March 02, 2010

Antony Lerman on the dense work of Anthony Julius

Here's a Comment is free piece by Antony Lerman about Anthony Julius's book supposedly on antisemitism in the UK called, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England. Apparently the point Julius's exercise is to be found in the fourth part of the 811 page effort:
In this dense and heavily footnoted study, Anthony Julius tries to capture the distinct flavour of a prejudice that was never elevated into a doctrine............

The final quarter of the book is devoted to what Julius claims is the fourth and "most recent kind of English antisemitism . . . a composite of anti-Zionisms, principal among which is the 'new anti-Zionism' . . . this composite is so polluted by antisemitic tropes that it has been named the 'new antisemitism'." A highly controversial area, but undoubtedly the most important part of his project.

Julius says that his approach to antisemitism is systematic. A more accurate description would be idio­syn­cratic. For a so-called "first comprehensive history of antisemitism in England", historical narrative and analysis are pretty thin on the ground. The medieval period is covered adequately, but treatment of the modern period is perfunctory. The years after the second world war are dispensed with in 20 pages and stop, inexplicably, in 1967.

More problematic is his definition of antisemitism, which is in part incomprehensible. What Julius seems to say is: the word antisemitism is "a most improper term", but I'll still use it to apply to what is a "heterogeneous phenomenon", "discontinuous", with an "irreducible plurality of forms" – in effect, antisemitism is what I say it is.............

Julius is not just creating anti-­Zionist labels in the abstract. He pins them on individuals, giving pride of place to so-called "new Jewish ­anti-Zionists". And it's here that he reveals the bankruptcy, confusion and malign nature of his project. He calls Independent Jewish Voices "anti-Zionist", yet among its signatories are Zionists, non-Zionists and anti-Zionists. He then unjustifiably singles out certain individual signatories as exemplifying the "new anti-Zionism", misreading and misinterpreting their writings to prove his case. In Julius's eyes the misdemeanours of these Jews are not minor. They are accused of being fellow travellers of antisemitism, whose "contributions to antisemitism are significant". Isn't this a gnat's crotchet away from calling them "Jewish anti­semites"?
Comments are still open and at the time of writing, the article had only attracted 3 comments; one from me. I'm guessing that most people won't comment if they haven't read the book and, if Lerman's review is anything to go by, the content and "argument" in the book are entirely predictable. In fact I wonder if even zionists will want to bother with such an overdone theme.


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