You can bank on old prejudice

A recession will always bring out the slurs, but we should be aware of their origins


Readers of this column will know that I hold a healthily jaundiced view of the Jewish Leadership Council, a self-appointed body answerable to no one. But that does not mean that I necessarily discount the research that it sponsors, or that I necessarily disagree with everything that it says.

The warning that several of its members issued last week, relating to the seeming inevitability of an upsurge in anti-Jewish prejudice in this country in the wake of the banking crisis and the radical economic downturn that the UK is experiencing, and which is going to get worse, seems to me well-judged, at least in principle. But we need to be aware of the precise forms that this upsurge will take, and that prejudice is not always as straightforward as we might imagine.

Let me begin with the British National Party. The rise of the BNP has little if anything to do with economic recession. The popularity that the BNP has enjoyed in recent times manifested itself - and matured to success in the local-government ballot box - in years of plenty.

BNP membership is not drawn from the ranks of the unemployed, though it has certainly benefited from growing prejudice against immigrants in general ("white" as well as "black" or "brown") and from the excesses of militant Islamists.

It may well be that, next year, BNP membership will be swollen by some of those thrown out of work as recession deepens. Next year will be the last full year before a general election. It may well be that, as that election looms (it must take place no later than 3 June 2010), the BNP will disguise the racism that lies at its heart in the hope of winning a parliamentary seat. I shall employ whatever influence I possess to avert that possibility. But, if it happens, I shall not blame it upon the economic downturn.

Of more immediate concern is the drip-effect of the latest outpourings of anti-Jewish invective originating from within the Islamic world. Over the past few weeks, internet watchers have observed a sharp increase in Islamic-inspired anti-Jewish prejudice linked, cynically, to the trials and tribulations of the banking sector. In a new twist to an old story, Islamic propaganda machines have reprocessed the lies embedded in The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, and are trying desperately to place the responsibility for the collapse of banks at the door of the Jews.

In his disgraceful address to the UN in September, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traced the origins of the financial crisis to the work of "a deceitful group of people called Zionists" who, he declared, "have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centres of some European countries and the United States".

More recently, in Gazastan, we find the ruling Hamas government explaining that the financial crisis has come about through "bad administrative and financial management and a bad banking system put into place and controlled by the Jewish lobby".

We can, I am sorry to predict, only expect more of this over the next year or so. How much of it will percolate through to British society, and be believed? My guess is that some of it certainly will, and that, through another myth - that of the "smart Jew" - it will find a receptive audience.

I have been led to this conclusion as a result of two incidents that happened in different parts of London within the past month. In the first, a friend of mine - a rabbi - reported to me that, after giving directions to a truck driver who had lost his way, the grateful driver voiced his gloom on having to drive a truck for a living in these troubled times, "unlike you people".

In the second, while waiting on a London underground platform (my head covered, as usual, with a kippah), I was approached by a smiling, friendly gentleman of Afro-Caribbean appearance, who enquired how I was "coping" in the present "crisis". "Do me a favour," he said, "give me a few tips on how to deal with the credit crunch." And he added: "Don't get me wrong. I love Jews. You people control all the finance. You know how these things work."

The myth of the smart Jew leads inescapably to the myth of the manipulative Jew and then to that of the conspiratorial Jew, which in turn supports the myth of the evil Jew. Far from being in any sense flattering, it is in fact extremely dangerous.

    Last updated: 11:00am, November 20 2008