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.
He said he regarded “the very poorest Israelite with feelings akin to reverence, as one of the descendants of the most remarkable nation that had ever yet appeared on the face of the earth.” Others might see Jews as “a degraded, illiterate, money-loving race, fit only for the Stock Exchange or to take care of orange stalls.” His view, as Himmelfarb says, was “quite the reverse.”
Ashley said that the Jews had, among other virtues, “habits of study that would defy the competition of the most indefatigable German.”
Himmelfarb records that, in Germany, Ashley, or Shaftesbury, bowed to Jews as he passed them, “to their astonishment.”
He changed his mind about the admission of Jews to Parliament, yielding to public opinion (about the nature of the British state). He argued for the admission of Sir Moses Montefiore to the upper house: “It would be a glorious day for the House of Lords when that grand old Hebrew were enrolled on the lists of the hereditary legislators of England.”
Think about that name “Montefiore.” As David Pryce-Jones pointed out to me, long ago, it is the Italian “Blumberg.” And “Montfleury” is the French. These are all “flowered mountains.” They are all Blumberg, even if with national twists.
Moses Montefiore was indeed a “grand old Hebrew.” He lived to 101 — from 1784 to 1885. I like to think of it this way: When he was born, Mozart was flourishing; Beethoven was 13. He died the same year Alban Berg was born. And Jerome Kern.
As prime minister, Disraeli did not approve the admission of Montefiore to the Lords. Disraeli thought his approval would be “unseemly,” writes Himmelfarb — unseemly because of his heritage (meaning Disraeli’s, of course).
I could not help thinking of Henry Kissinger — of whom it was said, “He has to be especially tough on Israel, you know.”
Himmelfarb writes a neat passage — typically neat: “In two centuries, the ‘Jewish question’ had evolved from the question of the admission of Jews to England to that of the admission of Jews to Parliament. The resolution of both issues had much in common; they came about gradually, incrementally, civilly, by way of compromise and conciliation.”
Thomas Arnold, Matthew’s dad, was no philo-Semite: “The Jews are strangers in England, and have no more claim to legislate for it than a lodger has to share with the landlord in the management of his house.”
Son was not like father.
Walter Scott did not start out in the philo-Semitic camp — rather the opposite: “Jews will always be to me Jews. . . . They are money-makers and money-brokers by profession and it is a trade which narrows the mind.”
To borrow from a popular song, “My, my how he grew.”
A passage from Ivanhoe:
. . . there was no race existing on the earth, in the air, or the waters, who were the object of such an unintermitting, general, and relentless persecution as the Jews . . . Upon the slightest and most unreasonable pretences, as well as upon accusations the most absurd and groundless, their persons and property were exposed to every turn of popular fury; for Norman, Saxon, Dane, and Briton, however adverse these races were to each other, contended which should look with greatest detestation upon a people, whom it was accounted a part of religion to hate, to revile, to despise, to plunder, and to persecute.
I’m reminded of an old joke: Someone proposes that the U.N. create a global soccer team, to foster harmony and brotherhood. Someone asks, “But whom would the team play?” The person who proposed the team says, “Why, Israel, of course.”
Back to Disraeli’s novel, Tancred: A character says, “All is race; there is no other truth.”
All too many Americans espouse this dictum. (Like most of those who educated me, or tried to.)
I was quite amazed to read this, in a Himmelfarb footnote: “It was under the name of Tancred that the young Theodor Herzl (the founder of Zionism) had been inducted, as a student in Vienna, into a German nationalist fraternity after the ritual of a saber duel. Herzl later proposed that dueling be officially accredited in the state of Israel as a token of the aristocratic and nationalist spirit of the new country.”
George Eliot and others spelled the name of the author of Tancred D’Israeli — which makes sense, and fits the eye.
Eliot wrote an essay called “The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!” The title refers to the cry of Crusaders as they fell upon the Jews. Himmelfarb writes, “More recently . . ., ‘Hep! Hep!’ had been the rallying cry of anti-Semitic rioters in Germany in 1819.”
I have — or had! — a much more pleasant association with “Hep! Hep!” I think of Cab Calloway’s “Jumpin’ Jive,” with its regular interjection of “Hep! Hep!” Have a listen.
Enough for today, dear readers. Thanks for joining me, and I’ll see you tomorrow for the third and final part.
To order Jay Nordlinger’s new book, Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World, go here. To order his collection Here, There & Everywhere, go here.