By all historical yardsticks, immigrants are worthwhile

 Now the dust has settled over the vote on Scottish independence, attention will no doubt return to the question of immigration.

It is sure be a key issue in the general election. Now, dislike of immigrants originates in one of the most primitive of human reactions – the fear of the stranger.

As at least 90 percent of our community have foreign-born parents, grandparents or great-grandparents, however, we’d better decide where we stand.

The first thing surely is to recognise that the arguments against immigration are the ones made against the Jews, which resulted in the passing of the Aliens Act in 1905. We were accused then of forcing down wages, forcing up rents and of committing all sorts of crimes.

The Aliens Act was designed specifically to keep us out. At least 100,000 of us had arrived since 1880.

The truth is – and was – though, that if you want to find a native-born Brit, you’ll have to go to Wales.

That was where the Anglo-Saxons pushed the locals when they invaded in the fifth century.

The British were a Celtic tribe who arrived in about 500BCE with the Atrebates and Catuvellauni, though they have gone because they weren’t as good at surviving as we are. Since then, everybody in England has been a foreigner.

As a proportion of the population, more Protestant Huguenots came to England after Louis XIV revoked the tolerant Edict of Nantes in 1685 than we’ve had from the European Union. So as you can see, everybody in England is from a foreign family.

Should we stop them coming by getting out of the EU? Well, you may think that the Treaty of Rome, which was signed in 1958, created that organisation but it was an inevitability, springing from the history of society over the previous 10,000 years, give or take.

The first unit was the family. If a member of the family did something wrong, the whole family was responsible. Then the unit expanded to the village and then to the town. In the Middle Ages, if you were a member of a Paris Guild you couldn’t trade at the market in Bristol without going through all sorts of customs.

If you were a member of a guild in York, you couldn’t trade in Bristol. The town was the unit. From tiny countries like Wessex of Alfred the Great fame and Northumbria, we finally got England. From England we got the United Kingdom.

The country became the unit. Now the unit is likely in the future to be the European Union, one of the benefits of which is that we haven’t had a major war within it since 1945. Devolution is still on the agenda though; the Scots may have decided they don’t want to turn the clock back and become an independent nation, but it was a close call.

As Jews, we’ve lived through all this. Ever since the Romans chucked us out of the Holy Land, we’ve looked for countries that would allow us in.

The Victorian Jews were accused of undercutting wages. It wasn’t true because we worked in different economic fields. We were, for example, tailors and cigar makers. The tailoring came from the Old Clo’ men mending what they bought. The indigenous population didn’t want – and didn’t have the skills for – those jobs.

It’s always been the same. Until we joined the Common Market, the hotel and restaurant industries were on their knees at the Ministry of Labour, pleading to be allowed to bring in foreigners.

The British wouldn’t take the available jobs. The last major influx came from permission to bring in people from the Philippines, a few years before we went into the EU. Where would the restaurant industry be without the Italians, French and Swiss? Not to mention the Indians and the Chinese.

We need a world-famous, tax-paying tourist industry. You’re not going to get it if you rely just on the Brits. It is also true that immigrants can bring a country tremendous benefits. When Eurobonds were introduced, you might have imagined they would be sold out of Europe. About 70 percent of them are produced in London. Why? Because they were invented by the German-Jewish pre-war immigrant Siegmund Warburg.

So should we keep immigrants out if they don’t come from Common Market countries?

We’ll miss the chance of having an Egyptian family produce Venture Capitalism!

Arise Sir Ronald Cohen and take a bow.

By all historical yardsticks, immigrants are worth having.

About the Author
Derek is an author & former editor of the Jewish Year Book
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