Racism – Shamism

Guaranteed; some antissemite is going to throw mud at us when it comes to the current protests against racism. So, for once, lets get in there first and blow our trumpet loud and clear.

You may not know it, but we have a pretty good record on slavery. In Biblical times, if you owned slaves, you had to offer them their freedom after seven years. And, if they took it, you had to give them support when they set out as free men. Unbelievably anti-racist for the time.

Fast forward to when the Jews were allowed back into England by Charles II, they brought no slaves with them. Eli Faber’s excellent book, Jews, Slaves and the Slave Trade, spells that out. The slave trade was run by the Royal Africa Company, also to be first found in 1660. Have a look at the list of shareholders and you won’t find any Jewish names. The Bank of England company, yes, but not the Royal Africa. We don’t do slaves. Jefferson, of American constitution fame might, and prime minister Gladtone’s father did as well, but the din is against it.

Everybody also knows that Wilberforce got slavery abolished in the Empire, but it had only ended in Scotland in 1778, and there were white as well as black slaves at the time. The abolition bill was called the Colliers and Salters (Scotland) Act and it freed white miner slaves. In 1833 it was the Rothschilds who found the money for the government to compensate the slave owners abroad when Wilberforce’s’ Slavery Abolition  Act was passed. .

We Jews know all about racism. We have suffered from it for thousands of years. In 19th century Germany a Jew had to walk in the gutter if a citizen was passing him and said “Jew, mind your manners.” We have also had to fight our way out of poverty time and again, having been expelled from the land in which we were born, and there was no Race Relations legislation till well after the second world war.

What are the ingredients for a successful anti-racism policy? First determination to overcome it. There were centuries when universities and medical schools in many parts of the world imposed Jewish quotas; we still have 20% of the Nobel prizes. Second, we’re not called The People of the Book for nothing. learning is deeply rooted in our culture. Then the core of a Jewish home is the family with a ketubah and two parents. Fourth it always means hard work.

Take Chief Rabbi Jacobovits’ peerage. He told the other national clerical leaders that he couldn’t sign a letter condemning the government for not doing enough for the poor. He explained the Jewish solution was to hand out some money, at no interest, and let the impoverished build a business. A grateful government put him in the Lords.

Of course, we have black sheep. The definition of Rachmanism in the Oxford English Dictionary is the exploitation and intimidation of tenants by unscrupulous landlords. Rachman was a Jew. It is equally true, though, that much of Britain was rebuilt after the war by Jewish property companies. In the future there will be more Jewish and non-Jewish landlords who nobody would want to acknowledge.

It’s all summed up in an old Jewish joke. A Jew. falls in the street and a passer-by hurries to put his coat under his head. “Are you comfortable?” asks the man. The Jew opens his eyes. “I make a living” he replies.


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