Tri­als of the Dias­po­ra: A His­to­ry of Anti-Semi­tism in England

Antho­ny Julius
  • Review
By – September 26, 2011

High­ly regard­ed in Great Britain as one of the country’s most bril­liant attor­neys who, among his many accom­plish­ments, served as Princess Diana’s lawyer, Antho­ny Julius is best known on this side of the Atlantic as Deb­o­rah Lipstadt’s attor­ney in the David Irv­ing libel suit. Julius is also the author of sev­er­al books, includ­ing T.S. Eliot: Anti-Semi­tism and Lit­er­ary Form. His new work, Tri­als of the Dias­po­ra, a his­to­ry of anti- Semi­tism in Eng­land, will whol­ly enhance his rep­u­ta­tion as a lead­ing schol­ar of con­tem­po­rary Jew­ish history. 

Although Jews were expelled from Eng­land in 1290 and did not return until Oliv­er Cromwell wel­comed them back in the mid- 17th cen­tu­ry, anti-Jew­ish stereo­types remained alive in Great Britain’s lit­er­ary tra­di­tion. As Julius informs us, anti-Semi­tism in the form of polit­i­cal par­ties, pogroms, or leg­is­la­tion were most­ly absent through­out much of Eng­lish his­to­ry, but thrived in the form of anti- Semit­ic poems, plays, and nov­els. From the anony­mous medieval bal­lad Sir Hugh, or the Jew’s Daugh­ter” through Shake­speare, and such mod­ern fig­ures as Charles Dick­ens, T.S. Eliot, Hilaire Bel­loc, G.K. Chester­ton, H.G. Wells, and oth­ers, lit­er­ary anti-Semi­tism kept alive the neg­a­tive image of the Jew. Thus, it was among the artis­tic, intel­lec­tu­al, and aris­to­crat­ic elites, rather than from the mass­es, that anti-Semi­tism made impor­tant inroads in con­tem­po­rary Eng­lish polit­i­cal life, as exem­pli­fied by the admi­ra­tion of Adolf Hitler by many of the British upper class on the eve of World War II

Julius notes that England’s major con­tri­bu­tion to the his­to­ry of anti-Semi­tism was the first record­ed alle­ga­tion of Jew­ish rit­u­al mur­der of a Chris­t­ian child, that of William of Nor­wich, lat­er to be can­on­ized by the church. The rit­u­al mur­der canard spread to Europe dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages, made its appear­ance in the Third Reich in Julius Streicher’s anti-Semit­ic pro­pa­gan­da week­ly Der Sturmer, and present­ly has wide cur­ren­cy through­out much of today’s Mid­dle East.

Julius’s con­clud­ing chap­ter deals with con­tem­po­rary anti-Semi­tism in Eng­land, where pro­posed aca­d­e­m­ic boy­cotts of Israel by the left are joined with the hatred of Jews by the ever-increas­ing Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion arriv­ing from the Mid­dle East. As Julius argues, There is one cause that all left­ist, lib­er­al, and reac­tionary anti-Semi­tes can agree upon…and that is anti-Zionism…most anti- Semi­tes are now anti-Zionists.…These are Jew-haters whose anti-Zion­ism is noth­ing more than a pos­ture.…” Julius con­tends that the objec­tive of this nefar­i­ous group­ing is to treat Zion­ism and Israel as ille­git­i­mate Jew­ish enter­pris­es, which he believes con­sti­tutes the great­est threat to Anglo-Jew­ish secu­ri­ty and morale.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

Discussion Questions