Anthony Julius: Rather Anti-Antisemites than Philo-Semites

An interesting and short review in Standpoint by Anthony Julius of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s new work, The People of the Book.

Here’s the key point:

[Theo] Hobson’s statement [referring to “the philo-Semitic mood within the UK’s main religious culture”] seemed utterly out of touch with the experience not just of the generality of British Jews but also of many non-Jews of good will sensitive to the relatively high levels of anti-Semitism in the culture generally. Were Hobson to be correct, the distinguished intellectual historian Gertrude Himmelfarb would be among those who would welcome his judgment; but it is much more likely that she would regard it with some scepticism. In the preface to The People of the Book, she writes of the ominous resurgence of anti-Semitism in England.

Himmelfarb generously cites my opinion, expressed in my own recent work, Trials of the Diaspora (2010), that English philo-Semitism is a “past glory”. By this I mean that philo-Semitism, as an aspect of English public discourse, did not survive the passing of the 20th century. It continues to exist in private spaces, of course; it continues to be expounded, in more or less eccentric versions, in marginal public spaces. But as a living tradition, informed by an appreciation of Jewish history and culture, and a sentiment of regard for Jews and their interests and concerns, it is no more.

I suspect that what Jews most need now are not more philo-Semites, though they are always welcome, but more anti-antiSemites, that is, people ready to name and face down those contemporary forms of Jew-hatred that exploit or otherwise misappropriate liberal and leftist values

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