Thursday, June 1, 2023

How I met a notorious anti-Semite and found myself alone with a hundred neo-Nazis.

 In the early 1980's I attended the University of Sussex, near Brighton on the South coast of England. On my first week at Sussex I attended something called "The Freshers Week", which was a sort of fair in the main hall of the Student Union, where various student societies presented what they stood for and touted for new recruits. Each society was given a table and you made your way through an aisle of tables. 

Some Englishman with a perverse sense of humour had placed two tables, on either side of the entrance: The Iranian Students Society and the Iraqi Students Society. The two countries were then at war, as Saddam Hussein had invaded Iran. The occupants of the two tables sat and glowered at each other, while presumably feeling relieved that they were not in their respective countries.

I recall chatting to the Bahais who told me that the Iranian government was seizing their children and then reaching the Palestine Solidarity Campaign where two very English looking fellows sat along with a pamphlet they were selling, the cover of which you can see below:

As I looked at their magazine, one offered to infiltrate the Jewish Society. The other guy shushed him and I asked if he was the author of the pamphlet: Tony Greenstein. He was. I bought a copy and still have it. 

The very last table (as far as possible from the Iranians and Iraqis?) was the Jewish Society. I joined, partially inspired by the conversation I had heard. I occasionally attended Jewish Society events but coming from a very anti-Religious Socialist-Zionist family, did not feel comfortable there. 

According to his Wikipedia page, Tony Greenstein is a co-founder of the PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign), which I understand to be active all over the UK and when I was at Sussex, he was a regular at student events (he lived nearby in Brighton)  although he did not study at Sussex and so far as I know never did more than a BA in Chemistry.  

In the Summer of my first year at Sussex, I sub-rented a room in a beautiful house in Brighton from some architecture students who were away for the summer. The student who rented me her room holidayed in Peru where she was shot in the shoulder by the Maoist Shining Path terrorist group. The house had a working juke box in the huge kitchen - It was a lovely house and I have a vivid memory of watching snails copulate on the glass door to the garden (they moved surprisingly fast when sex was involved). My room had an ensuite bathroom with a sunken bath (something I had never previously seen). It was great.

I shared the house with Tony Greenstein's girlfriend. I think she was called Kathy. I don't think he ever came to the house. Kathy had spent some time in Israel and had stayed with Palestinians on the West Bank. We got friendly and I showed her a book of pre-1948 Israeli newspaper cartoons that I had.

At some point Kathy told me that the "National Front", a British Neo-Nazi organization was holding a demonstration in Brighton that weekend and that an "anti-Fascist" counter demonstration was planned.

So, a few days later I went into the center of Brighton.  It emerged that the National Front had rented Brighton library under a false name and were holding their AGM there. They had provided a false location for the demonstration and all the anti-Fascists had gone there  A  few tough skin heads were sent out to cause a rumpus while they sneaked into the library.  Brighton was a center of Neo Nazi activity in those days and rather curiously, they were funded by Colonel Gaddhafi and advertised his "Green Book" (see here and here). I arrived late and found that the police had cordoned off the library and although there was a lot of noise, there was nothing happening.  So I went back to the railway station to go home.

Near the station I went down a side road back towards the library and found myself facing about a hundred mostly young Neo-Nazis, including many skinheads in steel-toed Doc Martin shoes, silently marching behind a policeman who was leading them to the railway station. He laughed when he saw my expression and told me to move aside if I didn't want to be trampled.    

Most wore white. Since the mid-1930s it is illegal for British political parties to wear uniforms (this contributed to the failure of Fascism in Britain), so they got round it by wearing white clothes.

I made my way into the railway station after them and watched them mulling around. They seemed lower middle or working class and a bit sleazy. They seemed subdued.  

Tony Greenstein was part of a group of British Jews who made a career out of an extreme anti-Zionism that seemed to emanate from some kind of far-left ideology. The others that I encountered were Moshe Machover and Leni Brenner.  They seemed to devote their life to going round British universities giving lectures on the evils of Zionism (and sometimes Judaism).  I sometimes wondered how they made a living. 

I saw Machover's lecture at the University of Sussex where he memorably advocated for the (re) creation of an Arab Empire stretching form Turkey to Morocco (humility was not part of the group's forte). 

In 2018 Goldstein was expelled from the British Labour party because of his anti-Semitism. In 2019 the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism described him on their website as a "notorious anti-Semite". He sued, going all the way to the High Court, and lost (
There was no doubt, the court said, that he engaged in anti-Semitic activities and the description was legitimate.  Greenstein is now bankrupt, as he cannot pay his legal expenses.

I don't think Greenstein set out to be an anti-Semite (unlike the Neo-Nazis) but his obsessive hatred of Israel led to an intolerance and belief in conspiracy theories.  His extraordinary energy in pursuing his goal of destroying Israel and his lies and distortions in promotion of anti-Zionism was a major force in creating the widespread anti-Semitism on the British left. He and a small group of fellow extremists wrote frequent letters to the Guardian claiming that allegations of anti-Semitism were untrue and that they represented a significant body of Jewish opinion. Of course if the allegations were true then Greenstein himself would be an anti-Semite. The letters were always published despite the obviously problematic nature of their opinions and their lack of a meaningful connection to Jewish communal life. 

By the way, a long time after I moved out of the house I shared with Kathy, I noticed that I had lost the book of Israeli political cartoons (by Dosh) from 1945-1950. She really liked it and I sometimes wonder if it is now in Tony Greenstein's house. 


  1. Fascinating recollection. I got into an argument with Tony Greenstein a few years ago in a Facebook group for Jewish supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, which I think he ran. He seemed like a complete fanatic.

    I have to say, I doubt he was "a major force in creating the widespread anti-Semitism on the British left". That was always going to happen, quite aside from Tony Greenstein. Far more important figures like George Galloway hold views similar to his.

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