- Philosemitism: Admiration and Support in the English-Speaking World for Jews, 1840–1939
The present work seeks to counter what the authors believe is the overwhelming emphasis in modern Jewish historical research on the hostility of the larger society toward its Jewish minority. As such, it represents a contribution to a small but growing field of study that includes such controversial and tendentious books as William Rubinstein’s The Myth of Rescue: Why the Democracies Could Not Have Saved More Jews Under the Nazis (London, New York, 1997), Alan Edelstein’s An Unacknowl edged Harmony: Philo-Semitism and the Survival of European Jewry (Westport, CT, 1982), and Albert Lindemann’s Esau’s Tears: Modern Antisemitism and the Rise of the Jews (Cambridge, 1997).
The book is divided into two sections. The first part surveys the efforts by elites in English-speaking countries to protest against the major incidents of persecution against Jews in the last two centuries. The result is a numbing listing of pronouncements and written statements by prominent political, cultural, and religious leaders in response to such events as the Damascus Affair, the Mortara case, the Beilis case, the Dreyfus Affair, and the onset of Nazi persecution in the 1930s. In the second more thoughtful [End Page 164] section, the authors attempt to create typologies of philosemites, including liberals, Christians, Zionists, and conservatives.
Though the book contains numerous interesting historical tidbits, it is marred by methodological flaws and geographical limitations. The Rubinsteins never actually define what they mean by the term “philosemitism.” As a result, they fail to clearly and consistently explain the underlying assumptions that influenced Christians to defend Jews in the post-emancipation era. The fact that support of Jews was often commingled with other sentiments, including British patriotism, anti-Catholicism, Russo-and Francophobia, and conversionism—which the Rubinsteins either briefly note or downplay as significant in the second section of the book—suggests that philosemitism may not have been as ideologically pure or as consistently noble as they suggest. Nor does the reader gain any sense of the effect of the philosemitic statements and protests that the Rubinsteins chronicle upon governments in Europe and in the countries of persecution. In contrast, antisemitism served as the foundation of both mass political movements that influenced governments and regimes that executed public policy. (Indeed, an important motivating factor for at least some defenders of Jews among the British elite was the association of antisemitism with mass political action.) Most disturbingly, in their efforts to emphasize pro-Jewish sentiment, the Rubinsteins fail to recognize the strange irony that united philosemites with antisemites. In both cases, Jews were viewed less as human beings than as exemplars of larger ideas or forces, i.e., the long-suffering holders of the original “truth” on the one hand, and the source of all of the world’s ills on the other. The authors correctly point out that at times British Jews sought to restrain government and religious leaders from taking assertive positions against the persecution of Jews. Unlike the Rubinsteins, British Jewish leaders under stood that, however welcome, philosemitic attitudes were often based upon unrealistic perceptions of Jews and were fundamentally shaped by the unequal relationship that existed between the Christian majority and the Jewish minority.
The book is also severely limited by its emphasis upon the English-speaking world. As the Rubinsteins readily admit, the altruism of British, American, Canadian, and Australian leaders was generally not shared by officials in eastern Europe or in the Middle East, where the majority of Jewry lived in the period under discussion. (It should also be noted that in the case of the Damascus Affair, anti-Jewish sentiments were fueled by western European residents and officials based in the Ottoman Empire.) Even in English-speaking countries, “philosemites” generally displayed little mag nanimity toward Jewish refugees from eastern Europe who sought asylum in their own country. The authors seem to miss the irony, for example, that protests in England against the pogroms...