Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

England's Other Israel

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

England's Other Israel

Article excerpt

Gertrude Himmelfarb. The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England\ from Cromwell to Churchill. New York and London: Encounter Books, 2011. Pp. 184.

Anthony Julius. Triab of the Diaspora: A History ofAnti-Semitism in England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. lviii + 811.

Achsah Guibboiy. Christian Identity, Jews and Israel in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xii + 328.

The keyword that links all three of these exceptional books is "England." All three take not just England but English attitudes toward the Jews as their main subject. On the same day that I finished reading the final one of them, an article in the online London Daily Telegraph (July 14, 2012), with the captivating title "David Cameron Backs Jerusalem as English National Anthem," reported on a growing campaign to replace "God Save the Queen" as the anthem to be sung when an English as distinct from a British team celebrates a sporting victoiy. The article points out that teams representing other parts of Britain often draw upon such national verses as "Flowers of Scotland" or "Land of My Fathers" (Wales), whereas England has been using the same hymn as that of the United Kingdom. When it came down to choosing an appropriate anthem for England, the shortlist included Elgar's "Land of Hope and Gloiy," "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" (despite its folk origins in African American spiritual music), and Sir Hubert Parry's musical interpretation of William Blake's quasi-biblical lines that achieve their rousing crescendo with "I will not cease from Mental Fight, / Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand, / Till we have built Jerusalem / In England's green & pleasant Land." Today, there is probably no more famous equation of England and Israel than in these lines, which Gertrude Himmelfarb cites as representing "perhaps the highest compliment the English could pay the Jews * * * [by] refer [ring] to their own country as 'Israel' and to their own people as 'Israelites'" (pp. 41-42). Yet, for Anthony Julius in his Triab of the Diaspora, they merely corroborate a "supersessionist" tendency whereby the English have essentially usurped the role of the Jews as God's chosen people (pp. 432-33). Because she deals with a period well before Blake, Achsah Guibboiy makes no direct allusion to his celebrated lines, though her fine study makes it clear that the trope interpreting England as Jerusalem goes as far back as the New Testament Book of Revelation, which "envisioned the destruction of the old and the creation of a new heaven and earth (cf. Isa. 65:16), a new Jerusalem" (p. 43). For all their differences, all three authors posit a view that inextricably links the English and the Jews with polarized degrees of comfort or unease.

Shakespeare's Shylock's avowal that "sufferance is the badge of all our tribe" might serve as a useful motto for Anthony Julius, who confesses that, growing up in postwar England, his own personal experience of anti-Semitism was "juot enough . . . for it to inform my understanding of the subject, but not so much as to overwhelm me" (p. xvi). One of England's most prominent lawyers and a literaiy scholar unafraid of controversy, Julius has also published an important study of T. S. Eliot that pulls no punches in highlighting a nasty anti-Semitic streak in the poet's deepest mindset, one conveniently ignored or brushed aside as inconsequential by many of his admirers. In Triab of the Diaspora, Julius employs his admirable forensic and critical skills to similar effect, but here the scope of his enquiry is far wider, encompassing English (as distinct from British) anti-Semitism from medieval times through to the present day.

The consuming theory behind Julius's analysis of anti-Semitism's continuity in England is that the medieval blood libel never disappeared-it may be traced through later eras - and finds its modem counterpart in explosive allegations concerning Israeli murder of Palestinian children (pp. …

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