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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

Israel’s Economy Thrives While the Middle East Disintegrates

Jan. 19 2018

Now that the data have come in from 2017, it is clear that the Israeli economy had another successful year, expanding at a rate higher than that of any other advanced country. Israel’s per-capita GDP also grew, placing it above those of France and Japan. Daniel Kryger notes some of the implications regarding the Jewish state’s place in the Middle East:

The contrast between first-world Israel and the surrounding third-world Arab states is larger today than ever before. Israel’s GDP per capita is almost twenty times the GDP per capita of impoverished Egypt and five times larger than semi-developed Lebanon.

Like any human project, Israel is a never-ending work in progress and much work remains to integrate ḥaredi Jews and Israeli Arabs into Israel’s knowledge economy. Properly addressing Israel’s high costs of living requires more economic and legislative reforms and breaking up inefficient oligopolies that keep the prices artificially high. However, by any standard, the reborn Jewish state is a remarkable success story. . . .

Much has changed since OPEC launched its oil embargo against the West after the failed Arab aggression against Israel in October 1973. Before the collapse of the pro-Arab Soviet empire, China and India had no official ties with Israel and many Western and Japanese companies avoided doing business with Israel. Collapsing oil prices have dramatically eroded the power of oil-producing countries. It has become obvious that the future belongs to those who innovate, not those who happen to sit on oil. Israel has today strong commercial ties with China and a thriving partnership with India. Business delegations from Jamaica to Japan are eager to do business with Israel and benefit from Israel’s expertise. . . .

[For its part], the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement may bully Jewish and pro-Israel students on Western campuses. However, in real life, BDS stands no chance of succeeding against Israel. The reason is simple: reborn Israel has . . . become too valuable a player in the global economy.

Read more at Mida

More about: BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Middle East, OPEC