Why we must protect the memory of Cable Street

As CST’s chief executive from 2001 to 2013, I quickly lost count of how many times Cable Street was cited to me as the historically key moment in Jewish communal self-defence. Many of us, whether CST volunteers, staff or trustees, saw ourselves as continuing that proud tradition. We were inspired by Cable Street and were determined not to allow anti-Semites to disrupt our way of life. I believe this will a core principle of CST as long as it exists.

While at CST, I helped Fiyaz Mughal to establish Tell MAMA, an organisation that monitors anti-Muslim hate attacks.

Now, as a trustee of CST, president of Tell MAMA and vice-chair of the Board of Deputies Defence Division, I am chair of the 80th Anniversary of Cable Street delivery group which is being organised by the London Jewish Forum.

Our Jewish community has almost entirely left the East End, both physically and psychologically. Muslims and others now comprise the more recent immigrants.

They are therefore the ones who now largely suffer as we did in the 1930s. We can and should give them anti-racist and anti-fascist solidarity.

Jews and Muslims have a common enemy against whom we can come together and actually do something constructive. If that helps to improve Muslim attitudes to Jews, then so much the better.

Our own problems have changed, but they have certainly not disappeared. Racism, fascism and anti-Semitism are not open and acceptable as they once were.

Nevertheless, hard core neo-Nazis persist in hating Jews utterly, while a generation of young British jihadists pose a deep and enduring terrorist threat.

In addition to all that, sections of the supposedly anti-racist Left have fallen prey to a so-called anti-Zionism that copies the old anti-Semitism, with the word Zionist where the word Jew used to be.

When considering then and now, remember that Cable Street was not the end of old-style British far Right anti-Semitism, which continued with surprising strength into the 1950s and 1960s, when Jews still needed to be defended physically from outright anti-Semitic fascists and Nazis.

Indeed, those street actions helped to form the bonds around Gerald Ronson and others that led to a succession of groups, leading ultimately to the CST.

The 1970s saw the peak of the National Front, which the Board of Deputies helped to expose as being “a Nazi front”.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the British National Party spewed neo-Nazi filth, including the notorious hate-sheet Holocaust News.

I will always remember leading CST’s security patrols in Golders Green at the height of the neo-Nazi nail-bomb campaign in 1999, thinking that Jews would be the terrorists’ latest target.

In 2000, what many people called the New Anti-Semitism began; a wave of ostensibly anti-Israel and anti-Zionist fuelled hatred that was inevitably anti-Semitic and took out its rage on Jews.

In truth, it was nothing new, it was just more noticeable than before. Now, it is not a wave of anti-Semitism, it is our reality. It is why we need to keep opposing anti-Semitism, whatever its source. It is why we need to keep remembering the lesson of Cable Street.

About the Author
Richard Benson is a former Chief Executive of the Community Security trust (CST). He is also president of Tell Mama.
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