People campaign against anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British Labour Party in London, England, in a file photo from April 8, 2018. Photo by Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Barbara Kay: ‘So many people hate you’: Documenting the U.K.’s burgeoning anti-Semitism

In his new book, Tuvia Tenenbom portrays the U.K. as a population marbled top to bottom with a fat streak of Jew hatred
On Sunday July 18, the Church of England service will include a ceremony of “symbolic repentance” to mark the 800-year anniversary of the Synod of Oxford. The 1222 Synod set forth discriminatory laws for Jews, such as identifying badges and higher taxes. The gesture is especially significant in that the Church of England was only established in 1534. The Church is therefore apologizing for all Christian medieval anti-Semitism.

The United Kingdom NGO Campaign Against Antisemitism applauded the decision in a statement that read in part: “The Church of England, inspired by decrees from Rome, was absolutely central to the horrific anti-Semitism suffered by English Jews in the Middle Ages, including … the invention of the blood libel, massacres and the first national expulsion of an entire Jewish community from a European country.”

Barbara Kay: 'So many people hate you': Documenting the U.K.'s burgeoning anti-Semitism Back to video It’s a welcome gesture, although it is fair to wonder what effect, if any, it will have on rising anti-Semitism in Britain. If one is alert to the trend, there is no shortage of daily evidence for it.

What effect, if any, it will have on rising anti-Semitism in Britain?

On July 12, for example, British Jewish actor and filmmaker Jolyon Rubinstein was subjected to anti-Semitic harassment at a Euro soccer finals between England and Italy. He reportedly tweeted, “I was racially abused last night as I was entering [London’s] Wembley stadium. My shirt has Rubinstein on the back. I took my coat off & immediately: ‘Are you even from this country’ & ‘he’s a Jew’ followed by laughs & jeers by a group of 6 men in their 50’s.” Further: “I told them that my Granddad fought the Nazi’s (sic). They laughed. My message to them is that you will never win. That this team represents unity and diversity. You are the past. You’re dying out.”

The past? Dying out? More like the present and burgeoning future. We may discount thuggish soccer yahoos as socially unrepresentative of their society, but in fact during the Hamas-Israel war, Jolyon’s own culturally elite tribe, the British actors’ union, showed its colours when it exhorted its members to join a London demonstration where Israeli flags were burned and demonstrators chanted anti-Semitic slogans.

Dame Maureen Lipman of Coronation Street fame resigned from the union in anger. Many less famous Jewish actors are worried they might be blacklisted. Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman told a reporter from England’s The Jewish Chronicle that Jewish actors were hiding their Stars of David at auditions and that one actor was reviled when it was discovered he had family in Israel. A theatrical agent said that Jewish actors are afraid to admit their identity and that “[y]oung Jewish drama students are terrified … of repercussions.”

More On This Topic Rick Ekstein: For Canadian Jews, the history of hatred repeats itself Barbara Kay: Let's stop pretending the left's disdain for Israel has anything to do with politics At what point does anecdotal evidence of a virus conjure visions of a pandemic? For an answer to that question, a recently published book, The Taming of the Jew, by Israeli-American journalist and theatre director Tuvia Tenenbom is a good place to start. In it, Tenenbom portrays the U.K. as a population marbled top to bottom with a fat streak of anti-Semitism.

A cherubic, chubby polyglot — German, Hebrew, Arabic, (strongly German-accented) English — Tenenbom’s journalistic shtick is to wander around countries as a gregarious bumpkin chatting up ordinary people and local officials to elicit their views on all manner of topics. When he presents himself as “Tobias” or “Tobi,” a German reporter, the conversation usually wends its way to Israel. Lulled into trust by Tobi’s benign and affectionate come-on, his interlocutors spout their Jew hatred freely, as Tenenbom listens with attentive non-judgmentalism.

Tenenbom has toured Germany (I Sleep in Hitler’s Room), Israel (Catch the Jew, in which shocking anti-Israel bias in allegedly neutral European NGOs and progressive Israeli self-loathing is highlighted) and America (The Lies They Tell). For Jewish readers, the material is disheartening, but one can’t help laughing at its quirky delivery.

The Taming of the Jew was originally meant as a project dealing with Brexit and English theatre (hence the Shakespearean wordplay of the title), but once arrived, Tenenbom was so struck by the ubiquity of support for the Palestinian cause and the animus toward Israel and Jews, he switched his focus to the parameters of anti-Semitism in Ireland, Scotland and England.

His interlocutors spout their Jew hatred freely

In Ireland, there are Palestinian flags flying everywhere: homes, pubs and government buildings. Tenenbom asks people why. They can’t explain, only that Palestinians are victims. (Like themselves, he infers from their patter.) A video clip of Derry pubsters responding to Tenenbom’s question about the Palestinian flags with a torrent of anti-Semitic sewage went viral. Of the many countries he has visited, Tenenbom rates Ireland as supreme for Jew hatred.

In Scotland, Tenenbom discovers that Israeli performers are not welcome at the famous Scottish Fringe Festival, and Jewish leaders in Glasgow are too fearful to talk to him about anti-Semitism. On to England. In Newcastle, the city’s one synagogue “looks like a high security prison,” with no name or Star of David to identify it. In Manchester, home to England’s second largest Jewish population, there are three kosher restaurants. Two had been closed for months prior to his visit after extensive damage from arson.

Tenenbom is puzzled by the reflexive denial of anti-Semitism he meets in the Jews he interviews. He asks (as Tuvia, a fellow Jew), and they freeze or insist there is none. Why? One Manchester man tells him they are afraid he will write about it and inspire more of it. A woman tells him, “Because it’s painful to admit that so many people hate you.”

In London, amongst many others, including Jeremy Corbyn, Tenenbom interviews Lord Stone of Blackheath, a self-made Jewish millionaire and beneficiary of Tony Blair’s democratizing changes to the House of Lords. At first Lord Stone resists talking about anti-Semitism. But Tenenbom presses him. Finally this London Jew of wealth, prestige and power says — this is in 2019, note, not 1937 — “I have a bag which I carry everywhere.” What is in the bag? “My passport and 27 currencies.” ‘Nuff said?

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