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