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III

Defining anti-Semitism is difficult because a distinction does have to be made, at least at some points in the past, between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. The latter is probably a more useful term with which to describe a period that was, nonetheless, pock-marked by pogroms, expulsions and forced conversions, the Middle Ages. St Augustine of Hippo took the view that Jews should be permitted to practise their religion as bearers of the Hebrew Bible, which (as they failed to understand) contained the prophecies of the coming of Christ; a remnant would abide until Christ returned to earth, the last Jews were converted, and the End of Time would come. Until then, Jews were expected to “serve” Christians, never exercising authority over them, and often being subject to the direct authority of the ruler. In some lands, such as Spain, this was not, at first, much of a disability. After all, just about everyone in medieval society served someone else, including even the Pope (servus servorum Dei, “servant of the servants of God”). Increasingly, though, Augustine’s dispensation was modified or ignored, as pressure was placed on Jews to convert to Christianity; increasingly, too, Jews were seen in popular culture as a pollutant, often obliged to wear a special badge and sometimes forbidden from touching fruit in the market.

Under Islam, life tended to be easier and the right of both Jews and Christians to practise their religion was generally accepted, again with the proviso that neither group exercised authority over members of the dominant religion, though in Spain, once again, the rules were honoured in the breach by sundry caliphs and emirs. And some later Islamic rulers, such as the Ottoman sultans, valued the contribution of the non-Muslim communities to the economy of their empire, allowing them extensive autonomy. It is therefore very sad that some of the modern abuse against Jews has come from Muslim members of the Labour Party. Equally, no one is suggesting that the abuse is a speciality of the Muslim community, despite the strength of feeling among many Muslims about Israel.

European anti-Judaism mutated into what might be called anti-Semitism at the end of the Middle Ages, when Jewish descent, and not just Jewish belief, made individuals into the target of persecution. Persistent and legalised hostility to those of Jewish descent became widespread with the Spanish Inquisition and the growing insistence that those Christians who wished to rise high in society must be able to demonstrate “purity of blood”, limpieza de sangre. Stricter application of these regulations would have excluded St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, both of Jewish descent, from their convents. The fundamental and theologically very unsound idea was that Jewish, or indeed Muslim, ancestry, corrupted the blood of subsequent generations, and that even the grace of Christ, through which conversion was achieved, could not remedy that.

Then and in later centuries, hostility to Jews had a different character to other forms of racism. Attitudes to sub-Saharan Africans and native Americans were guided by the much-mistaken notion that these people were primitive, lacking in intelligence, created to toil on behalf of European masters, “natural slaves”, in Aristotle’s phrase, so that even when legally free and living in their natural habitat they were (to quote one 16th-century Spanish writer) just “talking animals”. As Europeans encountered more black people within Europe itself, nearly all of whom had arrived as slaves, the association between a black skin and subordination or slavery sadly became normal in European thinking. In the wide spaces of North America and Australia, lack of respect for the human status of native peoples had devastating results.
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amcdonald
October 12th, 2018
12:10 PM
Today on BBC Politics Live we were actually presented with an accurate, short but parsimonious summary of the Brexit/Corbyn/Islam war. Toby Young,the UKIP leader , a photo of Tommy Robinson with a group of army cadets,a clip from last night`s Newsnight about the predatory muslims raping white girls, and the dogmatic assertion by the female presenter that Islam is a religion not an ideology. She doesn`t wear a BBC burka but she is one. Andrew Neil will be presenting Sharia Politics Live next ?

Lawrence James
October 7th, 2018
10:10 AM
Jewish settlement in Palestine was approved by the last Ottoman sultans and confirmed by the Balfour declaration made shortly before British, Indian, Dominion and French forces conquered the province. Jewish settlement was, therefore, legitimate Before and after the Allies arrived,and there was no lack of Arabs of the effendiya class willing to sell land to the incomers. A small but important point to add to a lucid and formidable article.

amcdonald
October 4th, 2018
2:10 PM
The 17.4 million who voted Leave are the intelligent majority. Theresa May`s dance and speech hit all the right notes. She`s doing the 17.4 million proud and will make a success of it all domestic and foreign. Hard luck for `Islamised` Jeremy Corbyn. If it ain`t got that swing it don`t mean a thing.

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