BY VICTOR SHARPE—
It is uncertain when the first vestiges of Jewish life in the British Isles occurred. Ancient Phoenicia, which lay along the eastern Mediterranean Sea to the north of the Jewish Kingdom of Israel was a seafaring nation and its fleets may well have voyaged as far as Britain and possibly with crews that included Jewish sailors.
We know from Herodotus, writing in the 5th century BC, that Phoenician ships were venturing beyond the Pillars of Hercules into the Atlantic Ocean as far north and west as the mysterious Tin Islands known as the Cassiterides. Polybius also mentions these same islands that produced the valuable commodity known as tin. These were the famous tin mines of Britain found mostly in today’s Cornwall.
Sir Edward Creasy in his History of England wrote: “The British mines mainly supplied the glorious adornment of Solomon’s Temple”. This ties in very well with the involvement of Phoenician builders in the time of King Solomon – Hiram of Tyre – who helped construct the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed Solomon himself employed fleets of sailing craft, which traversed the eastern Mediterranean and beyond – perhaps to the same distant tin mines.
The Christian story of the Jewish tin merchant, Joseph of Arimathea, visiting Britain and planting a holy thorn bush in Glastonbury adds to the numerous theories of early Jewish travel to and possible settlement of Jews in ancient Britain.
According to the same legends, Joseph made many trips to Britain in pursuit of his tin mining business and made contact with several British tribal kings who gave him and his Jewish companions some 2,000 acres of land. Where that land was remains unknown, if it ever existed, but it would have presumably been in south western Britain and probably in today’s Cornwall. Interestingly, Jews may thus have lived alongside the early Britons before both the Saxon and later Norman conquests.
When the Roman Emperors Julius Caesar in 55 BC, and later, Claudius in 43 AD, invaded Britain, Jewish soldiers, traders and scribes may have been serving in their respective armies and, as we know, Roman influence lasted in Britain some 400 years. But it is still later when, in 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England that Jewish life began to grow significantly in England and Wales especially when, in 1070, William gave them land in Oxford and London.
But William, his son Rufus, and the following English kings used the Jews for one purpose only; to help finance their building schemes and wars. The hapless Jews were allowed by the pervasive influence of the Church to have only one occupation; money lending.
Thus the kings and the barons used and abused the Jews – some with relative fairness and others with utmost brutality – always overseen by the severe strictures of the Church. Indeed, no guilds were open to Jews so that they were forbidden to practice farming or join in the industries of their Christian neighbors. As the Church forbade the lending of money on interest, the Jews were thus forced to engage in it or starve.
This, of course, aroused the enmity of the ignorant peasantry who saw the Jews, under the self-serving protection of the kings and barons, living in stone houses while they survived in wattle huts. The nobles and the kings forced their Jewish victims to extend financial help for the construction of abbeys, castles and cathedrals but often reneged on paying back their loans.
Indeed, huge and onerous taxes were often imposed upon the Jewish citizens until they were beggared. Meanwhile, in the churches the common folk were indoctrinated into absurd beliefs that the Jews were devils and thus implacable enemies.
The fact that Jews worshipped the One and only God and steadfastly rejected belief in any other divinity caused friars and priests to demonize them in church sermons so that a hatred bordering on genocide grew amongst the Christian peasantry and nobility.
After several centuries of this bigotry, along with the frightful tax burdens routinely imposed upon them, the Jews were bled dry and their usefulness to despotic kings and barons disappeared.
Interestingly, life had become so intolerable to the English Jews that they had begged to be allowed to leave a land that had become so hateful towards them. But they were forbidden to leave so long as more money could be squeezed from them. In other words, the Kings and nobles refused because they still needed their pounds of flesh from the hapless Jews.
But in 1290, King Edward 1 expelled them from England, partly because now Italian Christians, the Lombards, were the new money lenders who extended loans with interest; a profession the Papacy now approved of.
Even with the absence of Jews in England, various writers such as Matthew Parrish, were busy writing scurrilous poems depicting Jews as devils with exaggerated features.
Strangely, the male Jew was depicted as doing terrible wrongs but the female Jew was treated almost with tenderness. This was probably due to the inherent fear that the northern European had towards the southern and Mediterranean males. Thus Spanish, Italians and Jewish men were presented in less than flattering terms.
In Elizabethan times the works of Christopher Marlowe and others took their cues from the inherited warped history of the Jews as money lenders, even though the Church had prohibited them from engaging in the occupations and professions of their Christian neighbors.
Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta first produced on Saturday, February 26, 1592 became an overnight success because it demonized the Jewish lead character; a guaranteed delight for a Christian audience of the time; such intolerance and bigotry existing even with the absence of any known Jews in England.
The play became a big money maker for Marlowe’s theatrical company. So it is little wonder that Shakespeare needed to write his own play thereby competing with a theme that was such an obvious and popular money maker. Thus he wrote The Merchant of Venice. In both plays the created villain is a Jew: Barabbas in Marlowe’s play and Shylock in Shakespeare’s.
And so the years passed. Cromwell permitted the Jews to re-enter Britain in 1657 and their contributions to the nation in medicine, music, the arts, science, politics and culture since then have been immense. Yet still scurrilous plays and books presenting the Jew in wholly negative ways were written. There were, however, English writers who wrote of the great gifts and contributions of the Jews to the progress of Western civilization. Such was Mary Ann Evans (1819 -1880) whose nom-de-plume was George Eliot.
However, squalid screeds by so many English authors continued, only abating somewhat after the Holocaust. No doubt, guilt lay upon the citizenry, which made overt anti-Jewish sentiments unfashionable. A guilt which is now fast evaporating and allowing the ancient contagion of anti-Semitism to once again to infect much of the British population.
The pervasive anti-Semitism in England could have its amusing facets. For example, I am reminded of a Jewish pupil, whose name was Raymond, who attended Grammar school with me in the 1950s. He found a unique and inspired way of deflating the obvious anti-Semitism of a teacher we should call Mr. B.
Now Mr. B used to take the class for physical education. He would love to stand outside the shower room, look at the wet footmarks we would all make on the gymnasium floor as we exited the showers, and remark on how all the Jews in class had flat feet. Of course, this was all nonsense but it spoke volumes about Mr. B’s state of mind and prejudices.
One day, after leaving the shower room, Mr. B made his usual daft pronouncement about flat feet. Later in class, Raymond held up his hand and in a loud voice said, “Please Sir, I know why Jewish boys in class have flat feet.”
This got Mr. B’s attention. His eyes widened and, leaning back in his chair, he said, “Oh, and why is that?”
Raymond’s answer was as silly as Mr. B’s equally silly question but it was a classic put down.
“Well sir,” continued Raymond, “it’s because when our ancestors left Egypt during the Exodus, they were forced to walk in the desert for 40 years.”
Mr. B was so taken with this answer, not realizing how absurd it was, that Raymond became his favorite student thereafter; perhaps thus highlighting the inordinate stupidity of anti-Jewish prejudices.
That was then, but now the same irrational bigotry that infected England in medieval and later times is oozing out across the land, except that now it is not only the person of the Jew who is persecuted, demonized and de-legitimized, but the very embodiment of the Jewish people in their ancient, ancestral and biblical homeland: the reconstituted State of Israel.
Anti-Jewish propaganda has now reached levels unknown throughout Britain for several generations. Everywhere Brits, from the lordly Arabists of the Foreign Office and the journalists in the mainstream media to the young empty headed students waving socialist flags or flying the blood soaked flag of the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians, all falsely accuse the embattled Jewish state of every sin imaginable. Hiding behind their attack on Zionism – the Jewish people’s very own national independence movement – is, for them, a convenient way of disguising what in reality is anti-Semitism.
To paraphrase the wonderful Barbara Tuchman’s book “A Distant Mirror,” we see again in modern Britain’s mirror a reflection of the same old distant hatred of the Jews and now, today, a mindless and ignorant intolerance towards the Jewish spiritual and physical homeland: Israel. The Jewish state has now become the tormented and persecuted Jew of history.
We now see before us a stark contrast from the writings of Leon Uris, who told in the pages of his novel, Exodus, the searing passion of the Jewish rebirth of Israel. Instead we have the words of Peter Kosminsky, who has now written a TV mini-series titled The Promise. Not content with adopting every anti-Israel trope that Israel bashers can think up, Kosminsky distorts history to such an extent that to call it pro-Arab propaganda is a monumental understatement.
Britain’s Channel 4 has willingly, even eagerly, befouled Britain’s TV screens with what promises to incite racial and religious hatred among the British populace against the ever vilified Jews: So shame upon the writer and the producers for creating this calumny.
They naturally can fear no violent repercussions from the disturbingly quiescent Jewish population of Britain. But how passing strange this is, even as Britain is becoming prey to Islam and Sharia law, spitting on its Christian heritage, and witnessing Muslims freely screaming insults at returning British soldiers in the streets. What a supreme irony.
Here is a historical fact no Brit should feel proud of. Just before the Second World War began on September 3, 1939, Jews were already suffering extermination at the hands of Nazi Germany. But the British government, ever appeasing the oil rich Arab world, chose such a time to issue the infamous White Paper closing the doors of British Mandatory Palestine to the Jewish people who desperately sought refuge from the Nazi killing machine. Reneging on the promises made to the Jewish people, Britain imposed an immigration quota of just 75,000 Jews annually over the next five years.
This was a perfidious act by Britain, which effectively closed the doors to the persecuted Jewish populations in Europe. It therefore is arguable that Britain by this act may have unwittingly aided and abetted the Holocaust in fact, if not in name, for 6 million Jews were to perish; so many could have been saved if Britain had permitted them to find refuge in their ancient Jewish homeland.
Brits should be reminded that the only “Palestinians” fighting with Britain against the Axis powers were Jews. The Arabs of Mandatory Palestine supported the Nazis. The genocidal Arab leader at the time, Haj Amin al-Husseini, lived with Hitler in his Berlin bunker plotting the extermination of all Jews living in the Yishuv, the Jewish population of Mandatory Palestine.
Kosminsky conveniently avoids that fact and thus has little or no understanding of the deep passions and fury that exercised the Jewish guerillas fighting the British occupation even as they learned of how their fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters had perished in Europe.
None of these facts are apparent in Kosminsky’s revisionist screed. Indeed, Brits should be reminded of an earlier British betrayal that took place years earlier.
Britain, which since 1917 had liberated the geographical territory known as Palestine from its 400 year old Turkish Ottoman rule, issued in that same year the Balfour Declaration promising to establish within what was called Palestine a Jewish National Home. This was confirmed at the San Remo conference by the League of Nations and Britain was subsequently granted the Mandate over the entire territory on both sides of the River Jordan.
But in 1922, Britain arbitrarily tore away all of the vast territory east of the Jordan River and reduced to a mere 40 plus miles the territory the Jews were left with – the slim slice of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The territory east of the river, which dwarfs that west of the river, was given away to a Hashemite Bedouin Emir and is now called the Kingdom of Jordan. It is Palestine in all but name.
Another fact Brits who watch The Promise – this despicable distortion of history -should know is that the Arabs who lived in Mandatory Palestine were, in the main, descendants of illegal Arab immigration into Mandatory Palestine, which began in the early part of the 20th century when Jewish pioneering work was returning the neglected homeland from a desert into green pastures.
Jewish agricultural work was an attraction to thousands of Arabs from the neighboring failed and stagnant Arab territories who looked with envy at what the Jews were creating. The occupying power, the British Mandatory government, from the early 1920s turned a blind eye to the flood of illegal Arab migration. But Brits who fall for Kosminsky’s grotesque misrepresentation of history would know nothing of this.
Nor would British viewers know anything about the biblical and post-biblical history of Israel or of the inextricable and millennia old association of the Jews to their ancestral land.
Instead, they would see scenes from the Holocaust and believe it was only that which drew Jews to Israel. They would not be told of the previous thousands of years of Jewish history in the ancestral homeland or of the existence of Jewish communities during the last 2,000 years existing in whatever numbers they could sustain in the face of the depredations they endured from alien invaders. This is one of many gratuitous sins of omission on the part of Kosminsky and Channel 4.
Richard Millet writing in his blog, Word Press, on February 28, 2011 about The Promise complains about a particularly despicable and manufactured scene. He states: “Kosminsky had Jewish children in the West Bank attacking Arab families with rocks while the IDF looked on and the IDF using a child as a human shield. We also saw a bulldozer almost run down Erin, recalling the death of Rachel Corrie in the same way. This is all straight out of the scurrilous and extreme propagandistic anti-Israel ISM handbook.”
Millet adds: “The Promise had everything for the Jew hater and Israel hater, but what you won’t see is a series about the Arab uprising in British Mandate Palestine between 1936-1939, which was brutally put down by the British and in which some 5,000 Arabs, 300 Jews and 260 Britons were killed, and during which the Peel Commission offered the Arabs 80% of British Mandate Palestine, which the greedy Arab leadership duly rejected.”
Indeed the Arabs, who call themselves Palestinians, have rejected offer after offer from Israel for a state of their own because these same Arabs don’t want a state next to Israel, but a state in place of Israel. And one other thing the Brits, who watch this nauseating TV series, should know: There has never in all of recorded history ever existed a sovereign, independent Arab state called Palestine.
But with that empirical fact, I fear that the age old anti-Semitism that befouled so many of their ancestors may still infect far too many of today’s Brits. How very sad.
Victor Sharpe is a freelance writer and author of Volumes One & Two of Politicide: The attempted murder of the Jewish state.