of the audience which, nevertheless, was largely opposed to her.  The major clash occurred between Phillips and fellow-panellist Stephen Flynn, the leader in Westminster of the 43 Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) members of Parliament.

A member of the audience asked: “With 12,300 children dead in Gaza, will the government or the opposition put any meaningful pressure on Israel to end the slaughter?”

Flynn began by condemning the massacre perpetrated by Hamas on October 7, but quickly moved on to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.  He condemned Israel for what he called the “collective punishment” of the civilian population, quoting the Hamas-provided and unverifiable figures of 30,000 dead which, in any case, make no distinction between civilians and Hamas fighters.  He called for Britain to use its influence in the UN Security Council to press for an immediate ceasefire, “no ifs, no buts” as he put it.  He maintained that there was no justification for bombing civilians in support of demanding the release of the hostages held by Hamas.

Phillips responded passionately demanding how he could categorize Israel’s determination to destroy Hamas’s grip over Gaza as collective punishment of the Palestinian population.  “Hamas are in tunnels for their own safety,” she said.  “Not one shelter has been built by Hamas in all the time they have ruled Gaza.  The only reason Israel has had to bomb Gaza is because they cannot get at the infrastructure of mass terror.”

Turning again to Flynn’s earlier remarks, Phillips poured scorn on his accusation that Israel was perpetrating “collective punishment” on the Gazans.  “Collective punishment?” she said.  “This is how he describes the defense against genocide, the desperate attempt by Israel to prevent another genocide and a second Holocaust from happening.”

As some of  the audience began objecting, she rounded on them.  

“What do you think Hamas mean when they say they want to kill every Jew?” she demanded.  “A second Holocaust is what is threatened.  Israel is trying to prevent it.  That is not an exaggeration.”

It is doubtful whether Phillips succeeded in shifting the opinion of any in that audience who supported a ceasefire.  But they, and the million or so viewers of Question Time, at least got to hear a passionately expressed pro-Israel point of view rarely available from the BBC.

Neville Teller

Neville Teller's latest book is ""Trump and the Holy Land: 2016-2020". He has written about the Middle East for more than 30 years, has published five books on the subject, and blogs at "A Mid-East Journal". Born in London and a graduate of Oxford University, he is also a long-time dramatist, writer and abridger for BBC radio and for the UK audiobook industry. He was made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours, 2006 "for services to broadcasting and to drama."

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