Yom Hashoah, the Day of Remembering the Holocaust, is often a time for people to think about antisemitism generally, and not just the massacre of Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their abettors.
Many books have been written about the history of antisemitism, one of the best being “A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism” by Phyllis Goldstein. She tracks the nature of antisemitism at different points in history and in different lands. In her diagnosis, the root causes are often unique to that particular time and place.
I would like to consider when hate returns to a particular country under a different guise, such as historic antisemitism manifesting itself as anti-Zionism today. There are many examples, but this review will focus on the United Kingdom 1290/1929 and 1713/1939.
Banning Jews from England 1290
Banning Jews from Hebron 1929
1290 England: The origin of the “blood libel,” that Jews sought and and killed Christian children, began in England in the twelfth century. It its original incarnation, the accusation was that Jews killed the Christian, much as they had killed Jesus. Over time, the claims continued that the Jews used the child’s blood on Passover to make matzah and for the four cups of wine at the seder. Whether the people’s attacks on England’s Jews led to the edict of expulsion in 1290 is a source of debate, but the fact that King Edward I forced all Jews to leave the country and quickly seized their belongings and cancelled all debts that they were owed may indicate a financial motivation as well.
1922 Jordan & 1929 Hebron: The British assumed the mandate of Palestine in 1922 and quickly separated the land east of the Jordan River for the Hashemite Kingdom to win local friends, as they tried to do in other Arab lands including Iraq. They promptly ignored key components of the Palestine Mandate which clearly spelled out that no individual could be excluded from the land because of his religion, by allowing the Arabs to ban all Jews from the region. Just a few years later, in response to Arab riots in which they slaughtered several dozen Jews in the ancient Jewish city of Hebron, the British “evacuated” the remaining Jews from the city and moved them to Jerusalem, presumably to protect the Jews from future attacks. Jordan would remain Jew-free to this day, while Hebron would only be Jew-free until 1967, after the Jordanian Arabs attacked Israel and lost the west bank of the Jordan River to Israel, including Hebron.
The British leadership followed the antisemitism of the British people to expel the Jews of England in the 13th century, and would follow the antisemitism of the Arab people to expel the Jews from various parts of the Middle East during the 20th century.
Tolerating Antisemitism in Gibraltar in 1713
Tolerating Antisemitism in Palestine in 1939
1713 Gibraltar: Beginning in 1290, England would not allow any Jews to live openly in its lands for over 360 years. It was only in 1656 under Oliver Cromwell that Jews were allowed to return (presumably under the guise of trying to convert them to Christianity). But despite this new indication of tolerance of coexistence, the British would also tolerate antisemitism.
After a series of battles between England and Spain, the English won the rock of Gibraltar from the Spanish. In the Treaty of Utrecht, as the Spanish handed the island to the British, it demanded that England continue to ban the presence of Jews and Moors (Muslims), as the Spanish were still heavily influenced by the Inquisition run by the Catholic Church. The British agreed, even though they did not enforce it aggressively. (The ban is technically still part of the law governing Gibraltar, even though 2% of the island is Jewish).
1939 Palestine: The Arabs in Palestine were in the midst of multi-year riots that had begun in 1936 to stop the flow of Jews into Palestine because of international law that the British facilitate the immigration of Jews. In 1939, as the Holocaust descended on the Jews of Europe, the British agreed with the Arabs that no more than 75,000 Jews would be admitted into Palestine over the next five years in an edict known as the White Paper. The document would seal the fate of over 100,000 European Jews who became trapped in Europe.
History echoed itself. While the British had finally begun to accept Jews in England in 1656, less than 60 years later they accepted the Spanish demands that non-Christians be barred from lands that they were taking over. Over 250 years later, the British would take on the Mandate of Palestine in 1922, and then be part of an agreement that they would block Jews to satisfy the demands of the local Arab population.
Britain’s leadership had historically followed the urging of its antisemitic populace (in 1290) and the Catholic Church (in 1713) to ban Jews, and did the same in the 20th century in Palestine at the urging of the Arabs in the Middle East.
From the Middle Ages through the Inquisition, Europe believed itself to be a Christian continent and expelled the Jews and repulsed the Muslim invasion. In the 20th century, many European nations have adopted a similar narrative that the Middle East is a purely Arab land and should be left to the Muslims. The European Christians and Middle East Arabs have ignored the desires and right of Jews to their own place in their homeland.
The British are currently debating whether their political parties – the liberal Labour Party in particular – are antisemitic or merely anti-Zionist. The correct question is whether they are outwardly antisemitic or simply tolerate antisemitism.
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