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Jews Faced Massive Antisemitism in Ancient England; Can That Inspire Us Now?

House of Parliament in Westminster. Photo: Berit/Wikimedia Commons.

Anti-Judaism was often driven by two agents, religion and politics, and the same applies today. It was the same story in England with different actors long ago.

The Jews were expelled from England by Edward the First in 1290. During the reign of Elizabeth the First, some Jews had come to England, but virtually all the English knew about Jews was from the plays of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, both of whom portrayed Jews negatively.

It was not until the civil war which led to the execution of King Charles First and the appointment of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector in 1653, that a serious effort was made to officially readmit Jews to England. Two factors played a part in this development. One of them was theological. The rise of Protestantism emphasized the Bible and an interest in Judaism. The other had to do with the financial success of the Jews expelled first from Spain and then Portugal, moving to Amsterdam, Hamburg, the Caribbean, and South America.

One of the most prominent Jews of Amsterdam at the time was Menashe Ben Israel, the rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. He was so popular that even Queen Henrietta Maria (the wife of King Charles the First) visited his synagogue in 1642. In 1650, he wrote a book called Spes Israelis, in which he argued that the Jews were condemned to be scattered across the world as a punishment for not accepting Christianity and that there would be no second coming until they were scattered everywhere. It was necessary, therefore, for Jews to be readmitted to England to usher in a new Christian messianic era.

Although a strongly committed Protestant, Oliver Cromwell was not a mystical man, but a very practical one, and he saw the commercial advantages of welcoming Jews to England. He took advice from two of the major legal authorities of the time, Sir John Glynn and William Steele, and they said there was no law forbidding Jews to return. The original expulsion had not been a law, but a royal decree. The matter was debated over five sessions, and then opened to the public. Both the clergy and the merchants were strongly opposed, and reacted in the most prejudiced manner, claiming the Jews would convert St. Paul’s Cathedral into a synagogue, forcibly convert the English to Judaism, and steal their businesses. Cromwell spoke eloquently in favor of the proposal, but seeing the strength of the opposition, suspended the council with the matter unresolved.

Nevertheless, he turned a blind eye to the arrival of Jews in public, and in 1656, a small synagogue was opened in Cree Church Lane and a cemetery was acquired in Mile End, East London. A rabbi named Nathan Shapiro from Jerusalem was welcomed, and all cases against Jews as unwanted illegal interlopers were dropped or overturned. The settlement of Jews was tacitly condoned, though it continued to be opposed and constant attempts were made to incite or remove them.

When Cromwell died, attempts were redoubled to deny the Jews settlement. But the new King Charles the Second, who came to the throne in 1660, had dealings with Jews on the continent while in exile. Like Cromwell, he saw the value of a Jewish community and supported them. During 1663, there were four petitions to Parliament to expel the Jews. But in 1664 ,Parliament officially recognized Jewish residence (not citizenship ), although there was no formal invitation to return. Antisemitism continued to fester at all levels of society, and yet the Jewish community flourished and began to play an important part in English life.

Succeeding monarchs continued to support Jewish life. Queen Anne donated material towards the new synagogue of Bevis Marks. But the masses remained opposed. As I wrote a few months ago, in 1753, a bill granting Jews all civil rights passed the Lords 95-16 and then the Commons and was signed by King George. But the outcry from the mercantile and clerical communities was so full of hate and lies that the bill was repealed six months later. And it would take another 100 years (long after the United States did so) before Jews were granted complete equality.

The readmission of Jews was not the noble act of tolerance that it is often made out to be. It was a practical accommodation. We now live at a time when “Kill the Jews” reverberates again. Anti-Judaism is as common and insidious as it was in those days. We managed to survive hatred and prejudice then.  This, if anything, gives us some comfort that however uncomfortable we may be feeling at the moment, in the long run, we will survive.

The author is a writer and rabbi, currently based in New York.

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Iran’s ‘Supreme Leader’ Welcomes Anti-Israel Campus Protesters to ‘Resistance Front’

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS

Iran’s so-called “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, applauded the anti-Israel protesters who have thrown university campuses across the US into chaos over the past several weeks, declaring them part of a new “branch of the Resistance Front” against the Jewish state.

“Dear university students in the United States of America, this message is an expression of our empathy and solidarity with you,” Khamenei wrote in an open letter published on Thursday. “As the page of history is turning, you are standing on the right side of it.”

Rehashing antisemitic conspiracies of Jewish control, he derided “the global Zionist elite” for speaking against the campus demonstrations.

“The global Zionist elite — who owns most US and European media corporations or influences them through funding and bribery — has labeled this courageous, humane resistance movement as ‘terrorism,’” Khamenei wrote. “You have now formed a branch of the Resistance Front and have begun an honorable struggle in the face of your government’s ruthless pressure — a government which openly supports the usurper and brutal Zionist regime.”

Khamenei also praised students in other countries who have launched anti-Israel demonstrations on campuses, noting the leading role that faculty have played in fostering and supporting the unrest.

“Besides you students from dozens of American universities, there have also been uprisings in others countries among academics and the general public,” he wrote. “The support and solidarity of your professors is a significant and consequential development. This can offer some measure of comfort in the face of your government’s police brutality and the pressures it is exerting on you. I too am among those who empathize with you young people, and value your perseverance.”

Khamenei’s letter came amid an outpouring of praise for the anti-Zionist students by Islamist terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda.

“While we support the assassination of the infidel Zionists and the beheading of them, we also appreciate and value the movement of Western demonstrators and sit-in students from Western universities, who through their sit-ins and protests expressed their rejection of the genocide taking place in Gaza,” al-Qaeda leadership wrote in a recent communique

Hamas and Hezbollah, both backed by Iran, have also cheered the protests.

“Today’s students are the leaders of the future, and their suppression today means an expensive electoral bill that the Biden administration will pay sooner or later,” Hamas official Izzat Al-Risheq said in a statement last month.

Naim Qassem, the deputy head of Hezbollah, also praised the protesters during an interview with Al-Manar TV earlier this month.

“We appreciate and value this very much. Perhaps in the future, there will be cooperation among the youth of the world — in America, France, Britain, Germany, and all the activists,” he said. “The [campus protests] are important, especially because they will have an impact on US elections. They will have an impact on the American position.”

Earlier this month, when some universities suspended students who had occupied sections of campus and refused to leave unless school officials agreed to condemn and boycott Israel, the Iran-backed Houthi militia, a terrorist organization that has repeatedly violated freedom of the seas by attacking international shipping vessels passing through the Red Sea, offered to admit the disciplined students as transfers to Sanaa University, an institution it administers.

Some anti-Zionist student groups have reciprocated the admiration.

Last week, Columbia University’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) endorsed Hamas, the latest sign of its growing extremism and willingness to embrace Islamic extremism and antisemitism.

“The Palestinian resistance is the only force materially fighting back against isr*el [sic],” the group said in a series of posts shared by Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus, a social media account which exposes antisemitism on college campuses. “There is no way to eliminate the resistance without ending the occupation. When you see a video of a young palestinian [sic] boy traumatized in a hospital talking about how iof [the Israel Defense Forces, or IDF] shot his pregnant mother in cold blood in front of his own eyes, do not question how he chooses to resist years later.”

Campus Reform, a higher education watchdog which first reported Documenting Jew Hatred on Campus’ posts, noted that Columbia SJP has added an “inverted red triangle” to its social media biography, further indicating its support for Hamas. The Palestinian terrorist group has used an inverted red triangle in its propaganda videos to indicate an Israeli target about to be attacked, and anti-Israel protesters on university campuses have been using the symbol in their demonstrations.

Columbia SJP, a group that has re-formed under multiple names since being suspended by school administrators during the fall semester, was central in staging a slew of riotous demonstrations in which anti-Zionist activists verbally assaulted Jewish students with antisemitic epithets, clamorously expressed support for terrorism and Hamas, and caused thousands of dollars in damages to school property.

The anti-Zionist student movement’s support for terrorism and anti-American ideologies has been expressed before.

Footage of the protests which erupted on college campuses at the end of spring semester showed demonstrators chanting in support of Hamas and calling for the destruction of Israel. In many cases, they lambasted the US and Western civilization more broadly.

“Yes, we’re all Hamas, pig!” one protester was filmed screaming during the fracas at Columbia University, which saw some verbal skirmishes between pro-Zionist and anti-Zionist partisans. “Long live Hamas!” said others who filmed themselves dancing and praising the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Hamas terrorist organization. “Kill another solider!”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Advocacy Group Attempts to Shore Up Support for Israel Among US Democrats

US President Joe Biden addresses rising levels of antisemitism, during a speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Annual Days of Remembrance ceremony, at the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, US, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

A pro-Israel advocacy group is attempting to quell fears among US Democratic politicians that expressing support for the Jewish state amid the ongoing war in Gaza will lead to electoral defeat in November. 

Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), a group that advocates for pro-Israel policies within the Democratic Party, circulated a memo this week explaining that the war in Gaza is simply not a top priority for most of the electorate. The memo, first acquired by Axios news website, asserts that “it just isn’t true” that Democratic support for Israel will come at an electoral cost. 

The group argues that a series of misleading polls has caused Democratic elected officials to become more tepid in their support for the Jewish state. 

To bolster its claims, DMFI points to a poll conducted by the New York Times in May which revealed that only 2 percent of voters cite Israel, Palestinians, Hamas, or Gaza as their most important issue. Nonetheless, the Times tried to exaggerate the extent to which voters care about the Israel-Hamas war by highlighting the 5 percent of voters who cite foreign policy as their biggest issue, according to DMFI. However, these 5 percent of voters did not identify if the war in Gaza is their major foreign policy concern.

The group also points out a Harvard-Harris poll from April which showed that Americans overwhelmingly side with Israel in its ongoing war effort. Eighty percent of Americans support Israel and only 20 percent back Hamas, the poll revealed.

DMFI also suggests that Israel’s ongoing military offensive against Hamas has not had a noticeable impact on President Joe Biden’s national standing. According to polling data aggregated by FiveThirtyEight, the president’s approval rating on Oct. 7of last year stood at 39.6 percent, and on April 23 last month, his approval stood at 40 percent. The same poll reveals that presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s lead over Joe Biden did not grow over the same time period. 

DMFI president Mark Mellman told Axios that anti-Israel activists represent a small fringe of the American electorate. 

“People sometimes mistake volume for percentage, and the fact that some people are very loud doesn’t make them the majority. … It doesn’t even make them a substantial minority,” Mellman said.

The group’s efforts to reach out to Democrats come on the heels of a high-pressure effort by left-wing groups to force the Democratic establishment to stop supporting Israel. Anti-Israel organizations have organized efforts to encourage voters in Democratic primaries to vote “uncommitted” in lieu of voting for Biden. Moreover, nearly every appearance by Biden in recent months has been marked by the presence of scores of angry anti-Israel protesters

The relationship between Democratic politicians and the Jewish state has significantly soured in the months following Hamas’ Oct. 7 slaughter of over 1,200 people in southern Israel. High-profile Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) have suggested that Israel is committing “genocide” against Palestinian civilians.

Meanwhile, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (CA) signed onto a letter urging Biden to pause weapons shipments to Israel. Biden vowed to stop arms deliveries to Israel if the Israeli army attempts to dismantle the remaining Hamas battalions within the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, expressing concern about the prospect of civilian casualties during such an offensive.

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Hate crimes in Toronto are predominantly antisemitic—and the numbers continue to rise: TPS security and intelligence commander

Antisemitic hate crimes continue to account for more than any other category of reported hate crimes in Toronto, according to the head of Toronto police intelligence. Superintendent Katherine Stephenson of Toronto Police Service (TPS) confirmed the ongoing spike in hate occurrences during a presentation at Holy Blossom Temple on May 29, where she addressed 350 […]

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