This article based on an interview appeared in the Yorkshire Post
Undying hatred - why the spectre of anti-semitism is still haunting us today
30 October 2008
By Sheena Hastings
There's always been a streak of vicious sneering in some corners of Westminster
about the rise to political prominence of Jews.
Benjamin Disraeli's success was greeted by snideness in a few quarters, and
pre-1939 British politics was marked by anti-semitism, most notably in the guise
of Oswald Mosley, who told East Enders during council elections that "Jews
already in this country must be sent to where they belong... No more admitting
of foreigners into this country to take British jobs."
Margaret Thatcher's elevation of Leon Britton, Nigel Lawson and Michael Howard
led former PM Harold Macmillan to opine that the Cabinet was "more Old Estonian
than Old Etonian". According to Greville Janner, (formerly an MP and now a
Labour peer) when he supported the Israeli attack on Iraq's nuclear arms
facility in 1981, Labour colleague Andrew Faulds turned and said: "Go back to
According to Denis MacShane, a feeling that Jewish MPs - of whom there are 22:
11 Conservatives, eight Labour and three Liberal Democrats - are not quite
British still pervades, a feeling encouraged by a certain bitchy Whitehall
prejudice among the dinosaurs of the herd.
Mostly, British Jews live happy and fulfilling lives, says the MP for Rotherham.
Yet there is, according to the novelist Howard Jacobson, "a certain grinding low
level of anti-semitism all Jews learn to live with".
Denis MacShane isn't Jewish, so what is his interest in all of this, and why has
he written a book called Globalising Hatred - The New Antisemitism? He says it
flows from a life spent in great part studying and challenging vicious and
Born in Glasgow, educated at Oxford and gaining a PhD in London, he worked as a
journalist with the BBC before becoming an international
trade union official - which led to him being arrested in Poland and South
Africa as he worked with independent trades unions against communism and
He has been an MP for 15 years, and he was number two in the Foreign Office,
then Minister for Europe under Tony Blair. A French, German, Spanish and Italian
speaker, he has written biographies of Francois Mitterrand and Edward Heath, as
well as many other books and pamphlets on European and global politics.
Three years ago, he led the first ever All-Party Commission of Inquiry into
Anti-semitism, and the material gathered by the Commission forms the basis of
the new book.
"I've always been interested in how ideologies shape the world and its
thinking," says MacShane. "I don't think we as a society are antisemitic in
this country, yet I was interested in the increasing incidence of violence
against Jewish students on our university campuses, and as a minister I
travelled and picked up on antisemitism in other countries."
The evidence taken by the Commission was an eye-opener. "It was quite shocking,
the level of violence that was unreported and unknown to the political community
- verbal abuse, graffiti, some attacks - leading, among other things, to the
hiring of private security around synagogues. No other faith has to take such
measures, although I know there has been some racist feeling against Muslims and
attacks on Asians."
The Commission's rigorous factual report was presented to the Government, and as
a result support and security for Jewish schools was stepped-up. Police forces
also pledged to spend more time investigating antisemitic attacks. The report
concluded that "...too many British Jews lived with a level of fear, anxiety and
concern about their Jewishness that was not acceptable".
No-one, including MacShane, is saying that the Jewish population of this country
is at risk because of a small increase in overt episodes of anti-semitism. The
greater problem, he says, lies in a resurgence of anti-semitic feeling around
across Europe and around the globe. He calls this neo anti-semitism.
The book examines evidence from many countries, including the boasts of
Holocaust denier David Irving, who declared he was "back in business" on his
release by a higher Austrian court after his 2005 incarceration after referring
to the gas chambers at Auschwitz as "a fairytale".
Despite his alleged change of views, Irving told one British newspaper that his
beliefs had merely been solidified further. The Jews, he said, were not only
responsible for what had happened to them during the Second World War, but they
also had caused nearly all of the wars of the last 100 years.
"Anti-semitism is not just traditional Jew-hatred; nor can it be reduced to a
variant of racism," says MacShane. "It is a growing component element of
international politics. Anti-semitism is exported by a number of states and has
an impact on geo-politics that should not be underestimated."
While some thuggish Manchester United fans chanted "Roman's on his way to
Auschwitz" against Chelsea Football Club's Russian Jewish owner Roman
Abramovich, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told students at New York's
Colombia University that he stood by his view that the Holocaust was a lie.
In India, the home of 5,000 Jews, a range of luxurious bedding called "The Nazi
Line" was launched - but the company claimed the word Nazi stood for something
else, of course.
After the death this summer of Bronislaw Geremek, the Jewish Polish social
historian and politician and intellectual founder of the Solidarity movement, a
presenter on a national radio station which regularly broadcasts anti-semitic
propaganda said: "Thank you, God, for taking Geremek away."
MacShane also examines the conspiracy theory about a Jewish lobby which, rather
than being a group seeking the ear of power, anti-semites
say infiltrates all high places and effectively run everything through
"conspiratorial networks and hidden influence and powers".
He says we need to be alert to the manner in which Arab opposition to Israel has
led to Islamist anti-semitism, and how this has escalated the struggle for
territory in the Middle East into a global movement against all Jews.
MacShane believes Islamic anti-semitism is glossed over in a way that prejudice
against any other group would not be. A supporter of the Palestinian state, he
argues that it's not until the cause of Palestinian rights is separated from
anti-semitism that it can truly thrive.
In his examination of the religious texts of radical jihadi Islam, he finds they
are full of abuse of Jews, with an essential ideology that upholds the idea of a
global Jewish conspiracy.
He says a hatred of Jews is being exported and constructed in communities across
"In denying the right to Jewish identity, the rights of Jews to live on their
terms in part of the land that is as historically theirs as
any Semitic race, the hardline Islamists are playing into the hands of
conservative bigots and the extreme right."
The point of the book, says MacShane, is to sound a warning and underline the
reality of racism and intolerance. The fight is ongoing.
"There are too many people turning a blind eye to anti-semitism, as a global
force and in some areas of British life. Jews can lead full and satisfying
lives, but there's a reluctance among some to acknowledge and be honest about
what goes on."