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1/1/2017 GeorgeOrwell:AntisemitisminBritain

GeorgeOrwell
AntisemitisminBritain
There are about 400,000 known Jews in Britain, and in addition some thousands or, at most, scores of
thousands of Jewish refugees who have entered the country from 1934 onwards. The Jewish population is
almost entirely concentrated in half a dozen big towns and is mostly employed in the food, clothing and
furnituretrades.Afewofthebigmonopolies,suchastheICI,oneortwoleadingnewspapersandatleastone
big chain of department stores are Jewishowned or partly Jewishowned, but it would be very far from the
truthtosaythatBritishbusinesslifeisdominatedbyJews.TheJewsseem,onthecontrary,tohavefailedto
keep up with the modern tendency towards big amalgamations and to have remained fixed in those trades
whicharenecessarilycarriedoutonasmallscaleandbyoldfashionedmethods.
Istartoffwiththesebackgroundfacts,whicharealreadyknowntoanywellinformedperson,inorderto
emphasisethatthereisnorealJewishprobleminEngland.TheJewsarenotnumerousorpowerfulenough,
anditisonlyinwhatarelooselycalledintellectualcirclesthattheyhaveanynoticeableinfluence.Yetitis
generallyadmittedthatantisemitismisontheincrease,thatithasbeengreatlyexacerbatedbythewar,andthat
humaneandenlightenedpeoplearenotimmunetoit.Itdoesnottakeviolentforms(Englishpeoplearealmost
invariablygentleandlawabiding),butitisillnaturedenough,andinfavourablecircumstancesitcouldhave
politicalresults.Herearesomesamplesofantisemiticremarksthathavebeenmadetomeduringthepastyear
ortwo:

Middleagedofficeemployee:Igenerallycometoworkbybus.Ittakeslonger,butIdon't
careaboutusingtheUndergroundfromGoldersGreennowadays.There'stoomanyoftheChosen
Racetravellingonthatline.
Tobacconist (woman): No, I've got no matches for you. I should try the lady down the
street.She'salwaysgotmatches.OneoftheChosenRace,yousee.
Young intellectual, Communist or nearCommunist: No, I do not like Jews. I've never
madeanysecretofthat.Ican'tstickthem.Mindyou,I'mnotantisemitic,ofcourse.
Middleclasswoman:Well,noonecouldcallmeantisemitic,butIdothinkthewaythese
Jewsbehaveistooabsolutelystinking.Thewaytheypushtheirwaytotheheadofqueues,andso
on.They'resoabominablyselfish.Ithinkthey'reresponsibleforalotofwhathappenstothem.
Milkroundsman:AJewdon'tdonowork,notthesameaswhatanEnglishmandoes.E's
too clever. We work with this 'ere (flexes his biceps). They work with that there (taps his
forehead).
Charteredaccountant,intelligent,leftwinginanundirectedway:ThesebloodyYidsare
all proGerman. They'd change sides tomorrow if the Nazis got here. I see a lot of them in my
business.TheyadmireHitleratthebottomoftheirhearts.They'llalwayssuckuptoanyonewho
kicksthem.

Intelligent woman, on being offered a book dealing with antisemitism and German atrocities: Don't
showitme,pleasedon'tshowittome.It'llonlymakemehatetheJewsmorethanever.
Icouldfillpageswithsimilarremarks,butthesewilldotogoonwith.Twofactsemergefromthem.
OnewhichisveryimportantandwhichImustreturntoinamomentisthataboveacertainintellectual
levelpeopleareashamedofbeingantisemiticandarecarefultodrawadistinctionbetweenantisemitismand
dislikingJews.Theotheristhatantisemitismisanirrationalthing.TheJewsareaccusedofspecificoffences
(forinstance,badbehaviourinfoodqueues)whichthepersonspeakingfeelsstronglyabout,butitisobvious
thattheseaccusationsmerelyrationalisesomedeeprootedprejudice.Toattempttocounterthemwithfactsand
statisticsisuseless,andmaysometimesbeworsethanuseless.Asthelastoftheabovequotedremarksshows,
peoplecanremainantisemitic,oratleastantiJewish,whilebeingfullyawarethattheiroutlookisindefensible.

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Ifyoudislikesomebody,youdislikehimandthereisanendofit:yourfeelingsarenotmadeanybetterbya
recitalofhisvirtues.
It so happens that the war has encouraged the growth of antisemitism and even, in the eyes of many
ordinarypeople,givensomejustificationforit.Tobeginwith,theJewsareonepeopleofwhomitcanbesaid
with complete certainty that they will benefit by an Allied victory. Consequently the theory that this is a
Jewishwarhasacertainplausibility,allthemoresobecausetheJewishwareffortseldomgetsitsfairshareof
recognition.TheBritishEmpireisahugeheterogeneousorganisationheldtogetherlargelybymutualconsent,
anditisoftennecessarytoflatterthelessreliableelementsattheexpenseofthemoreloyalones.Topublicise
the exploits of Jewish soldiers, or even to admit the existence of a considerable Jewish army in the Middle
East,rouseshostilityinSouthAfrica,theArabcountriesandelsewhere:itiseasiertoignorethewholesubject
andallowthemaninthestreettogoonthinkingthatJewsareexceptionallycleveratdodgingmilitaryservice.
Then again, Jews are to be found in exactly those trades which are bound to incur unpopularity with the
civilian public in wartime. Jews are mostly concerned with selling food, clothes, furniture and tobacco
exactlythecommoditiesofwhichthereisachronicshortage,withconsequentovercharging,blackmarketing
andfavouritism.Andagain,thecommonchargethatJewsbehaveinanexceptionallycowardlywayduringair
raids was given a certain amount of colour by the big raids of 1940. As it happened, the Jewish quarter of
Whitechapel was one of the first areas to be heavily blitzed, with the natural result that swarms of Jewish
refugees distributed themselves all over London. If one judged merely from these wartime phenomena, it
would be easy to imagine that antisemitism is a quasirational thing, founded on mistaken premises. And
naturallytheantisemitethinksofhimselfasareasonablebeing.WheneverIhavetouchedonthissubjectina
newspaperarticle,Ihavealwayshadaconsiderablecomeback,andinvariablysomeofthelettersarefrom
wellbalanced,middlingpeopledoctors,forexamplewithnoapparenteconomicgrievance.Thesepeople
alwayssay(asHitlersaysinMeinKampf)thattheystartedoutwithnoantiJewishprejudicebutweredriven
intotheirpresentpositionbymereobservationofthefacts.Yetoneofthemarksofantisemitismisanabilityto
believestoriesthatcouldnotpossiblybetrue.Onecouldseeagoodexampleofthisinthestrangeaccidentthat
occurred in London in 1942, when a crowd, frightened by a bombburst nearby, fled into the mouth of an
Underground station, with the result that something over a hundred people were crushed to death. The very
samedayitwasrepeatedalloverLondonthattheJewswereresponsible.Clearly,ifpeoplewillbelievethis
kindofthing,onewillnotgetmuchfurtherbyarguingwiththem.Theonlyusefulapproachistodiscoverwhy
theycanswallowabsurditiesononeparticularsubjectwhileremainingsaneonothers.
ButnowletmecomebacktothatpointImentionedearlierthatthereiswidespreadawarenessofthe
prevalenceofantisemiticfeeling,andunwillingnesstoadmitsharingit.Amongeducatedpeople,antisemitism
isheldtobeanunforgivablesinandinaquitedifferentcategoryfromotherkindsofracialprejudice.People
willgotoremarkablelengthstodemonstratethattheyarenotantisemitic.Thus,in1943anintercessionservice
on behalf of the Polish Jews was held in a synagogue in St John's Wood. The local authorities declared
themselvesanxioustoparticipateinit,andtheservicewasattendedbythemayoroftheboroughinhisrobes
and chain, by representatives of all the churches, and by detachments of RAF, Home Guards, nurses, Boy
Scoutsandwhatnot.OnthesurfaceitwasatouchingdemonstrationofsolidaritywiththesufferingJews.But
itwasessentiallyaconsciousefforttobehavedecentlybypeoplewhosesubjectivefeelingsmustinmanycases
have been very different. That quarter of London is partly Jewish, antisemitism is rife there, and, as I well
knew,someofthemensittingroundmeinthesynagogueweretingedbyit.Indeed,thecommanderofmyown
platoonofHomeGuards,whohadbeenespeciallykeenbeforehandthatweshouldmakeagoodshowatthe
intercessionservice,wasanexmemberofMosley'sBlackshirts.Whilethisdivisionoffeelingexists,tolerance
ofmassviolenceagainstJews,or,whatismoreimportant,antisemiticlegislation,arenotpossibleinEngland.
It is not at present possible, indeed, that antisemitism should become respectable. But this is less of an
advantagethanitmightappear.
One effect of the persecutions in Germany has been to prevent antisemitism from being seriously
studied.InEnglandabriefinadequatesurveywasmadebyMassObservationayearortwoago,butifthere
hasbeenanyotherinvestigationofthesubject,thenitsfindingshavebeenkeptstrictlysecret.Atthesametime
there has been conscious suppression, by all thoughtful people, of anything likely to wound Jewish
susceptibilities.After1934theJewjokedisappearedasthoughbymagicfrompostcards,periodicalsandthe
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musichallstage,andtoputanunsympatheticJewishcharacterintoanovelorshortstorycametoberegarded
asantisemitism.OnthePalestineissue,too,itwasDeRigueuramongenlightenedpeopletoaccepttheJewish
caseasprovedandavoidexaminingtheclaimsoftheArabsadecisionwhichmightbecorrectonitsown
merits, but which was adopted primarily because the Jews were in trouble and it was felt that one must not
criticise them. Thanks to Hitler, therefore, you had a situation in which the press was in effect censored in
favouroftheJewswhileinprivateantisemitismwasontheupgrade,even,tosomeextent,amongsensitive
andintelligentpeople.Thiswasparticularlynoticeablein1940atthetimeoftheinternmentoftherefugees.
Naturally, every thinking person felt that it was his duty to protest against the wholesale lockingup of
unfortunate foreigners who for the most part were only in England because they were opponents of Hitler.
Privately,however,oneheardverydifferentsentimentsexpressed.Aminorityoftherefugeesbehavedinan
exceedinglytactlessway,andthefeelingagainstthemnecessarilyhadanantisemiticundercurrent,sincethey
werelargelyJews.AveryeminentfigureintheLabourPartyIwon'tnamehim,butheisoneofthemost
respected people in England said to me quite violently: We never asked these people to come to this
country.Iftheychoosetocomehere,letthemtaketheconsequences.Yetthismanwouldasamatterofcourse
have associated himself with any kind of petition or manifesto against the internment of aliens. This feeling
thatantisemitismissomethingsinfulanddisgraceful,somethingthatacivilisedpersondoesnotsufferfrom,is
unfavourabletoascientificapproach,andindeedmanypeoplewilladmitthattheyarefrightenedofprobing
too deeply into the subject. They are frightened, that is to say, of discovering not only that antisemitism is
spreading,butthattheythemselvesareinfectedbyit.
Toseethisinperspectiveonemustlookbackafewdecades,tothedayswhenHitlerwasanoutofwork
housepainter whom nobody had heard of. One would then find that though antisemitism is sufficiently in
evidencenow,itisprobablylessprevalentinEnglandthanitwasthirtyyearsago.Itistruethatantisemitismas
a fully thoughtout racial or religious doctrine has never flourished in England. There has never been much
feelingagainstintermarriage,oragainstJewstakingaprominentpartinpubliclife.Nevertheless,thirtyyears
agoitwasacceptedmoreorlessasalawofnaturethataJewwasafigureoffunandthoughsuperiorin
intelligenceslightlydeficientincharacter.IntheoryaJewsufferedfromnolegaldisabilities,butineffect
hewasdebarredfromcertainprofessions.Hewouldprobablynothavebeenacceptedasanofficerinthenavy,
for instance, nor in what is called a smart regiment in the army. A Jewish boy at a public school almost
invariablyhadabadtime.Hecould,ofcourse,livedownhisJewishnessifhewasexceptionallycharmingor
athletic, but it was an initial disability comparable to a stammer or a birthmark. Wealthy Jews tended to
disguise themselves under aristocratic English or Scottish names, and to the average person it seemed quite
naturalthattheyshoulddothis,justasitseemsnaturalforacriminaltochangehisidentityifpossible.About
twenty years ago, in Rangoon, I was getting into a taxi with a friend when a small ragged boy of fair
complexionrusheduptousandbeganacomplicatedstoryabouthavingarrivedfromColomboonashipand
wantingmoneytogetback.Hismannerandappearanceweredifficulttoplace,andIsaidtohim:

YouspeakverygoodEnglish.Whatnationalityareyou?
Heansweredeagerlyinhischichiaccent:IamaJoo,sir!

AndIrememberturningtomycompanionandsaying,onlypartlyinjoke,Headmitsitopenly.Allthe
JewsIhadknowntillthenwerepeoplewhowereashamedofbeingJews,oratanyratepreferrednottotalk
abouttheirancestry,andifforcedtodosotendedtousethewordHebrew.
Theworkingclassattitudewasnobetter.TheJewwhogrewupinWhitechapeltookitforgrantedthat
hewouldbeassaulted,oratleasthootedat,ifheventuredintooneoftheChristianslumsnearby,andtheJew
joke of the music halls and the comic papers was almost consistently illnatured(1). There was also literary
Jewbaiting,whichinthehandsofBelloc,Chestertonandtheirfollowersreachedanalmostcontinentallevel
ofscurrility.NonCatholicwritersweresometimesguiltyofthesamethinginamilderform.Therehasbeena
perceptible antisemitic strain in English literature from Chaucer onwards, and without even getting up from
thistabletoconsultabookIcanthinkofpassageswhichifwrittennowwouldbestigmatisedasantisemitism,
intheworksofShakespeare,Smollett,Thackeray,BernardShaw,H.G.Wells,T.S.Eliot,AldousHuxleyand
variousothers.Offhand,theonlyEnglishwritersIcanthinkofwho,beforethedaysofHitler,madeadefinite

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efforttostickupforJewsareDickensandCharlesReade.Andhoweverlittletheaverageintellectualmayhave
agreedwiththeopinionsofBellocandChesterton,hedidnotacutelydisapproveofthem.Chesterton'sendless
tirades against Jews, which he thrust into stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts, never got him into
troubleindeedChestertonwasoneofthemostgenerallyrespectedfiguresinEnglishliterarylife.Anyone
whowroteinthatstrainnowwouldbringdownastormofabuseuponhimself,ormoreprobablywouldfindit
impossibletogethiswritingspublished.
If,asIsuggest,prejudiceagainstJewshasalwaysbeenprettywidespreadinEngland,thereisnoreason
tothinkthatHitlerhasgenuinelydiminishedit.Hehasmerelycausedasharpdivisionbetweenthepolitically
consciouspersonwhorealisesthatthisisnotatimetothrowstonesattheJews,andtheunconsciousperson
whosenativeantisemitismisincreasedbythenervousstrainofthewar.Onecanassume,therefore,thatmany
peoplewhowouldperishratherthanadmittoantisemiticfeelingsaresecretlypronetothem.Ihavealready
indicatedthatIbelieveantisemitismtobeessentiallyaneurosis,butofcourseithasitsrationalisations,which
aresincerelybelievedinandarepartlytrue.TherationalisationputforwardbythecommonmanisthattheJew
isanexploiter.ThepartialjustificationforthisisthattheJew,inEngland,isgenerallyasmallbusinessman
thatistosayapersonwhosedepredationsaremoreobviousandintelligiblethanthoseof,say,abankoran
insurance company. Higher up the intellectual scale, antisemitism is rationalised by saying that the Jew is a
personwhospreadsdisaffectionandweakensnationalmorale.Againthereissomesuperficialjustificationfor
this. During the past twentyfive years the activities of what are called intellectuals have been largely
mischievous.Idonotthinkitanexaggerationtosaythatiftheintellectualshaddonetheirworkalittlemore
thoroughly, Britain would have surrendered in 1940. But the disaffected intelligentsia inevitably included a
largenumberofJews.WithsomeplausibilityitcanbesaidthattheJewsaretheenemiesofournativeculture
and our national morale. Carefully examined, the claim is seen to be nonsense, but there are always a few
prominentindividualswhocanbecitedinsupportofit.Duringthepastfewyearstherehasbeenwhatamounts
toacounterattackagainsttherathershallowLeftismwhichwasfashionableinthepreviousdecadeandwhich
wasexemplifiedbysuchorganisationsastheLeftBookClub.Thiscounterattack(seeforinstancesuchbooks
as Arnold Lutin's The good gorilla or Evelyn Waugh's Put out more flags) has an antisemitic strain, and it
wouldprobablybemoremarkedifthesubjectwerenotsoobviouslydangerous.Itsohappensthatforsome
decades past Britain has had no nationalist intelligentsia worth bothering about. But British nationalism, i.e.
nationalismofanintellectualkind,mayrevive,andprobablywillreviveifBritaincomesoutofthepresentwar
greatlyweakened.Theyoungintellectualsof1950maybeasnaivelypatrioticasthoseof1914.Inthatcasethe
kindofantisemitismwhichflourishedamongtheantiDreyfusardsinFrance,andwhichChestertonandBelloc
triedtoimportintothiscountry,mightgetafoothold.
Ihavenohardandfasttheoryabouttheoriginsofantisemitism.Thetwocurrentexplanations,thatitis
due to economic causes, or on the other hand, that it is a legacy from the Middle Ages, seem to me
unsatisfactory,thoughIadmitthatifonecombinesthemtheycanbemadetocoverthefacts.AllIwouldsay
with confidence is that antisemitism is part of the larger problem of nationalism, which has not yet been
seriouslyexamined,andthattheJewisevidentlyascapegoat,thoughforwhatheisascapegoatwedonotyet
know.InthisessayIhavereliedalmostentirelyonmyownlimitedexperience,andperhapseveryoneofmy
conclusionswouldbenegativedbyotherobservers.Thefactisthattherearealmostnodataonthissubject.But
forwhattheyareworthIwillsummarisemyopinions.Boileddown,theyamounttothis:

ThereismoreantisemitisminEnglandthanwecaretoadmit,andthewarhasaccentuated
it,butitisnotcertainthatitisontheincreaseifonethinksintermsofdecadesratherthanyears.
Itdoesnotatpresentleadtoopenpersecution,butithastheeffectofmakingpeoplecallous
tothesufferingsofJewsinothercountries.
Itisatbottomquiteirrationalandwillnotyieldtoargument.
The persecutions in Germany have caused much concealment of antisemitic feeling and
thusobscuredthewholepicture.
Thesubjectneedsseriousinvestigation.

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Onlythelastpointisworthexpanding.Tostudyanysubjectscientificallyoneneedsadetachedattitude,
whichisobviouslyharderwhenone'sowninterestsoremotionsareinvolved.Plentyofpeoplewhoarequite
capableofbeingobjectiveaboutseaurchins,say,orthesquarerootof2,becomeschizophreniciftheyhaveto
thinkaboutthesourcesoftheirownincome.Whatvitiatesnearlyallthatiswrittenaboutantisemitismisthe
assumptioninthewriter'smindthathehimselfisimmunetoit.SinceIknowthatantisemitismisirrational,
heargues,itfollowsthatIdonotshareit.Hethusfailstostarthisinvestigationintheoneplacewherehe
couldgetholdofsomereliableevidencethatis,inhisownmind.
It seems to me a safe assumption that the disease loosely called nationalism is now almost universal.
Antisemitismisonlyonemanifestationofnationalism,andnoteveryonewillhavethediseaseinthatparticular
form. A Jew, for example, would not be antisemitic: but then many Zionist Jews seem to me to be merely
antisemitesturnedupsidedown,justasmanyIndiansandNegroesdisplaythenormalcolourprejudicesinan
invertedform.Thepointisthatsomething,somepsychologicalvitamin,islackinginmoderncivilisation,and
as a result we are all more or less subject to this lunacy of believing that whole races or nations are
mysteriously good or mysteriously evil. I defy any modern intellectual to look closely and honestly into his
ownmindwithoutcominguponnationalisticloyaltiesandhatredsofonekindoranother.Itisthefactthathe
canfeeltheemotionaltugofsuchthings,andyetseethemdispassionatelyforwhattheyare,thatgiveshimhis
statusasanintellectual.Itwillbeseen,therefore,thatthestartingpointforanyinvestigationofantisemitism
shouldnotbeWhydoesthisobviouslyirrationalbeliefappealtootherpeople?butWhydoesantisemitism
appealtome?WhatisthereaboutitthatIfeeltobetrue?Ifoneasksthisquestiononeatleastdiscoversone's
own rationalisations, and it may be possible to find out what lies beneath them. Antisemitism should be
investigatedandIwillnotsaybyantisemites,butatanyratebypeoplewhoknowthattheyarenotimmune
tothatkindofemotion.WhenHitlerhasdisappearedarealenquiryintothissubjectwillbepossible,andit
wouldprobablybebesttostartnotbydebunkingantisemitism,butbymarshallingallthejustificationsforit
thatcanbefound,inone'sownmindoranybodyelse's.Inthatwayonemightgetsomecluesthatwouldlead
toitspsychologicalroots.Butthatantisemitismwillbedefinitivelycured,withoutcuringthelargerdiseaseof
nationalism,Idonotbelieve.

1945

_____
1)ItisinterestingtocomparetheJewjokewiththatotherstandbyofthemusichalls,theScotchjoke,which
superficiallyitresembles.Occasionallyastoryistold(e.g.theJewandtheScotsmanwhowentintoapubtogether
andbothdiedofthirst)whichputsbothracesonanequality,butingeneraltheJewiscreditedmerelywithcunning
andavaricewhiletheScotsmaniscreditedwithphysicalhardihoodaswell.Thisisseen,forexample,inthestoryof
theJewandtheScotsmanwhogotogethertoameetingwhichhasbeenadvertisedasfree.Unexpectedlythereisa
collection,andtoavoidthistheJewfaintsandtheScotsmancarrieshimout.HeretheScotsmanperformstheathletic
featofcarryingtheother.Itwouldseemvaguelywrongifitweretheotherwayabout.(Author'sfootnote.)[back]

THEEND

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GeorgeOrwell:AntisemitisminBritain
Firstpublished:ContemporaryJewishRecord.GB,London.April1945.

Reprinted:
EnglandYourEnglandandOtherEssays.1953.
Such,SuchWeretheJoys.1953.
CollectedEssays.1961.
TheCollectedEssays,JournalismandLettersofGeorgeOrwell.1968.

trugor.com.

(Textsource:OrwellProjectbyO.Dag.19992004www.orwell.ru)
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