05 - 07
Q: Why were you so keen to make this programme?
RL: I’ve turned 50, and I think one of the defining historical experiences of my generation, born ten years after the end of the Second World War, was the Holocaust. It was the cloud that loomed over everything. I became aware of it at primary school, and it horrified me. And so it’s always a subject that I’ve had some interest in. I was born in East London, I live in North London, I’m a Spurs fan and I’ve got lots of Jewish friends – and Spurs has a large Jewish fan base. I used to have a football phone-in on Five Live, and I’ve got two season tickets in the West Stand at Tottenham, and when I was doing the show, at half time people would come over and talk about football. And then, after 9/11, we seemed to stop talking about football, and began to discuss other things, politics, terrorism. And I became aware of a real sense of unease among a lot of the Jewish people there. People seemed to think that Jews were being targeted again, particularly in Britain.
Q: And you think that a lot of the liberal left were part of the reason?
RL: There’s nothing liberal about the left. [Observer columnist] Nick Cohen reveals in the film that he goes to dinner parties in Islington where remarks are made about Jews that no-one would ever dream of making against any other ethnic groups.
Q: Did you find people’s reaction telling when they discovered you were making this programme?
RL: Definitely. People who didn’t know me would say “I didn’t know you were Jewish, Richard.” I’d say “I’m not.” And they’d say “Well why are you doing this?” But that’s ridiculous. If I was making a film about cot death, people wouldn’t assume I had lost a child to cot death. If I was making a film about Islamophobia, nobody would say “We didn’t know you were a Muslim.” But there is this assumption that anti-Semitism is something that’s just made up by the Jews, and nobody else would ever really pay any attention to it.
Q: You’re not the only person to have had that reaction, are you?
RL: No. The curious thing was, I had this idea a couple of years ago, and since then there’s been this parliamentary commission, and John Mann, who chaired the parliamentary enquiry into anti-Semitism said exactly the same thing – that the first thing MPs said to him when they found out he’d set up this committee was “John, we didn’t know you were Jewish.” Well, he isn’t Jewish either. Why should you not want to investigate the subject if you’re not a Jew? And when I wrote that piece for The Sun, the hate mail I got from people was unbelievable. “We always knew you were a Jew, you big-nosed Spurs fan,” all that kind of stuff.
Q: From what section of the population?
RL: Well this is the thing. The bulk of the hate mail wasn’t from people with Islamic-sounding names, although there was plenty of that. But these were from people who had English surnames. And this wasn’t just anti-Israel stuff, this was anti-Jewish bile.
Q: But historically, anti-semitism has been from the far-right.
RL: Absolutely. My motivation for making this film started with the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street last year [when the East End stopped Mosley's Blackshirts from completing their march]. There’s a big mural in Cable Street, and there used to be a pub there called The Britannia. I used to be a labour correspondent and a friend of mine, who was Chairman of the London Dockers and went on to become Chairman of the TGWU, lived three or four doors down. So I was in this pub a couple of times a week and I’d see this mural. And I’ve just been aware of it for years. So I thought we should do something to mark this anniversary.
Q: So do you think that this anti-semitism you detect on the left started with a disapproval of Israel and just grew from there?
RL: No, I think it’s latent. Jews are not seen as a victim group any more, they’re established, they’re hard-working, they’re successful, they ask for nothing from society, they haven’t always got their hand out, they’re not always bleating about being victims, so they don’t count any more. So the protection that is given to other ethnic minorities no longer seems to apply to Jews. Despite the fact that they are one of the first persecuted minorities to flee to Britain, for refuge.
Q: But Middle Eastern politics must play a part in the rise of anti-Semitism generally?
RL: You can argue the politics of the Middle East, that’s a perfectly legitimate standpoint, but when it means making common cause with people like Hezbollah and Hamas, that’s something different.
Q: In making this, you went to places like a Jewish school in Manchester and saw the critical nature of what’s happening there…
RL: I was horrified with what I saw going on there. Chief Constable Mike Todd took me to the school and it’s got razor wire around it and bomb-proof windows. I said to him “This has got to be over the top, hasn’t it?” And he said “No, there is a very real threat.”
Q: You were clearly concerned about anti-semitism in order to make this film, but did you have any inkling how bad it was?
RL: No, I had absolutely no idea. I mean, I knew things were bad. A friend of mine’s wife is active in a synagogue on North London, and asked me if I’d go along to do a Q&A session. When I got up there, there were bouncers on the door. I’d never been to a place of worship with that level of security. And this was for a ladies’ lunch. But when I went up to Manchester for this film, I saw that they were putting on patrols on a Friday night so that the Jews could go to worship without being attacked. It was like when the army had to escort kids to school in Northern Ireland. Except there, the world was horrified. Yet the situation in Manchester is ignored – it’s not considered a story. If it was an Islamic school, it would be the lead story on Channel 4 and the BBC, and Panoramas about it every night of the week. Yet I didn’t even know this existed. The media isn’t interested in anti-semitism.
Q: What would you say to people who would just suggest that this is Richard Littlejohn attacking the left and the Muslims as usual?
RL: To borrow an expression, they would say that, wouldn’t they?. Anything rather than acknowledge the truth. I couldn’t care less. But watch the programme, read the parliamentary report, open your eyes. This is going on.
- The War on Britain’s Jews? is on Channel 4 on Monday 9th July at 8pm.Richard Littlejohn Tackles Anti-semitism by TJ Reporter