Geoffrey Alderman, Michael Gross professor of politics and contemporary history, in a review of Anthony Julius’ Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, ties together several areas of concern about anti-Jewish prejudice from the book.
Julius has set down several markers against which all future discussion of anti-Jewish prejudice – not just in England or the UK – will need to be measured.
The first is that such prejudice has its origins in Christianity. Over the course of centuries, the English view of the Jew has largely been the Christian view of the Jew. It is a view that, although friendly and patronising at times, has been fundamentally hostile. The blood libel practically originated in England, where it was popularised by mad monks for malicious ends, and repopularised by Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens. The arguments Julius advances in support of the contention that The Merchant of Venice and Oliver Twist are reworkings of the blood libel are sombre and compelling.
The second is that contemporary anti-Zionism is nothing more than a fig leaf. You can legitimately criticise individual acts of individual governments of the Jewish state. But to call for its dismantling and destruction is inherently racist. And to see in the legal and legitimate activities of its UK supporters the undermining and corruption of British democracy is to dabble in precisely the kind of racism in which Marr and his disciples indulged.
The third is that the banner of the racism that is anti-Semitism has for some considerable time been carried highest by the Left in English politics. The disdain shown by Beatrice Webb for Jewish suffering (“I can’t understand why the Jews make such a fuss over a few dozen of their people killed in Palestine,” she lectured Chaim Weizmann after the 1929 Hebron massacre) found its echo in the contempt of Ernest Bevin for Holocaust survivors, and resonates today in the cynical mesalliance between the Left and Islamic fundamentalists.
And the fourth lies in the ingredients now being added by these fundamentalists and their apologists to this toxic brew. One result of this is that history is being rewritten as fiction. In my teaching of international politics, I am now having to disabuse my students of “facts” they have received, for example that UN Resolution 194 (1948) calls for a “right of return” for all Palestinians to Israel (it doesn’t) and that UN Resolution 242 (1967) demands that Israel evacuate the West Bank (it doesn’t).
Marketed as truths, such falsehoods serve only to delegitimise the Jewish state and thus to denigrate and defame the Jewish people. And that is what anti-Semitism is all about.