Anthony Julius has a reputation as one of the brightest English lawyers of his generation and has a PhD on T.S. Eliot. Recently he was praised for his role in the defense of Deborah Lipstadt against the revolting David Irving. Julius has spent many years studying anti-Semitism in all its varieties. He concludes it has felt like swimming through a sewer.
His book Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England is magisterial. Some of the critical reviews have been predictably nitpicking and Harold Bloom’s positive review in the New York Times brought the secular anti-Zionists out in force so it must be good. No Judaica library should be without it.
The disease has proved uniquely persistent, mutating from religion to religion and from nation to nation. It exists even where no Jews are present. What every outbreak has in common is illogicality mixed with paranoia and politics.
There is nothing new in Julius’s chapters on English history. England gave the world the Blood Libel. The Crusaders slaughtered Jews as the easily accessible heretics. Jews were blamed for everything from the Black Death to famine and war, just as later they were blamed for being capitalists and Marxists, internationalists and nationalists, too weak and too strong.
In England Jews were used and abused and then expelled in 1290. Yet hatred of Jews persisted even when there were none around. When, under Cromwell, the question of readmitting Jews was discussed, sections of the Anglican Church raised the specter of Jews destroying churches, killing Christian children, banning pork. Merchants argued that the Jews would simply swindle everyone else and put them out of business. Similar charges were made in 1753 when Parliament passed a Jew Bill and King George actually signed it giving Jews equal rights. The uproar was so great the bill was repealed! In anti-Semitism, every one of the medieval calumnies has a modern equivalent.
Julius’s specialized contribution is how anti-Semitism is deeply embedded in English literature. From Chaucer to Marlowe, from Shakespeare to Dickens, and on to Eliot, the Jew is invariably depicted as the dangerous, malicious symbol of evil and everything good Christians oppose. All of this makes the exceptions all the more amazing. There are those in the field who think Julius exaggerates anti-Semitism in English literature right up to modernity. But Julius makes a powerful case.
In the most relevant part of this book, he examines current anti-Semitism in England in general, and specifically in the context of anti-Zionism, which is now commonly used as a surrogate. A major factor is Islam which, like Christianity, always had a problem with Jews precisely because they stubbornly persisted with their “old” ways. Perhaps under parts of Islam Jews suffered less at certain times, but the Jew was always regarded as the outsider, the Dhimmi.
One can, of course, understand the modern political antagonism. When two nations fight over the same home there will be a lot of bitterness and violence on both sides. But it is the completely irrational hatred and demonization of the other, regardless, which betrays the disease. Rwanda illustrates how easily “the other” can be dehumanized. Most disturbing because it is inflammatory and has led to violence against Jews around the world is the medieval anti-Semitism that floods the Muslim world underlines how easily human minds can be distorted by manipulators.
The Church remains problematic. Catholicism has tried to eradicate anti-Semitism. But mainstream Protestantism (as opposed to the Southern Baptists) has adopted an anti-Israel narrative as the biased language of the recent Methodists report illustrates only too well.
To make matters worse, too many acculturated Jews have always cooperated and conspired with prejudice in order to secure their own positions in society. Julius demolishes secular Jewish anti-Zionism. The issue once again is not whether Jews or Israelis deserve criticism or condemnation. It is the assumption that all evil is on one side only and that only Palestinians deserve a homeland, not Jews.
Some ultra-Orthodox Jews have long opposed secular Zionism. Nevertheless, most of them still wish to live in the Holy Land and perpetuate their ancient link with it. But secular and left-wing anti-Zionism goes back to the struggles within Communism. Much of Russian Jewry opposed the very idea of a Jewish State (ironically so too did the majority of Anglo American Jews). They fed the left-wing and labor movements of Russia, America, and Europe, and their grandchildren are the secular Jews who today feel embarrassed by the Jewish religion and Jewish particularism. For a while some could identify with a secular socialist Zionist agenda.
But as Israel proved to be as fallible as any other democracy, abandoned its socialism and allied with the great capitalist USA, many of them turned on Israel to cleanse themselves of their embarrassing Jewish identity, and reject the idea of a specifically Jewish homeland. Now that the Communist “god has failed”, all that is left is anti-Americanism and anti-globalization. Israel is an easy target. This also explains the strange alliance between secular left-wing Englishmen (and other left-wingers) and those who despise women, gays, and liberals, and wish to overthrow the Western democratic process.
Julius makes the point that no other country suffers from a campaign of de-legitimization, irrational hatred, and double standards as much as Israel does, and he believes it is precisely because of its Jewish character. It is the loss of objectivity, the language of hate and prejudice that explains the exaggerated odium directed at Jews and Israel, and of course Islam’s own internal problems.
It is often said that it is Israel that causes modern anti-Semitism. Julius debunks this theory. The antagonism would still be there, regardless of geopolitical circumstances. Hatred will always find a way of seeping out of the sewer; if it cannot find one channel, it will always look for another.
A few weeks ago an English judge, Bathurst Norman, instructed a jury that a gang of political terrorists who broke into and smashed up the offices of a company that dealt with Israel should be let off. He compared Israel to Nazis and said that the protest was a legitimate democratic expression of sympathy for the plight of the Gazans and against Israeli oppression. Now let us see if he or any English judge exonerates another case of smashing up private property on political grounds or compares any other state to the Nazis. If not, we will know for certain that Anthony Julius is understating the problem of anti-Semitism in Britain today, rather than exaggerating it.
This important but depressing book needs to be read by anyone who cares for the health and sanity of modern society. When violence is directed at Jews it never ends there.