Antisemitism in the UK Conservative Party
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Antisemitism is alleged to have existed within the Conservative party since its founding in 1834, when the party rose out of the previous Tory Party. The party is officially titled the Conservative and Unionist Party, while its members are still colloquially called Tories. This article details the various alleged antisemitism events in relation to each of the successive Conservative party leaders in office at the time.
Peel leadership (1834–1846)
Hostility to Jewish emancipation
In 1830, Robert Peel spoke in Parliament in opposition of the emancipation of the Jews. During this time, a Jew could not open a shop within the city of London, become a barrister, graduate from university, or be a member of Parliament. Peel commented:
The Jew is not a degraded subject of the state; he is rather regarded in the light of an alien - he is excluded because he will not amalgamate with us in any of his usages or habits - he is regarded as a foreigner. In the history of the Jews ... we find enough to account for the prejudice which exists against them.
Disraeli's early political career
After Benjamin Disraeli (a Jewish convert to Anglicanism) became an elected MP in 1837, a number of his Conservative colleagues avoided him because of their antisemitism. The Conservative Party at this time was more institutionally antisemitic than the other main parties; however, the abuse Disraeli received was exceptional due to his perception "as a humbug, a fraud, and a cheat. And at the center of it all was his Jewishness." Disraeli was excluded from ministerial office in Peel's government, in part because of "anti-Semitism and both patrician snobbery and bourgeois bigotry" within the party.
Smith-Stanley leadership (1846–1868)
Hostility towards Jewish entrance to parliament
Prior to 1858, Jews were not allowed to become Members of Parliament (MPs) unless they were Christian, as was Benjamin Disraeli, who was baptised as a child. In 1847, the Whig leader Lord John Russell introduced a bill that enabled Jews to become members of Parliament. The Jews Relief Act was passed a decade later, in 1858, 'after years of obstruction, mainly but not exclusively, at the hands of the Tory party'. Opposition to the Act would sometimes be accompanied by '[e]xtravagant praise' of Jews. Conservative opposition to the Act included:
- Conservative MP Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (Lord Salisbury) opposed Jewish inclusion in Parliament because, he said, a Jew, due to his religious convictions, would be opposed to 'all ... (present MPs) were there to uphold', and would take a 'hostile' position towards Parliament.
- George Bankes 'expressed his horror at the possibility of seeing a Jew Premier in Parliament'.
- John Pemberton Plumptre 'intended no insult to the Jews in asserting that they were unfit to legislate or interfere in the affairs of a Christian nation'.
- Thomas Dyke Acland and Charles Law warned that every Jew in Parliament would 'displace a Christian' and accused the Jews of the City of London of conspiring to get John Russell elected and, therefore, having John Russell under their control.
- Alexander Beresford Hope opposed the bill 'on the ground that there was no pre-eminence or super-excellence in the Jewish race which would justify the house in relaxing' the rules about admittance.
- Charles Newdigate Newdegate claimed that 'the wealth of one distinguished Jew had been liberally lavished to obtain petitions in favour of the Bill' and that behind the calls for Jewish Emancipation was a 'Talmudic conspiracy ... to destroy the free constitution and religion of Protestant Englishmen'.
- Alexander Baillie-Cochrane saw the 'apathy with which this Bill had been received in the country as no source of congratulation, but as a very terrible sign of the corruption of the times'.
- Philip Stanhope was of the opinion that 'Jewish emancipation would lower the tone of religious opinion in England'.
- Spencer Horatio Walpole said that the Jews were of a 'separate creed and interest' and were 'not a citizen of this country, but of the world'.
- Archibald Douglas said that Jews 'were unfortunately actuated by a love of money, which was highly discreditable'.
- Robert Inglis argued that Jews were 'a separate nation with a separate creed'.
- Henry Ker Seymer, Richard Spooner, Frederic Thesiger, Alexander Raphael, Francis Scott, Henry Goulburn, Joseph Napier, Cropley Ashley-Cooper (Lord Ashley), and Henry Home-Drummond, also opposed the bill and the inclusion of Jews.
Overall, the Conservatives were against the Jews and had, according to George Bentinck, 'degenerated into a No Popery, No Jew Party' driven by bigotry. The Conservative party deposed Bentinck as Conservative leader because of his positive stance on Jewish emancipation. However, Bentinck himself also 'entertain[ed] hostile feelings towards the Jews', saying, 'as for the Jews themselves, I don't care two strokes about them and heartily wish they were all back in the Holy Land'.
Disraeli leadership (1868–1881)
Antisemitic hostility towards Disraeli
Benjamin Disraeli suffered prejudice from some Conservatives throughout his political career. Disraeli himself commented on the 'great anomaly' of being the Conservative 'chief' given the 'prejudices' held from within the party against his 'origin'. Disraeli was described by one Conservatives as 'that hellish Jew', and by some others simply as 'the Jew'. Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (Lord Salisbury), described him publicly as 'dishonest' and a 'mere political gamester'. Edward Smith-Stanley (Earl of Derby) excoriated Disraeli for holding beliefs he considered un-English. Another Conservative said of him, 'he bears the mark of the Jew strongly about him ... He is evidently clever but superlatively vulgar'. 'Disraeli's position [on Jewish emancipation] was deeply unpopular in his own party'. 'The underlying current of antisemitism which coursed through sections of the Conservative party until well into the 20th century found an outlet in the persona of its long-serving leader'.
According to Jonathan Freedland, 'Disraeli clearly internalised the anti-Jewish sentiment in which his society was drenched'. This can be seen in Disraeli's novels, which contain antisemitic stereotypes - he made a 'fundamental contribution ... to modern literary antisemitism'. According to Hannah Arendt and historian David Cesarani, 'Disraeli almost single-handedly invented the lexicon of modern racial anti-Semitism'. Cesarani adds: Disraeli 'played a formative part in the construction of anti-Semitic discourse'.
Salisbury leadership (1885–1902)
UK organised antisemitism
Organised antisemitism in the United Kingdom can be traced to the proto-fascist paramilitary group, the British Brothers League (BBL), which was founded in 1901 by members of the Conservative Party, including MPs Howard Vincent and William Evans-Gordon, and drew its membership from sections of the Conservative Party. The BBL, the 'largest and best organised of all the anti-alien groups' of its time was 'Conservative-led and ... Conservative-dominated'. It sought to pressure the government into stopping the arrival of poor Jews into Britain. It was successful in that its pressure was instrumental in persuading parliament to pass the 1905 Aliens Act.
William Evans-Gordon was elected to parliament in 1900 on an anti-alien platform and began campaigning for changes to the government's immigration policies in his first year of office. Within their parliamentary work, Evans-Gordon and other Conservative MPs obscured their antisemitism within advocacy for what might have been considered a reasonable immigration policy. Within their discourse, 'immigrant' and 'alien' often meant 'Jew'. With four Conservative MPs in support at its inaugural meeting, the BBL was founded on 9 May 1901.[note 1] The next month, Walter Murry Guthrie called a meeting of east London Conservative Associations and out of this initiative another group was formed with the aim of pressuring the government to restrict immigration: the Londoners' League. The Londoners' League worked with the BBL at a lower tier and had a number of Conservative MPs and councillors as speakers, including Evans-Gordon, Samuel Ridley, Harry Samuel, Thomas Herbert Robertson, David John Morgan and Arnold White.[note 2] The BBL stirred up popular racism against Jewish immigrants who had moved to the city to find refuge because they had been displaced by pogroms in their home countries.
On the tier above the BBL was the Parliamentary Alien Immigration Committee. The Committee was founded in August 1901 and comprised all the East End MPs (except the Liberal Party MP for Whitechapel, Stuart M. Samuel). Based on the same ideas as those of the BBL, Evans-Gordon formed the Committee to work within parliament. As a parliamentary pressure group, it urged the government to pass restrictive immigration controls.
Balfour leadership (1902–1911)
Progress towards the Aliens Act 1905
In 1902, Evans-Gordon was instrumental in setting up a Royal Commission on Alien Immigration, of which he was the chair and a 'key member', submitting reports to the Commission. The Royal Commission was a 'Parliamentary platform against Jewish migrants' and concerned itself almost entirely with Jews. Sympathies for the BBL 'stretched into the secretaryship of the Royal Commission on Alien Immigration'. In February 1903, the antisemitic Immigration Reform Association (IRA) was established, with Richard Hely-Hutchinson (Earl of Donoughmore) as president - a 'respectable' group within the anti-alien network; and MPs who had been involved with the BBL continued their work through the Association, which played a prominent role in putting pressure on the government to pass restrictive immigration controls. Working with Harry F. Smith, a Conservative Party agent, the IRA organised a major demonstration in November 1903, with the BBL providing a procession.
In 1903, Evans-Gordon wrote The Alien Immigrant (which was an expansion of the reports he had made to the Royal Commission) with the aim of influencing public opinion on immigration. In this, he addressed the so-called "Jewish question", asserting that 'the settlement of large aggregations of Hebrews in a Christian land has never been successful', and that the 'Hebrew colony ... unlike any other alien colony in [Great Britain], forms a solid and permanently distinct block — a race apart, as it were, in an enduring island of extraneous thought and custom', to the extent that 'east of Aldgate one walks into a foreign town'.
The Royal Commission on Alien Immigration reported its findings in August 1903, which would inform the Aliens Act of 1905, recommending strong, restrictive laws against alien entry into Britain. In 1904, the Conservative Home Secretary Aretas Akers-Douglas brought a bill to parliament that would 'make provision with respect to the Immigration of Aliens, and other matters incidental thereto'. Within the bill, 'alien' was 'an implicit reference to "the Jew"'. Evans-Gordon was a primary author of the 1904 immigration bill.
In 1905, the revised bill passed into law. Evans-Gordon's speeches were 'the primary catalyst for the final passage of the 1905 Act'. He became known as the "father of the Aliens Bill". The 1905 Alien Act, while not mentioning Jews outright, appealed to racial prejudice against the Jews and was designed to stop the arrival of Eastern European Jews into Britain. The BBL had succeeded: it largely was responsible, along with its supporting MPs, for the passing of the 1905 Alien's Act.
William Joynson-Hicks MP
In a 1908 by-election, standing against Winston Churchill (a Liberal at the time), the Conservative candidate, William Joynson-Hicks, was elected to Parliament as MP for Manchester North West. During his election campaign he took a stance against the Jews, which continued throughout his political career, announcing that 'he was not going to pander for the Jewish vote. He would treat those who were Englishmen as Englishmen, but as to those who put their Jewish or foreign nationality before their English nationality, let them vote for Mr Churchill'. He threw aspersions on his opponent, publicly saying Churchill's supporters were 'bogus deputations going to him from a few Jews who were not even on the register'. Over time, Joynson-Hicks because 'embedded at the heart of the Toryism'.
Bonar Law leadership (1911–1921)
National League for Clean Government
The National League for Clean Government was a political reform movement, created partly in response to the Marconi scandal, that directed antisemitism towards the Jewish plutocracy, which it believed was conspiring to subvert British politics. A number of its members and supporters were antisemites, including Conservative MP Rowland Hunt. At a meeting of the group in 1913, Hunt spoke about the 'influence' which controlled Britain and, in a 'thinly disguised reference to Jewish financiers', said, "We are really in danger of being ruled by alien votes and foreign gold. ... The aliens and foreign plutocrats are driving out British blood". The cartoonist David Low commented on the meeting that the audience was left with the feeling of antisemitism.
Antisemitism during World War I
During World War I, Joynson-Hicks associated with the ultra-nationalistic British Empire Union (formerly called the Anti-German Union). In a 'strongly anti-semitic' campaign, in which Jewishness and German origin were conflated, the Union demanded the internment and repatriation of "enemy aliens", many of whom were Jews.
Joynson-Hicks and the Die Hards
After World War I, Joynson-Hicks became an important member of the Die Hards, who were united 'by their national chauvinism, verging on xenophobia, and anti-Bolshevism', with some members (e.g., Henry Percy (Duke of Northumberland), George Clarke (Lord Sydenham), and the MPs Ronald McNeill, Charles Yate, Charles Taylor Foxcroft and Henry Page Croft) believing the conspiracy theory of a Jewish world effort to subvert Britain and its Empire. Jew baiting was known among them. Joynson-Hicks 'exemplified the Die Hard position', involving himself in matters in which Jews were concerned. For example, he was involved in the hunt for 'aliens', which led to many Russian Jews being expelled from Britain, and the Die Hard ousting of Edwin Montagu, the Secretary of State for India.
Joynson-Hicks questioned the trustworthiness of Ango-Jewish MPs and civil servants. He spoke out against Sir Herbert Samuel when he was appointed High Commissioner for Palestine. Joyson-Hicks also continued his involvement in extra-parliamentary antisemitic agitation. He was involved with groups composed of a 'comprehensive cross-section of anti-Jews': for example, George Clarke (Lord Sydenham), G. K. Chesterton, Nesta Webster, Rosita Forbes and Arnold White. Sir Charles Yate, George Clarke (Lord Sydenham), Henry Percy (Duke of Northumberland) and several other anti-Zionist MPs produced the publication The Conspiracy Against the British Empire, a 'boiled-down version' of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Joyson-Hicks was in favour of self-government by 'the majority in Palestine' and proposal of a resolution to that effect, which was perhaps a result of his antisemitism. At some point in his career, he commented that the Jewish immigrants to Palestine were 'the sweepings of the ghettos of Central Europe'.
Macmillan and the "International Jew"
A. Chamberlain leadership (1921–1922)
Chamberlain's and Joynson-Hicks' antisemitism
Writing to his sister, Austen Chamberlain described former Conservative Party leader and prime minister Benjamin Disraeli as an 'English patriot [but] not an Englishman'. During Chamberlain's leadership, the Jewish Chronicle (07/06/22) described Joynson-Hicks as 'the most avowed and determined anti-Semite in the House'.
Bonar Law leadership (1922–1923)
Antisemitism towards Jewish 'aliens'
In February 1923, Charles Crook, Conservative MP for East Ham North, brought a motion to the House of Commons that it was 'the utmost importance that a strict control shall be maintained over alien immigration'. Crook wished to maintain the 'racial integrity of Britain' and was seconded by the Conservative MP for Manchester Hulme, Joseph Nall, who particularly wanted to exclude the 'alien revolutionary agitator'. Crook and Nall were supported by Herbert Nield, Conservative MP for Ealing, in whose opinion Stepney had been 'positively ruined by the incursion of these aliens', evidenced by the presence of advertisements and notices in Yiddish.
Antisemitism towards Jewish MP
During the 1922 general election, the sitting MP for Putney, the Conservative Samuel Samuel, was opposed by an independent Conservative candidate, Prescott Decre. Samuel saw this opposition by Decre and his supporters as 'purely anti-Semitic'.
Baldwin leadership (1923–1937)
Baldwin and Joynson-Hicks
Stanley Baldwin had strong ties to Joynson-Hicks, which can be seen throughout their political careers together - each vouched for the other in election campaigns; Joynson-Hicks was instrumental in the 'destruction of the coalition and the old Conservative leadership which opened the way to Bonar Law and then Baldwin' and supported Baldwin in the passing of policy; they worked together in the Treasury; Baldwin promoted Joynson-Hicks to Home Secretary; and Joynson-Hicks stood by Baldwin in defeat. According to David Cesarani, Baldwin and Joynson-Hicks 'shared a discourse about England and Englishness' that included a definition of 'Englishness' based around 'a common language, heritage and racial character', and, on the other side of the coin, a dislike of other 'races', seen as 'less illustrious ..., other and 'alien'.'
Baldwin became prime minister in 1923 and gave Joynson-Hicks a place in the Cabinet as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. This was 'noted by the Zionist press with anxiety'. In August 1923 he became Health Minister. There were also causes for concern for Anglo-Jewry in the way Baldwin's government came to power again in the 1924 general election. That election saw an 'exceptionally dirty campaign' (most notoriously known for the Zinoviev letter, a forgery purportedly written by the Jewish head of the Communist International in Moscow, published by the Daily Mail to turn the electorate against the Labour party), and the Conservative campaign had a stream of anti-Jewish, anti-alienism underlying it. Now and at other times in this period, 'anti-Jewish feeling was mobilized under the guise of anti-alienism, anti-Zionism and anti-Bolshevism by mainstream political figures'. During the campaign, Baldwin and other Conservatives used the threat of aliens as one of their platforms. In their campaigning, the term 'aliens' was 'used as a code for Jews'.
In speeches like his party political broadcast on 16 October, Baldwin gave the all clear to Joynson-Hicks and other extremists[who?] in the Conservative party who had been engaged in xenophobic campaigning for decades. He said, 'we cannot afford the luxury of academic socialists or revolutionary agitation ... I think its high time somebody said to Russia "Hands off England" ... I want to examine the laws and regulations as to entry of aliens into this country, for in these days no alien should be substituted for one of our own people when we have not enough work at home to go around'. Baldwin's allies could now exploit prejudices against foreigners, 'aliens' and 'agitators'. For Hoynson-Hicks, the concept of 'alien' and 'communist' blended, and throughout his political career his 'anti-alienism, his anti-Zionism, [and] his anti-communism all brought him into conflict with the Jews'.
Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks
After the Conservatives won the election, in November 1924, Baldwin made Joynson-Hicks Home Secretary (he was Home Secretary until 1929). David Cesarani ascribes this 'sudden [and] unexpected' political ascent - which, 'in the view of many at the time and since, [was] undeserved in terms of talent' - to the ideological affinity between Baldwin and Hoynson-Hicks. Joynson-Hick's appointment worried the Jewish community, and not without reasons: his time as Home Secretary saw him in regular conflict with British Jews. Joynson-Hicks became known as 'Mussolini Minor'. His antisemitism caused him no harm during his time in office and he was emboldened in his antisemitism because he knew he had the general support of the Conservative party, 'the large majority of whom are anti-alien in the sense of generally disliking foreigners, and despising anyone who does not happen to have been born in this country with a long English lineage to boot'. More specifically, too, the Conservative party contained a 'very noisy and active element' of antisemites. '[A]nti-Jewish currents were evident at the centre of politics, even present at the Cabinet table'. Writing to a friend shortly after the 1924 election, Chaim Weizmann commented, 'There is a new government ... the Cabinet contains two or three reactionaries, anti-Zionists and even anti-semites'. Within the government ranks, there was no 'dissent against [Joynson-Hicks's] activity ... least of all from ... Baldwin'. Cesarani says Baldwin chose the right-winger Joynson-Hicks for his government because he considered him 'a desirable representative of elemental Toryism', a 'representative figure' who would 'enhance, rather than detract from, first, his electoral team, and second, his government'.
Towards the start of his Home Secretary career Joynson-Hicks was visited by the right-wing organisation the National Citizens Union. Joynson-Hicks told the group he would not allow a mass arrival of immigrants to Britain and that he would wouldn't hesitate to use his power to deport aliens. Under Joynson-Hicks, the Home Office became 'the bane of the Jewish community' and 'the situation of Jewish aliens had deteriorated seriously'. Jews who had not become British citizens were deported for misdemeanors but, when they applied for citizenship, were met with long, unnecessary delays with kept them in the precarious position of alien. A group from the Board of Deputies of British Jews visited Joynson-Hicks at the Home Office in February 1925 to ask for an improvement to the regulations concerning aliens, 'the establishment of immigration boards to judge cases of aliens forbidden to land by immigration officers, some modification of the Home Secretary's power of deportation [and an] to end the delays in naturalization. Joynson-Hicks dismissed their requests.
In November 1925, during parliamentary debates about the renewal of the Aliens Act, Joynson-Hicks was confronted about his actions by Labour MP John Scurr and Jewish Conservative MP Samuel Finburgh. Scurr said that the Aliens Act was being used 'against one section of the community, and particularly against the poorer members of the Jewish community'. Samuel Finburgh highlighted that Jews who 'had been trying to get naturalized [were finding that] every possible obstruction was placed in their way'. Joynson-Hicks responded by challenging Finburgh to give him a single example of when the Home Office had shown anti-Jewish bias, even though, Cesarani points out, Joynson-Hicks had entered and accepted a Home Office already discriminating against Jews in the applications for citizenship and, during his time in office, had received a memorandum on naturalization from John Pedder, the Home Office Principle Assistant Secretary, who regularly processed complaints from the Jewish community about Home Office action.
When asked by a Jewish journalist, Meir Grossman, about the 'impression [that] has gain ground' that Joynson-Hicks was 'in general antagonistic to the alien population' and, more particularly 'in the exercising [of] his discretion as Home Secretary', was 'discriminating against Jewish applicants' for citizenship, Joynson-Hicks replied that he was upset by the accusation of antisemitism, insisted that he was fair. However, his bias against the Jews was revealed when he went on to give the following example of the 'chief test' which he would apply before granting citizenship:
The chief test ... is whether the applicant has, so far as can be judged, become an Englishman at heart and has completely identified himself with English interests. I will give you an example. If two brothers came to this country and one of them settles in a district where only aliens live, continues to speak his native language, marries a woman from his own country, sends his child to a school where only foreign children are kept, keeps his account in a foreign bank, employs only foreign labour, while the other marries and Englishwoman, sends his children to an English school, speaks English, employs British labour, keeps his accounts in a British bank, it is the second brother and not the first who will stand to obtain naturalization.
In the 1930s, the Conservative Home Secretary refused to meet a delegation from organisations combating antisemitism.
Winston Churchill's conspiracy theories
After the 1924 general election, Winston Churchill joined the ranks of the Conservatives (previously, he had been a Liberal but ran as a Constitutionalist during the election). Churchill was a Zionist and held both positive and antisemitic opinions of Jews; however, even some of his positive views were based on antisemitic stereotypes. For example, Churchill commented:
Some people like Jews and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are beyond question the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has ever appeared in the world.[note 3]
In 1914 and 1920 Churchill had been accused of Jew bating. After World War I, Churchill believed communism to be under the control of "international Jewry", which was "a world-wide conspiracy" dedicated to "the overthrow of civilization and the reconstruction of society". He expressed this in a 1920 Illustrated Sunday Herald article entitled "Zionism versus Bolshevism: A struggle for the soul of the Jewish people", which pitted good, Zionist Jews against the evil of Jewish controlled Bolshevism. In the article he cited favourably Nesta Helen Webster, the right-wing, antisemitic conspiracy theorist and was 'tainted heavily with imagery' from the antisemitic fabricated text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Jewish Chronicle castigated Churchill for the article.
Churchill had also told Lloyd George that the Jews were 'the main instigators of the ruin of the Empire', that they had played 'a leading part in Bolshevik atrocities', that the presence of Jews in radical groups was due (in Lebzelter's summation of Churchill's view) 'to inherent inclinations rooted in Jewish character and religion', and that a government should not have 'too many' Jews in it. He said Britain need beware the 'international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew' and that he had found evidence of a 'very powerful' Jewish lobby in the country. His antisemitism was shared by his wife, Clementine, who wrote to him in 1931 that she could understand 'American Anti-Semitic prejudice'. It has been suggests that Churchill learned to keep his antisemitism quiet for political advantage.
Involvement with Oswald Mosley
Oswald Mosley founded the January Club, a social and dining club, in 1934 to attract Establishment support for his British Union of Fascists movement, which had increasing levels of antisemitism. Conservative MPs and peers who became members included John Erskine, William Montagu-Douglas-Scott, Stafford Northcote (4th Earl of Iddesleigh) and Edward Spears.
The Conservative led government of the 1930s responded with a lack of concern to Nazi Germany's persecution of Jews, looking on the 'Nazi actions as an internal affair of a foreign country', even after the Nuremberg Laws were enacted in September 1935.
The Cliveden Set
The Cliveden Set was an upper class group of politically influential people who were 'in favour of friendly relations with Nazi Germany'. Prominent members included the Conservative MP Nancy Astor (Viscountess Astor), her husband Waldord Astor (Viscount Astor), and Edward Wood (Lord Halifax). In 1936, Waldorf Astor attended the Nuremberg rally at Hitler's invitation. The same year, the Set wrote to Prime Minister Baldwin in support of Hitler's invasion of the Rhineland. Nancy Astor was "fiercely" antisemitic and "chronically suspicious of Jews", believing in the "anti-Semitic fantasy of Jewish power". She discouraged her husband from employing Jews at his newspaper, The Observer and suspected Jews were behind what she saw as "appalling anti-German propaganda" in New York newspapers. Astor would mimic Jewish businessmen. She made "frequent outbursts against Jews". When speaking to fellow Conservative MP Alan Graham in 1938, Astor's used much antisemitic language, including informing Graham, "Only a Jew like you would dare to be rude to me". She said of Chaim Weizmann that he was "the only decent Jew I have ever met". Nancy Astor believed that Nazism would solve "problems associated with Communism and the Jews". Writing to US ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, Astor advised that it would take more than Hitler giving "a rough time" to "the killers of Christ" before she would support launching "Armageddon to save them". According to David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck, University of London, the Viscountess blamed antisemitism on the Jews: at an event held by a wealthy Jewish family, she said, "Did I not after all believe there must be something in the Jews themselves that had bought them persecution throughout all the ages?" Lady Astor's son, Jakie Astor, said that "the Jews" were one of his mother's "dragons to slay". Astor received an endorsement from Churchill as she stood for election.
N. Chamberlain leadership (1937–1940)
In the run up to World War II, 'within the ranks of the governing Conservative party and its allies in the press (especially the pro-Nazi Daily Mail) there was an at-times ill-disguised noxious mix of snobbery and anti-Semitism'.
Chamberlain's antisemitism and Truth
Conservative leader and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had a dislike for the Jews. According to R. B. Cockett, 'it is in the pages of Truth that Chamberlain's real political sympathies and prejudices can be found; political sympathies that were often in striking contrast to the official political postures adopted by his own government'. The Conservative newspaper Truth, secretly bought and overseen by Chamerlain's friend and former MI5 officer Joseph Ball (now director of the Conservative research department), had been obtained as an attempt 'by a caucus within [the] British government to influence events anonymously via the control of a newspaper'. The paper was a 'Conservative propaganda organ', pro-Chamberlain, antisemitic and racist. The paper praised Hitler and attacked Chamberlain's enemies, 'a collection of persons and ideologies that would have closely resembled any hate-list that Hitler might have cared to draw up. Chief among these were the Bolsheviks/Communists and Jews'. Both Truth and Chamberlain accused people who questioned Chamberlain's attempts at appeasement with Nazi Germany of being 'unEnglish', 'Jewish/Communist traitor[s] of the true English cause', or having been mislead by 'Jewish-Communist propaganda'. The Daily Mirror, which was a critic of Chamberlain, was accused in Truth of being manipulated by a secret, subversive Jewish interest; and Fleet Street at large was said to be a 'Jew-infested sink', led by the Jewish publisher Victor Gollancz.
Truth also attacked Jewish figures directly. George Strauss MP were accused of cowardice because they did not join the armed forces during World War I (Truth paid Strauss damages for this libel), and Truth carried out an antisemitic character assassination on Leslie Hore-Belisha after he resigned from office as Minister of War in 1940 at Chamberlain's request. The paper had been attacking Hore-Belisha since 1937.
Truth saw the potential war with Germany to be a "Jewish war", fought in Jewish interests, which it opposed. It became the voice of those of had argued with Chamberlain for appeasement with Nazi Germany. It employed Major-General J. F. C. Fuller (Oswald Mosley's former military adviser), who wrote against claims that the Germans were using concentration camps. The paper ignored the antisemitic pogroms carried out by the Germans in November 1938. In November 1938, after the Kristallnacht, Chamberlain wrote to his sister, saying, 'No doubt the Jews aren't a lovable people; I don't care about them myself; but that is not sufficient to explain the Pogrom'.
Churchill's Liberty article
In June 1937, Churchill was commissioned to write an article for the American magazine Liberty on the so-called Jewish problem. Churchill gave his ghostwriter Adam Marshall Diston some suggestions on what to write and then Diston ghostwrote the article. Churchill made some handwritten marks on the draft and the article was sent for typing without correction. The article repeated the popular idea that Jews brought antisemitism on themselves by remaining distanced and separate from the rest of society, and it repeated offensive stereotypes of Shylock and his "pound of flesh", Jewish usurers, and "Hebrew bloodsuckers". In part, the article, entitled 'How the Jews can Combat Persecution', said:
The Jew in England is a representative of his race. Every Jewish money-lender recalls Shylock and the idea of the Jews as usurers. And you cannot reasonably expect a struggling clerk or shopkeeper, paying forty or fifty per cent interest on borrowed money to a "Hebrew bloodsucker" to reflect that, throughout long centuries, almost every other way of life was closed to the Jews; or that there are native English moneylenders who insist, just as implacably, upon their "pound of flesh".
In the end the article was not published, despite Churchill's repeated efforts to sell it. According to Richard Toye, 'Churchill was entirely happy to put the article out in his own name and thus take responsibility for the views it expressed'. In 1940, Churchill declined an offer to have the article published, his office stating that it would be 'inadvisable to publish the article ... at the present time'.
Archibald Maule Ramsay MP and the Right Club
On 13 January 1938, Archibald Maule Ramsay, the Unionist MP for Peebles and Southern Midlothian, gave a speech to the Arbroath Business Club in which he observed that Adolf Hitler's antipathy to Jews arose from his knowledge "that the real power behind the Third International is a group of revolutionary Jews". His United Christian Front (formed in 1937) aimed to combat attacks on Christianity from 'the Red Menace' - he believed that Bolshevism was Jewish. Ramsey was influenced and made use of The Rulers of Russia by a Roman Catholic priest from Ireland, Father Denis Fahey, which contended that of 59 members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1935, 56 were Jews, and the remaining three were married to Jews. Ramsay was sympathetic to Nazi Germany: in September, he wrote to The Times to defend the right of the pro-German Sudetenland to self-determination. On 15 November 1938, Ramsay was invited to a luncheon party at the German Embassy in London, where he met British sympathisers with Nazi Germany, including Barry Domvile. In December he introduced a Private Member's Bill called the "Companies Act (1929) Amendment Bill", which would require shares in news agencies and newspapers to be held openly and not through nominees. In his speech promoting the Bill, Ramsay said the press was being manipulated and controlled by "international financiers" based in New York City who wanted to "thrust this country into a war".
In December 1938, The Fascist (journal of the Imperial Fascist League) declared that Ramsay had 'become Jew-wise'. On 10 January 1939, Ismay Ramsay, Archibald's wife, gave another speech to the Arbroath Business Club, at which she claimed the national press was "largely under Jewish control", that "an international group of Jews ... were behind world revolution in every single country" and defended Hitler's antisemitism, saying he "must ... have had his reasons for what he did". The speech was reported in the local newspaper and attracted the attention of the rabbi of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, Dr Salis Daiches, who wrote to The Scotsman challenging Mrs Ramsay to produce evidence. Ramsay wrote on her behalf citing Father Fahey's booklet, and the resulting correspondence lasted for nearly a month - including a letter from 11 Ministers of the Church of Scotland in the County of Peebles repudiating the views of their MP. Some members of Ramsay's local Conservative Association in Peebles were not pleased by what they considered negative publicity; however, the Peebles Conservative Association expressed its 'solidarity and unanimity' with Ramsay and he received an 'enthusiastic welcome' at local Conservative meetings. On 27 April he spoke to a branch of the (antisemitic) Nordic League (of which he was a member) in Kilburn, attacking Neville Chamberlain for introducing conscription "at the instigation of the Jews" and claiming that the Conservative Party "relies on ... Jew money".
In May 1939, Ramsay set up the Right Club, to fight so-called Judeo-Bolshevism. Ramsay said that "The main objective [of the Right Club] was to oppose and expose the activities of organised Jewry". The logo of the Right Club, seen on its badge, was of an eagle killing a snake with the initials P.J. (which stood for "Perish Judah"). Members of the Right Club included well-known antisemites like William Joyce (AKA Lord Haw-Haw), Arnold Leese, A. K. Chesterton (who had left Mosley's BUF in 1933 because Mosley had not been antisemitic enough for him), along with Conservative peers and politicians, like James Graham (at the time, Marquess of Graham), William Forbes-Sempill (Lord Sempill), David Freeman-Mitford (Lord Redesdale), Gerard Wallop (Lord Lymington), and John Hamilton Mackie. At its early meetings, Arthur Wellesley (Duke of Wellington) (one of Churchill's friends) took the chair. The Right Club held closed meetings in the House of Commons. Ramsay distributed copies of the antisemitic periodical The Truth to MPs. The paper was a Conservative Party publication and was edited by an antisemite.
During the time Ramsay was launching the Right Club, he spoke at a meeting of the Nordic League at the Wigmore Hall at which a reporter from the Daily Worker was present and reported Ramsay as saying that they needed to end Jewish control, "and if we don't do it constitutionally, we'll do it with steel" – a statement greeted with wild applause. The popular magazine John Bull picked up on the report and challenged Ramsay to contradict it or explain himself. Ramsay's local constituency newspaper, the Peeblesshire Advertiser, made the same challenge and Ramsay responded by admitting he had made the speech, citing the fact that three halls had refused to host the meeting as evidence of Jewish control.
On the second day of the Second World War, 4 September 1939, Ramsay sat in the library of the House of Commons and, on House of Commons headed notepaper, write a parody of Land of Hope and Glory, which contained the following lines:
Land of dope and Jewry
Land that once was free
All the Jew boys praise thee
While they plunder thee ...
Land of Jewish finance
Fooled by Jewish lies
In press and books and movies
While our birthright dies.
One 12 September 1939, Hugh Grosvenor (Duke of Westminster) read out an antisemitic anti-war statement at one of the Right Club's meetings. The statement said that the war (later known as the Second World War) was 'part of a Jewish and Masonic plot to destroy Christian civilization'. The statement was circulated to a number of Cabinet ministers, including Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain. The following day, after several ministers complained to Churchill about the Duke of Westminster's 'indiscretion', Churchill wrote a note to the Duke, but did not address the antisemitic elements of speech; rather, Churchill's concern was with the Duke's opposition to the war.
The Right Club spent the so-called Phoney War period at the start of the Second World War distributing propaganda in the form of leaflets and "sticky-backs" (adhesive labels containing slogans), with Ramsay later explaining that he wanted "to maintain the atmosphere in which the "Phoney War", as it was called, might be converted into an honourable negotiated peace". In addition to Ramsay's Land of dope and Jewry rhyme, the slogans included "War destroys workers" and "This is a Jews' War". Some of the leaflets asserted "the stark truth is that this war was plotted and engineered by the Jews for world-power and vengeance".
On 20 March 1940, Ramsay asked a question about a propaganda radio station set up by Germany which gave its precise wavelength, which was suspected by both his allies and opponents as a subtle way of advertising it. On 9 May he asked for an assurance from the Home Secretary "that he refuses to be stampeded ... by a ramp in our Jew-ridden press".
Antisemitism towards Leslie Hore-Belisha
Around the start of 1940, senior Conservative parliamentarians, including Harold Macmillan and Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (Viscount Cranbourne), led an antisemitic attack on Secretary of State for War Leslie Hore-Belisha, the influence of which led Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to remove him from office in January 1940. A week after Hore-Belisha was dismissed, Ramsay distributed in the House of Commons copies of Truth (a magazine connected to Neville Chamberlain) which made allegations about Hore-Belisha's financial activities. Ramsay also put down a motion which cited the regretful reactions of many newspapers to Hore-Belisha's sacking as evidence of Jewish control of the press. Subsequently, Hore-Belisha was blocked from taking office as Minister of Information because of antisemitic pressure led by the Foreign Secretary, Edward Wood. Edward Stanley (Lord Derby) commented to the French Ambassador, "I hope you and your people do not take M[onsieur] Hore-Belisha to be a true Englishman". Henry "Chips" Channon, a 'great friend of Leslie Hore-Belisha', referred to Hore-Belisha as 'the Jew boy' ('[but] I am fond of him', the added). Channon also described Hore-Belisha as 'an oliy man, half Jew, an opportunist, with the Semitic flair for publicity'. During this time there was antisemitism 'in the corridors of power'.
Antisemitism towards Jewish election candidates
Daniel Lipson, Mayor of Cheltenham, was rejected by Cheltenham Conservative Association as their potential election candidate in the 1937 by-election because of antisemitism within the association.
Churchill leadership (1940–1955)
According to Colin Shindler, during Churchill's political life, there was 'ingrained anti-Semitism in the Conservative Party'.
1945 general election and the Hampstead 'anti-alien' petition
In August 1945 The Jewish Chronicle reported that 'antisemitism on the part of [Conservative] party supporters had led many local political associations not to select Jewish candidates'. During the election campaign of that year, Conservative candidate Wavell Wakefield said that Jewish refugees should be repatriated to solve London's housing crisis. During the campaign, too, the Daily Herald accused the Conservatives of making antisemitic remarks about Professor Harold Laski (political theorist of the London School of Economics and chair of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee). In 1945, the local Hampstead Conservative group began agitation against Jewish immigration.
In October 1945, an antisemitic petition was drawn up, with the help of Waldron Smithers's (Conservative MP for Orpington) Fighting Fund for Freedom, by residents of Hampstead, requesting 'that aliens of Hampstead should be repatriated to assure men and women of the Forces should have accommodation upon their return' from World War II. The petition was signed by the antisemitic Conservative mayor of Hampstead Sydney A. Boyd and four of Hampstead's Conservative councillors, with the rest of the Conservative members of the council in favour of the petition. Hampstead's Conservative MP, Charles Challen, promised to give the petition his 'unstinting support' and he asked a number of questions in the House of Commons on behalf of the petitioners over the following months. When the petition was complete, Conservative Councillor J. A. Hughes passed it to Challen who, 'rather than repudiate the sponsors for their antisemitism', delivered it to Parliament.
Rural and urban antisemitism
Surveying the period from 1945, after the end of the Second World War, until 1988, Geoffrey Alderman says that 'anti-Jewish prejudice was rampant in some Conservative associations in rural areas', and that 'it was by no means confined to the countryside'. At a civic reception held in 1945 to confer upon Sydney A. Boyd the status of Honorary Freeman of the Borough, the Conservative Mayor of Hampstead made a number of 'cheap anti-Semitic gibes', including the suggestion that Swiss Cottage needed a 'British Consul'. Sometimes after the Second World War, Ramsay called for the reinstatement of the 1275 Statute of the Jewry passed under King Edward I.
In 1946, Charles Challen led a protest against construction to turn a former Congregationalist church into a synagogue - it was 'a thinly veiled anti-Semitic attack which effectively objected to appropriation of a formerly "English" space by Jews'. In October 1948, Douglas Peroni (former treasurer of the Hampstead branch of the British Union of Fascists and chair of the fascist Hampstead Literary Society, and leader of the Hampstead branch of Oswald Mosely's Union Movement) established 'an active fascist group’ within the Hampstead council which were in accord with members of the local Conservative group over Jewish immigration.
Andrew Fountaine was selected as prospective parliamentary candidate by the Chorley Conservative Association in 1948 or 1949. At the Llandudno Conservative Party Conference the same year, Fountain gave an antisemitic speech. The Conservative's Standing Advisory Committee on Candidates disavowed him, meaning he failed to gain approval at a national level. However, come the 1950 general election, there was no 'London-sponsored' replacement for Fountaine and the Chorley Conservative Association did not try to find a replacement either, so he ran as a locally nominated Conservative candidate. Later, Fountaine left the Conservatives.
League of Empire Loyalists
In 1954, the antisemitic, far-right ginger group the League of Empire Loyalists was founded and led by Arthur K. Chesterton, a former leading figure in the British Union of Fascists, who had served under Sir Oswald Mosley. The pressure group was composed of 'right-wing Conservatives, particularly retired military men, and a few pre-war Fascists'. Conservative MPs who were part of the group included Edward Martell and Andrew Fountaine.
Eden leadership (1955–1957)
Antisemitism towards Keith Joseph
In 1956, Keith Joseph was elected as an MP but he faced challenges from antisemitic forces within the Conservative party, which at the time had a 'reputation for being unwelcoming to Jews'. One of the people who interviewed him 'for inclusion on the party's candidates list' commented, "As a Jew, I suppose he is not every constituency's man and, therefore, his placing would need care" and, indeed, Joseph faced 'local mutterings against picking a Jew to represent the party'. Within the parliamentary party, Joseph was considered 'something of an outsider' and 'lamentably exotic'.
Macmillan leadership (1957–1963)
Harold Macmillan's diaries were 'spattered with abuse of other public figures, often tinged with anti-semitism'. Gerald Kaufman was someone Macmillan referred to antisemitically in his diaries. Macmillan 'often made snide jokes about Jews and Jewish politicians'. On another occasion, he called Leslie Hore-Belisha 'Horeb Elisha', thereby highlighting his Jewish ancestry by referencing Mount Horeb and the prophet Elisha.
Involvement with antisemitic groups
In 1958, the Conservative Party Council of the Bournemouth constituency nominated James Friend to be the constituency's prospective parliamentary candidate. Jewish members of the council resigned because, they alleged, Friend had 'close links with the anti-Semitic League of Empire Loyalists and has engaged in anti-Semitic activities'. Friend had given the inaugural meeting of the League of Empire Loyalists' local branch. Douglas Hogg (Lord Hailsham), chairman of the British Conservative Party, reportedly made a personal inquiry into the matter.
Golf Club antisemitism
In 1957 'prominent Conservatives' who were in control of the Finchley Golf Club were baring Jews from joining. This, according to Alderman, was the 'most blatant example' of 'anti-Jewish prejudice ... rampant in some [parts of the] Conservative associations' in post-war Britain; it resulted in 'an angry wave of Jewish anti-Tory protest' in the Finchley area.
Heath leadership (1965–1975)
'Zionist influence' investigation
In 1971, when Edward Heath was Prime Minister and the Foreign Office was headed by Alec Douglas-Home, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office launched a secret investigation to 'evaluate Zionist influence in the US and Europe'. The findings 'echoed anti-Semitic notions of Jewish financial power, dual loyalty and undue political influence'. The report was concerned with power and influence of 'Jewish money' and the 'Jewish lobby' and 'appeared to treat the people and organizations involved in British Zionism not as British citizens exercising their democratic rights, but as agents of foreign pressure on the government', 'reflected a belief that Diaspora Jewish interests were separate from, and even inimical to, those of the countries in which they lived'.
Antisemitism towards Gerald Kaufman
The Labour MP Gerald Kaufman was critical of the arms delivery embargo the Conservative government imposed on Israel during the 1973 attack by Egypt on Israel. Foreign Secretary Alec Douglas-Home told Kaufman that his (Kaufman's) 'loyalty appeared to be to Israel and not to Britain'. To Kaufman, 'It was a clear anti-Jewish insinuation'. On another occasion, Charles Taylor told Kaufman to "Get back to Tel Aviv".
Thatcher leadership (1975–1990)
Alan Clark MP
In 1981, Alan Clark (Minister of State for Trade, 1986–1989; Minister for Defence Procurement, 1989–1992) told Frank Johnson that he, Clark, was a Nazi. He wrote in his diary: 'I really believed it [i.e., Nazism] to be the ideal system, and that it was a disaster for the Anglo-Saxon races and for the world that it was extinguished'. On 31 March 1982, Clark made the following diary entry:
Today I asked an offensive question about Jews. It is always thought to be rude to refer to 'Jews', isn't it? I remember that slightly triste occasion, watched from the gallery, of my father being inaugurated into the Lords and my rage at Sidney Bernstein, who was being ennobled on the same afternoon and would not take the Christian oath. As loudly as I could I muttered and mumbled about 'Jews' in order to discomfit his relations who were also clustered in the gallery.
- I had hung it around the Forgeign Secretary's visit to Israel ... It is always fun to see how far you can go with taboo subjects...
On 26 December 1986, while Minister of State for Trade, Clark described in his diary the colour of someone's gold Rolls-Royce as 'Jewish racing yellow', adding that apparently that is what 'the colour is termed in the Mess at Knightsbridge'.
Hamilton's Nazi salute
On an August 1983 parliamentary trip to Berlin, Neil Hamilton made a Nazi salute 'with two fingers to his nose to give the impression of a toothbrush moustache' when outside the Reichstag. The salute was reported on 30 January 1984 in a BBC Panorama programme, "Maggie's Militant Tendency". Hamilton sued the BBC for libel, claiming that he had no recollection of making the salute. The BBC pulled out of the case and Hamilton was awarded £20,000 in damages. However, after the case collapsed, Hamilton admitted in a Sunday Times article to having made the Nazi salute.
In January 1988 during an official visit to Israel, David Mellor, then a Foreign Office minister, harrangued against what he saw as the "excessive" security checking of Palestinians by troops, demanding that it be stopped, and later stating to journalists that the treatment was "an affront to civilised values." Mellor refused point blank to apologise and was later privately reprimanded by Thatcher. In 1992, Mellor resigned from Government after being exposed as having connection to Bauwens, the daughter of Jaweed al-Ghussein, the finance director of the PLO.
Antisemitism towards Jews in the cabinet
There were a number of Jews in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, all of whom experienced antisemitism from their colleagues. The antisemitism may have been involved in the resignation of two Jewish cabinet members. Harold Macmillan commented that the Conservative cabinet 'was more old Estonian that old Etonian', which was 'a none-too-subtle way of putting Nigel Lawson, Leon Brittan or Michael Howard in their place'. Leon Brittan resigned as Trade and Industry Secretary in January 1986 over the Westland affair. Jonathan Aitken wrote of Brittan's resignation: "Soon after a poisonous meeting of Tory backbenchers at the 1922 Committee he fell on his sword. It was a combination of a witch hunt and a search for a scapegoat – tainted by an undercurrent of anti-Semitism. [...] I believed what should have been obvious to anyone else, that he was being used as a lightning conductor to deflect the fire that the Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher] had started and inflamed". In the discussion over who should replace Leon Brittan after he was removed from the cabinet, John Stokes commented that the 'replacement should at least be a "proper red-faced, red-blooded Englishman"'. The Jewish Board of Deputies sensed an antisemitic slur in the words, as did Brittan's non-Jewish wife Diana Brittan. Other antisemitic comments were made about Brittan by his fellow Conservatives: 'But these came from members who would make slighting remarks about almost anyone with a background different from their own', Conservative MPs commented.
Edwina Currie also received antisemitic comments from 'certain red-faced, red-blooded Englishmen on the Tory backbenches'. Former MP Anna McCurley reported that Currie, despite being a member of the Church of England, was labelled a "pushy Jewess". An advisor to John Moore commented that the Conservative backbenches were "riddled with prejudice of every kind", with "anti-Semitism [being] secondary to the male chauvinism" in the case of Currie. John Marshall also said that there was antisemitism in the Conservative party at this time.
Antisemitism towards Jewish election candidate
Links to the NF
During the 1983 general election a Conservative Party candidate who had formerly been a member of the National Front ran for election in a marginal constituency, Stockton South. The Board of Deputies of British Jews distributed flyers in the constituency to inform people of this. The SDP won the seat, but only very narrowly.
Major leadership (1990–1997)
Widdecombe's 'something of the night' comment
In 1997, during the Conservative leadership election of William Hague, Shadow Foreign Secretary Ann Widdecombe spoke out against Michael Howard, under whom she had served when he was Home Secretary. She remarked in the House of Commons that there is "something of the night" about Howard, who is of Romanian Jewish descent. This remark was considered by some to be antisemitic.
Hague leadership (1997–2001)
Nazi salutes by OUCA members
In 2000, four Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) members were expelled for making Nazi salutes. The New Statesman reported that a member of the OUCA committee at the University's 2001 Freshers' Fair greeted new students by saying, "Welcome to OUCA – the biggest political group for young people since the Hitler Youth". Another prominent member was dismissed from the Oxford University Student Union's executive for "marching up and down doing a Nazi salute".
Johnson: editor of The Spectator and parliamentary candidate
A few months before the 2001 general election in which he first entered Parliament as a Conservative MP, Boris Johnson, then editor of The Spectator, published an article by Taki Theodoracopulos in which Theodoracopulos (usually known as Taki) wrote about the Jewish world conspiracy and declared himself to be a "soi-disant anti-Semite". Johnson did not sack Taki, despite protest by the magazine's owner, Conrad Black.
Howard leadership (2002–2005)
Antisemitism on the frontbench
In October 2004, a Conservative frontbencher said, "The trouble is that the [Conservative] party is being run by Michael Howard, Maurice Saatchi, and Oliver Letwin - and none of them really knows what it is to be English". Another report said 'a junior frontbencher ... was musing about how the party was now being led. Saatchi, Michael Howard and Oliver Letwin were in charge: could they know how Englishmen felt?'
Cameron leadership (2005–2016)
Membership of European Conservatives and Reformists
In 2009, prominent Jewish community leaders – including chief rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Rafal Pankowski of the Holocaust campaign group "Never Again", Rabbi Barry Marcus of the London Central Synagogue, the Parisian European Jewish Congress and others – expressed concern over Conservative Party membership of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, to which the Conservative MEPs belonged. The chair of the group was Michał Kamiński of Poland's Law and Justice party, who was, in the words of a New Statesman writer, "widely seen on the Continent as anti-Semitic". Kaminski is a former member of the neo-Nazi National Revival of Poland party (NOP). Another leading ECR activist, Dr Roberts Zīle of Latvia's National Alliance party, caused concern due to his party's alleged role in commemorative events for Latvian Waffen SS units. The Conservative Party's "alliances with far-right, anti-semitic political parties on the continent" had become a concern for US politicians.
Burley's Nazi-themed stag do
In 2012, Conservative MP Aidan Burley was sacked from his role as ministerial aide because he organised a Nazi-themed stag do in 2011. Burley supplied an SS uniform and insignia to the groom, who was fined £1,500 by a French court for wearing the costume and ordered to pay €1,000 to an organisation representing families of those who had been sent to death camps during World War Two. A Conservative Party report on Burley's behaviour, authored by Conservative peer Lord Gold, released in 2014 said Burley was not racist or antisemitic but that he had acted in a 'stupid and offensive way'. Ian Austin and The Mail on Sunday accused Burley of providing misleading information to the inquiry. Prime Minister David Cameron and the Conservative leadership stood in support of Burley.
Cameron and the use of 'yid'
During a 2013 row over Tottenham Hotspur fans' use of the slurs Yid and Yiddos, David Cameron defended the fans' use of the words, saying Spurs fans should not be prosecuted for using them. This was in opposition to newly released guidelines from the Football Association and contrary to the Crown Prosecution Service's and the Metropolitan Police's use and defence of the Public Order Act 1986. Journalist Stefan Fatsis wrote that Cameron was giving an excuse for people to 'propagat[e] racial and ethnic slurs and stereotypes' and Cameron was criticised by lawyer Peter Herbert for condoning and legitimising antisemitism. In the following year, the Metropolitan Police stated that Tottenham fans would not be arrested for chanting the word, unless a complaint was received.
Rees-Mogg and the Traditional Britain Group
In 2013, Jacob Rees-Mogg was guest-of-honour and gave the keynote speech at a dinner of the racist Traditional Britain Group (TBG). The Antisemitism Policy Trust highlighted Rees-Mogg's attendance at this party in their Antisemitism and the Conservative Party dossier. Before the dinner date, the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight contacted Rees-Mogg 'to try to dissuade him from speaking at the dinner', but it was 'to no avail'. At the time, the vice-president of the group, who sat next to Rees-Mogg at the dinner, was Gregory Lauder-Frost (TBG founder), formerly political secretary of the Conservative Monday Club (when Lauder-Frost was a member, the Monday Club was 'a pressure group within the Tory party' - it was 'later banned by Iain Duncan Smith [in 2001] because of its views on race'). Speaking to an undercover Hope Not Hate researcher in 2017 about Vanessa Feltz, Lauder-Frost said, 'She's a fat Jewish s**g, she's revolting, revolting. She lives with a negro. She's horrible'. At the time Rees-Mogg spoke at the dinner, the TBG's President was Merlin Hanbury-Tracy (Lord Sudeley), a member of the Conservative Party, a Conservative peer, and former chairman of the Conservative Monday Club.
Mercer's 'bloody Jew' comment
In May 2014, Conservative MP Patrick Mercer was recorded by journalist Daniel Foggo saying, during the course of an anecdote, that an Israeli soldier looked like a "bloody Jew". Mercer stepped down as MP after an investigation and report by the House of Commons standards committee into his links to lobbying and paid advocacy.
Bridgen's "Jewish lobby"
In October 2014, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said, in a speech in the House of Commons, that "the political system of the world's superpower and our great ally the United States is very susceptible to well-funded powerful lobbying groups and the power of the Jewish lobby in America". Following condemnation by organisations, Bridgen stood by his remarks.
Attacks on Ed Miliband
Conservative attacks on the Labour leader Ed Miliband in 2014 and 2015 have been criticised as coded antisemitism. Francis Beckett claimed that some attacks on Ed Miliband and his father, the academic Ralph Miliband, were antisemitic. Beckett concluded that "we have been conned into believing that anti-Semitism is now a disease of the left. In reality, it is still found mostly in racism's historic home: on the right."
Richard Fuller's "30 pieces of silver" comment
After BHS, the department store chain owned by Philip Green, when into administration in April 2016 and was sold for £1, Richard Fuller said, "If the sale was done on the understanding that it was avoiding responsibility for those pension losses, then the £1 received was the equivalent to 30 pieces of silver in his betrayal of the employees and pensioners at BHS". The phrase "30 pieces of silver" was 'a reference to the price Judas received for betraying Jesus' and it was regarded as an antisemitic comment.
Attacks on Ed Miliband
Allegation of antisemitic song in OUCA
In 2011, one officer of the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) stated that some association members at weekly meetings sang a Nazi-themed song that included the lines 'Dashing through the Reich / killing lots of Kike'.
Allegations of antisemitism in UCL Conservative Society
In October 2014 UCL Conservative Society was ordered by UCL's Student Union to apologise for creating a "toxic environment" in which discrimination, including antisemitism, was the culture. One accusation was that a member of the society said, "Jews own everything, we all know it’s true. I wish I was Jewish, but my nose isn’t long enough". The society denied the accusations. There is no evidence the Conservative party investigated the incidents.
May leadership (2016–2019)
Theresa May and a former aide
At the Conservative Party Conference in October 2016, Theresa May said, "If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you're a citizen of nowhere". Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable and Jewish journalist Benjamin Ramm saw similarities between the language used by May and that of Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf, as well as Joseph Stalin's anti-"rootless cosmopolitan" campaign against Jews in the Soviet Union.
In February 2018, May's former aide, Nick Timothy, co-wrote a story for The Daily Telegraph which described Jewish philanthropist George Soros's funding of the anti-Brexit campaign as a "secret plot". This was criticised as antisemitic by journalists Hugo Rifkind and Dan Hodges, as well as former campaign director to Tony Blair Alastair Campbell, and American-British author and playwright Bonnie Greer. In response, Timothy tweeted: "Throughout my career I've campaigned against antisemitism, helped secure more funding for security at synagogues and Jewish schools".
In January 2017, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met with Steve Bannon, who was at the time Donald Trump's chief strategist. Johnson was accused by the Jewish Labour Movement chair of hypocrisy for meeting Bannon, someone who, according to the JLM chair, "enabled right wing antisemitism to seep into the mainstream", while also criticising Labour's approach to antisemitism.
Shaun Lawson, writing in Open Democracy, accused Sajid Javid of exploiting antisemitism "for naked political purposes" after Javid tweeted a disapproval of Holocaust denial. Javid then attempted to link denying the Holocaust to the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by stating (we) should not be misled by Corbyn. Javid was forced to retract his comment, and responded by tweeting: “Corbyn is not a Holocaust denier. I am happy to make that clear.”
Javid was again accused of an antisemitic tweet when he wished Jews in the UK and abroad a happy Rosh Hashanah. He insisted people were feeling under threat from Jeremy Corbyn, and "for all decent people to stand together to celebrate our Jewish community". This drew criticism from Michael Rosen who noted that Javid had used a similar antisemitism to that seen in Vichy France, where Jews had been separated into French or foreign born. Javid, following this lead, had separated Jews based on "decent Jews" and "Corbyn supporting Jews". David Schneider insisted that Javid had used Rosh Hashanah as a "political football" and was ignoring Islamophobia and racism within Javid's own party.
IHRA antisemitism definition
In July 2018, during a row over the Labour Party and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, Channel 4 FactCheck revealed that the Conservative Party rulebook did not mention antisemitism, despite Theresa May stating that her party had adopted the IHRA definition. Later that year, the party's code of conduct was amended, adding an annexe stipulating that the IHRA definition was fully adopted, to support the existing stipulation that discrimination on the basis of "religion or belief" was prohibited.
Support of European antisemitic political parties
At the start of April 2018, foreign secretary Boris Johnson was criticised by opposition politicians and campaign groups for congratulating Viktor Orbán on his re-election as Prime Minister of Hungary, in part because of concern about "anti-Semitic undertones" to Orban's campaign. Later that month, a number of Jewish organisations called on the Conservative government to confront European political parties that had fuelled antisemitism, particularly those the Conservatives were affiliated in the European Conservatives and Reformists group with, like Latvia's National Alliance, Poland's Law and Justice Party, and Hungary's Fidesz Party, with its leader Viktor Orbán. The organisations asked the Conservatives to withdraw their membership from the group until it is free of all racism, including antisemitism.
In September 2018, British Jewish leaders condemned the Conservatives because, in a vote to remove Hungary's voting rights at the European Council, the party defended Hungary's far-right Orbán government despite its 'vivid antisemitism'. Hungary was accused of corruption, 'violating press freedoms, undermining judicial independence, and waging an antisemitic campaign against a leading Jewish businessman' (i.e., George Soros). The Conservatives, who were the only governing conservative party in western Europe to vote against the move, were accused by David Hirsch of 'cosy[ing] up to an antisemitic and racist strong-man regime', 'pandering to Jew-hate'. They were seen, including by one of their own politicians, of defending Orbán 'in a bid for backing in Brexit talks', of pretending not to recognise antisemitism 'in the hope of gaining some advantage in return'. According to The Jewish Chronicle, the vote 'was truly shameful and a dark day for the party led by Mrs May'. Later that month, Orbán wrote to the Conservative Party thanking them for their support in the vote.
Labour Party Chairperson Ian Lavery called on Theresa May to 'explain and apologise for her Party's behaviour'. After the vote, 'a series of high-profile Conservatives' refused to condemn the vote, which, according to an editorial in The Jewish Chronicle, was 'even worse' that the vote itself, adding that 'it is vital that antisemitism is called out — wherever it is found'. One of the Conservatives who refused to condemn the vote and Orbán's antisemitism was Michael Gove. When asked to condemn Orbán, Gove said he would not "go down that route, play that game". The following month, the Conservatives were condemned again by Jewish leaders because Conservative politicians continued to refuse to condemn Orbán. One of them was Brexit minister Martin Callanan. The Jewish Chronicle said that this was occurring at the same time that the Conservatives were criticising Jeremy Corbyn over antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Appointment of Roger Scruton
In November 2018, the Conservatives were condemned for appointing Roger Scruton as chair of a new Housing and Architecture Committee because, in the words of Labour MP Luciana Berger, he "pedall[ed] antisemitic conspiracy theories" regarding Soros. Labour MP Wes Streeting expressed concerns over Scruton's links with Orbán. The government defended Scruton. Scruton was sacked as Government adviser in April 2019 after a New Statesman interview in which he repeated comments similar to those previously made. Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities minister, said Scruton's language was that of 'white supremacists' and that he should have been sacked when he had made his comments previously.
Suella Braverman's "Cultural Marxism" comments
The Conservative MP Suella Braverman came under fire in 2019 for saying her party was "engaged in a fight against Cultural Marxism" supposedly being led by Jeremy Corbyn, with the phrase referring to a theory pushed by various far-right voices that Western culture has supposedly been undermined by mostly Jewish students of the Frankfurt School. When asked by journalist Dawn Foster why she was "pushing a far-right term used by Anders Breivik", Braverman said she was "only trying to prevent further attacks on 'British genius'".
In March 2019, Rees-Mogg retweeted a speech by the leader of the far-right German political party Alternative for Germany (AfD). The AfD marched with neo-Nazis the year before and had been condemned by members of the German Jewish community as "racist and antisemitic", "no party for Jews", and a "danger to Jewish life in Germany". Following criticism, Rees-Mogg defended his decision to promote the AfD leader's speech.
A few days before the 2018 local elections, three Conservative council candidates were revealed to have made antisemitic comments. The candidate for the Fen Ditton and Fulbourn ward, Cambridgeshire, had commented that he was "Sweating like a Jew in an attic". The candidate for Stevenage Borough Council referred to the Jewish symbol the Star of David as the "Mark of the Beast". The candidate for the Barnes ward of Sunderland City Council wrote, "I can honestly say that this morning was the first time I've had to scrub off a Hitler tash with a toothbrush after a night out".[unreliable source?] They were all suspended. After winning his seat, however, the candidate for Sunderland Council - Anthony Mullen - was reinstated.
Antisemitism towards candidates
In the spring of 2019, when on a parliamentary candidate short list for Hackney North & Stoke Newington and Hackney South & Shoreditch, Councillor Ben Seifert was told by a party member not to run because he is Jewish and "you can have too many Jews". Seifert left the Conservative party in September 2019.
In March 2017, a Conservative activist tweeted that it was time for Europe-wide purge like the Spanish Inquisition. This caused concern for Jews because the Inquisition 'consisted of a state-organised pogrom predominantly targeting Jews with torture and cruel murder, for example being burned at the stake. The Alhambra Decree of 1492, commanded all Jews in Spain to convert to Catholicism or leave the country'. The Welsh Conservative Party released a statement distancing themselves from the activist, but took no further steps.
In November 2017 Hope not Hate reported that Conservative Party activists were members of a Facebook group called Young Right Society, which was 'awash with antisemitic, Holocaust denying and racist material'. One of the group's administrators, Jack Hadfield, was a member of the Warwick Conservative Association.
Conservative Future Scotland's and Bruges Group's conspiracy theories
The antisemitic conspiracy theory "Cultural Marxism" was evident in the Conservative Party during 2018. In Scotland in July, the chairperson for the youth wing of the Scottish Conservatives, Conservative Future Scotland, was accused of antisemitism after using the phrase. The Scottish Green Party MSP Ross Greer wrote to Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson asking her to treat the issue seriously because, according to him, the 'conspiracy theory [was] quite literally created by the Nazis to demonise Jews as the enemy within'.
The idea of "Cultural Marxism" emerged again at the Conservative Party Conference in October. Copies of a booklet called Moralitis: A Cultural Virus, by Robert Oulds (director of the Bruges Group) and Niall McCrae, were available at a Bruges Group meeting. The booklet espoused right-wing conspiracy theories with antisemitic origins, including "Cultural Marxism" and the Great Replacement. Two Jewish organisations, the Campaign Against Antisemitism and the Jewish Council for Racial Equality, called for an investigation into the 'racist' booklet.
University Conservative society
At a Plymouth University Conservatives party in October 2018, some society members were pictured, according to the Daily Mirror, wearing clothing with homemade slogans on them, such as "Jude" (German for Jew) with a Star of David, and wearing a Hitler-style moustache. Plymouth's Students' Union suspended the society pending an investigation; Conservative Campaign Headquarters launched an investigation and said it would suspend any party members involved.
Support for Turning Point UK
In December 2018 a right-wing advocacy group, Turning Point USA (TPUSA), launched its British branch, Turning Point UK (TPUK). TPUK was founded by George Famer, son of Conservative peer Lord Famer and fiancée of TPUSA communications director Candace Owens who, at the TPUSA conference, had come out in support of neo-Nazis. When asked about nationalism during a Q&A session at the TPUK launch event, Candace Owens said, 'If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that ... he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize ... that's not nationalism. ... I don't really have an issue with nationalism ... I think that it's OK'. Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell attended the event and support for the organisation was given by a number of Conservative MPs: Jacob Rees-Mogg, Priti Patel, Steve Baker and Sir Bernard Jenkin.
Johnson leadership (2019-)
During a 3 September (2019) parliamentary debate on Brexit, Jacob Rees-Mogg called two Jewish Conservative MPs, including Oliver Letwin, members of the Illuminati, which, according to Michael Berkowitz, professor of Modern Jewish History, who commented on the incident, is one of the "most poisonous antisemitic canards in all of history ... frequently used as justification for violence". Antony Lerman suggests that this is "dog-whistle antisemitism and at the same time a chase for votes to shamelessly exploit Jewish fears". Early the next month, Rees-Mogg was criticised for referred to George Soros as 'the remoaner funder in chief' - this was seen by some as a perpetuation of an antisemitic conspiracy theory and was condemened by Lord Alf Dubs (who called for Rees-Mogg to be sacked) as a comment 'straight from the far right's antisemitic playbook'.
During a speech at the 2019 Conservative Party conference, Priti Patel spoke disparagingly of 'North London metropolitan liberal elite', which was understood by some people as an antisemitic reference, 'the language of the far-right ... a worrying descent into dog-whistle antisemitic discourse'.
In 2019, Crispin Blunt MP accused the chief rabbi of Manchester of demanding "special status" for Britain's Jews. Blunt was later rebuked by the Jewish Leadership Council, which stated he should "clarify if he supports the concept of freedom of religion, a cornerstone of liberal democracy".
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove MP, was urged to apologise for sharing an antisemitic tweet from a Twitter account falsely claiming to be run by a Labour member. Antony Lerman, writing for Open Democracy, accused Gove of "dog-whistle antisemitism", attempting to chase votes and "shamelessly exploit[ing] Jewish fears".
Along with Michael Gove, Antony Lerman, writing for Open Democracy, accuses James Cleverly, Chairman of the Conservative Party, of "dog-whistle antisemitism". Cleverly, in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, claimed that Jewish "individuals and groups, including entrepreneurs and other business figures" – people he had known "much of [his] life" would leave the country if Labour won the 2019 election.
The newly elected member for Hastings, Sally-Ann Hart, is under investigation by the Conservative party for antisemtism (and Islamophobia). Hart "liked" a Nazi phrase on Facebook and "shared" an antisemitic slur.
The newly elected member for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, is under investigation by the Conservative party for antisemtism. Anderson was an active member of a Facebook group where Soros conspiracies are promoted.
In February 2020, John Bercow, the Jewish former Speaker of the House of Commons and Conservative MP, claimed that he had experienced 'subtle' antisemitism from members of his own Conservative Party, and had never experienced any antisemitism from Labour MPs.
In the run up to the 2019 United Kingdom general election, Boris Johnson's adviser Dominic Cummings said in a blog post on his website that Labour would cheat in order to stop Brexit and that they would be "supported by the likes of Goldman Sachs", for which some accused Cummings of employing an antisemitic dog-whistle.
Nancy Astor statue
In the third week of the 2019 United Kingdom general election, a number of Conservative MPs - including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, former Prime Minister Theresa May, and Rebecca Smith, the Conservative candidate for Plymouth Sutton - attended the unveiling of a statue of former Conservative MP Nancy Astor, with May unveiling the statue. Journalist and activist Ash Sarkar accused the Conservatives of "celebrating notorious anti-Semites", highlighting that Astor was "a Nazi sympathiser who speculated that Hitler could be the solution to the 'world problem' of Jews".
In 2019 Ryan Houghton, who was standing in the Aberdeen North constituency for the 2019 general election, was suspended for comments made seven years ago on social media. These comments related to the Holocaust, homosexuality, and Islam. Houghton discussed freedom of speech and comments made by Holocaust denier David Irving. Houghton retained the Conservative candidacy for Aberdeen North after his suspension.
Amjad Bashir, who was standing in the Leeds North East constituency for the 2019 general election, was suspended from the Conservative party after The Jewish Chronicle reported on his claim that British Jews who visited Israel were returning as "brainwashed extremists". Bashir retained the Conservative candidacy for Leeds North East after his suspension.
Sally-Ann Hart, Lee Anderson and Richard Short
Towards the end of the 2019 general election, the Conservatives faced calls to suspend three of its candidates for antisemitism. Candidate for the Hastings and Rye constituency, Sally-Ann Hart, liked a Nazi slogan on Facebook and shared a video that implied George Soros controlled the European Union. Lee Anderson, the candidate for Ashfield, was found to be an active member of a Facebook group called Ashfield backs Boris that also published conspiracy theories about Soros. Richard Short, candidate for St Helens South and Whiston, questioned on Twitter whether journalist Melanie Phillips, who appeared on Question Time, was being more loyal to Israel or Britain.
Councillor Dexter Smith
Councillor Mohammad Aslam
Mohammad Aslam, councillor for the Bradley ward in Pendle, shared a post saying the “Gaza massacre is the price of a Jewish state”. He further claimed in an article that that then Labour MP, Ruth Smeeth. was “funded by [the] Israel lobby”. Another post Cllr Aslam shared - now deleted - included the image of a bloodied child and a description of the Israeli government's actions as “Radical Jewish Terrorism”.
- Antisemitism in the UK Labour Party
- Antisemitism in the United Kingdom
- Racism in the UK Conservative Party
- Islamophobia in the UK Conservative Party
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