As October 7 sharpens split in UK’s far right, Jews give no quarter to either side

British Jewry is rebuffing groups exploiting the war to spread Islamophobia under the guise of Israel support, to say nothing of those lustily doubling down on antisemitism and anti-Zionism

Robert Philpot is a writer and journalist. He is the former editor of Progress magazine and the author of “Margaret Thatcher: The Honorary Jew.”

People participate in a "March Against Antisemitism" in London on November 26, 2023. (Andy Solomon / Shutterstock)
People participate in a "March Against Antisemitism" in London on November 26, 2023. (Andy Solomon / Shutterstock)

LONDON — Like its European counterparts, Britain’s far right has historically not shown much love for Jews or the Jewish state.

In recent decades, however, some extreme-right groups have sought to make common cause with both Israel and Jews, seeing them, misguidedly, as allies in hateful campaigns against Islam. At the same time, other groups have on occasion allied with Islamists in what they see as a joint campaign to push antisemitic and anti-Zionist beliefs.

Those divisions have sharpened significantly since October 7, as the war between Hamas and Israel has roiled passions in Britain, fueling regular pro-Palestinian demonstrations on the streets of London and beyond and a sharp spike in hate crimes against Jews as well as Muslims.

“As is always the case, many on the organised far right have seen the ongoing conflict as an opportunity to exploit anger and advance their own divisive politics,” Joe Mulhall, director of research at UK counter-extremism organization Hope Not Hate, wrote in an annual report published last month.

United by extreme xenophobia and anti-migrant rhetoric, the UK’s far-right is nevertheless riven by internecine splits and diffuse, sometimes contradictory, beliefs. White nationalists, neo-Nazis and antisemites, anti-immigration zealots, and those fixated on the alleged threat from Islam jockey for recruits and online social media warriors.

While electorally weak, the various groups that make up the far right are still large enough to constitute a threat to minority communities in Britain, and are closely monitored by country’s security services and private initiatives like Hope Not Hate and other anti-fascist and anti-racist groups.

According to Mulhall, the British far right is split “depending on which minority community the individual or organisation generally dislikes most. Those who primarily push Islamophobia have been vocally pro-Israel while those motivated by antisemitism have been pushing pro-Palestine content. The latter is usually the more extreme elements within the far right.”

‘Anti-Islamisation’ group PEGIDA rallies in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England on February 28, 2015.

Formed in 2019, Britain’s most active fascist organization, Patriotic Alternative, has been accused of promoting antisemitism, is vehemently hostile to Israel, and wades knee-deep in conspiracy theories about the power exercised by Zionists over UK politics.

On the other side of the divide is self-proclaimed Zionist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, founder of the anti-Islam English Defence League, who was arrested in November after he ignored a court order to stay away from an area where a march against antisemitism was taking place in London in London, a sign of the Jewish community’s rejection of even those far-right groups that see themselves as allies.

“We have been consistently clear that we do not welcome the so-called allyship of those who use the concerns of the Jewish community to stoke division,” Claudia Mendoza, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, told The Times of Israel. “We look for allies who are consistent in the fight against racism. The far right have never, and will never be, an ally of the Jewish community.”

Metropolitan Police officers arrest British far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, also known as Tommy Robinson, during a demonstration in central London on November 26, 2023 to protest against antisemitism. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Both factions within the far right have tried to exploit passions in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war for their own interests.

Days after the October 7 Hamas attack, Patriotic Alternative declared: “No serious nationalist should be siding with or supporting the state of Israel.” It went on to describe the notion of Israel as Britain’s “greatest ally” as “a pernicious myth.”

Patriotic Alternative alleges that London’s support for Israel doesn’t reflect the attitudes of the British public, their national interests or British values.

“[W]hy is it not the Palestinians as underdogs that we support rather than the overwhelming firepower of the Israelis? Support of the underdog is one of the UK’s much vaunted values is it not?” asked one piece on Patriotic Alternative’s website.

The group is led by Mark Collett, a former leading member of the British National Party, an extreme-right neo-fascist group that has campaigned for “rights for whites.” In his writings, Collett has blamed many of Britain’s alleged ills on the fact that Zionists have “much of the Western establishment and media… in their back pocket.”

British neo-Nazi Mark Collett (YouTube screenshot)

Accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza, and casting doubt on the veracity of atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7, Collett has welcomed the huge pro-Palestinian protests that have taken place in London since October 7, describing them as “largely a good thing.”

“We are seeing a large number of people breaking away from the establishment line and criticising Zionist power,” he suggested in a recent article posted to Patriotic Alternative’s website. “These people might not be our friends, but they are the enemy of the system – a system that spends much of its time oppressing and demonising White people for merely existing.”

Patriotic Alternative’s apparent sympathy for the Palestinian cause doesn’t indicate any great warmth towards Muslims.

Indeed, in a variant of the “Great Replacement Theory” conspiracy, the group claims that the war is part of a Zionist plot to flood Europe with non-white migrants, in this case Palestinians. It also suggests the pro-Palestinian protests are the result of the British government’s support for “Zionist wars in the Middle East” and its “open door” immigration policies.

“They still see [Muslims] as a fundamental threat to the West and to Britain and incompatible with British identity or Western identity,” Mulhall told The Times of Israel. “However, they see Jews as a far more fundamental threat. And so, for them, that’s why they would support Palestine.”

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists and supporters wave flags and carry placards during a National March for Palestine in central London on February 17, 2024. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

“Free Palestine AND Britain from Zionist control,” reads the bio on the X account of Nick Griffin, a former leader of the BNP and member of the European Parliament, who has also used the war to promote Holocaust denial.

He has compared Gaza’s dead to pictures of concentration camp victims in Germany. But while claiming that those in the Holocaust were primarily the victims of neglect, disease and Allied bombing, Griffin appears to suggest those who have died in Gaza have been intentionally killed by Israel.

Of the Hamas massacre, Griffin has argued on social media platform X that Israeli victims were killed by Israel Defense Forces fire.

At the same time, he has defended Hamas’s actions as  “a suicidal Tet Offensive attack by guerilla fighters acting within international law in response to the brutal occupation of their country and decades of oppression and murderous violence against their people,” referencing the Vietcong’s 1968 blitz on US and southern Vietnamese forces.

Leader of the far-right British National Party, Nick Griffin, speaks during a news conference in Athens on Friday, Jan. 10. 2014. (AP/Thanassis Stavrakis)

In an example of the unholy alliances produced by hostility toward the Jewish state, Griffin last month endorsed George Galloway, a far-left, anti-Israel firebrand, in his successful battle to win the northwest parliamentary seat of Rochdale in a special election.

“Only one candidate can beat the System’s warmongering uniparty in #Rochdale, and he’s George Galloway,” Griffin posted on social media.

As vice president of the far-right Alliance for Peace and Freedom, Griffin’s ties with Islamic extremists go back years. In 2019, he joined fellow members of the Europe-wide party on a trip to Beirut, where they met with Hezbollah’s head of Arab and International Relations, Ammar Al-Moussawi.

On the trip, party leader Robert Fiore, an Italian former member of the European Parliament, reportedly praised Hezbollah, saying: “Everyone must know that there are millions of Europeans who completely share your aspirations for peace and are your partners in your struggle with the Zionist trends.”

Illustrative: A Hezbollah flag is waved during an Al-Quds rally in London (Steve Winston/via Jewish News)

Since the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas, both Griffin and Collett have also appeared on a podcast hosted by the fiercely anti-Israel, hardline pro-Islamist website 5Pillars.

“Clearly, both Islamist and far-right extremists are using the war in Gaza to unite around their common antisemitism,” Mulhall wrote.

‘Terrorists’ at the gates

Alongside classic antisemitism, Patriotic Alternative and Griffin reflect far-right anti-Zionist attitudes in Britain dating back nearly 80 years, when pre-state Jewish militias took action against officials administering the final years of the British Mandate in Palestine, what Collett’s group terms as Israel’s “terrorist origins.”

The Irgun’s bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 and the 1947 kidnapping and execution of two British sergeants, Mervyn Paice and Clifford Martin, sparked widespread anger in the UK and, in the latter case, anti-Jewish rioting.

“For a brief period there was kind of excitement in the British far right, that after the Holocaust, this was a way to rehabilitate antisemitic politics,” Mulhall told The Times of Israel.

For much of the postwar period, the British far-right’s hatred of Jews and anti-Zionism went hand in hand with its nativist loathing of Afro-Caribbean and Southeast Asian immigration, which began in the late 1940s. Israel was regarded as the apotheosis of Jewish plotting and the exercise of Zionist global power.

People protest against migrants in Newquay, Cornwall, on February 25, 2023. (JMundy /

But, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, hatred toward Muslims in Britain was infused with national security suspicions. For some, Israel came to be seen less as an enemy and more an ally in the fight against Islamist terror. The process led to “a more overtly positive view about Israel than you would have for most of the postwar period,” Mulhall said.

Among the most prominent anti-immigration figures on the far right to line up behind Israel was Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, leader of the English Defence League. On his watch, the EDL even had a small Jewish division.

A repeat convict for offenses such as mortgage fraud and contempt of court, Yaxley-Lennon has attended pro-Israel marches and draped himself in the Israeli flag. During a visit to the Jewish state in 2016, he posed on a tank with a gun near the Syrian border.

“If Israel falls, we all fall in this battle for freedom, liberty and democracy,” he told the Jewish Chronicle in 2019. “English people see it as their fight as well.”

In this file photo taken on April 01, 2017 Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, AKA Tommy Robinson, former leader of the right-wing EDL (English Defence League) is escorted away by police from a Britain First march and an English Defence League march in central London (AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

Like Griffin, Patriotic Alternative and others, Yaxley-Lennon is chiefly concerned with preserving what the far right sees as Britain’s “national identity”, keeping out migrants and warning of “a Muslim invasion of Europe.” Unlike the others, though, he has eschewed antisemitism and instead espouses Islamophobia, labeling the religion “backward” and “fascist.”

By contrast, he’s appeared to have nothing but praise for Jews. “The point I always make is that there’s no Jews that are involved in any radicalisation, there’s no Jews that are involved in any gangs, or selling heroin, there’s no Jews jumping out of cars beating people up – all the things that affect us here,” he told the Jewish Chronicle.

Yaxley-Lennon’s admiration isn’t reciprocated by British Jewish communal organizations. When he attended a rally organized by the Zionist Federation in May 2021, his appearance was swiftly condemned by the federation, Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.

A protester holds a placard reading ‘Coexist’ during a demonstration in central London, on November 26, 2023, to protest against antisemitism. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Mulhall noted in the Hope Not Hate report that Yaxley-Lennon’s vocal support for the Jewish state hasn’t stopped “his occasional embrace of racial pseudoscience and conspiratorial antisemitism.”

Since October 7, Yaxley-Lennon has attempted to exploit public anger at the decision of the pro-Palestinian movement to hold a demonstration in central London during last November’s Remembrance Weekend. Capitalizing on online rumors that the Cenotaph would be desecrated, Yaxley-Lennon called for a counter-demonstration. On the day, clashes with the police close to the memorial for Britain’s war dead led to the arrest of over 90 far-right activists.

Similarly, the far-right Britain First party, which Yaxley-Lennon supports, has expressed sympathy for Israel in the wake of the Hamas attacks but expended most of its energy attacking “Islamist and communist” pro-Palestinian activists in the UK.

To many Jewish groups, support for Israel espoused by Yaxley-Lennon and others on the far right is an unwelcome side effect of the group’s targeting of pro-Palestinian campaigns in the UK which have ramped up since October 7.

In November, the Campaign Against Antisemitism told Yaxley-Lennon he was unwelcome at a march against antisemitism. He ignored the request, and a court order, leading to his arrest.

Like Patriotic Alternative, Yaxley-Lennon has suggested that “insidious political interests” are “attempting to pave the way to push Gazan ‘refugees’ into the West (which would no doubt free up a lot of land in Gaza).”

But unlike Collett, Yaxley-Lennon has not explicitly linked the supposed campaign to a Jewish plot and instead highlighted the Islamist threat posed by Muslim Palestinians.

People take part in a ‘Vigil for Israel’ opposite the entrance to Downing Street, the official residence of Britain’s Prime Minister, in London on October 9, 2023. (Henry Nicholls/AFP)

Nonetheless, Mulhall worries about an apparent growing openness to such conspiracy theories. “Those groups that would have traditionally tried to distance themselves from antisemitism are treading in that space much more often,” he said.

Mulhall told The Times of Israel he has been “impressed” with the response of the major communal institutions to attempts by some on the far right to attach themselves to the pro-Israel cause.

“They have been very strong in saying: ‘We do not want these people, as a community, we know what it’s like to be targeted by the far right, we won’t make accommodations,’” he said.

“They know it’s cynical, they know it’s opportunistic, they know that Tommy Robinson doesn’t genuinely seem to care for the Jewish community or for Israel,” he added. “For him, it’s a bat with which he can hit the people he hates.”

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