Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Download
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
1Activity
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
Antisemitism Embedded in British Culture

Antisemitism Embedded in British Culture

Ratings: (0)|Views: 9|Likes:
- Interview with Robert S. Wistrich
Antisemitism has been present in Great Britain for almost a thousand years of recorded history. English literature and culture are drenched in antisemitic stereotypes. Major British authors throughout the centuries transmitted culturally embedded antisemitism to future generations. Although they did not do so deliberately, it was absorbed and has had a long-term, major impact on British society. The anti-Zionist narrative probably has greater legitimacy than in any other Western society. Antisemitism of the "anti-Zionist" variety has achieved such resonance, particularly in elite opinion, that various British media are leaders in this field.
- Interview with Robert S. Wistrich
Antisemitism has been present in Great Britain for almost a thousand years of recorded history. English literature and culture are drenched in antisemitic stereotypes. Major British authors throughout the centuries transmitted culturally embedded antisemitism to future generations. Although they did not do so deliberately, it was absorbed and has had a long-term, major impact on British society. The anti-Zionist narrative probably has greater legitimacy than in any other Western society. Antisemitism of the "anti-Zionist" variety has achieved such resonance, particularly in elite opinion, that various British media are leaders in this field.

More info:

Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Mar 06, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

Availability:

Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less

03/06/2011

pdf

text

original

 
by Prof. Robert S. Wistrich
Published June 2008The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of theJerusalemCenter for Public Affairs
No. 70, 1 July 2008 / 28 Sivan 5768 
 
Antisemitism Embedded in British Culture
Interview with Robert Solomon Wistrich
Antisemitism has been present in Great Britain for almost a thousand years of recorded history. In thetwelfth century, Catholic medieval Britain was a persecutory society, particularly when it came to Jews. Itpioneered the blood libel and the church was a leader in instituting cruel legislation and discriminatoryconduct toward Jews.English literature and culture are drenched in antisemitic stereotypes. Major British authors throughout thecenturies transmitted culturally embedded antisemitism to future generations. Although they did not do sodeliberately, it was absorbed and has had a long-term, major impact on British society.In the new century the United Kingdom is a European leader in several areas of antisemitism. It holds apioneering position in promoting academic boycotts of Israel. The same is true for trade-union efforts ateconomic boycotts. There is also no other Western society where jihadi
 
radicalism has proved as violentand dangerous as in the UK.In the UK the anti-Zionist narrative probably has greater legitimacy than in any other Western society.Antisemitism of the "anti-Zionist" variety has achieved such resonance, particularly in elite opinion, thatvarious British media are leaders in this field. Successive British governments neither share nor haveencouraged such attitudes-least of all Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. They have shownconcern over antisemitism and the boycott movement and tried to counteract them. However, Trotskyiteswho infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions in the 1980s have been an important factor inspreading poisonous attitudes. The BBC has also played a role in stimulating pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli attitudes over the years. "The United Kingdom has been a European leader in several areas of antisemitism in the new century. It holds apioneering position in promoting academic boycotts of Israel. The same is true for trade-union efforts ateconomic boycotts."Although the anti-Zionist narrative is worldwide and widespread in the European Union, this discourse in the UKprobably exceeds that of most other Western societies. Thus antisemitism has achieved a degree of resonance,particularly in elite opinion, that makes the country a leader in encouraging discriminatory attitudes. Trotskyiteswho infiltrated the Labour Party and the trade unions back in the 1980s are an important factor in spreading thispoison."Prof. Robert Wistrich holds the Neuberger Chair for Modern European and Jewish History at the HebrewUniversity of Jerusalem. Since 2002 he has been director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Studyof Antisemitism at that university and has been vigorously involved in the struggle against its inroads.He adds: "There is also no other 
Western
society where jihadi
 
radicalism has proved as violent and dangerous asin the UK. Although antisemitism is not the determining factor in this extremism, it plays a role. This Islamistradicalism has helped shape the direction of overall antisemitism in the UK."Another pioneering role of the UK, especially in the area of anti-Israelism is the longstanding bias in BBCreporting and commentary about the Jewish world and Israel in particular. Double standards have long been adefining characteristic of its Middle East coverage. This has had debilitating consequences. The BBC plays a 
 
special role owing to its long-established prestige as a news source widely considered to be objective. It carriesa weight beyond that of any other Western media institution."One characteristic of English antisemitism has been its often understated nature, in keeping with Britishtradition. That makes it more effective because one does not become aware of it so easily. One example amongmany is the British journalist Richard Ingrams, who was editor of the satirical magazine
Private Eye
for twenty-three years starting in the 1960s. He once wrote in the
Observer 
that he threw away unread all correspondencehe received from people with Jewish names regarding the Middle East because, he thought, they must be biasedon the subject. If someone were to tell him he is an antisemite he would, of course, reject that. But would hepublicly write the same thing about Arab correspondents?"
 Medieval England: A Leader in Antisemitism
Wistrich observes that analyzing current antisemitism requires looking back in time. The present motifs oftenresemble ancient ones and have their roots there. "Nothing is ever as new as it appears. Antisemitism in GreatBritain has been around for almost a thousand years of recorded history. Medieval England was already a leader in antisemitism."In the Middle Ages, England pioneered the blood libel. The Norwich case in 1144 marked the first time Jewswere accused of using the blood of Christian children for their Passover matzot. In the twelfth century, medievalBritain was a persecutory Catholic society, particularly when it came to Jews. In this environment the Englishchurch was a leader in instituting cruel legislation and discriminatory conduct toward Jews, unparalleled in therest of Europe."From the Norman Conquest of 1066 onward there was a steady process-particularly during the thirteenthcentury-of persecution, forced conversion, extortion, and expropriation of Jews. This culminated in the expulsionof the Jews from England in 1290 under Edward I. It was the first ejection of a major Jewish community inEurope. It is important to bear this in mind because it is not widely known, least of all in England. I grew up thereand went to grammar school and to Cambridge University and do not recall that this was ever mentioned. On thecontrary, we were taught at school about the chivalry of Richard the Lionheart, not the massacres of Jews byCrusader kings."Britain was not only the first country in medieval Europe to expel Jews but also one of the last to take themback. It took slightly more than 350 years for this to happen. The return of the Jews to the British Isles beganvery quietly and informally in 1656 under Oliver Cromwell. This was the beginning-drop by drop-of the formation anew community that over time would contribute a great deal to British society."
 Antisemitism without Jews
"The long absence of Jews from the shores of the British Isles did not mean that in the intervening period,antisemitism disappeared. This is an instructive early example of how society does not need the
physical 
presence of Jews for the potency of the anti-Jewish stereotypes to penetrate the culture."I grew up on English literature. When I was sixteen we had to prepare for the advanced-level certificate. In our syllabus were several of the classic English works. They included Geoffrey Chaucer's
Canterbury Tales
from thelate fourteenth century; Christopher Marlowe's
The Jew of Malta
from the late sixteenth century;
 
and WilliamShakespeare'
s The Merchant of Venice
of the same period, which until today has remained one of the mostpopular plays of the English theater."One interesting question is how could Shakespeare draw such a portrait of Shylock probably without ever encountering a real flesh-and-blood Jew? There are many theories about that. Yet he and Marlowe before himmanaged to portray the Jews as major villains whom the populace would instantly recognize as the ‘antitype.' Iam not, of course, saying Shakespeare was an antisemite in the ideological sense (his portrait of Shylock ismore complex than that). But the force of the anti-Jewish stereotype is so powerful that this is what is ultimatelyretained in the ‘collective unconscious' of English culture."This Shylock image influenced the entire West because it fits so well with the evolution of market capitalismfrom its early days. Shakespeare portrayed the subject in a way that is to a certain extent realistic, reflecting therise of a commercial society in Venice and of economic competition. But Shylock has come to embody an imageof the
vengeful 
,
tribal 
, and
bloodthirsty 
Jew, who will never give up his pound of flesh. Rightly or wrongly, this is 
 
what most people remember. Shylock is the English archetype of the villainous Jew. Those who talk about howhumanistic, universal, and empathetic his portrait is, are ignoring not only how it was perceived at the time but itshistorical consequences." 
Literature Drenched in Antisemitism
"We also studied Charles Dickens's
Oliver Twist 
, from the Victorian era, in which a Jew is again the archetype of the villain. In addition, there were modern twentieth-century authors who portrayed their characters in a partlyantisemitic way. Among them were Edwardian writers like John Galsworthy, H. G. Wells, and Nobel Prize winner T. S. Eliot. The latter was the major twentieth-century poet whose work we had to study. There were few authorsdevoid of any antisemitism. One exception was George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), an eccentric thoughremarkable woman who understood the Jewish plight. Her book
Daniel Deronda
can be considered a pro-Zionistwork, as well as being a classic Victorian novel."From my experience with this syllabus, all these authors, however admirable their contribution to English andworld literature, were unintentionally transmitting culturally embedded antisemitism to future generations. Theinfluence of such a process should not be underestimated. It is difficult to neutralize antisemitic images like thatof Judas-the betrayer of Christ-in the Gospels."English literature and culture are drenched in anti-Jewish images, perhaps even more than many of the greatliterary traditions of Europe. Obviously, though, there are analogies in France, Spain, Germany, Romania, andRussia. One cannot understand attitudes toward Jews in Britain today without taking into account theantisemitism embedded in the national culture. It exists without even being noticed and is often silently soakedup. Many well-educated and well-meaning people fail to understand the long-term impact of such a cultural factor on their society, and are not even aware of their own latent prejudices. That was my experience during the thirtyyears I lived in Britain and it has got much worse because of anti-Israeli sentiment."
 The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
During the nineteenth century, matters evolved more favorably for the English Jews. Says Wistrich: "The BritishEmpire reached its pinnacle of power and influence. England had become a relatively liberal society. Jews couldfeel proud and self-confident in proclaiming that they were British citizens. In the Middle East, Britain was evenconsidered a protector of the Jews. It was more tolerant than most of its rivals and more open to intervening andtrying to correct the disabilities of Jews in other parts of the world. So this was a kind of ‘golden age.'"Yet here, too, the picture is more ambivalent than is often assumed. This was particularly so in the latenineteenth century with the immigration of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe into Britain. At that time therewas strong xenophobia. This dislike of foreigners has always been a factor in the insular British mentality. Therewas a conservative antisemitism resistant to the Jew as an
alien
who could never be fully English. The AliensBill of 1905, directed at halting the immigration of Russian Jews, was a case in point."In the twentieth century, after the Russian Revolution, a linkage between Jews and communism that wasintertwined with antisemitism became a pronounced theme in British public discourse. There was considerablepublicity around the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion
. This ended when Philip Graves, a
London Times
correspondent, exposed it as a forgery. Until then, one could read editorials in
The Times
that were based on thebelief that Britain had spilled much blood in the First World War only to fall into the hands of a world Jewishconspiracy-a
Pax Judaica
!"Similar accusations had been made before that, during the Boer War in South Africa. There were insinuationsthat a small clique of cosmopolitan Jewish financiers had dragged the British Empire into a futile, useless,expensive, and wholly destructive war for their own narrow financial interests. It was stressed that these ‘foreignJews' were well-connected in the upper echelons of British politics. Such claims could also be heard from leadingfigures in the emerging British Labour Party and trade unions, which were promoting an antiwar sentimentresonant with anti-Semitism."In the literature around 1900, one often finds examples of a full-fledged left-wing conspiracy theory in whichBritish imperialism is being manipulated and controlled by ‘Anglo-Hebraic' financiers. The entire issue wasconnected to the discovery of gold in South Africa. This theory was promoted by distinguished Englishintellectuals, enlightened journalists and writers, as well as the prominent liberal economist John Hobson. 

You're Reading a Free Preview

Download
scribd
/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->