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
, 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
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
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
correspondent, exposed it as a forgery. Until then, one could read editorials in
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
!"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.