A Guest post from Board of Deputies vice-President Alex Brummer

Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail and a Vice President and also Chair of the International Division of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. 


We are delighted that Mr Brummer has agreed to be our guest speaker at our AGM on Sunday, May 12.

 Below is an article he has submitted for our Rep Council magazine RepPresents.

NO ONE should underestimate the scale of the financial crisis through which the world is living. It is often described as the worst crisis since the 1930s, the years of the Great Depression. Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England goes one step further. He describes the present event as the most serious since the period leading up to the First World War.

That was a conflict that had calamitous results. The demands for reparations by the winning powers led to the disaster of the Weimar Republic in Germany when people went shopping with barrow loads of money. This in turn created a vacuum into which Hitler’s National Socialists moved bringing with them their twisted anti-Semitism that eventually led to the Shoah, the greatest disaster in Jewish history.

Living in Britain it is sometimes hard to understand the depth of the current crisis. Output (as of January 2013) is 3.4 per cent below where it was before the ‘Great Panic’ of 2007-09 and there are now nearly one million young people without jobs – lives wasted.

But a strong social security system means that even after the cuts there is no mass hardship. Moreover, Britain’s core values of tolerance mean that fringe parties, like the British National Party, remain precisely that.

In fact the BNP, despite all the publicity it gained, had a disastrous 2010 election when it was smothered at the polls.

If there has been an impact it is top push the mainstream parties, including Ed Milliband’s Labour, to the right on immigration. As a Jewish community of immigrants that may be hard to take. It also may be bad economically as immigrants tend to be more productive than the indigenous population.

The East African Asians have demonstrated, like the Jews before them, a strong entrepreneurial immigrant culture. And no doubt the latest waves of immigrants, from the countries of emerging Europe such as Poland will have the same impact.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the intense pressure placed on political systems by economic hardship. In 2012, as part of my work as a financial journalist, I visited Greece. Among the speakers at the event I attended was the former education minister Ms Anna Diamantopoulou. During her presentation she held up an iPad to show those present a picture of the tattoo clad former convict who displaced her as an MP in central Athens.

She explained how over the course of the two 2012 elections her share of the vote collapsed from just under 40pc to the mid-20s and then single figures as the vote for the extremist right wing party Golden Dawn climbed.

Dimantopoulou told of the toll that a 12 per cent fall in output and mounting youth unemployment – now up to 25 per cent – was doing to her country.

She reported families on the breadline begging for food, hospitals and surgeries that had run out of medicines. Worst of all she described in graphic details scenes of black clad Golden Dawn storm troopers, equipped with batons, patrolling the streets of Athens battering Albanian immigrants with their sticks with impunity. It was a genuinely frightening account of what was going on in a Western European capital city.

Spain is ripe for a reversion to fascism. Business broadcaster Paul Mason recently did a frightening segment on Newsnight. Unemployment among youth 56pc. Catalonia has a strong breakaway movement. There is no reconciliation commission and the Francoist supporters are barely below the surface. So far it is Roma and Muslims that have been the source of resentment and Jews have been welcomed back to the country. But given Spain’s history dating back to the Inquisition cannot we really trust what is happening.

The better off countries are not immune to the economic shifts. The share of Marine Le Pen’s vote in the French presidential elections reached 18pc and she repeatedly described the Holocaust as ‘a mere detail’ in the history of the Second World War. In the Netherlands the influence of Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party has been poisonous to the political discourse, especially on Muslim immigrants.

What is often missed by commentators is the dramatic impact of the eurozone crisis in what economists call emerging Europe. The former communist countries, where democracy still in its infancy, are being badly hit by the economic hardships in the more prosperous euroland countries from Hungary to Romania and Lithuania.

Money is pouring in from World Bank that put in $6.6bn in last fiscal year and the International Monetary Fund has organise stabilisation programmes. But IMF will not deal with societies where newly discovered democracy is under threat. In Romania there has been a standoff over assistance.

Victor Orban’s right-wing and increasingly authoritarian Fidesz party in Hungary is among the most threatening. It has been forced to the right by the influence of Jobbik, founded in 2003, that uses a flag resembling the notorious Arrow Cross movement of the second world war. In the 2010 elections Jobbik grabbed 16.67pc of the vote campaigning under the slogan ‘Hungary belongs to the Hungarians.’

One of its MPs recently sought to re-open in Parliament a blood-libel case dating back to 1882 in which 15 Jews were tried and acquitted for the alleged murder of a Christian girl. In Novermber Jobbik member of Parliament Martin Gyonyosi also called on Parliament to draw up a list

Of Jews who pose ‘ national security risk.’

The request was formally struck down in January 2013.

In my role as Vice-President and Chair of the International Division of the Board of Deputies I recently called on the ambassador of Lithuania.

We wanted to congratulate the government on finally agreeing to set up a compensation fund, to be run by the local community and the American Joint Distribution Committee, for the victims of the Shoah in which local populations were seriously complicit.

Some Euro 5 billion has been set aside, a tiny amount given the size and importance of the pre-war Lithuanian community.

As in other emerging market economies, however, there is an emerging anti-Semitic youth movement in Lithuania that regularly marches. The ambassador played this down noting that Holocaust education was important on the school curriculum and the marchers were a small group of hooligans.

Clearly not enough has been done through education to offset the re-emergence of anti-Semitism among the disillusioned young.

In Hungary the situation has become so toxic that the Budapest Jewish community sought and obtained American State Department help in monitoring anti-Semitism. I found this particularly shocking as my family are Hungarian speaking Jews who came from the Czech border area that is now in the Ukraine – another country where extremism is rife as we saw during the European football championship.

Across the emerging markets of Europe the new market capitalism brought corruption, economic over-expansion. Now the countries are paying the price in terms of growth that has gone into reverse, rising unemployment, falling property prices and banks in state of near collapse.

Monitoring and providing support to the these communities is a key part of the work of the International Division of the Board. The potential return of fascism in countries that lived through the horrors of the Shoah, seven short decades after the end of the Second World War is terrifying. At the Board the historic rule is that we do not interfere in the affairs of other countries unless the local Jewish communities want our support.

However, economic conditions across the region are now so dire and the politics so toxic there is a recognition that we need to use all of our diplomatic and other lobbying power to prevent anti-Semitism becoming endemic.

The great hope in the wake of the collapse of the Iron Curtain is vanishing before our eyes. We must work hard to prevent it being followed by a new age of despair and fascism.