The ‘new’ anti-Semitism

Anthony Julius offers a comprehensive history of Jew-hatred in England.

By JONNY PAUL
March 26, 2010 16:37
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trials of the diaspora cover . (photo credit: 311)

Trials of the Diaspora
By Anthony Julius | Oxford University Press | 864 pages | £25

In his definitive new book Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, prominent lawyer and academic Anthony Julius unmasks four kinds of anti-Semitism and argues that it is contemporary anti-Semitism – manifested in an anti-Zionism that treats Zionism and the State of Israel as illegitimate Jewish enterprises – that constitutes the greatest threat to Anglo-Jewry.

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It is a thorough and comprehensive history of English anti-Semitism, covering the history of the oldest hatred from the middle of the 13th century to the present day.

Julius, who acted for Princess Diana in her divorce and American historian Deborah Lipstadt in her libel case against the convicted Holocaust denier David Irving, discusses these four kinds of anti-Semitism in a scholarly yet accessible way in his 800-plus-page exposé.

The first kind was the anti-Semitism of medieval England – characterized by blood libels and the accusation that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus – which ended with the expulsion of the Jews in 1290, the first national expulsion of Jews in the history of Europe.

The second kind is literary anti-Semitism, which Julius dates from about a century after the expulsion. It first appears in ballads, and then in the works of iconic writers such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and Charles Dickens – and is still with us today. The third area of anti-Semitism runs from the readmission of the Jews to England in 1656, under Oliver Cromwell, until the 1960s, and is described as an anti-Semitism of condescension, partial exclusion, quotas, disregard and bullying. While Julius says these kinds of anti-Semitism are also still around, they have greatly diminished; golf clubs no longer have admission policies that exclude Jews. In its most extreme form, this manifestation accuses Jews of “dual loyalties,” questioning whether they can ever be wholehearted members of the English nation.

But it was the fourth area that, Julius says, served as the main motivation to write the book: The anti-Semitism that dominates today and is associated with, though not identical to, the anti-Zionist project of attacking and subverting the conception of a Jewish state. Here the Jews are represented as a menacing and threatening power, or powerful lobby.

THIS BOOK, Julius says, is an attempt to rebalance the understanding of contemporary anti-Semitism that was generated by the Irving case.

One of the unfortunate consequences of that case, and the publicity it received, he argues, was that it encouraged a certain misconception about the contemporary home of anti-Semitism – the misconception that anti-Semitism came from the Right; that it was rooted in a certain kind of nostalgia for Nazism, for a mid-20th-century reaction that it was essentially alien to English self-understanding; and that it was unrelated to contemporary Jewish concerns.

But for Julius, real contemporary anti-Semitism does not stem from the secular far Right but from the Left – what he calls the post-1989 collapse of socialism. It can also be found in some Christian and Muslim anti-Zionist discourse.

The anti-Semitic Left realized itself in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of socialism and all the lost political souls looking for a new cause now that revolution was no longer available. The book also looks at the “red-green alliance” – born in part of a nihilistic hostility to the US, the surviving combatant in the Cold War – at the phenomenon of Jewish anti-Zionists and at those termed “self-hating Jews.”

Julius names the phenomenon described in the fourth category the “new anti-Semitism,” as it is so polluted by anti-Semitic tropes, and he goes on to unearth the plethora of double standards held by those in this category, notably including the desire to deny the Jews the rights they advocate for other peoples.

“It adheres to the principle of national self-determination, except for the Jews’ case. It affirms international law, except in Israel’s case. It does not understand that supporting the cause of Palestinian nationhood is one thing, while denying the right of Jews to live in their own state is quite another. It is outraged by the Jewish nature of the State of Israel but is untroubled by the Islamic nature of Iran or of Saudi Arabia. It regards as racist the social inequalities between Jew and Arab in Israel, while being indifferent to the legal inequalities between Muslim and non-Muslim in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim states,” Julius writes.

According to Julius, the new anti-Semitism suffers from a selective approach to history. “It regards Jewish nationalism (i.e. Zionism) as uniquely pernicious, rather than as merely another nationalism, just as earlier generations of anti-Semites regarded Jewish capitalists as uniquely pernicious, rather than as heterogeneous members of a much larger capitalist class. It is indifferent to Jewish suffering, while being sensitive to the suffering of non-Jews. It writes out of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the massacres of Jews in Hebron (1929), Jerusalem and Kfar Etzion (1948) while treating the massacre of Arabs at Deir Yassin (1948) as proof of fundamental Zionist iniquity. It is reluctant to take a position on the Chinese occupation of Tibet, while holding the Israeli occupation an indefensible evil of global consequence.”

As well as playing variations on well-established anti-Semitic tropes, the new anti-Semitism deploys some fresh ones – comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, he argues. “It treats UN resolutions on Israel as if passed by impartial, apolitical bodies. It denies the existence of Islamic anti-Semitism, save perhaps as a Western import and of no practical consequence.”

An outspoken critic of the call to boycott Israeli academia, Julius shows the continuity with earlier boycotts – Cork 1904, Central and Eastern Europe in the 1930s, the Arab boycott 1940s going forward – which he says were a staple of medieval anti-Semitism.

Tireless in his quest to expose anti-Semitism in all its manifestations, Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora is a formidable work and groundbreaking book that offers the first comprehensive history of anti-Semitism in England.

Already provoking much comment and debate, after the book was serialized in The Sunday Times, it comes as a timely reminder that anti-Semitism has long held a place in English culture, and grimly continues to do so.


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