I’m uncomfortable with the phrase “philosemitism.” To me it implies a mirror image of antisemitism, a belief that the Jews are imbued with a sort of super-goodness/intelligence/wisdom that puts them above mere gentile mortals. Someone once wrote that philosemitism is the “sneaky cousin” of antisemitism, and I think there’s a measure of truth to that.
However there are plenty of gentiles who– while recognizing that Jews are a diverse bunch and very far from superhuman– have a genuine appreciation for Jewish customs, traditions and humor; an admiration for Jewish persistence and survival; and a visceral contempt for antisemitism in all its forms.
To describe such people, I’d prefer “friend of the Jews” to “philosemite.” Nevertheless, Jeffrey Goldberg asked the readers of his blog to submit names of well-known philosemtes, and he has published a list of 25. I’ll admit to not recognizing a few of the names (Maurice Blanchot, James Carroll, Thomas Cahill) and to not knowing why others (e.g., Pete Townsend) made the list.
It’s also worth noting that others– George Orwell and Harry Truman– were known to express antisemitic sentiments from time to time. However Orwell wrote a perceptive essay about British antisemitism and had a number of close Jewish friends; and Truman (persuaded in part by his Jewish former business partner) was quick to recognize the new State of Israel in 1948.
I’m happy to see the American comedian Dennis Leary on the list. Leary, you may recall, was in the broadcast booth at a Boston Red Sox game shortly after the Mel Gibson drunk-driving and antisemitic-outburst incident– and this was the classic result: