Dr Dave Rich is Director of Policy at the Community Security Trust and an Associate Research Fellow at the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, Birkbeck, University of London. These views are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wiener Holocaust Library.
On the evening before Holocaust Memorial Day 2022, the banned far-right terror group Feuerkrieg Division proudly published on social media a collection of photographs of their posters, put up somewhere in the UK by a new recruit to their extremist movement.
These vivid, shocking posters were on lampposts, walls and other street furniture on what was clearly a British street. They featured warlike cartoon figures standing in front of swastikas, some holding guns, with blood-spattered backgrounds and threatening slogans like “Day of the Rope” and “White Revolution The Only Solution”.
Feuerkrieg Division is a violently antisemitic organisation, and here they were, spreading hate and fear, and openly advertising for more recruits.
The research team at the Community Security Trust (CST) got to work. By closely analysing the background details in each photograph, we managed to identify exactly where in the UK these posters had been put up. The shape of the lampposts, street markings, cycle boxes and other aspects revealed all: these posters were in a quiet corner of Islington, north London, in a diverse community and not far from a Jewish community building.
We publicised our findings on Twitter, reported them to the police, and shortly afterward a satisfying message appeared on another Feuerkrieg Division social media account. “I hate UK CST”, it read. “They somehow tracked one of our guys down from his flyer placement and he got arrested”.
This is what fighting antisemitism looks like in the modern, digital age.
The Jewish community has had a tradition of intelligence-led operations to combat the far right since the 1930s. These were recently dramatised by the BBC in the series Ridley Road, which brought to life the efforts of the 62 Group to disrupt the violent plans of Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement.
In the 1990s it was a mole inside the British National Party (BNP) who told CST that the person targeting London’s minority communities with murderous nail bombs was a BNP member called David Copeland.
Whether this work involves humans on the ground or online investigators, the principle is the same. Identify those people who pose a threat to the Jewish community, find out what they are planning, and disrupt their endeavours before they manage to act.
In decades gone past, this disruption was often done with fists. It was controversial even then. When the 43 Group took up the challenge of fighting Oswald Mosley’s fascists after the Second World War, their violent approach was the subject of a lively debate in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle. The 43 Group is remembered with fond nostalgia now, but at the time the JC criticised it as a “dissident body” with “a complete unwillingness to enter into a larger disciplined framework than is provided by its own self-centered and callow outlook”.
This tension between grassroots activism – “organised chaos” is how a veteran of the 62 Group recently described that organisation to me – and the formal structures of the Jewish establishment have always been there. Over time the latter approach has come to dominate, partly because the nature of the threat to the community has changed.
Where in the past the physical threat to the Jewish community came primarily from far-right thugs on the street, by the 1970s it had begun to evolve into the terrorism that we are tragically so familiar with today.
Palestinian nationalist groups like Black September and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine exported their terrorist campaigns to Europe, and the Jewish community had to respond accordingly.
This was brought home to British Jews in 1974, when the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine tried to assassinate J. Edward Sieff, the president of Marks & Spencer, by shooting him on the doorstep of his St. John’s Wood home. Sieff survived, but the new threat meant that Jewish self-defence needed to be reoriented.
The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, JACOB and others all did their bit until the disparate strands of Jewish communal defence eventually evolved into today’s CST.
Security at Jewish buildings and supporting victims of anti-Jewish hate crimes are the two main pillars of CST’s work in protecting the Jewish community from those who would cause us harm. But it is not possible to do this effectively unless we have an idea of who might attack us, how they might do it, and why they are motivated to harm Jews. This research has always been the foundation on which intelligent Jewish self-defence has stood.
Jewish organisations fighting antisemitism have always shown great faith in the power of publicising the appalling views of our enemies. Expose just how extreme and hateful antisemites can be, so the thinking goes, and the vast majority of people are bound to be sympathetic to the Jewish cause. Report them to the police or government, and the authorities will be compelled to act.
This theory has been put to the test for over a century, through books, newspaper articles, leaflets and, now, Twitter threads. Often this publicity does stir up the hoped-for response, and the Jewish community will always welcome friends, allies and supporters in fighting antisemitism. But as Fighting Antisemitism from Dreyfus to Today, the new exhibition at The Wiener Holocaust Library shows, the starting point for any efforts to tackle antisemitism will always lie within the Jewish community itself.
This is the ethos that has animated so many Jewish activists in this fight, and it is at the core of CST’s work today.
Suggested further reading
- The Culture of Fascism: visions of the Far Right in Britain by Julie Gottlieb and Thomas P Linehan
- A fascist century: essays by Roger Griffin, Matthew Feldman and Stanley G. Payne
- A History of Fascism in France: From the First World War to the National Front by Chris Millington
- British fascism after the Holocaust: from the birth of denial to the Notting Hill riots, 1939 – 1958 by Joe Mulhall
- The left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and antisemitism by Dave Rich
For more related sources, try a search for any of the following keywords in our Collections Catalogue: Antisemitism; Left wing; Anti-Israel; Fascism; Extreme right.