The Oldest Known Anti-Semitic Caricature May Not Be Anti-Semitic at All

Atop a 13th-century English tax record lies a bizarre sketch of three grotesque-looking Jews in a castle being attacked by a gang of demons; this amateurish artwork has long been thought the oldest known instance of anti-Semitic caricature, most likely lampooning contemporary Jews’ practice of usury. We know the figures are Jews because they are clearly labeled with Jewish names;, two of which belong to historical Jews in 13th-century Norwich. However, argues Sara Lipton, several pieces of evidence suggest a different interpretation:

[T]he caricature appears not in a religious polemic or theological treatise, but at the top of a royal tax roll. This is not where one would expect to find an anti-usury diatribe. Although Christian moralists did indeed fulminate against the lending of money at interest, it seems unlikely that a clerk in the Exchequer of the Jews—the only person in a position to have made this little sketch—would share their outrage. His bureau, whose function was to keep track of the substantial royal revenue generated by taxing Jews, existed solely because of Jewish moneylending. . . .

The sketch was most likely made in late spring or summer in the year 1233. These were tumultuous months at the Exchequer. Throughout the 1230s England experienced conflict between, on the one hand, the unpopular King Henry III and his hated so-called “alien” (French) favorite, Peter des Roches, and, on the other hand, a group of resentful noblemen. The Exchequer was a primary battleground in this struggle. . . . Although Jews were, in fact, the main victims of des Roches’s rapacity, his involvement in their financial activities did not endear them or him—or his royal patron—to other Englishmen. . . .

It is this highly charged situation . . . that motivated the deliberately masked satirical indictment of deceit, disguise, and double-dealing in the cartoon. Our clerk, a relatively low-level royal functionary, was not condemning Jewish usury out of moral outrage or religious bigotry. Rather, he was protesting the fact that his bureau had been handed over to “outsiders” and brought into disrepute by an unscrupulous favorite prosecuting unpopular policies. . .

In the end, of course, it does not matter if the clerk’s true ire was directed against powerful [Gentile] courtiers rather than Jewish moneylenders. Although more medieval Christians profited from moneylending than Jews ever did, and although more Christians than Jews died in the violence that broke out within weeks of the sketching of this cartoon, it was Jews, not Christians, who were stereotyped as greedy, bestial, demonic, blood-sucking usurers. In the decades that followed, English Jews were taxed more and more heavily, their goods were confiscated, they were arrested and held for ransom, they were executed on both real and trumped-up charges, and finally, in 1290, they were expelled from the realm, not to be allowed back on English soil for almost 400 years.

Read more at New York Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, British Jewry, England, History & Ideas, Moneylending

The Temple Mount Terrorist Attack Exposes the Real Reasons behind Palestinian “Rage”

July 20 2017

After the terrorist attack at the Temple Mount last week, Israeli police found a large cache of weapons hidden in the al-Aqsa complex. Eli Lake comments on Palestinian reactions, and what they suggest about the persistent canard that “al-Aqsa is in danger” from alleged Jewish infiltration:

The real threat to the mosque on Friday did not come from Jewish settlers, [as Palestinian propaganda would have it], but from the Israeli Arabs [who did the shooting]. So it’s important to examine the response from Palestinian leaders. Let’s start with Abbas. He was forceful in his condemnation of the act, noting that there is no room for violence in such a holy place. . . . But by Monday the old patterns emerged. [His] Fatah party called this week for a “day of rage.” Was this to protest the gunmen who entered the “noble sanctuary,” or those mourning their deaths? No. This protest is aimed at Israel for erecting metal detectors at the entrance of the Temple Mount compound after the shootings.

The most telling response, however, came from Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated group that rules Gaza. A spokesman for the group, Sami Abu Zuhi, said on Friday the attack “was a natural response to Israeli terrorism and their defilement of the al-Aqsa mosque.” . . . [But] how can any thinking person take the professed pieties of Hamas leaders seriously if they rail against “defilement” of the site yet praise gunmen who fled to it in a shooting spree?

As Martin Kramer, a historian at Shalem College in Jerusalem, told me this week, the attack at the Temple Mount broke a taboo. “The usual Islamist claim is that the danger to the mosque and the shrine is from Jews,” he said. “Here there was an actual conspiracy to smuggle weapons into this holy place and Hamas does not condemn it, they praise it. Who poses the greater danger to al-Aqsa?”

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians, Temple Mount, Terrorism