How a Bizarre Work of Apocalyptic Fiction Simultaneously Typifies British Anti-Semitism and Philo-Semitism

The West Indies-born English author M. P. Shiel’s work earned the admiration of his fellow writer of horror and fantasy H.P. Lovecraft, as well as of such mainstream writers as Eudora Welty. His 1901 novel The Lord of the Sea—which displays the “extreme style and apocalyptic themes” that, in Michael Weingrad’s words, characterizes much of his work—imagines a Jewish takeover of Britain based on the most absurd anti-Semitic assumptions about Jewish power and villainy. At the same time, Shiel describes this terrifying invasion as the result of an eruption of European anti-Semitism that, from a 21st-century perspective, seems almost prophetic. Shiel then introduces a plot twist that turns his hero into a perverse counterpart of the title character of George Eliot’s Zionist novel Daniel Deronda. Weingrad tries to make sense of this bizarre blend of anti-Semitism and philo-Semitism:

The Lord of the Sea is very much a novel of its time. Jews were on the mind of the British empire: as immigrants swelling the poor population of London’s East End, in the persons of wealthy financiers in Europe and some of the rand lords of South Africa, as victims of shocking mass violence in tsarist Russia, as reminders to Christians of millenarian hopes, and as one of the world’s national minorities seeking independence and sovereignty through the recently launched Zionist movement. Shiel’s novel was contemporary with anti-Jewish polemics such as Joseph Banister’s England under the Jews (1901), and the claims by the economist J. A. Hobson in War in South Africa (1900) that Jews were behind England’s involvement in the Boer War that had broken out in 1899.

It was also contemporary with evangelical Christian hopes for Jewish conversion, growing British sympathy for the Zionist movement, and the 1903 proposal to create a Jewish homeland in British Africa. What is most notable about Shiel’s novel is its packing in such extremes of Jewish representation, from the bestial to the messianic, in one place.

English attitudes and standards of accepted behavior towards Jews involve a mix of often contrary tendencies. The long span of English literature has of course produced memorably monstrous representations of Jews in the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, and others, exercising an outsized influence on the demonization of Jews in literary culture and beyond. In general, however, modern English literary culture featured a range of anti-Jewish prejudices and malicious expressions, sometimes taking extreme verbal or written form, but usually leavened by an English sense of decorum or notion of “fair play,” and in some cases counterbalanced by pronounced philo-Semitism or at least social sanctions against stark expressions of anti-Jewish hostility.

Shiel’s novel reflects the extreme ends, pro- and anti-Jewish, of British attitudes in its messianic, conspiratorial fantasy, to a great extent reflecting the particular sociopolitical moment in which it was written, when anti-Jewish expressions were at a pitch.

Read more at Investigations and Fantasies

More about: Anti-Semitism, Daniel Deronda, English literature, Fantasy, Philo-Semitism

How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy