From Mosley to Corbyn, the fight against the oldest hatred goes on

Finding this balance between reporting on antisemitism and being a voice for the community’s fight against it has been a constant feature of the JC’s coverage of antisemitism throughout its history


28th September 1936: British fascist politician Oswald Mosley (1896 - 1980) speaking at a rally in Leeds. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Shortly before Jeremy Corbyn became Labour Party leader, the Jewish Chronicle printed a rare front-page editorial that warned, in stark terms: “The JC rarely claims to speak for anyone other than ourselves.

We are just a newspaper. But in this rare instance we are certain that we speak for the vast majority of British Jews in expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.”

Finding this balance between reporting on antisemitism and being a voice for the community’s fight against it has been a constant feature of the JC’s coverage of antisemitism throughout its history.

In 1841, when the paper was founded, British Jews were still restricted from sitting as Members of Parliament without taking a Christian oath, a situation that was finally redressed in 1858; but in general Jews did not face the kind of legal restrictions or violent prejudice endured elsewhere in Europe, a contrast that the JC was keen to reflect.

An editorial in 1883 lamented the “despair of civilisation” in anti-Jewish riots in Hungary, the burning of a synagogue in Germany and the “organised plans for inciting the people against the Jews” in Russia.

“All the fiercest passions of modern time, those nurtured by commercial depression and rivalries of race and religion, have aided to fan the blaze of anti-Semitic prejudice”, said the editorial. But “the example of England and France may suffice to point out that, with the progress of civilisation, the feelings of Jew-hatred tend to die out and become replaced by milder and more just views about us.”

This complacency wouldn’t last. In 1921 the growing popularity of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, first published in English by The Times the previous year, led the JC to warn that “there has been a strong attempt to popularise anti-Semitism” by several mainstream newspapers that excitedly gave credence to this antisemitic hoax.

Having been the first newspaper to promote the Protocols, The Times was also the first to expose its fraudulent nature.

That decade also saw the emergence of totalitarian political movements in Europe. The first mention in the JC of Oswald Mosley’s “fascist antisemitism” was in 1930 and in subsequent years its pages often carried reports of fascist activities.

This came to a head in October 1936 with the Battle of Cable Street: “Mosley Receives His Marching Orders” was the banner headline across the front page.

The paper had urged Jews to stay away from what it viewed as a provocation designed to inflame antisemitism, preferring for Mosley’s plans to be restricted by the authorities; but despite this editorial line, the JC’s breathless news report of the day’s events heralded the confrontation as an “utter humiliation” for Mosley and proclaimed: “Fascism received the greatest blow that it has yet had in this country.”

Fascism in Europe would, in turn, deal Jews the greatest blow imaginable, and the JC tracked the development of Nazi persecution in great detail. Ghettos, camps, deportations and murder were reported weekly as the terror grew. Most poignant were the lists of Jews trapped in Eastern Europe throughout the war years who wrote to the JC seeking contact with relatives in Britain.

In July 1942 the JC reported confirmation of the mass gassings of Polish Jews with the front-page banner headline: “MASS MURDER IN POLAND -- 700,000 Jews Wiped Out -- NAZIS’ BESTIAL EXTERMINATION PLAN”. Two years later, in July 1944, came the JC’s first mention of Auschwitz-Birkenau, described as the “notorious death camps in Poland” where “over 1,715,000 Jews were exterminated between April, 1942, and April, 1944”.

As we know, even the Shoah did not put an end to antisemitism, and shockingly within two years of the end of the war the JC was again having to report on fascist attacks on British Jews.

These were often a reaction to the growing conflict in Mandate Palestine between Zionist forces and the British colonial presence. The JC’s explanation in 1947 of why this violence occurred could just as easily have been written in 2022: “The anti-Jewish riots which have occurred in several towns, on the pretext of the Palestine murders, are shameful in the extreme, both for themselves and for the fact that they represent the newest extension of the evil principle of holding the innocent to blame for the guilty.”

By this stage there were various organisations in the Jewish community taking on the challenge of combating antisemitism, and the paper’s letters page hosted a lively debate between the Board of Deputies Defence Division and the 43 Group over who had the better approach. The 43 Group is remembered with fond nostalgia now, but at the time the JC criticised it as a “dissident body” with “a complete unwillingness to enter into a larger disciplined framework than is provided by its own self-centred and callow outlook”.

In more recent decades the community has faced antisemitism from newer and more diverse directions.

The growing danger from Middle Eastern terrorist groups was brought home to British Jews in 1974, when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine tried to assassinate J. Edward Sieff, the president of Marks & Spencer, by shooting him on the doorstep of his St John’s Wood home. Sieff survived but the same JC front page reported that “Scotland Yard has foiled a plot by an Arab terrorist group believed to have entered Britain to attempt to kill British Jews.”

By the 1990s the activities of radical Islamist movements had become a regular feature of the JC’s coverage.

In November 1990 a three-page Special Report into antisemitism included “Muslim extremists [who] make no distinction between antisemitism and anti-Zionism and frequently interchange the word Jew and Zionist”, alongside reports into neo-Nazi Holocaust denial. Four years later it was the campus activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir, “a radical fundamentalist Muslim organisation that has openly called for the killing of Jews”, that made the front page.

Sadly, the days of the JC reporting on antisemitism seem far from over.

Dave Rich is Head of Policy at the Community Security Trust

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive