In his remarks to me, Dr, Wistrich made the following observations:
There is also no other Western society where jihadi radicalism has proved as violent and dangerous as in the UK. Although it is not the determining factor in this extremism, it plays a role. This Islamist radicalism has helped shape the direction of overall antisemitism in the UK.
Another pioneering role of the UK, especially in the area of antiIsraelism, is the longstanding bias in BBC reporting and commentary about the Jewish world and Israel in particular. Double standards have long been a defining characteristic of its Middle East coverage. This has had debilitating consequences. The BBC plays a special role, owing to its long-established prestige as a news source widely considered to be objective. It carries a weight beyond that of any other Western media institution.
Antisemitism in Great Britain has been around for almost a thousand years of recorded history. Medieval England already led in antisemitism. In the Middle Ages, England pioneered the blood libel. The William of Norwich case in 1144 marked the first time Jews were accused of using the blood of Christian children for the Passover unleavened bread (matza). In the twelfth century, medieval Britain was a persecutory Catholic society, particularly when it came to Jews. In this environment, the English Church was a leader in instituting cruel legislation and discriminatory conduct toward Jews, unparalleled in the rest of Europe.
From the Norman conquest of 1066 onward, there was a steady process—particularly during the thirteenth century—of persecution, forced conversion, extortion, and expropriation of Jews. This culminated in the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 under Edward I. It was the first ejection of a major Jewish community in Europe. Britain was not only the first country in medieval Europe to expel Jews, but also one of the last to take them back after more than 350 years.
The long absence of Jews from the British Isles did not mean that in the intervening period antisemitism disappeared. This is an instructive early example of how society does not need the physical presence of Jews for the potency of the anti-Jewish stereotypes to penetrate the culture. The force of the anti-Jewish stereotype in classic English literature is so powerful that it ultimately is retained in the contemporary “collective unconscious” of the country’s culture.
The Shylock image influenced the entire West because it fits so well with the evolution of market capitalism from its early days. Shylock is the English archetype of the villainous Jew. Those who talk about how humanistic, universal, and empathetic his portrait is are ignoring not only how it was perceived at the time, but also its historical consequences.
In Britain, as in much of Europe, the proclaimed anti-racism of the left-wing variety often feeds the new antisemitism—which is primarily directed against Israel. If one suggests that such leftists are antisemites in disguise, they are likely to become enraged and retort that one is playing the antisemitic card. This has become a code word for saying in effect,
“You are a dishonest, deceitful, manipulative Jew” or “You are a “ ‘lover of Jews.’ ” These antisemites in disguise claim that Zionists supposedly use the “accusation of antisemitism” to distort and silence the criticism of Israel and its human rights abuses. The word “criticism” in this context is misplaced. It is a euphemism or license for the demonization of Israel. And that in turn is a major form of antisemitism in our time.
Britain can pride itself, however, on the publication of Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism,1 which did a thorough, though not perfect, job of investigating the rise of anti-Jewish sentiment in the UK. The report does not contradict anything I have been saying, though it was too soft on Muslim antisemitism.
*Manfred Gerstenfeld is an Israeli expert on antisemitism, emeritus chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and a recipient of the 2012 JSA Lifetime Achievement award.