LONDON (Nov. 2)
Questions have been publicly raised here over whether anti-Semitism was in some degree involved in the departure of several Jewish members of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s Cabinet in recent years.
The issue was explored on British Television’s Channel 4 Dispatches program last week, and the answers tended to be affirmative.
Fingers were pointed at both government and opposition parties. Other kinds of prejudice in government were also identified.
Anti-Semitism in the Conservative Party undoubtedly fueled the row that led to the downfall of Edwina Currie as health minister last December, Anna McCurley, a government affairs consultant and former member of Parliament, said on the television program.
“I’ve heard the convenient label ‘pushy Jewess’ used of Edwina Currie,” McCurley said.
That was the case despite the fact that Currie, born Edwina Cohen in Liverpool, renounced her religion and describes herself as a member of the Church of England since her marriage to Ray Currie.
But male chauvinism was also a factor, according to Melinda Libby, a political researcher who was adviser to Social Services Secretary John Moore at the time of Currie’s departure.
“A lot of Tory backbenchers are so riddled with prejudice of every kind, and anti-women and anti-Jewish happen to be the two that fitted Edwina,” she said.
“I think the anti-Semitism was secondary to the male chauvinism,” she added.
NOT CONFINED TO OLDER GENERATION
McCurley said anti-Semitism was not confined to the older generation of M.P.s, or to any wing of any party. She said talking about people’s Jewish origins was a “shorthand” way for members of Parliament to express their prejudice.
Other rumored victims of anti-Semitic prejudice were Leon Brittan, who resigned as Thatcher’s secretary of trade and industry in 1986, and Nigel Lawson, who stepped down last week as chancellor of the exchequer.
Brittan was accused of misleading the House of Commons over the future of a bankrupt helicopter company, and in questions of the British aerospace industry.
Lawson told Parliament that “an ill-concealed iceberg” of disagreements with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher caused him to resign. Their row was over the issue of linking the British pound to other European currency.
Nearly every newspaper story on Lawson identified him as “the son of a wealthy Jewish tea merchant.” But that by itself is not anti-Semitic, McCurley pointed out.
John Marshall, an M.P. and leading member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said it would be dishonest to say there was not an element of anti-Semitism on the back benches.
“It quite clearly comes over when there are questions in the House on the Middle East, and it’s also been apparent in debates on war criminals,” he said.
But Gwyneth Dunwoody, chairwoman of the Labor Friends of Israel, warned against mistaking pro-Palestinian sentiments for anti-Semitism.