Benjamin Disraeli’s Jewish and Conservative Commitments

Feb. 27 2018

In 1813, Isaac D’Israeli—a well-to-do member of London’s oldest and most prestigious synagogue—refused to pay a fine levied against him by the congregation’s trustees for declining to serve as warden for a year. The dispute culminated in his leaving the congregation and then having his children—including the future British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881)—baptized into the Church of England. Taking stock of the younger Disraeli’s career, Robert Philpott defends him from charges of political opportunism, details his struggle with anti-Semitism from both his own Conservative party and from the Liberals, and examines his ambivalent relationship with his Jewish heritage.

[W]hile Jews featured prominently in Disraeli’s many novels—written before and after he entered politics—he seemed to have little understanding of Jewish practices and made more than a few errors. Disraeli’s writings were also seemingly contradictory. His novels occasionally featured Jewish characters that clearly drew on then-common anti-Semitic depictions—his description of a Jewish money-lender, Levison, is particularly vulgar—while the Jewish wise man Sidonia in Coningsby outlines a picture of Jews working through “subterranean agencies” to control world events that was later gleefully seized upon and repeated by virulent anti-Semites. At other times, however, Disraeli’s novels laud Jews and the superiority of “the Hebrew.” . . .

Despite his deep patriotism, Disraeli was the subject of vicious anti-Semitic attacks from his political opponents. They charged that his failure as prime minister to do more to protect Christians in the Balkans from massacres by their Ottoman masters stemmed from his Jewish roots. . . . But Disraeli’s actions were not, as his critics suggested, the result of his “Jew feelings” or a reflection of an “Oriental indifference to cruelty” but a realpolitik calculation, strongly shared by Queen Victoria, that Russian expansionism posed a danger to British interests. . . .

Disraeli’s conservatism was deeply held. The purpose of the Tory party, he believed, was “to maintain the institutions of the country”—the monarchy, the Church of England, the aristocracy. But that belief also necessitated knowing when it is best to reform in order to preserve. . . . Disraeli’s romance [with England’s past] reflected his abiding reverence for England’s long history—a subject which almost always featured in his speeches—and his desire to etch himself a place in it.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Benjamin Disraeli, British Jewry, Conservatism, England, History & Ideas

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror