Tory aide gave reporter ‘Jewish nose check’

Alex Brown said the staffer grabbed his face to 'judge my Jewishness'


A political journalist has revealed how a parliamentary staffer aggressively pushed his head to one side to look at his nose in order to check that he was Jewish.

Alex Brown, correspondent for The Scotsman, said that he had only been working in Westminster for a matter of days when, during a conversation about his background, the Tory aide “grabbed my jaw, tilted my head to the side to look at my nose and spat out ‘you don’t look Jewish’.”

Writing in the newspaper about his own experiences of antisemitism following the abuse of Charedi youngsters in Oxford Street earlier this month, Mr Brown also revealed how he was urged not to report the Westminster incident because it might harm his career.

“Her friends told me not to report it, stressing I was new and they could be useful,” he wrote.

“This was a Tory staffer grabbing me in public to judge my Jewishness, at a time it was supposedly only the Labour Party that had a problem. It took place during the Corbyn years, when antisemitism cases in the Labour Party became the new normal, in a tenure that broke friendships and made ‘whataboutery’ an acceptable excuse for racism.

"So many apparent progressives did not care, deciding their ideology was worth more than the experiences of Jews.”

Mr Brown said his experience at work was compounded by the “avalanche of antisemitism on Twitter” that made it a “depressing, draining time”.

The 30-year-old’s upbringing in rural Somerset was not religious but his maternal grandparents had both fled persecution in Europe to find safe haven in Britain.

“My background was something my mum ordered me not to mention, stressing there were places we were not safe and the need to ‘always have a suitcase ready’. My family fled persecution in the early 1900s from Mogilev, Belarus, where Himmler later oversaw the mass murder of Jews. The other side ran from Lomza, Poland, which would lose its entire Jewish population.”

Inspired to study Jewish history at university, Mr Brown also recounted how a trip to get his laptop fixed before beginning his studies led to an appalling incident that left his mother in tears.

“When my mum and I went to get my laptop fixed ahead of my course, the repair man asked: ‘What do you want to be studying them for? He added he’d been to the death camps, complained there was no thank you sign to those that rescued them, and demanded I explain why they did not overpower the guards armed with machine guns.”

Although he did not grow up in an observant household, Mr Brown said he had been “pushed… closer to Judaism” and now felt the need to “belong”.

Speaking to the JC, Mr Brown said his was a personal journey as well as a reaction to the antisemitism he or others had experienced.

“I talk about it more with my friends and, as time goes on, I feel just closer to Judaism,” he said. “I have been speaking to one of my best friends about birthright — I have been wanting to do it for ever but then the pandemic happened.”

Mr Brown said that antisemitism online or on Britain’s streets remained such a regular occurrence that society was in danger of becoming “desensitised” even to incidents as shocking as the attack on the Oxford Street bus.

He told the JC how, during a chat with friends about Israel, he took issue with someone likening Israel to the Nazi regime, only to be asked: “What qualifies you to say that?”

And, on the “worst first date ever”, he found himself listening to a bitter invective against Israel from his date before the first drink had been ordered.

But Mr Brown he said the atmosphere in Parliament was far less toxic than when he started three years ago. “I am no longer writing about antisemitism every day and that is such a relief,” he said.

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