England's not so pleasant aspect
Antisemitism, that paltry and vicious hatred, has much in it of English origin
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There are many kinds of antisemitism, and among them there are four that have an English provenance, either wholly or in substantial part.
The radical antisemitism of medieval England — one of defamation, expropriation, murder and expulsion — completed itself in 1290, when there were no Jews left to torment. English literary antisemitism has been continuously present from the anonymous medieval ballad Sir Hugh, or the Jew’s Daughter through to present times. A modern, everyday antisemitism of insult and partial exclusion has also been pervasive, if contained, in this country. This is the common antisemitism experienced by Jews from their “readmission” to England in the mid-17th century through to the late-20th century.
Finally, a new configuration of anti-Zionisms, which treats Zionism and the state of Israel as illegitimate Jewish enterprises, emerged here in the late 1960s and 1970s. This perspective, heavily indebted to antisemitic tropes, constitutes the greatest current threat to Anglo-Jewish security and morale.
This fourth kind of antisemitism is now more European than English but has a particularly English history, stemming from the intimacy of association between England and the Zionist project from the mid-19th century through to the mid-1950s. It denies to Jews the rights that it upholds for other, comparable peoples. It adheres to the principle of national self-determination, except in 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, say, 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.
It regards Zionism as uniquely pernicious, rather than as merely another nationalism, just as earlier generations of antisemites regarded Jewish capitalists as uniquely pernicious, rather than as heterogeneous members of a much larger capitalist class.
It writes out of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the massacres of Jews in Hebron (August 1929), Jerusalem (February 1948), and Kfar Etzion (May 1948), while treating the massacre of Arabs at Deir Yasin (April 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 of the West Bank an indefensible evil of global consequence. It is hostile to the United States, which it believes is dominated by Jews. It plays variations on well-established antisemitic tropes and deploys some new ones of its own — principally, that Israel may suitably be compared with Nazi Germany and/or Apartheid South Africa.
It treats UN, and UN committee and council, resolutions on Israel as if passed by impartial, apolitical bodies. It denies the existence of Islamic antisemitism, save perhaps as a Western import and of no practical consequence. While it excoriates racist sentiments found among Israelis, or in the complex history of Zionism, it refuses to acknowledge the racist themes towards Jews to be found in many currents of Arab nationalism. It overstates, on every occasion, and beyond reason, any case that could be made against Israel’s actions or policies, and wildly overstates the significance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in world affairs.
Longstanding antisemites now embrace “anti-Zionism” as a cover for their Jew-hatred. This is because, in relation to Israel, the antisemite finds a protected voice. The desire to destroy Jews is reconfigured as the desire to destroy or dismantle the Jewish state. The new anti-Zionism has become a cause for some English academics and political activists; it is commonly found in the universities and in student and university teacher associations. Anti-Zionism has renewed antisemitism, and given it a future.
These, then, are England’s gifts to Jew-hatred. The antisemitism of no other country has this density of history. The antisemitism of no other country is so continuously innovative. On many occasions in the history of antisemitism, England arrives first.
Anthony Julius is a lawyer and literary critic. His book Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England will be published on February 14 by Oxford University Press at £25