Peo­ple of the Book: Philosemitism in Eng­land from Cromwell to Churchill

Gertrude Him­mel­farb
  • Review
By – June 28, 2012
One can be for­giv­en for think­ing that Eng­land is a redo­lent hotbed of anti-Semi­tism. From the banal — Peter Lawford’s char­ac­ter in the film Exo­dus comes to mind — to the bloody — the medieval Lin­coln riots that led to the even­tu­al expul­sion of the Jews — the tor­tur­ous rela­tion­ship between Albion and Israel has had a long his­to­ry. Even today, Eng­land has become well-known for reg­u­lar erup­tions of a harsh, knee-jerk anti-Israelism. Into this swamp wades Gertrude Him­mel­farb, the dis­tin­guished his­to­ri­an of Vic­to­ri­an thought, to tell a dif­fer­ent sto­ry, that of Eng­lish philosemitism.

There is a sto­ry to tell. Whether from con­vic­tion or a desire to com­pete effec­tive­ly with the Dutch, Cromwell, the fiery anti-monar­chist, invit­ed the Jews to return. From that moment right on through the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, a group of British lead­ers and a series of Jew Bills” sought to pro­vide tol­er­a­tion, and lat­er polit­i­cal equal­i­ty. Then, in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, fig­ures such as Lord Bal­four and Win­ston Churchill demon­strat­ed their friend­ship to the Jew­ish peo­ple in sup­port of their Zion­ist aspi­ra­tions.

Him­mel­farb has pro­duced a con­cise coun­ter­bal­ance that need­ed to be pub­lished, even if the truth is far less even. For every George Eliot pre­dict­ing Theodor Her­zl, there’s an unfor­tu­nate Dick­ens or Trol­lope ref­er­ence that makes one cringe. Yet, for the Peo­ple of the Book, it’s impor­tant to under­stand the fuller story.
Jeff Bogursky reads a lot, writes a lit­tle and talks quite a bit. He is a media exec­u­tive and expert in dig­i­tal media.

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