A for­mer judge ar­gues that our own im­mi­grant his­tory should not blind us to prob­lems with newer ar­rivals


YOU DON’T of­ten find Jews carp­ing against im­mi­gra­tion. Whereas oth­ers might find fault with a con­stant flow of im­mi­grants, and more typ­i­cally with their num­bers, it is frankly alien to the Jewish ethos to be alien to the aliens. The ob­vi­ous rea­son is that from a very early age we are taught oth­er­wise. Prob­a­bly one of the very first re­minders urged upon us is that we our­selves were strangers in Egypt, though af­ter 430 years there, our an­ces­tors might have been for­given for feel­ing rather set­tled. Af­ter all, they in­ter­mar­ried, dal­lied with their hand­maids, and were pur­sued by the likes of Mrs Potiphar. They were cer­tainly not con­fined to one city or area. They farmed, traded, and, as Si­mon the Just had not even com­pleted his first draft of the pro­logue to the Ethics of the Fa­thers, they clearly “craved” both “Hon­our” and to “sit at the ta­bles of Kings”.

This may well have been so even if their so­journ was nearer 200 years, as some sug­gest. So com­par­i­son can be drawn with both the Huguenot and post-In­qui­si­tion move­ments, the mid 19th-cen­tury, and 1930s ar­rival of Jews in the UK and its ef­fect on the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion.

The bib­li­cal mes­sage can­not be clearer: do not op- press a stranger. But there might be some dis­tinc­tion to be drawn be­tween an odd car­a­van of be­mused strag­glers in search of sus­te­nance and those flee­ing a regime of ter­ror, with an in­flux of up to one mil­lion eco­nomic mi­grants dur­ing a pe­riod as short as four years.

The bib­li­cal mes­sage is great in the­ory, but in prac­tice it is not so easy to adopt. Dis­like of the for­eigner has ex­isted for­ever. It goes back to tribe against tribe. So while it is nat­u­ral to of­fer sym­pa­thy and aid to those es­cap­ing con­flict, there is al­ways this in­built fear of be­ing over­run. There must be some dif­fi­culty in bal­anc­ing our in­nate feel­ing of com­pas­sion with an equally nat­u­ral fear of dis­tur­bance and in­cur­sion, and it would be wrong to be blink­ered to present-day prob­lems solely by the fact that at one time “we were strangers”.

The Jewish mass im­mi­gra­tion did not in­tro­duce wave upon wave of the to­tally per­fect. There were no im­me­di­ate de­mands of state ben­e­fit, but that was due to an ad­hoc sys­tem of self-help, of­ten from rel­a­tives. More­over, the bar­rel was not with­out its share of rot­ten ap­ples. In 1820, the great Ikey Solomons paid the best price in Lon­don for stolen gold and ban­knotes. The Jewish sec­ond­hand-clothes deal­ers were pretty ac­tive as re­ceivers, and th­ese fa­cil­i­ties pro­vided the out­let for thiev­ery.

Con­tem­po­rary un­re­stricted im­mi­gra­tion has brought far greater dan­gers. Whilst I am sat­is­fied that the courts have been even-handed — in­deed, Jewish judges and lawyers have been in the fore­front in en­sur­ing fair treat­ment — the in­creased im­mi­gra­tion of re­cent years has brought prob­lems which those other than the to­tally naïve will recog­nise.

My ex­pe­ri­ence in the Lon­don crim­i­nal courts has shown me that many Al­ba­ni­ans are at the fore­front of the brothel and sex trade; many Chi­nese are in­volved in gam­ing and gam­bling; and Ja­maicans in deal­ing in drugs and gun cul­ture. Mean­while, many Nige­ri­ans and Ghana­ians are old hands at fraud; young So­ma­lis are gain­ing a name at street rob­bery; and a large num­ber of Ro­ma­ni­ans ma­nip­u­late the au­to­matic cash­points.

In the same way that Jewish crim­i­nals were but a mi­nor­ity of those who came here, it would be fool­ish to paint all the pre­ced­ing na­tion­als with the same brush. But one can­not ig­nore the pro­por­tions.

Mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism may be praised by some, but it would be idle and short-sighted to ig­nore its prob­lems. We should not feel in­hib­ited in ex­press­ing an opin­ion and feel­ing en­ti­tled to make an un­fet­tered po­lit­i­cal as­sess­ment of re­stricted im­mi­gra­tion.

Bar­ring­ton Black re­tired as a Cir­cuit Bench judge this year

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