On the side of St George's Town Hall in the East End of
London, there's a mural commemorating the Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when
tens of thousands of Jews and local trades unionists fought side by side to halt
a march by Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists.
They poured out of the docks, factories and sweat shops to
repel the Blackshirts, who were being given an official police escort. Their
banners read: They Shall Not Pass.
By the end of the day, the police were forced to withdraw and
Mosley's thugs had been routed. It was a crushing defeat, from which the Far
Right never really recovered and was pivotal in preventing the cancer of Fascism
and anti-Semitism then sweeping Continental Europe from establishing a
meaningful foothold in this country.
In my previous incarnation as a young labour and industrial
correspondent, I used to drink in the Britannia pub, in Cable Street, with an
old friend, Brian Nicholson, former chairman of the transport workers' union,
who lived a couple of doors down.
From the public bar, a few yards across the square from the
old Town Hall, I watched with fascination as the mural was being painted. It
took 17 years from conception to completion in 1993 and more than once suffered
the indignity of being vandalised by moronic Mosley manques in the National
Front and the BNP.
A couple of years ago when the BBC approached me to make what
they called an 'authored documentary' on any subject about which I felt
passionate, I proposed an investigation into modern anti-Semitism to coincide
with the 70th anniversary of Cable Street last October.
My thesis was that while the Far Right hasn't gone away, the
motive force behind the recent increase in anti-Jewish activity comes from the
Fascist Left and the Islamonazis.
It was an idea which vanished into the bowels of the
commissioning process, never to return. Eventually the Beeb told me that they
weren't making any more 'authored documentaries'.
I couldn't help wondering what might have happened if I'd put
forward a programme on 'Islamophobia'. It would probably have become a six-part,
primetime series and I'd have been up for a BAFTA by now.
But I persevered and Channel 4 picked up the project. You can
see the results on Monday night.
When some people heard I was making the programme, their first
reaction was: 'I didn't know you were Jewish.'
I'm not, but what's that got to do with the price of gefilte
fish? They simply couldn't comprehend why a non-Jew would be in the slightest
bit interested in investigating anti-Semitism.
If I had been making a film about Islamophobia, no one would
have asked me if I was Muslim.
The Labour MP John Mann told me that he experienced exactly
the same reaction when he instigated a parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism.
'As soon as I set it up, the first MP who commented to me
said: "Oh, I didn't know you were Jewish, John."' He isn't, either.
But the implication was plainly that the very idea of
anti-Semitism is the invention of some vast Jewish conspiracy.
Mann's inquiry reported: 'It is clear that violence,
desecration and intimidation directed towards Jews is on the rise. Jews have
become more anxious and more vulnerable to attack than at any time for a
generation or longer.'
That certainly bears out my own findings. After three months
filming across Britain, I reached the conclusion: It's open season on the Jews.
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Ever since 9/11 I've detected an increase in anxiety among
Jewish friends and neighbours in my part of North London. As I've always argued:
just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
When I went to address a ladies' charity lunch at a synagogue
in Finchley, I was astonished at the level of security. You don't expect to see
bouncers in black bomber jackets on the door at a place of worship.
I soon discovered this wasn't unusual. Nor is it confined to
London. The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Mike Todd, took me out on
patrol with his officers and members of the Community Security Trust, which
provides protection for the Jewish community.
These patrols are mounted every Friday night following a
series of unprovoked attacks on Jews on their way to synagogue. We passed a care
home surrounded by barbed wire.
At the King David School, there are high fences, floodlights,
CCTV cameras and fulltime guards. It was the kind of security you associate with
They're even installing bombproof windows in many prominent
Jewish institutions and running evacuation drills.
This sounded to me like Cold War panic. Surely it's all a bit
over the top? Far from it, said Todd.
'We know that people carry out hostile reconnaissance. You do
know that there will be attacks potentially and so what we're trying to do is
make it a hostile environment to those people who want to engage in anti-Semitic
In the past two years, Manchester police reported a 20 per
cent rise in anti-Semitic incidents. I visited a Jewish cemetery in the north of
the city which has been repeatedly desecrated - headstones and graves smashed,
swastikas daubed on memorials. It was heartbreaking.
That type of cowardly vandalism is almost certainly the
handiwork of Far Right skinheads. But the more serious threat comes from
Police and the security services say they have uncovered a
series of plots by groups linked to Al Qaeda to attack Jewish targets in
As Channel 4's own Undercover Mosque documentary exposed
earlier this year, anti-Jewish sermons are routinely preached in Britain.
Anti-Semitic hatred is beamed in on satellite TV channels and over the internet.
On London's Edgware Road, just around the corner from the
Blairs' new Connaught Square retirement home, I was able to buy a copy of Adolf
Hitler's Mein Kampf, translated into Arabic. It was on open sale alongside the
evening paper and the Kit-Kats.
You don't even have to be Jewish to find yourself on the end
of anti-Semitic hatred. I met a Jack the Ripper tour guide in East London who
was beaten up by a group of Muslim youths, who took one look at his period
costume - long black coat and black hat - and assumed he was an Orthodox Jew and
therefore deserving of a kicking. They didn't want 'dirty Jews' in 'their'
During the 2005 General Election, anti-war activists targeted
Labour MPs who supported the invasion of Iraq. Fair enough, that's a legitimate
enough ambition in a democracy.
But in the case of Lorna Fitzsimons, the member for Rochdale,
the campaign to unseat her took a sinister turn.
An outfit calling itself The Muslim Public Affairs Committee
(MPAC) - basically two brothers above a kebab shop - published leaflets
'accusing' her of being Jewish, even though she's not.
'They said I was part of the world neo-Con Zionist conspiracy.
I think it's deeply insidious and worrying that they felt there was so much
anti-Semitism in the local community that it would galvanise the vote.' In the
event, she lost her seat by a few hundred votes and is certain the MPAC smear
campaign swung it.
Opposition to the war and loathing of Israel has led the
selfstyled 'anti-racist' Left to make common cause with Islamonazis. And
'anti-Zionism' soon tips over into straight- forward anti-Semitism.
When The Observer columnist Nick Cohen - who has always
considered himself of the Left and, despite the surname, isn't Jewish either -
wrote a piece defending the toppling of Saddam he was deluged with hate mail.
'It was amazing anti-Semitism, you know - you're only saying
this because you're a Jew.'
Cohen has also noticed the casual anti-Jewish sentiment around
Left-wing dinner tables and in the salons of Islington.
He is appalled by the way in which his old comrades-in-arms
have embraced terrorist groups like Hezbollah, one of the most anti-Semitic
organisations on Earth.
Check out the way the National Union of Journalists singles
out Israel for boycott, even though it has the only free press in the Middle
East. Or the academic boycott of Israel by the university lecturers, which as
the lawyer Anthony Julius and the law professor Alan Dershowitz argue, goes way
beyond legitimate protest. The sheer ferocity and violence of the arguments is
nothing more than naked anti-Semitism.
Under the guise of 'anti-Zionism', anti- Semitism is rife on
British university campuses. But still the Government refuses to ban groups such
as Hizb ut-Tahir, motto: 'Jews will be killed wherever they can be found.'
Then there is self-proclaimed 'anti-racist' Ken Livingstone,
who said to a Jewish reporter, Oliver Finegold, who approached him outside
County Hall: 'What did you do before? Were you a German war criminal?'
When Finegold explained that he was Jewish and was deeply
offended by the remark, Livingstone compared him to a 'concentration camp
Attempting to justify himself, Livingstone put on his best
Kenneth Williams 'Stop Messing About' voice and protested that he wasn't being
anti-Jewish since he was rude about everyone. That was his Get Out Of Jail Free
Funny how that excuse didn't work for Bernard Manning.
But under the Macpherson code to which Livingstone subscribes,
a racist incident is one which anyone perceives as racist - intended victim or
onlooker. It's curious how in multi-cultural, diverse, inclusive, anti-racist
Britain, the rules don't seem to extend to the Jews. Livingstone would never
have dreamed of being that offensive to a Muslim, or Jamaican, journalist.
Any Tory who made similar remarks would have been hounded from
office - and Livingstone would have been leading the lynch mob.
Blaming Israel is the last refuge of the anti-Semite.
Livingstone insists he's not anti-Jewish, he just opposes the policies of the
So perhaps he can explain what the hell the conflict in the
Middle East has to do with calling a Jewish reporter a German war criminal and a
concentration camp guard? Where exactly does the Palestinian cause fit into that
'If you have people like the Mayor of London crossing the
line, then making a half-apology, and stumbling through that, then it gives a
message out to the rest of the community. That is why anti-Semitism is on the
rise again - because it's become acceptable,' says John Mann, whose
parliamentary inquiry team was shocked at the scale and nature of what it
'Every single member of our committee was stunned at some of
the things they found out. It wasn't a Britain that they recognised. It's almost
as if it's a throwback. We thought these were things we'd seen in the past, and
we hoped had gone.'
As a Labour MP he's appalled at the way many on the Left have
become almost casually and routinely anti-Semitic. 'We wouldn't have seen this
ten or 15 years ago. This idea that in some way there's a conspiracy of Jews
running the world goes back to the Elders of the Protocols of Zion (a long since
discredited book, though still popular in the Muslim world) in the last century.
We've seen this before, and now it's resurgent.'
Seventy years after Cable Street, we've gone full circle. The
Left who once stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Jews against the Blackshirts
are now in the vanguard of the new anti-Semitism.
The Britannia has long since closed and the Jewish community
has moved on, but the mural remains. The synagogues have been replaced by
Where the East End was once a hotbed of Far Right extremism,
these days it's the stomping ground of George Galloway's Respect Party, a grubby
alliance of Islamic extremists and the old Socialist Workers Party - at the
heart of the new 'We Are All Hezbollah Now' activism.
While we were shooting the final sequence of next Monday's
film in front of the mural, a scruffy-looking bloke wandered out of what used to
be the Britannia and now seems to have been turned into some kind of glorified
He recognised me, identified himself as a member of Respect,
objected to what I was saying to camera and tried to disrupt us.
Outnumbered, he shuffled away again, shouting. He did not
The Second Battle of Cable Street, it wasn't.