Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Case of Antisemitism

Adam Kirsch reviews Antony Julius' new book on English antisemitism. In passing, he links to Harold Bloom's previous review, in the NYT, which I already linked to here. Kirsch, however, also noticed the readers' responses to Bloom's review, as published in the Letters section. Five letters were published, each one of them critical in one way or the other of.... Bloom. Well, none of the writers had read the book, so they criticized the messenger. I haven't read the book either, yet, but I'm struck by how shallow the criticism seems to be. One letter writer trots out the fact that there are lots of prominent Jews in today's UK politics, so there can't be much antisemitism around, can there. Most interesting, however, was the response of Prof. James Wood of the department of literary criticism at Harvard.
...In place of this precise slander and imprecise imputation, Bloom might have noted that some of the most robust left-wing discussion of Israeli policy has come from members of the British literary and academic establishment who are also Jewish (Tony Judt, Harold Pinter, Mike Leigh, Jacqueline Rose). If there is more political discussion of this order in Britain than in America it is not necessarily because the English are so anti-Semitic — or at least, I certainly hope not —­ but more likely (as Judt has pointed out) because most Americans live in almost complete ignorance of the “fierce relevance” of certain political realities and facts.



RK said...

The last letter isn't critical of Bloom, it criticizes the editor. (Authors don't choose headlines.) And the third letter accuses Bloom of analytical confusion, but admits the existence of "contemporary English anti-Semitism to which Bloom refers, manifesting itself as anti-Israel." Don't you think it was important to mention this?

Carrie said...

I don't see where the last comment was critical of Bloom. It was actually critical of the NY Times and (rightfully) questioning their coverage of Israel.

Adam said...

Wood: "Where does Harold Bloom offer any evidence [...] for his blanket assertion that the English literary and academic establishment “essentially opposes the right of the state of Israel to exist, while indulging in the humbuggery that its anti-Zionism is not anti-­Semitism”

Anonymous said...

As if criticisms from people who do not think Israel should exist are worthy of serious notice.

Anonymous said...

As if criticisms from people who do not think Israel should exist are worthy of serious notice.

Victor said...

it is not necessarily because the English are so anti-Semitic — or at least, I certainly hope not

This is a joke, brought to you by the Harvard department of literary criticism, where, as the Russians say, hope dies last.

Mark Cohen said...


Loved that, "Yep." It gave me a nice laugh.

Been reading and liking.


Lee Ratner said...

Actually, I think the second letter's first paragraph is a very accurate explanation of the origins of modern anti-Israel feeling. Part of the anti-Zionist critique is that Israel is a creation of colonialism and since colonialism is bad, Israel is bad. Its a Fanon-esque critique of Zionism rooted in cheering on the Third World. Another part of it, from the rightist anti-Zionists, seems to be angry that valiant British gentile soldiers had their asses handed to them by a bunch of Jews. The parts of the Left most supportive of Israel are the ones who are not enthralled with the Third World. The parts of the Right most friendly to Israel are the ones who do not necessarily view the Jews as weaklings.

Anonymous said...

I just heard an interview with Robert Harris the bestselling author of lots of books (last movie Ghost) - the way he talked earlier about Polansky and the way he talked in the interview about Peter Mandelson makes it very hard to imagine him as an anti-semite (there was no whiff of some of my best friends...) but then he made an off the cuff remark about disproportionality and the 2nd Lebanon war that was way below the belt-line.

Maybe it is with people like him or Max Hastings whom I heard saying something similar and according to Adam Kirsch even Julius supplies his share of Israel critique that all those intellectuals still have to prove to themselves that they are post-colonials that they have mastered the art of not moaning for lost imperial glory, that they can dismiss the plight of Gilad Shalit and of the people of Sderot and and by believing that if only Israel were as post-imperial as they are all would be Shangri-La.

Anyway there must be something very weird going on in the heads of these people who on all other occasions come across as perfectly clear-headed (Harris once sneered at German reader in an unfair way but that from a Brit is understandable in my book) - but Israel - maybe Lee is right - but then hadn't many of the future Israelis who showed them been trained by them? In a rational world that should make them proud, shouldn't it. and I can't remember having ever heard similar sneers at the Indians or any others, there they may occasionally be patronizing but not disdaining.
It's a " "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" (Churchill) - I wish they would invent a pill to treat it.
Here is an article on William of Norwich which is quite fitting in this context i.e. what happens if heinous intent meets "favourable" circumstances.


Christian Zionist said...

Just a few comments:

1. Across Europe, traditional, millennia-old European anti-Semitism has been mainstreamed by a juggernaut combination of strange bedfellows - Islamic pressure and leftist hatred of Jews and the Jewish state.

2. The Islamic hatred derives from cultural and religious elements, as well as a strong dose of jealousy. The leftist hatred derives, I believe, from the left's erroneous assumption that "Jews are white, and Arabs are brown, and so we must support the Arabs."

3. The net result has the world's largest non-US diaspora Jewish population, that of France, convinced that there is no future for Jewry in France. The UK is not far behind.

4. The sometimes loony-left New York Times is a weak reflection of this same anti-Semitism (as shown more strongly by its spiritual sister, the Guardian). Thus I would expect the Times to choose generally letters which deny the existence, extent, or severity of anti-Semitism.

5. Given the Times' ideology, it is surprising that the review itself was fair.

Christian Zionist said...

I should add that James Wood is simply a schm-ck for his unsupported assumption (typical of the left's anti-American bigotry) that Britons are any more politically "aware" than Americans.