Benzion Netanyahu: Jewish Activist and Intellectual Apologist

Kevin MacDonald


Benzion Netanyahu, father of the current Israeli PM, has died at the age of 102. Uri Avnery, an Israeli peace activist, describes Netanyahu  fils  as “a Holocaust-obsessed fantasist, out of contact with reality, distrusting all Goyim, trying to follow in the footsteps of a rigid and extremist father – altogether a dangerous person to lead a nation in a real crisis.” Like father, like son.

Benzion Netanyahu was a prototypical Jewish activist, switching easily from his work as secretary for racial Zionist Vladimir Jabotinsky, to successfully lobbying for a pro-Zionist platform for the Republican Party in 1944 (which caused the Democrats to adopt a similar platform), to his work as a Jewish academic historian advancing Jewish interests in academia. His best-known book, The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th-Century Spain, was published in 1995 by Random House.

A commentary by Yossi Halevi Klein claims that the goal of Netanyahu’s scholarship was to

dissect the consequences of Jewish naivete. Benzion’s fascination with medieval Spain wasn’t based only on the behavior of the victimizers but of the victims. He not only drew a line connecting what he defined as the racial anti-Semitism of the Inquisition with Nazism, but implicitly drew a line between the Jews who saw medieval Spain as their golden land and the Jews who saw modern Germany as their new Zion. It is precisely that dread of Jewish self-deception that has defined the politics of Benzion’s son.

Similarly Jonathan S. Tobin, writing in Commentary,  claims that Netanyahu’s “understood that hatred and intolerance lay at the roots of the difficulties of the Jews then as now. As his son noted at his funeral …, the challenge is to “face reality head on” and “draw the necessary conclusions.”

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But did Netanyahu really believe that traditional Jews were naive? That they failed to face reality? A passage that stood out for me in The Origins of the Inquisition is the following:

It was primarily because of the functions of the Jews as the king’s revenue gatherers in the urban areas that the cities saw the Jews as the monarch’s agents, who treated them as objects of massive exploitation. By serving as they did the interests of the kings, the Jews seemed to be working against the interests of the cities; and thus we touch again on the phenomenon we have referred to: the fundamental conflict between the kings and their people—a conflict not limited to financial matters, but one that embraced all spheres of government that had a bearing on the people’s life. It was in part thanks to this conflict of interests that the Jews could survive the harsh climate of the Middle Ages, and it is hard to believe that they did not discern it when they came to resettle in Christian Europe. Indeed, their requests, since the days of the Carolingians, for assurances of protection before they settled in a place show (a) that they realized that the kings’ positions on many issues differed from those of the common people and (b) that the kings were prepared, for the sake of their interests, to make common cause with the “alien” Jews against the clear wishes of their Christian subjects. In a sense, therefore, the Jews’ agreements with the kings in the Middle Ages resembled the understandings they had reached with foreign conquerors in the ancient world. (Netanyahu 1995, 71–72)

Netanyahu is saying quite clearly that Jews were not naively trusting but rather realized that in making alliances with exploitative elites, they would incur the wrath of the people and thus require princely assurances of protection. The Jewish alliance with exploitative elites was an important theme of historical anti-Semitism from the ancient world into the modern era throughout Europe and elsewhere. Medieval Spain was typical.

Since the role of Jews as tax farmers (as well as all of their other roles in traditional societies) was dependent on the non-Jewish elite, anti-Jewish writers have often condemned the aristocracy for allowing Jews to exploit the lower orders of society. A petition to King Enrique of the Cortes of Toro (Castile) in 1371 complained that because of the power given to Jews by the King and the nobles, Jews controlled the cities and even the persons of the Spaniards (Netanyahu 1995, 118). In the following century, Fray Alonso de Espina, the Fransican friar who was instrumental in establishing the Inquisition, condemned the “detested avarice of the Christian princes” and “the temporal gains which they get from the Jews” (in Netanyahu 1995, 731). On the other hand, Espina praised King Philip Augustus, who “burned with the zeal of God” when he despoiled the Jews and expelled them from France in opposition to the pleas of the nobility and prelates and offers of bribes from the Jews (in Netanyahu 1995, 831). (Separation and Its Discontenst, Ch. 2)

Netanyahu was therefore quite aware that Jews in medieval Spain were willing exploiters of the Spaniards in alliance with a corrupt Spanish aristocracy. I can’t resist pointing out the parallel to our current situation—that our new American elite is substantially composed of ethnically conscious Jews with a heavy sprinkling of corrupt Whites with no allegiance or loyalty to their own people—exactly the Jewish formula for success in traditional societies. These corrupt Whites are often very well compensated for their treason. Indeed, losing any sense of loyalty to one’s own people has become the ticket for success for Whites in America and throughout the West.

One would think on the basis of his portrayal of Jews as willing and self-conscious agents of massive exploitation in alliance with corrupt  non-Jewish elites that Netanyahu would realize the rationality of traditional anti-Jewish attitudes. However, there is little evidence of that, and certainly his treatment of the motives behind the Inquisition strongly suggest that he thinks Jewish behavior is irrelevant to anti-Semitism.

Indeed, the above passage can be read as saying that the Jews had to be exploiters in order to survive the Middle Ages. Survival comes first before any compunction about exploiting non-Jews. (Jewish exploitation of non-Jews was greatly facilitated by Jewish religious attitudes that non-Jews are exploitable outgroups—an ideology that is enshrined in all the founding Jewish religious documents, from the Old Testament to the Talmud.)

This view that the behavior of Jews is irrelevant to hatred directed against them is an incredibly important part of the Jewish self-concept. A recent review of a book on the history of British attitudes on Jews begins, “What is important about anti-Semitism—a fairly modern term for an ancient clutch of ideas—is that it has less to tell us about the Jews themselves than about their enemies” (“Inverted targets,” David Vital’s review of Anthony Julius’s Trials of the Diaspora, TLS, July 23, 2010).

Despite some rather clear-eyed passages, in general Netanyahu’s book is a masterpiece of propaganda and apologia. (The NYTimes  puts it rather mildly, stating that “Though praised for its insights, the book was also criticized as having ignored standard sources and interpretations. Not a few reviewers noted that it seemed to look at long-ago cases of anti-Semitism through the rear-view mirror of the Holocaust.” It is certainly not surprising that Netanyahu’s strong Jewish identification would color his scholarship.

Netanyahu’s obvious blind spots combined with some strikingly clear-eyed insights  intrigued me, with the result that I devoted a rather long discussion to his work in Chapter 7 of Separation and Its Discontents (“Rationalization and Apologia: The Intellectual Construction of Judaism,” p. 21ff and the Appendix).  Netanyahu’s basic thesis is that the vast majority of Jews who claimed to convert to Christianity (called ‘New Christians’, ‘Conversos’, or the pejorative ‘Marranos’) were sincere in their Christian beliefs. Therefore, the Inquisition was not really about religious insincerity but about racial anti-Semitism. The Inquisition should be seen as a forerunner of National Socialism (and current Israeli immigration policies) where Jews were defined on the basis of biological ancestry rather than surface beliefs.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Netanyahu’s argument is that he shows that New Christian  intellectuals were adept at coming up with arguments to defend Jewish racial exclusivity after their supposed conversion to Christianity. These intellectuals presented Jews as a genetically separate religious group composed of morally superior individuals and distinguished by a superior genetic heritage. On this basis, the New Christians argued that they were therefore worthy of being the progenitors of Christ who was born a Jew. (This appeals to Christians who naturally want to believe that Jesus came from a superior genetic stock.)  The basic strategy was to realize that Christianity could serve as a perfectly viable ideology in which Christian Jews could retain their ethnic solidarity, but with a Christian religious veneer.

I agree with Netanyahu that the Inquisition was indeed a race war, but I try to show that the Jews who converted to Catholicism were the real racialists, since, whatever their religious beliefs (and Netanyahu is doubtless right that at least some may have become sincere Christians), they continued to marry among themselves and constituted a separate ethnic group in competition with the Old Christians for positions of prestige and power within Spanish society. (This view was previously proposed by historian Américo Castro; see p. 232 in above link). Since I accept the primacy of race and ethnicity in human affairs, for me the behavior of the Inquisitors is entirely understandable, although searching around for deviant religious beliefs is at best an inefficient way of sniffing out ethnic competitors.

Not that this would have deterred the Converso intellectuals. Their basic point was that if you really believe in a universalist Christianity where nothing matters except religious belief, then you shouldn’t be upset if a subset of former Jews continues to marry among themselves and retains its ethnic coherence, as long as their beliefs are sincere. (Hence Netanyahu’s attempt, rejected by most scholars, to prove the Christian religious orthodoxy of the New Christians.) These Jewish intellectuals are basically saying to the Old Christians, “Live up to your Christian beliefs and ideals that ethnicity doesn’t matter. We Jews wish to preserve our superior genetic lineage and continue to marry among ourselves. But that should be of no concern to you.”

The same sort of strategy was used by Horace Kallen and other Jewish intellectuals to argue for the “proposition nation” concept for America in the 20th century (see here, pp. 238ff). That is, if one takes Enlightenment universalism seriously, there is no basis for arguing that the United States can be defined in terms of any particular ethnic group. In a nutshell, they were saying, “Take your ideals seriously. America is nothing more than a set of principles having to do with democracy and human rights. We, on the other hand, reject universalism in favor of Jewish particularism and are therefore intent on establishing Israel as a Jewish ethnostate.”

It’s obvious that a mindless allegiance to Western universalism (whether religious or secular) ultimately spells death to the West as an ethnic entity. And, in my view, it would also spell the end of Western culture generally, since  there is no reason whatever to suppose that the deluge of non-Europeans now invading the territories traditionally dominated by Europeans will do anything to preserve Western culture once its founding population loses political power and becomes a minority. Indeed, a theme of TOO has been the hatred against the people and cultures of the West that is entirely mainstream among the hostile elite and the emerging anti-White coalition that is on the verge of becoming an electoral majority in American politics. Similar processes are occurring throughout the West.

In the end, religion has to be kept on an ethnically informed leash. If not, it becomes a weapon against legitimate White interests. Western universalism and Christianity will be the first casualties of the rise of the anti-White coalition. From the arguments of the New Christian intellectuals to the promotion of Christian Zionism in the 21st, Jewish intellectuals have shown that they are quite adept at exploiting Western universalism to achieve their particularist interests.

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