Last week I visited the site of one of England’s worst anti-Semitic incidents, Clifford’s Tower in York. In 1190 an estimated 150 Jewish people committed suicide, or were burnt or murdered, after having sought refuge in the royal castle where Clifford’s Tower now stands. This massacre was the climax of a wave of anti-Semitic riots and wiped out the entire Jewish community of York. Today the site is run by English Heritage. Has anything changed in the last 800 or so years?
Our first impression was not encouraging. The English Heritage website tells us: “There’s plenty to discover at this imposing tower standing proud on its high mound.”
Yes, this tower, the site of a horrendous massacre is “standing proud” – not bent in shame, not pleading for forgiveness, but proud.
But it gets worse. English Heritage goes on to tell us that: “It burnt down during the worst event in the site’s history: the Jewish massacre of 1190”
The casual visitor, many foreign tourists among them, will think to themselves – ah, those Jews, massacring back in 1190 and still massacring Palestinians today.
I wanted to point out that it should be the “massacre of Jews” and not the “Jewish massacre” but there was no-one to talk to.
While at the infamous tower we got speaking to a group of English charedim from Gateshead. Is there any anti-Semitism, we asked. Has England changed since the the Middle Ages when Clifford’s Tower was just one of countless incidents of mob-violence against Jewish communities across England and Western Europe?
No, no, no, they replied in well-rehearsed unison. There is no anti-Semitism in England.
Well ….. said one, from time to time, now and then, mostly now, people in a passing car will stop and call out “dirty Jew” but we are used to it, they don’t really mean it.
But why, I asked, do you stay in a country that hates you. Come home, come to Israel your own country. The answer was simple – it’s too hot.
As we stood, proud Israelis, at the foot of the shameful tower, we wondered how the Gateshead charedim could ignore the biblical commandment to settle the land, could put up with ever worsening anti-Semitism, when all they needed was an air-conditioner.