I've just finished reading Anthony Julius's startling and riveting book about English anti-Semitism, "Trials of the Diaspora," which concerns what Harold Bloom described in yesterday's Times as "the long squalor of Jew-hatred in a supposedly enlightened, humane, liberal society." It's a subject that's been of great interest to me lately, in part because we've been watching in real time as Great Britain's academic and intellectual elite turn comprehensively against Israel, even the existence of Israel, all the while claiming that the excoriation of the world's only Jewish state is not motivated by anti-Semitism, a claim Bloom describes as "humbuggery."
Much of "Trials of the Diaspora" describes the deep tradition of English literary anti-Semitism, from Shylock to Fagin to Caryl Churchill, in a summary that leaves you wondering if it is possible for a properly-educated Englishman to avoid harboring certain stereotypical views of Jews, stereotypes and assumptions that manifest themselves in disproportionate hostility whenever Jews behave in ways the English find at all disagreeable.
Literary anti-Semitism is one of four types of Jew-hatred in Julius's taxonomy. There is the "radical anti-Semitsm" of the medieval period (England was the first country to expel en masse its Jews). Then there is genteel anti-Semitism of the modern era, which mainly manifests itself in exclusion and social contempt, and, of course, there is the anti-Semitism that masks itself as anti-Zionism. Of this anti-Semitism, the reviewer Charles Moore wrote, "There are many criticisms that can justly be made of Israeli policy, but criticism of Israel is often quite different from that of other countries involved in violent political conflict. It is existential criticism. It is against the Jews - seeing them, yet again, as the problem. This is anti-Semitic, and it is growing here, like litter, as Julius puts it, on our English lawns."
The title of Julius's book is derived from Philip Roth's "Operation Shylock": "In the modern world, the Jew has perpetually been on trial; still
today the Jew is on trial, in the person of the Israeli -- and this
modern trial of the Jew, this trial which never ends, begins with the
trial of Shylock." I
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.