Eretz Israel is our unforgettable historic homeland...The Jews who will it shall achieve their State...And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind. (Theodor Herzl, DerJudenstaat, 1896)

We offer peace and amity to all the neighbouring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all. The State of Israel is ready to contribute its full share to the peaceful progress and development of the Middle East.
(From Proclamation of the State of Israel, 5 Iyar 5708; 14 May 1948)

With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America, Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations.... For the global jihad, Israel may be the first objective. But it will not be the last. (Friends of Israel Initiative)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Costume Dramas (Part One): Al Beeb and Al Grauniad discover some Old Time Religion

It’s not easy to perceive or to portray the well-integrated Jews of Britain as “The Other”. The expulsion of all the Jews in medieval England by King Edward I in 1290 meant that, in contrast to the European Continent, no compulsory gated ghettos with strictly imposed curfews developed in Britain. By the time Jews were formally readmitted in 1656 a Protestant Reformation had taken place which swept away the old “Papist” superstitions and doctrines that had proved so deleterious to Jews – the cult of Little St Hugh of Lincoln, for example, the child who was said to have been ritually murdered by Jews in 1255 and who was venerated as a martyr with a shrine at Lincoln Cathedral. No less than Cromwell, King Charles II, who came to the throne in 1660, valued Jews for their beneficial services to this country’s commerce, and permitted the little mercantile community, which at that time consisted entirely of Sephardim, to remain.

On the European Continent, Jews, very often  in distinctive garb, were widely perceived – and despised – as medieval people, relics of the Middle Ages and followers of an archaic religion. Owing to their long absence from this country, in Britain there were no compulsory ghettos, as there were on the Continent, and the “Jew badge” was a thing of the past. Jews were not obliged to dress differently from Christians, and there was little in outward appearance to distinguish them from Christians. There was no need for the kind of “Emancipation” which was played out (frequently in fits and starts) on the Continent during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and even early twentieth centuries. For Anglo-Jewry after 1656 “Emancipation” revolved centrally and almost exclusively around the struggle for the right of professing Jews to sit in Parliament, a campaign stepped up in the 1830s following the emancipation of Nonconformists and Roman Catholics, and finally proving victorious in 1858.

To be sure, there were exotically clad Jews in Georgian and Victorian Britain – new immigrants from North Africa and the occasional Chasid – but they were very much the exception. A spectacular example of swift integration is seen in the career of Abdullah Sassoon – pictured in the above photo with his father and brothers, Jews from Baghdad active in the India trade. Abdullah settled in Britain in connection with the family business; discarding eastern attire, he was quickly accepted into High Society, became a friend of the future King Edward VII, and in 1890 was made a baronet as Sir Albert (he’s shown here in this “Spy” cartoon, which appeared in the magazine Vanity Fair in 1879). Under the leadership of the Chief Rabbinate and the United Synagogue (an umbrella organisation founded in the 1870s) acculturation was expected and encouraged. The rival Federation of Synagogues, established in 1887 by Sir Samuel Montagu for the benefit of more religiously “right-wing” East European immigrants, fostered a demonstrably patriotic Englishness amongst the newcomers.  And in those days that encompassed outer appearance as well as inward feeling.  The visible presence of strictly observant Jews such as Chasidim was largely a post-Holocaust development. 

However, in contrast to their clear policy of downplaying the “Otherness” of Muslims, those terrible Israel-bashing leftist media twins, Al Beeb and Al Grauniad, may be flirting – I say "may be" though from what I've read and heard many supporters of Israel harbour no doubt – with a temptation, at least when it suits them, to present Jews as “The Other”. In July, to illustrate a report on the attitudes of British Jews towards Israel, the Guardian chose this rather curious photo of Chasidim in Jaffa, before replacing it with that of a similarly attired lone figure walking, back to camera, through a London market. Not the most appropriate illustration, one would have thought, to accompany a story about the attitudes of a community that is mostly only nominally Orthodox – half of which is female, into the bargain.  But at least he was British.

Over the High Holydays both the Guardian and the BBC (as if by telepathy) featured a series of photographs that were strikingly similar to each other (and indeed in some cases identical), of preparations forYom Kippur in Israel. The photos were hardly representative of Jewish belief and practice, and their inclusion suggests that there may have been (I'm putting it no stronger than that)  a questionable motive on the part of the terrible twins.

The purpose of these photographs may have been to depict Jews as “medieval people” following risible and bizarre customs, and in the case of the Guardian to provide a good laugh for the antisemites who infest its “Comment is Free” section. For instance, here’s (in Bet Shemesh) the Malkot ceremony, and (in Ashdod) the Kaporot ceremony.

That few Jews overall in or outside Israel participate in these rituals, which have virtually fallen into obsolescence, is perhaps immaterial to Al Beeb and Al Grauniad, so intent do both seem to be on showing anything that may prove detrimental to the image of Israel.  On the other hand, the photos can be justified on the grounds of legitimate interest-value.  So – innocent or guilty? Much as I dislike the BBC and the Guardian, I'm sitting on the fence on this one!


  1. Al Beeb and al Grauniad ARE joined at the hip. They are totally self-referencing - I only have radio now and it goes on every day.

    I feel, no matter what they do, the only thing they can genuinely induce is ridicule - none of these things are sillier than morris dancing or chasing a giant cheese rolling down a hill, or bog-swimming!

    Nothing they show Jews doing can compare to suicide bombings, head-choppings, Christian burnings and child rape of muslims. I loathe both those media outlets and feel for the trusting people who allowed them to film.

    Dear Daphne, people are waking from their slumbers in England: they will not be denied the truth!

  2. Your comment came quickly, Juniper! No doubt where you stand. Definitely not a fence-sitter.

  3. It,s all part of the drip drip process to demonise. It probably has little effect on the older generations who have made their minds up about us ( good or bad ) but the new generations are being groomed to hate us. Combine this with Islamist hate, right wing white supremists, mass media with it,s subtle demonisation... then we had better keep a packed bag ready.
    Great comments Juniper, you forgot about the Friday stonings just like the BBC & the Guardian.

  4. Thanks(as usual)for your comment, Steve.

  5. In my opinion Juniper is correct. In addition neo-Nazis use such images to represent all Jews. Nice company the BBC and The Guardian keep.

  6. Thanks, Ariadne.
    I am beginning to climb down off the fence ...