A telling little item in The JC:
Piers Paul Read, the writer of a new book about the 1894 Dreyfus Affair, was criticised this week after saying that the French soldier’s treatment could be linked to Jews being a “very powerful influence in finance, in business”, and that Jews should ask why people were antisemitic.
English literature Professor Jacqueline Rose, author of Proust among the Nations: From Dreyfus to the Middle East, said she was left “uncomfortable” after Catholic writer Read, whose latest book is The Dreyfus Affair, veered into an “antisemitic ways of talking”.
The pair were discussing the case on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, when Mr Read said that Dreyfus was “picked on” because he was “a difficult character” and “wasn’t the kind of person anyone would want on the General Staff”.
He said: “They didn’t pick on Dreyfus because he was a Jew, but the fact that he was a Jew made it much easier to believe that he was guilty.”
He added: “It’s so easy just to use the term antisemitism as a general catch-all phrase.”
But an astonished Prof Rose noted that, as the case unfolded, Dreyfus’s Jewishness “became absolutely central”, with people shouting “Death to the Jews” outside the courtroom. “The level of antisemitism unleashed by this affair was absolutely monstrous,” she said.
She added that she “wasn’t quite sure why [Mr Read] went to such lengths to insist that it was not an anti- Jewish plot”. Mr Read denied that his argument amounted to a justification, commenting: “If I was Jewish I would want to know why people were antisemitic.”
Piers Paul Read is expressing what, let’s face it, is a suprisingly common European perspective on Jews. Well, I say “surprisingly”. In fact, it shouldn’t be a surprise at all that patterns of thinking about Jews that developed over 2,000 years have persisted.
Look at Hungary, where at least part of Jobbik’s appeal is that it is prepared to say the sort of thing about Jews that a substantial number of Hungarians want to hear. Note also how traditional antisemitism is mixed up with anti-Zionism and support for Iran.
Jacqueline Rose has her own rationale for her politics. She is deeply embedded in a section of the British Jewish Left, which has devised a particular and idiosyncratic perspective on antisemitism, the history of the Nazi period, and the relationship between Zionism, imperialism and capitalism. It is boring, difficult to follow, implausible: but it has been lovingly created.
Unfortunately, as Jacqueline Rose might one day realise: the popularity of the Jew who “tells the truth about Jews” is rarely the brilliance of their sociological or pseudopsychological theories. Rather, it is that they licence Jew haters to say the thing that they have been inhibited from saying, since the Holocaust. Namely: that Jews both encourage and deserve persecution.
As Piers Paul Read put it: the fact that somebody is a Jew makes it easier for – some – people to believe that they’re guilty.
That’s not how Rose sees it, of course. Her most recent apercu, emerging from an interview in the Guardian about her latest book that is drowning in psychobabble, is that:
“Victimhood is something that happens but when you turn it into an identity you’re psychically and politically finished.”
True. Nevertheless “victimhood” as an identity is a very different thing from acknowledging the persistence and prevalence of antisemitism.
Having insisted for so long that antisemitism is near-dead, or that it should be ignored in Middle Eastern terrorist politics, or that the Zionists collaborated with the Nazis, exploited the Holocaust and secretly are happy about antisemitism, they now find that there is almost nothing they can say when confronted by open and proud Jew haters.
All she can really say now is that she feels “uncomfortable”. As well she might.