A Historian’s Jewel, Part II


Welcome back, friends. I’ve been talking about — jotting notes on — Gertrude Himmelfarb’s recent study, The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, from Cromwell to Churchill. For Part I of my notes, go here. And I think I’ll just wade back in . . .

Check out Burke: “If they [the Jews] have contracted some vices, they are such as naturally arise from their dispersed, wandering, and proscribed state.”

Check out Hazlitt: “If they are vicious it is we who have made them so. Shut out any class of people from the path to fair fame, and you reduce them to grovel in the pursuit of riches and the means to live.”

Check out Balfour: “. . . it may well be true that, where they have been compelled to live among their neighbors as if these were their enemies, they have obtained, and sometimes deserved, the reputation of being undesirable citizens. Nor is this surprising. If you oblige many men to be money-lenders, some will assuredly be usurers. If you treat an important section of the community as outcasts, they will hardly shine as patriots.”

I have culled these quotations from Himmelfarb’s book, of course. They reminded me of something from the history of the Nobel Peace Prize (about which I’ve written a book).

The last peace prize before World War II was conferred on a branch of the League of Nations: the Nansen International Office for Refugees. Accepting the prize was the president of that office, Michael Hansson (a Norwegian, despite his Swedish name). He also gave the Nobel lecture. And he said,

How the Jews have suffered! What persecution and humiliation they have been forced to endure for so many centuries, as the result of the most sinister religious fanaticism! If they have acquired some faults and if they often seem uncongenial, it is not surprising. But it is nothing less than revolting nowadays to hear people, and especially those whose own records would not bear close examination, assert that the Jews are now paying for their wrongdoings of the past. One is tempted to ask: When will the Christians have to pay for theirs?

We must have more Burke. He said, “Having no fixed settlement in any part of the world, no kingdom nor country in which they have a government, a community, and a system of laws, [the Jews] are thrown upon the benevolence of nations . . .”

He continued, “If Dutchmen are injured and attacked, the Dutch have a nation, a government, and armies to redress or revenge their cause. If Britons are injured, Britons have armies and laws, the laws of nations . . . to fly to for protection and justice. But the Jews have no such power, and no such friend to depend on.”

Is that not a rationale for Zionism?

This I never knew: that Carlyle was hostile to Jews. His friend and biographer, James Froude, said that he (Carlyle) had a “true Teutonic aversion for that unfortunate race.”

When I read that, I felt a shiver go down my spine.

For talking, debating, and the like, it was hard to beat Disraeli. Here he is in the Commons, arguing for the admission of Jews to that body — and having some fun, I think:

“. . . who are these persons professing the Jewish religion? They are persons who acknowledge the same God as the Christian people of this realm. They acknowledge the same divine revelation as yourselves. They are, humanly speaking, the authors of your religion.”

As Himmelfarb tells us, we must imagine the cries of outrage as Disraeli speaks. Oh, yes, he said: “. . . every gentleman here does profess the Jewish religion, and believes in Moses and the Prophets . . .”

What a performer. What a mind.

His novel Tancred was, in part, a jeu d’esprit. Himmelfarb tells us that it was known as a “Jew d’esprit” — a fine mot, one must admit.

I’m going to reproduce this line for one reason — because I like the old spellings: If you were going to admit Jews to Parliament, someone said, why not “Mussulmans, Hindoos, and men of every form of faith under the sun in the British dominions”?

That “someone” was Anthony Ashley Cooper, known as Lord Ashley, later the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. He opposed the admission of Jews to Parliament because he had a particular view of the British government: He thought it should be Christian. That the British state ought to be Christian.

But a more philo-Semitic man never lived, probably — including Menachem Begin and Isaac Bashevis Singer.