Overstatements

Diarmaid MacCulloch

  • Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England by Anthony Julius
    Oxford, 811 pp, £25.00, February 2010, ISBN 978 0 19 929705 4

The leprous spawn of scattered Israel
Spreads its contagion in your English blood;
Teeming corruption rises like a flood
Whose fountain swelters in the womb of hell.
Your Jew-kept politicians buy and sell
In markets redolent of Jewish mud,
And while the ‘Learned Elders’ chew the cud
Of liquidation’s fruits, they weave their spell.

That is Lord Alfred Douglas on Judaism, further demonstrating what is apparent from other evidence, that he was a prize plonker. It is just one fragment among a torrent of primary-source material relentlessly amassed by Anthony Julius in his history of English anti-semitism, gathered both from England and from the wider background of Christian culture in Europe, to which he adds streams of secularism and Islam when his story approaches modern times. The maelstrom of original material is impressive, but it is housed in a very frustrating book – or rather two books within a single cover. One is long and rather good, the other short and bad. Both are clever. The first is analytical history, the second vehemently polemical rhetoric.

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