You may not hear much about anti-Semitism but it is alive and well. That’s the message from a leading discrimination lawyer who has helped bring several dramatic but unreported legal claims alleging anti-Jewish prejudice at some of the Square Mile’s leading banks and brokerages.
One case handled by Makbool Javaid that did hit the headlines was that of Laurent Weinberger, a broker at Tullett & Tokyo Liberty whose grandmother had died in the Holocaust and who was ordered to wear a Nazi uniform in the office.
His claims became public in 2001 and shocked the City, but Javaid, of law firm DLA, says such abuses are not isolated. ‘Because most banks are very sensitive to claims of anti-semitism, they tend to settle before those claims get to a court or tribunal,’ he says. ‘That’s why they rarely reach the public eye.’
The question of anti-Jewish prejudice in the business world has just reared its head again, in a much-publicised spat between retail tycoon Philip Green and Nicholas Soames, the Conservative politician.
Green, whose £9 billion takeover bid for Marks and Spencer was thwarted two weeks ago, was drawn into an argument at the Dorchester hotel with Soames, who allegedly said: ‘Their kind keep it all together, as ever. It’s the same as it ever was.’
Green was reportedly offended by this remark, taking it as a belittling reference to his Jewish background. Soames, for his part, insists that his ‘banter’ has been misinterpreted. The MP has told colleagues he was merely trying to make a joke about ‘City wideboys’.
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But Green’s sensitivity to slights of this kind, whether real or imagined, is probably understandable. The M&S board’s decision to reject his final bid was loudly endorsed at the company’s annual general meeting earlier this month, but even some in the M&S camp had the uncomfortable suspicion that a number of small shareholders were displaying a fervour laced with anti-semitism.
Nor is prejudice against Jews much relieved by occasional articles in the City pages referring to a ‘north London business community’ or something similar. Depending on the story being reported, readers are invited to infer that this group’s members might include such well-known businessmen as Green, Amstrad founder Alan Sugar or Maurice Saatchi, the advertising guru and Conservative Party co-chairman.