Sunday 11 November 2007

It's Time To Acknowledge Philosemitism, by Hilary Rubinstein

This is an important article by Dr. Hilary Rubinstein in the Council of Christians and Jews, Victoria (2005)
"In 1928 an English radical politician and ardent gentile Zionist, Colonel Josiah Wedgwood, a direct descendant of the Unitarian founder of the famous pottery firm, published a book outlining his dream that the Jewish national homeland in Palestine would eventually become Britain's seventh dominion. In that book Wedgwood, who like his Sydney-based daughter, Camilla, would later work strenuously on behalf of refugees from Nazism, noted:
"The Anglo-Saxon, more than any other race, wants to sympathise with the Jews. . . no doubt we understand the Jew better than can those to whom the Old Testament is not familiar from infancy. To the foreigner the word Jew is a hissing in the street; to us the word suggests Solomon and Moses, and a thousand cradle stories. So often have we used their names for our own children that they seem now to be our fathers, especially our Puritan forefathers. . . Towards such a people one has a feeling almost of awe. . ."
England, as he saw, was fundamentally different from the European Continent in its attitude towards Jews. Between their expulsion by Edward I in 1290 and their official readmission by Cromwell in 1656, the country had experienced a Protestant Reformation that engendered manifestations of philosemitism.
With the Reformation, Henry VIII ordered a vernacular translation of the Bible to be placed inside every church in his realm, and the Bible especially with the publication in 1611 of the beautiful King James version - began to assume the role that scientist Thomas Huxley, himself a supporter of Jewry, characterised as "the national epic of Britain", so closely did Britons identify with the scriptural story of Israel. Thus could a nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish scholar, who had migrated from Central Europe, marvel at "the generosity [and] liberality . . . of a nation whose chief model is the Bible".
Such was the impact of the Bible that even the humblest Jewish pedlar was often esteemed as the descendant of patriarchs and prophets. "Whenever I met a Jewish old clo' man, I could not forebear from taking my hat off to him», one Anglican priest and fervent philosemite recalled of his boyhood in Victorian London. "What an honour to be permitted to minister in any way to the seed of Abraham, God's chosen ones!" enthused a gentile contributor to a relief fund for Palestinian Jewry in 1854. Countless Britons identified with the biblical Israelites against Pharoah and Haman, and, by extension, with the contemporary descendants of the Israelites against their modern tormentors. "When I think of the persecution of the Jews", declared an Anglican bishop and unswerving friend of Jewry in 1935, "I wish that we would draw the sword and fight for God's people." Repeatedly, Christian philosemites, clerical and lay, made similar statements.
Jews and non-Jews alike should be more aware that in Britain, the United States, Australia and elsewhere in the English-speaking world, mass demonstrations on behalf of Jews under Nazism were mounted by distinguished public figures, religious and secular. If this fact was more generally known, the enduring canard of the "bystanders" might begin to be eroded and if only more people were aware of the similar rallies and public meetings held during other periods of crisis to protest injustice to Jews, the perception of an almost universally normative historical legacy of antisemitism would begin to be challenged.
Let there be no mistaking the fact that from the Damascus Affair of 1840 onwards, through the Mortara Affair of 1858-59, the May Laws of 1881 in Russia and subsequent pogroms, the Kishinev massacre of 1903, the Dreyfus Affair of 1894-1906, and the Beilis Affair of 1911-13, in Britain and other English-speaking lands, gentiles protested in their hundreds, and opinion-makers, ranging from politicians to prelates, spearheaded the cause.
Among those who demonstrated on behalf of oppressed Jews were active fishers for Jewish souls, such as the Anglican bishop who, notoriously, instituted a fund for the conversion of London's immigrant Jews, and members of the Evangelical Alliance (who included two prominent Sydney protesters against the pogroms, Archbishop Saumarez Smith and Canon Archdall). However, most committed Christian philosemites had no conversionist agenda. Indeed, some of Jewry's most devoted Christian allies were insistent that Judaism offered an alternative path to redemption.
The leading pioneer of this outlook was Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, the remarkable editor of both the Protestant Magazine and the Christian Lady's Magazine, who strenuously campaigned for justice for Jews and organised a petition by British elite figures, all practising Christians, to Tsar Nicholas during his private visit to London in 1844, deploring his treatment of Jews.
Sadly, Jews in general seem unaware of the generous tradition of philosemitism in the English-speaking world, of which there were four, often overlapping, strands: Christian, liberal, conservative and Zionist.
Driven by the tendency of chroniclers and commentators to emphasise the dolorous aspects of Jewish history and highlight gentiles' misdeeds, there has been a woeful neglect of our friends. Much publicity in the local Jewish press greeted a recent discovery that in 1938, representatives of an aboriginal organisation had delivered a petition to the German consul in Melbourne protesting Nazi antisemitism, and a plaque in their honour was unveiled in the Holocaust Museum. Certainly, there is something deeply moving about the image of one oppressed people speaking out on behalf of another. The impression conveyed is that the aborigines' initiative had been the only one of its kind, and that white Australians made few or no attempts to alleviate the plight of European Jewry. Where, for instance, is the plaque to honour Critchley Parker, the young Melbourne man who lost his life in the Jewish cause?
How many Australian Jews today can identify Archbishop Duhig, Bishop Pilcher, and rightwing imperialist Sir James Barrett as having been among this country's staunch champions of persecuted German Jewry? Or name even a handful of the non-Jewish national figures of various political allegiances and religious denominations who supported the idea of a refuge for persecuted Jewry in the Kimberleys? Undoubtedly not very many. Few are aware of earlier Australian efforts on behalf of Jewry involving people ranging from statesmen such as Sir John Robertson to Methodist Ladies' College principal W.H.Fitchett to a group of Chinese Melbournians, and private citizens in rural areas, not least the Presbyterian pastoralist Anne Fraser Bon. It is high time that Jews reversed this blinkered attitude and acknowledged those who have been our friends. To over-concentrate upon those who have done us wrong is to skew the historic record, and it is profoundly unjust.
Dr. Hilary Rubinstein is Associate Editor of the Victorian issues of the Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal and is a former member of Temple Beth Israel and the CCJ (Vic). At present living in Wales, where she taught Modern Jewish History to religion students at the University of Lampeter, she is working on various historical projects. She is the author or co-author of several books and many articles, including Philosemitism: Admiration and Support in the English-Speaking World for Jews, 1840-1939 (London, Macmillan, 1999).

1 comment:

Eric Bowen said...

Annwyl Dr. Rubinstein

I would be interested to know your perspectives on Welsh philosemitism. (See for example The Chosen People: Wales and the Jews by Grahame Davies.) Welsh theologians in the 1700s promulgated the idea that the Welsh were descended from the ancient Hebrews and modern Jews are cousins of the Welsh, an idea with major political consequences with the election of the Welshman David Lloyd George as British Prime Minister. Lloyd George led the British campaign to free Palestine from the Turks and establish a Jewish homeland there; might this have been motivated by his roots in a philosemitic culture?

Being raised in a Methodist church founded by Welsh immigrants in Washington State, I experienced philosemitism first hand in our Sunday school class, as we made Sukkoth booths and mezuzot and learned to recite the Shema.

Yr eiddoch yn gywir,
Eric Bowen