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

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war