In the dark days of the Corbyn years, when the idea of this crackpot becoming Prime Minister was such a real and terrifying threat that many of us worried about our futures in our country, we were often told that as a ‘life-long anti-racist’ he couldn’t possibly hate Jews. After all, his defenders consistently intoned, his mother was at Cable Street.
It seems churlish as a people which has been around for so long to decry cultural appropriation; other worldwide religions have taken our patriarchs and our commandments, for goodness’ sake, and then frequently murdered us for not appreciating their new interpretations of them. Fish and chips are a British national dish, bagels a Sunday brunch staple, while the only chutzpah in non-Jews using Yiddish is when they frequently pronounce it incorrectly.
But this weekend’s 85th commemoration of the Battle of Cable Street seemed like cultural appropriation of the worst kind. Not only was the Jewish Labour Movement – the cultural inheritor of the Jewish socialists who claimed victory in 1936 – not invited, but on the stage was Jeremy Corbyn and many of his followers; the very people whose political ascent so frightened the Jews of today.
He had the unbelievable chutzpah to claim to stand as a protector of minorities at an event commemorating the defence of a minority he seems to care so little for.
In reality, practically the only Jews he has ever stood shoulder-to-shoulder with are those who denounce the one and only Jewish state. He lost the Labour whip because, even now, this vain posturing man refuses to accept the degree of antisemitism that he allowed to fester in the party.
How dare he pose as a friend to the Jews at this commemoration event?
For British Jews, Cable Street stands as a moment not only of where we fought back against the fascists but –more unusually –when the majority of our neighbours helped us.
In reality the victory itself was incredibly bittersweet. Yes, there was a win of sorts. Despite the support of the police, Oswald Mosley’s black shirts were not able to march through the streets of the East End where many Jewish people lived because of the blockades created by Jews, Irish dockers, communists, trade unionists, socialists and working class people who willingly put themselves in harms way.
And as a result of the huge fight, in which 73 police officers were injured, a Public Order Act was pushed through Parliament which banned the wearing of political uniforms in public and increased powers to prohibit marches.
But the weekend after the victory of Cable Street came the Pogrom of Mile End; the worst case of antisemitism in interwar Britain.
Enraged by the Cable Street defeat, ten thousand fascists marched through Jewish areas screaming, ‘The Y*ds, the Y*ds, we’ve got to get rid of the Y*ds’.
Dozens of Jewish owned shops were looted; one Jewish man who owned a hair salon on Mile End Road was hurled through a shop window together with a four-year-old girl.
The Pogrom of Mile End should be as well known as Cable Street. It isn’t simply because that would destroy the tidy mythology of the Jews being saved by the socialists.
But the fact is Cable Street was just one fightback. If you are watching Ridley Road you’ll see Jews were back fighting fascists in the 1960s, just as they were in the post war period, just as they are today.
Today there are still marches which sometimes lead to violence against Jewish premises; they happened in the summer when people had placards saying ‘Hitler was right’ and calling for the destruction of the Jewish state.
The day after a pro-Palestinian march where Corbyn addressed the crowds –which included some openly antisemitic protestors – a group of men rode around North London for hours threatening to rape Jewish women.
Cable Street has become a legend because there is nothing the far left like to do more than patronise minorities who they can ride in and save, like white knights on steeds. They aren’t so keen on minorities who don’t need their help.
If there was a new Battle of Cable Street, this time in the streets of Golders Green or Stamford Hill, would Corbyn be on our side? And would we really want him there?