The state as a rootless transient

Jews spent millennia in Europe without being accepted. Suddenly every Jew on the planet is a European.

rockets from Lebanon 298 (photo credit: Associated Press)
rockets from Lebanon 298
(photo credit: Associated Press)
One of my favorite all-but-unknown books is The Heart Of Princess Osra, written by Anthony Hope in 1896. Hope hit the big time with The Prisoner Of Zenda and its boffo sequel Rupert Of Hentzau, two rip-roaring yarns in which an English dilettante twice contrives to save from usurpers the throne of Ruritania. The Heart Of Princess Osra is also set in Hope's fictional Mitteleuropean kingdom, but this time a century and a half earlier - the 1730s - and it's not a rollicking adventure but a series of ill-starred romantic vignettes featuring King Rudolf III's younger sister and various unsuitable suitors. Yet it does make you appreciate how fully the author conceived his fictional landscape: Ruritania wasn't merely the setting of a thriller, so why just use it as such? Hope knew its history, its rulers and its laws long before the events of The Prisoner took place. As evidence of that, look no further than chapter one, page one of Princess Osra: "Stephen! Stephen! Stephen!" The impatient cry was heard through all the narrow gloomy street, where the old richly-carved house-fronts bowed to meet one another and left for the eye's comfort only a bare glimpse of blue. It was, men said, the oldest street in Strelsau, even as the sign of the "Silver Ship" was the oldest sign known to exist in the city. For when Aaron Lazarus the Jew came there, seventy years before, he had been the tenth man in unbroken line that took up the business; and now Stephen Nados, his apprentice and successor, was the eleventh. Old Lazarus had made a great business of it, and had spent his savings in buying up the better part of the street; but since Jews then might hold no property in Strelsau, he had taken all the deeds in the name of Stephen Nados; and when he came to die, being unable to carry his houses or his money with him, having no kindred, and caring not a straw for any man or woman alive save Stephen, he bade Stephen let the deeds be, and, with a last curse against the Christians (of whom Stephen was one, and a devout one), he kissed the young man, and turned his face to the wall and died. Therefore Stephen was a rich man, and had no need to carry on the business, though it never entered his mind to do anything else... THAT'S PRETTY darn good. There's not another single reference to Ruritanian Jewry in any of Hope's writing, but he's thorough enough in the conception of his fairytale kingdom even to know what the anti-Semitic property restrictions are. The author located Ruritania somewhere between Saxony and Bohemia, though, thanks to the movie versions of Zenda, we tend to think of it as being in the Balkans. But it doesn't matter where you put it, the likes of Lazarus the Jew are long gone from Strelsau's bustling streets. In Roumanian Journey, Sacheverell Sitwell recounted his visit in 1937 to the Bukovina, formerly the easternmost province of the Habsburg Empire, then part of Romania, now in the Ukraine. Its capital, Czernowitz, was a melange of Romanians, Ruthenians, Poles, Germans, Armenians and Swabians, but, as Sitwell couldn't help noticing, you'd never know that from a stroll down Main Street: "There is not a shop that has not a Jewish name painted above its windows. The entire commerce of the place is in the hands of the Jews. Yiddish is spoken here more than German." Not anymore. The Jews of Czernowitz are dead or fled, as they are from a thousand other cities across Europe. For centuries, the rap against the Hebrews was that they were sinister rootless cosmopolitan types unbound by allegiance to whichever polity they happened to be residing in. So, after the Second World War, the ones who were left became a more or less conventional nation state, and now they're hated for that. But all the hoo-ha about Holocaust denial (and granted, from President Ahmadinejad to Mel Gibson's dad, there's a lot of it about) has obscured the fact that the world has re-embraced, with little objection, an older form of anti-Semitism. Israel is, in effect, subject to a geopolitical version of the same conditions endured by Lazarus the Jew in Anthony Hope's Strelsau. The Zionist Entity is for the moment permitted to remain in business but, like Aaron Lazarus, it's not entitled to the enforceable property rights of every other nation state. No other country - not Canada, not Slovenia, not Thailand - would be expected to forego the traditional rights of nations subjected to kidnappings of its citizens, random rocket attacks into residential areas, and other infringements of its sovereignty. This isn't about who's right and who's wrong: there are regional flare-ups all over the map and, regardless of the rights and wrongs, for the most part the world just sits back and lets them get on with it. There are big population displacements - as there were, contemporaneous to the founding of Israel, in Europe and the Indian sub-continent - but one side wins and the other makes do with what it can get and the dust settles. The energy expended by the world in denying this particular regional crisis the traditional settlement is unique and perverse, except insofar as by ensuring that the "Palestinian question" is never resolved one is also ensuring that Israel's sovereignty is also never really settled: it, too, is conditional - and, to judge from recent columns in The Washington Post and The Times of London, it's increasingly seen that way in influential circles - the Jew is tolerated as a current leaseholder but, as in Anthony Hope's Ruritania, he can never truly own the land. Once again the Jews are rootless transients, though, in one of history's blacker jests, they're now bemoaned in the salons of London and Paris as an outrageous imposition of an alien European population on the Middle East. Which would have given Aaron Lazarus a laugh. The Jews spent millennia on the Continent without ever being accepted as European. But no sooner are the Continent's Jewry all but extinct than suddenly every Jew left on the planet is a European. In her Impressions From The Road, With Historical Essays (1903), Elizaveta de Vitte witnessed the same phenomenon in the Bukovina Sacheverell Sitwell later noted, but blamed the success of the Jews for the poverty of the Russians: "Out of the 600 students in the Chernowitz University, only 50 are Russian! It is true that admission to the University is open to everyone, but the actual enrollment happens in the following way: on a set day, Jews block the doors of the University..." The Zionists' "disproportionate" response in Lebanon is merely the latest version of the famous Jewish pushiness. With hindsight, even the artful invention of the hitherto unknown ethnicity of "Palestinian" can be seen as the need to demonstrate that where there is a Jew there is the Jew's victim. It's a very strange feeling to read 19th century novels and travelogues and recognize the old psychoses currently reemerging in even more preposterous forms. These are dark times for the world: we are on the brink of the nuclearization of ancient pathologies. The writer is senior North American columnist for Britain's Telegraph Group.