July 22, 2010

Anthony Julius

Anthony Julius has a reputation as one of the brightest English lawyers of his generation and has a PhD on T.S. Eliot. Recently he was praised for his role in the defense of Deborah Lipstadt against the revolting David Irving. Julius has spent many years studying anti-Semitism in all its varieties. He concludes it has felt like swimming through a sewer.

His book Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England is magisterial. Some of the critical reviews have been predictably nitpicking and Harold Bloom's positive review in the New York Times brought the secular anti-Zionists out in force so it must be good. No Judaica library should be without it.

The disease has proved uniquely persistent, mutating from religion to religion and from nation to nation. It exists even where no Jews are present. What every outbreak has in common is illogicality mixed with paranoia and politics.

There is nothing new in Julius's chapters on English history. England gave the world the Blood Libel. The Crusaders slaughtered Jews as the easily accessible heretics. Jews were blamed for everything from the Black Death to famine and war, just as later they were blamed for being capitalists and Marxists, internationalists and nationalists, too weak and too strong.

In England Jews were used and abused and then expelled in 1290. Yet hatred of Jews persisted even when there were none around. When, under Cromwell, the question of readmitting Jews was discussed, sections of the Anglican Church raised the specter of Jews destroying churches, killing Christian children, banning pork. Merchants argued that the Jews would simply swindle everyone else and put them out of business. Similar charges were made in 1753 when Parliament passed a Jew Bill and King George actually signed it giving Jews equal rights. The uproar was so great the bill was repealed! In anti-Semitism, every one of the medieval calumnies has a modern equivalent.

Julius's specialized contribution is how anti-Semitism is deeply embedded in English literature. From Chaucer to Marlowe, from Shakespeare to Dickens, and on to Eliot, the Jew is invariably depicted as the dangerous, malicious symbol of evil and everything good Christians oppose. All of this makes the exceptions all the more amazing. There are those in the field who think Julius exaggerates anti-Semitism in English literature right up to modernity. But Julius makes a powerful case.

In the most relevant part of this book, he examines current anti-Semitism in England in general, and specifically in the context of anti-Zionism, which is now commonly used as a surrogate. A major factor is Islam which, like Christianity, always had a problem with Jews precisely because they stubbornly persisted with their "old" ways. Perhaps under parts of Islam Jews suffered less at certain times, but the Jew was always regarded as the outsider, the Dhimmi.

One can, of course, understand the modern political antagonism. When two nations fight over the same home there will be a lot of bitterness and violence on both sides. But it is the completely irrational hatred and demonization of the other, regardless, which betrays the disease. Rwanda illustrates how easily "the other" can be dehumanized. Most disturbing because it is inflammatory and has led to violence against Jews around the world is the medieval anti-Semitism that floods the Muslim world underlines how easily human minds can be distorted by manipulators.

The Church remains problematic. Catholicism has tried to eradicate anti-Semitism. But mainstream Protestantism (as opposed to the Southern Baptists) has adopted an anti-Israel narrative as the biased language of the recent Methodists report illustrates only too well.

To make matters worse, too many acculturated Jews have always cooperated and conspired with prejudice in order to secure their own positions in society. Julius demolishes secular Jewish anti-Zionism. The issue once again is not whether Jews or Israelis deserve criticism or condemnation. It is the assumption that all evil is on one side only and that only Palestinians deserve a homeland, not Jews.

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews have long opposed secular Zionism. Nevertheless, most of them still wish to live in the Holy Land and perpetuate their ancient link with it. But secular and left-wing anti-Zionism goes back to the struggles within Communism. Much of Russian Jewry opposed the very idea of a Jewish State (ironically so too did the majority of Anglo American Jews). They fed the left-wing and labor movements of Russia, America, and Europe, and their grandchildren are the secular Jews who today feel embarrassed by the Jewish religion and Jewish particularism. For a while some could identify with a secular socialist Zionist agenda.

But as Israel proved to be as fallible as any other democracy, abandoned its socialism and allied with the great capitalist USA, many of them turned on Israel to cleanse themselves of their embarrassing Jewish identity, and reject the idea of a specifically Jewish homeland. Now that the Communist "god has failed", all that is left is anti-Americanism and anti-globalization. Israel is an easy target. This also explains the strange alliance between secular left-wing Englishmen (and other left-wingers) and those who despise women, gays, and liberals, and wish to overthrow the Western democratic process.

Julius makes the point that no other country suffers from a campaign of de-legitimization, irrational hatred, and double standards as much as Israel does, and he believes it is precisely because of its Jewish character. It is the loss of objectivity, the language of hate and prejudice that explains the exaggerated odium directed at Jews and Israel, and of course Islam's own internal problems.

It is often said that it is Israel that causes modern anti-Semitism. Julius debunks this theory. The antagonism would still be there, regardless of geopolitical circumstances. Hatred will always find a way of seeping out of the sewer; if it cannot find one channel, it will always look for another.

A few weeks ago an English judge, Bathurst Norman, instructed a jury that a gang of political terrorists who broke into and smashed up the offices of a company that dealt with Israel should be let off. He compared Israel to Nazis and said that the protest was a legitimate democratic expression of sympathy for the plight of the Gazans and against Israeli oppression. Now let us see if he or any English judge exonerates another case of smashing up private property on political grounds or compares any other state to the Nazis. If not, we will know for certain that Anthony Julius is understating the problem of anti-Semitism in Britain today, rather than exaggerating it.

This important but depressing book needs to be read by anyone who cares for the health and sanity of modern society. When violence is directed at Jews it never ends there.

15 Comments:

At 6:34 PM , Anonymous Graham said...

Hello R, Rosen

- I will buy this book - though I've never met real anti-semitism from my countrymen .. apart from the well-educated ex-army WW2 veteran Major whose world was shattered by his stepson becoming involved with a "Jewess", or the otherwise splendid & inspiring RAF Padre who was convinced that Jews could expect no part in the afterlife..

Mind you I'm myself a bit narked by the news that when a Jewish trollop finds out that the bloke she dragged into a dingy place for a "bit of the other" finds out afterwards that he was not kosher - then it is he who gets porridge.

I do not feel it is justice to put one of two fornicaters in prison merely because "her" lust did not at the time care a donkey's whatname for "his" origins.

I feel such matters are beneath the attention of any judiciary.

Israeli politics 2010 is not as intelligent as it should be

Graham

 
At 8:30 PM , Anonymous Gaynor, London said...

am slowly ploughing through it at the moment! Went o an intimate talk with Mr Julius - very interesting chap. We had a wonderful discussion about our own experience of anti-Semitism and we found that peope in London hadn't experienced it as much as those brought up outside London.

Sadly no one wants to hear that WE are again under attack...afterall when IT comes again we will have ASKED for it won't we???

 
At 8:46 PM , Blogger Rob said...

2 comments:

1. Amazon has just reported that sales of its e-books have overtaken sales of its hardbacks. This is a momentous tipping point which keen e-book fans like myself have waited too long to reach (e-books should have been the first Big Thing in the internet age, if it hadn't been for myopic Luddite oligopolies in the publishing industry).

Yet books like this one by Julius - and so many others iwith Jewish themes - remain stubbornly tree-format only. It is not only Luddite but also bad business since I would willingly pay for immediate electronic access. Why is the Jewish publishing world / jewish writers so slow to embrace change?!

2. Anthony Julius has been "successful" in the UK and has chosen to remain here. But his non-lawyerly fame has come from writing books about antisemitism - the first on TS Eliot's and now this one on merry England. Both significant contributions, undoubtedly.

But shouldn't he be voting with his feet and leaving for Israel or even the US ? What is it that keeps people rooted in the "wrong" places?

Jeremy, your rhetoric of late seems to suggest that you have left the sinking ship that was your birthplace. What do you think - is it just down to personal choice (as with seemingly everything these days) or should we pack up and flee before all hope is lost?

Or is it possibly that there is something actually quite ... comfortable about being a professional grouch - like big city dwellers who love to b*tch about the hassles of urban living but almost wear it as a badge of honour and would never seriously think of leaving for hicksville?

Where would the successful writer on antisemitism be without a good dose of antisemitism on which to feed? Would living in Israel with all those annoying Israelis make him pine for his "civilised" British brethren?

Is it that Julius, like so many others, just doesn't want to lower his high standard of living, and relinquish his high social status that has been achieved despite living among such unbearably Jew-hating people?

Hope I don't sound too facetious. My questions are somewhere between silly and serious.

Shabbat shalom.

 
At 9:23 PM , Blogger Rob said...

PS - Apparently Antony Lerman has written that "Trials of the Diaspora" amounts to a selective "case for the prosecution" that fails to pass the test of giving proper weight to the relevant evidence.

That's what I'm getting at: how comfortable Julius is as a professional prosecutor, whether in court or in print.

Isn't this also known, albeit not in polite British society, as kvetching?

Comfortable kvetching, I would submit, your honour.

 
At 9:41 PM , Blogger Rob said...

PPS - Is the book a "scholarly history" or a polemic ? If the latter, I think Julius would have more credibility if he said good riddance to Blighty and to his hyphenated identity.

 
At 3:45 AM , Anonymous leila said...

Jeremy, this is a masterly summation of Anthony Julius' book.

Any thinking person in the UK (and no doubt elsewhere) feels the tension and anti-Semitism in the air. One only had to hear Chris Patten this morning on Radio 4, sounding so reasonable, asking for a European solution to be forced on Israel while spouting all the calumnies and so-called statistics he could upon that state. Unfortunately, surprise, surprise, Lorna Fitzsimons who was to have given the other side of the argument, was unable to be heard because of gremlins on the line! Oh! Perfidious BBC!

Personally I am dreading the fact that a Miliband may be elected leader of the Labour Party. There is nothing surer than they would bend over backwards to placate the Left and thus the anti-Israel brigade.

Shabbat shalom, Jeremy

 
At 9:00 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Graham:
I used to live in the same 'block' as a German refugee who was deported from Britain as an alien during the war and shipped off to Australia. He always said the Tommy's who manhandled him were the worst he had ever encountered, but then he didn't stay in Germany long enough to find out otherwise.
Do tell us more about the trollope. Don't know what case you're referring to!
J

 
At 9:01 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Gaynor:
Yes, it's true--to this day urban judges are less likely to incarcerate blacks and other minorities for the same offenses that rural judges do. I guess 'metropolitan' means just that!
J

 
At 9:03 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Rob:

Actually, I have discussed this with Anthony Julius and he'd love to move to the USA in an academic capacity, but given his career choices it is very hard to switch into academia so late, and indeed to change to a different legal system. Similarly, my son-in-law, a barrister, would love to live in Israel but can't trasfer to a different system in his chosen career.

Otherwise, yes, I'd say get the hell out, either East or West.

As for e-books, I agree--but heck it's none of my business how he conducts his publishing affairs!!!

Jeremy

 
At 9:06 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Rob:

Yes, and I like Antony Lerman too, but he consistently underplays the threat as much as Julius, according to him, overstates it. One must read both positions and make up one's own mind. On balance, I'm with Julius.

And it's also true Brits don't like whingers, whiners, etc., but then they don't do anything apart from burying their heads in the sand.

 
At 9:07 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Leila,
Sadly, I agree with everything you have said. Thank goodness neither Britain nor Europe are any more than second-rate powers. They will not decide.
Shavua tov,
Jeremy

 
At 6:03 AM , Anonymous Graham said...

Hello R. Rosen,


I certainly do not dispute the scale of the problem - and do not view "our troops" through rose-coloured spectacles but first I must read the book! Does the auther also investigate the more modern let's-not offend our muslim voters type of anti-Semitism?

The fornication case I referred to is here http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/he-impersonated-a-human-1.303359
It is trivia of course but colourfully bad PR all the same. Thousands/nay millions of bloodthirsty Arabs at the borders & a few hundered within - yet the one who chose to "make love not war" gets 18 months.

Graham

 
At 2:57 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

Graham:
Yes indeed, that story of Dudu is very sad and does not reflect well on the judiciary. But then I don't know where you will find a sensible judiciary anywhere nowadays.
J

 
At 8:36 PM , Anonymous hs said...

When Anthony Julius spoke recently at Birkbeck College, he referred to the divergent responses to his book by the Americans who see complacency where the British see alarmism. He didn't offer an opinion about which view he favoured. He gave a very good lecture.

 
At 3:35 PM , Blogger Rabbi Jeremy Rosen said...

hs:
Indeed, and the same goes for Europe too. The overwhelming tendency is to claim he exaggerates. Meanwhile its social fabric is being degraded.
J

 

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