Enslaved by prejudiced history

May 19, 2016 12:57

Among the roll-call of Labour party members who have been suspended for alleged antisemitic comments one name stands out. It's not Ken Livingstone. Or Bradford West MP Naz Shah. Or any of the local-government councillors on the list (most of whom appear to be of the Muslim faith). The name that stands out is that of Jacqueline Walker, who claims in her defence (and according to the BBC website) to be "of Jewish descent and an active anti-racist." Whether Walker is of "Jewish descent" I cannot confirm. In any case, her antecedents are immaterial. But I'm finding it very difficult to take seriously her claim to be "an active anti-racist."

Walker is vice-chair of the national steering committee of Momentum, the extreme left-wing pressure group whose manoeuvrings were pivotal to the success of Jeremy Corbyn's candidature for the leadership of the Labour party. A resident of Broadstairs, Walker is a founder member of the Kent Anti-Racism Network and vice-chair of the South Thanet Labour Party. In a statement reported on Kent Online (4 May) she gave her occupation as "an active anti-racist trainer." But it has emerged that, some weeks previously, she had posted on Facebook a comment to the effect that "many Jews … were the chief financiers of the … slave trade."

Is this statement true? The definitive account of Jewish participation in the slave trade is the monograph (Jews, Slaves and the Slave Trade: setting the record straight) written by Eli Faber, a distinguished expert in American-Jewish history. Faber teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York. During the era of the American civil-rights movement there had been a broad partnership between the African-American and Jewish-American communities in the epic struggle for civic equality for the USA's black populations. But this relationship came under attack from certain American-Islamic interests and, in 1991, the so-called historical research department of the "Nation of Islam" published a scurrilous tract (The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews) arguing that Jews had financed and dominated the slave trade. This defamation was to be repeated by black activists and academics in the years that followed. In 1992, one of the most brilliant historians of the African-American experience, Henry Louis Gates jnr (who is himself black and teaches at Harvard) damned The Secret Relationship as "the bible of the new antisemitism." It was this malevolent bible that Eli Faber set out to investigate.

Space does not permit me to do more than crudely summarise Faber's conclusions but I stress that these findings were based on painstaking, forensic examination of original sources located in the USA, the Caribbean and the UK. The documents he consulted included shipping and tax records, stock-transfer ledgers, slave registers and synagogal archives.

The transatlantic slave trade was a cruel and odious undertaking, which visited multiple horrors upon its many victims. Within the British Empire, Jews did indeed play some part in this trade- in the most part, minimal and occurring during the last two decades of the trade, which lasted from the early 17th century until the early 19th. "The Jews of the [Cromwellian] Resettlement," Faber writes, "never invested in the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa, and after its demise they waited twenty years before beginning to invest in its successor, the Royal Africa Company. When at length they did so, it was after the Company had already delivered the majority of slaves it would ever transport to the western hemisphere, and they would always remain distinctly in the minority among its shareholders…

The claim that 'many Jews' financed the slave trade is a lie

"Because England's Jewish merchants did not trade with Africa, almost none of them were drawn into the exchange of European goods for slaves… As owners, Jews held a minute part of the slaves in the [American] colonies in which they settled."

No Jew can be identified among the major owners of the slave fleets that sailed from London, Bristol or Liverpool. British Jews with money to invest appear to have chosen the Bank of England and the East India Company as more secure investment opportunities.

On Faber's evidence, Jacqueline Walker's claim, that "many Jews… were the chief financiers of the… slave trade" is not merely mischievous. It is in fact a dangerous lie.

May 19, 2016 12:57

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