Categorized | Jewish Religion

Historian traces anti-Semitism from antiquity to the present

By Bruce Kesler

Bruce Kesler

ENCINITAS, California — Edward Alexander’s latest book, The State of the Jews: A Critical Appraisal, would better have been titled “The State of the Anti-Jews.” Edward Alexander is a professor emeritus of English as well as one of the better informed writers on matters Jewish, who brings this broad knowledge to a series of “critical appraisals” (using Matthew Arnold’s definition of “criticism”: “to see the object as in itself it really is”) that weave the continuity of anti-Jewish ignorance, indecency, inhumanity, cowardice, and illusion from the paragon of liberty, John Stuart Mill, to today’s Boycott, Divest, Sanction activists.

Within this fabric, Alexander interweaves the similar traits of some with Jewish blood in their veins but infected with additional self-promotional self-importance to be hostile toward what they declare is the Jewish state as their most important barrier to universalist brotherhood. In liberal-leftist illusions of socialist egalitarianism that miraculously creates wealth for all, a people and state that insists on the right to live and to do so in keeping with its traditions – and that does so successfully, no less — is an affront that challenges these critics’ core beliefs. Many others in their social or professional circles, and reach, engage in noncritical nods of agreement or indifferent onlooking as the cavalcade of invented accusations and meritless analogies are hurled at Jews and Israel.

Alexander’s decades in front of his classes come through not as direct statements of the one true fact but rather as discussions of the varying experiences and writings of philo- and anti-semites, and as a good professor leaves the student wanting to learn more. Especially in an age in which the study of classics of Western thought is ignored, or chastised as irrelevant or oppressive to current ideological fervors, Alexander’s précis and discussion of many famous authors’ works does a service in awakening the reader’s interest in delving further.

For example, Alexander devotes a chapter to George Eliot (1819-1880; pen name of Mary Anne Evans). Her 1878 essay, “The Modern ‘Hep! Hep! Hep!’” is briefly discussed, leading me to read it in entirety, and quote it at more length. It epitomizes the utter self-denying foolishness of those who despise nationality and pride in nation, and, by comparison of when it was written to now, shows how low we’ve been brought by their campaign to degrade national identity.


That the preservation of national memories is an element and a means of national greatness, that their revival is a sign of reviving nationality, that every heroic defender, every patriotic restorer, has been inspired by such memories and has made them his watchword, that even such a corporate existence as that of a Roman legion or an English regiment has been made valorous by memorial standards,–these are the glorious commonplaces of historic teaching at our public schools and universities, being happily ingrained in Greek and Latin classics….

…The eminence, the nobleness of a people depends on its capability of being stirred by memories, and of striving for what we call spiritual ends–ends which consist not in immediate material possession, but in the satisfaction of a great feeling that animates the collective body as with one soul….

If they [Jews] drop that separateness which is made their reproach, they may be in danger of lapsing into a cosmopolitan indifference equivalent to cynicism, and of missing that inward identification with the nationality immediately around them which might make some amends for their inherited privation….

If we are to consider the future of the Jews at all, it seems reasonable to take as a preliminary question: Are they destined to complete fusion with the peoples among whom they are dispersed, losing every remnant of a distinctive consciousness as Jews; or, are there in the breadth and intensity with which the feeling of separateness, or what we may call the organised memory of a national consciousness, actually exists in the world-wide Jewish communities…and again, are there in the political relations of the world, the conditions present or approaching for the restoration of a Jewish state planted on the old ground as a centre of national feeling, a source of dignifying protection, a special channel for special energies which may contribute some added form of national genius, and an added voice in the councils of the world?…

Will any one teach the nullification of this feeling and call his doctrine a philosophy? He will teach a blinding superstition—the superstition that a theory of human wellbeing can be constructed in disregard of the influences which have made us human.


No wonder Edward Said, the prophet of modern Western anti-semitism, based his discussion of the origins of Zionism on George Eliot, ignoring Theodor Herzl. Eliot’s denunciation of English liberals of her time who championed every nationalism except the Jewish one, stands apart from appeals to Jews by Zionists as a wider appeal to our true commonality as Westerners who prize our heritage and accomplishments. Instead, Said – born in Egypt, educated and ensconced in the West – saw colonial imperialism everywhere and imposed on Arabs by the Jewish state. For the followers of Said, throughout academia by intent and throughout liberal circles by university inculcation, Israel is an affront. So much so that the similar trait among many American Jews that identifies with liberal social schemes leads many to ally with or stand aside for leftist anti-Jewish propagandists.

For almost 1700-pages of details about the anti-semitism from antiquity to now and about the betrayal by the left of Jews, the reader can turn to historian Robert Wistrich’s magnum opi. Or, in 238-pages the reader can delve into the past few hundred years of culture that shaped today’s anti-semitism. Edward Alexander borrowed the title of his book from another about “that Jews may be a dispersed people but are not a dismembered one,” and Jews have the right to live. The opponents of Israel are, also, not dismembered, but consistent with the history of anti-semitic hate and united in attitudes and stances that would destroy Israel, its Jews, and — their ultimate goal– a stalwart Western culture.

Kesler is a freelance writer based in Encinitas, California.  HE may be contacted at [email protected]


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