An intriguing fact-based drama set in 1962 being screened on BBC1 and now halfway through its four episodes has key lessons for the present day.
Ridley Road is a reminder of how fascism, and specifically antisemitism, keeps raising its ugly head, and draws parallels with the so-called Battle of Cable Street in 1936 – 85 years ago last week.
That East End confrontation between police and those determined to prevent Oswald Mosley’s ‘Black-shirts’ from marching through their area left many injured. The British Union of Fascists were forced to retreat to central London, but the scars on the area’s large Jewish community remain.
Yet it was because communists, trade unionists, dockers and others joined with Jewish residents in a counter-protest that the Left still like to claim it as a victory they achieved as effective ‘saviours’ of the Jewish people. Which is presumably why former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn addressed a commemorative rally in Tower Hamlets on October 4th.
As journalist Nicole Lampert put it: “If there was a new Battle of Cable Street, this time on the streets of Golders Green or Stamford Hill, would Corbyn be on our side? And would we really want him there?”
But I wonder if this appalling riot was a dress rehearsal for a bigger battle against fascism? For, less than three years later, England was at war with the Nazis, and far too much blood was shed, with Jews mercilessly caught in the crossfire.
Cable Street followed a petition by an estimated 100,000 East Enders calling on Home Secretary John Simon to ban the march because of the strong likelihood of violence. For it was clearly set on intimidating the Jews. But instead Simon sent a huge police contingent to ensure Mosley’s men were safely escorted to the place where they could carry out their dirty work.
The British Government had thus clearly failed to deal effectively with antisemitism. Less than three years later, they published a White Paper severely restricting Jewish immigration to their ancient homeland which Britain had solemnly pledged to secure through the Balfour Declaration of 1917. As a result, thousands of Jews who could otherwise have been saved perished in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany. It was a truly shameful period of British history for which we have yet to formally apologise.
As Nicole Lampert points out, in her blog for Jewish News, the Battle of Cable Street was followed the next weekend by the much lesser known ‘Pogrom of Mile End’ when ten thousand fascists marched through Jewish areas screaming abuse at them, looting shops and worse.
Nicole explains that it is less well known “simply because that would destroy the tidy mythology of the Jews being saved by the socialists”, adding: “If you are watching Ridley Road, you’ll see Jews were back fighting fascists in the 1960s…” – just as they are still doing, referencing the sick incident in north London not long ago when a group of men rode around threatening to rape Jewish women.
Far from fascism having been defeated, it is now manifesting itself with greater hostility than ever. Black Lives Matter and Antifa have an antisemitic underbelly, so how does that square with being anti-fascist?
In this ongoing battle for truth, it’s a bit like an action replay of Elijah’s great contest with the false prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel (1 Kings 18) when he challenged his people to decide whose side they were on.
When all is said and done, our future as a nation will depend on where we stand with Israel (Isa 60:12). And we could well be in a similar situation to that of 1936, with just three years to decide where we stand. According to the Telegraph last week, Taiwan’s defence chief has warned of a possible invasion of the island by China in three years, a scenario that could well trigger another world war.
Meanwhile aggressive nations are lining up to attack Israel, ominously reflecting the alliances prophesied by Ezekiel 2,500 years ago – only the regional names differ. But they will come to a sticky end, we are assured. And nations will be put on trial for what they did to God’s inheritance, “because they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land” (Joel 3:2).
When will our leaders learn that a ‘two-state solution’ is no solution because Israel’s enemies simply do not want peace, nor do they just want a ‘piece’ of land – they want all of it, “from the river to the sea” as the oft-repeated pro-Palestinian chant goes.
So while it was heartening that the Tory Conference did not replicate the Israel-bashing elements of the Labour equivalent, Boris Johnson seems content to stick to the Foreign Office script, virtually unchanged since we traded Israel for Arab oil, of a two-state solution. This would leave the Jewish state vulnerable to constant attack (as from Gaza) for the foreseeable future.
It will not end well for the enemies of Israel, so why are we so slow and stubborn to back the ultimate winner? The battle is supremely between those who love God and those who don’t.
I appeal to Boris, as a man who believes Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”, to seek counsel from the Lord on this issue. The same Bible which says there is no other name (than Jesus) given among men by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12) also clearly states that Israel is the “apple of God’s eye” (Deut 32:10, Zech 2:8) whom he has loved with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3).
The antisemitism that was part of British life in the 1920s and 30s also affected my Jewish gran, who was forced to marry in secret because of disapproval from her in-laws. And it is sadly on the rise again. I believe the issue of where you stand with Israel divides the sheep from the goats (see Matt 25). For if you oppose the Jews, you have taken sides against the God of Israel.
But if you love Jesus, and the truth he stands for, you will love the Jews, and support their right to a land of their own where they can dwell in safety, and to which Jesus will return in glory after defeating his enemies.
There is big trouble ahead, and the battles will be fiercer than ever, but those who align themselves with the Prince of Peace (Isa 9:6) will be eternally secure.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.
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