Review: Anthony Julius’ “Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England” [Part One]

Accompanied by much publicity, 2012 saw the publication in paperback of Anthony Julius’ Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England. The paperback followed on from the successful performance of the hardback, which had come out under the imprint of Oxford University Press in 2010. As in so many other cases, much of the book’s success had little to do with its scholarly merit and more to do with a great deal of ethnic networking. For example, Philip Roth labelled Julius’ 827-page literary tumbleweed “an essential history” written by a man with “scholarly integrity”,  while Harold Bloom at the New York Times Book Review gushed that “Julius is a truth-teller, … I am grateful for his calm balance …  and extraordinary moral strength.”

The book achieved its greatest success in Britain, where despite comprising only around 0.5% of the British population, Jews managed to get positive reviews of Julius’ book in almost every single major British newspaper and magazine. At London’s Financial Times the review was written by James Shapiro, an academic who specializes in trying to dismantle Shakespeare, either by denouncing him as an anti-Semite or, paradoxically, claiming that he never wrote any of the works attributed to him. At The New Republic the review was written by Jonathan Freedland, who also writes for The Guardian and The Jewish Chronicle. Freedland also publishes fiction under the name Sam Bourne, in which his plots invariably revolve around Nazi sympathizers and eugenicists. At the New Statesman praise this time came from Jonathan Beckman who also writes for The Guardian and the The Jewish Chronicle. At the Telegraph the review was written by Gerald Jacobs, another Jewish Chronicle stalwart. At the Independent the review was written by Bryan Cheyette, an academic who specializes in portraying White societies as having a neurotic hatred of Jews. At The Guardian, the review was penned by none other than Antony Lerman, a former Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

Over the course of a number of essays examining this book, I hope to demonstrate that despite the effusive praise of the text as “scholarly,” “balanced,” “calm,” “judicious,” it is in fact an amateurish effort, laden with falsehood and misrepresentation, and underpinned by Julius’ own paranoid worldview — a worldview shared and perpetuated by his many Jewish cheerleaders. In this, the first essay, I hope to delve into Julius’ background, and to some extent his mind, to demonstrate his links to Frankfurt School ideology, his role in defending and furthering Jewish interests, and his implicit hatred and suspicion of White culture. Only by first tackling Julius can we hope to better understand the warped worldview from whence this strange and contorted history derives. Subsequent essays will take each of Julius’ major chapters, explore its content and, by using scholarly mainstream sources, utterly deconstruct Julius’ arguments and expose his myths for what they are.

A Portrait of the Activist as a Young Man.

Anthony Julius, who is a lawyer and not an historian, first came to prominence in 1996 when he was unveiled as Princess Diana’s divorce lawyer. Although Julius writes in Trials of the Diaspora that Diana “was interested in Jews, but had no idea about them,” he was chosen primarily because as a Jew he was seen as “an outsider, someone whom the British establishment would regard as ‘unclubbable,’ someone who couldn’t be ‘gotten to.”[1]  Julius performed his function well, and was handsomely rewarded by Diana. D.D. Guttenplan writes that “her patronage made him the most famous lawyer in Britain. She also made him executor of her will.”[2]

Julius is deeply connected to his identity as a Jew and has demonstrated a commitment to the defense and advancement of Jewish interests throughout his life. Much of this has been driven by a paranoid outlook and a deep suspicion of non-Jews. This worldview, it can be clearly seen, was adopted from his father and paternal grandmother. Writing in the brief autobiographical introduction to Trials of the Diaspora, Julius writes that his grandmother corresponded frequently with her brother in South Africa, always “a limited set of variations on a single theme: they had been lucky so far, but disaster, to be inflicted on Jews by the Gentile world, was imminent.” He continues that “though my grandmother never spoke in a hostile way about non-Jews, it was always clear when it was a non-Jew about whom she was speaking. The tone would invariably have a quality of wariness, as if she was concerned she might be overheard. She took it for granted that Jews and Christians were divided by unbridgeable differences. If she wanted to indicate that a person was Jewish she would say that he was ‘unserer‘ (‘one of us’); if Gentile, he would be ‘zeyricher‘ (‘one of them’).”

The extreme level of this suspicion is demonstrated when Julius discusses an incident, involving what he and his father perceived to be an anti-Jewish remark, that he recalls from when he was around eight or nine. Julius was travelling with his father, Morris, and one of his father’s business partners on a train. At some point the business partner, whom Julius refers to simply as ‘Arthur’ began talking at length about his daughter. ‘Arthur’ continued: “Do you know Morris, she has got a special little friend, a Jewish girl, and we had the girl over for tea last weekend. I must say, the child has got the most beautiful manners.” There was silence, and shortly thereafter Arthur left the compartment to go to the dining car. With Arthur now gone, Julius’s father  exploded, he “turned to me fuming. ‘Did you hear what he said? I am supposed to be impressed that he actually had a Jewish girl over to his house for tea? And that she had beautiful manners?” The young Julius asked “What are you going to do Daddy?” Morris remained silent and the matter was never brought up again. To this day, Julius remarks, he has “reflected many times” on “my father’s failure to confront Arthur.” I must confess to reading Arthur’s remarks several times in an effort to understand how this remark, obviously intended as a nicety towards a Jewish colleague, could be interpreted as hostile or mocking. Obviously one must partake of the unsurer/zeyricher worldview for this to become in any way logical.

While studying English literature at Cambridge University between 1974 and 1977, Julius placed himself “among those Jews who have sought out anti-Semitism.” He began writing about Jews and instances of alleged anti-Semitism in English literature, turning towards heavy criticism of some of the best English writers. He admits to becoming part of a “radical faction” which emerged in the humanities at that time, and that he was heavily influenced by his reading of “Freud … and the line of Western Marxist thinking that can be traced from the Austro-Marxists through to Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt School.” His faction “staged confrontations” with supporters of rationalism in the faculty, and he states that his group’s idiom was “one of critique rather than  celebration” and that “there was a politics attached to this set of positions.”

After graduating Julius went to law school and, when he finished there, he started his career as an ethnic activist by becoming chief lawyer to the British Board of Deputies of British Jews, an organization comprising elements of both the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. In 1983 he successfully defended the Board of Deputies when it was sued by a Conservative Party candidate. The Board of Deputies had conducted a propaganda campaign,  distributing flyers in the candidate’s constituency during a General Election detailing his previous involvement with the National Front, an association the Board of Deputies claimed was evidence of the man’s anti-Semitism. In 1992, after he was expelled from Canada,  David Irving applied for access to the documents which provoked his expulsion under Canada’s Access to Information Law. Among these documents “Irving claimed, was a dossier on his activities compiled by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and sent to the Canadian authorities. Irving wanted to sue for libel, but Julius, who acted for the Board, said that Irving was ‘sadly too late’ in filing the proper papers.”[3]

After Princess Diana died and after leaving his wife for the daughter of one of his clients, Julius next hit the headlines with the 2000 David Irving libel trial. When Deborah Lipstadt published her Denying the Holocaust in 1999, she quickly found out that Irving was suing her for libel through the British courts. Lipstadt turned to the Board of Deputies for advice and they recommended none other than their own Anthony Julius. Strangely, in Trials of the Diaspora Julius omits most of his history with the Board of Deputies, and leaves out entirely his 1992 encounter with Irving. Instead he writes that “to find myself in a major set-piece fight with a Holocaust denier was the purest chance.” [4] Julius was put in charge of the ‘discovery’ element of the trial. Julius relished the opportunity to pore over Irving’s private papers, because it offered him the chance to “control the course the proceedings took.” He wanted to run the trial “as if it was a history seminar and Irving was a rather unintelligent student.” Of course, in my present series of essays, I propose to school Mr. Julius, who is not only unintelligent when it comes to his own history writing, but is an agenda-driven employer of falsehood and misrepresentation —  an amateur, and a charlatan.

Julius has a problem with truth and accurate representation, and this emerges very early in his book. In one section of his Introduction Julius states that his book is much needed because Jews are under threat in Britain today; there are Jews being “chased down roads in London with shouted slanders and insults.” But, and this is common throughout his book, Julius has a habit of exaggerating threats, and implying extremism as very turn. Major violence is always ‘just around the corner.’ In its most extreme form, Julius writes that “it would seem that the closed season on Jews is over.” I wanted to give Julius the benefit of the doubt so I consulted the annual reports of the Jewish ‘Community Security Trust.’ At first I was surprised to see that ninety-two “violent anti-Semitic assaults” had been carried out — although in a country of around sixty million people this is a miniscule figure.

However, when I actually looked at the details of these “assaults” it became clear that there was a discrepancy between what I would view as a “violent physical assault” and that employed by the Community Security Trust. On page thirteen of the report, we can actually see that one of these “violent physical assaults” involved children “throwing  water” at the children of their Jewish neighbors. Fifty-four of the ninety-two incidents involved nothing more than “eggs being thrown,” and around ten involved fights between schoolchildren. No data is given on the rest, though the overwhelming theme here seems to juvenile behavior not in keeping with the level of threat implied by various Jewish bodies. Certainly, in its entire history, the Community Security Trust has never had to report anything like the death of Kris Donald, a 15 year old White British child, who was abducted by Imran Shahid, 29, his brother Zeeshan Shahid, 28, and 27-year-old Mohammed Faisal Mushtaq, taken two hundred miles from his home, stabbed thirteen times, then doused with gasoline and burned alive in what the courts agreed was a “racially-motivated murder.”

Consider the Judeo-centric obsession of Julius, who weeps that anti-Semitism “is the background noise against which we make our lives.” Consider the kind of psychology at work in the mind of someone who found the time to become irate when Penguin decided, following victory in the Irving case, to donate its proceedings to a cancer charity. Julius writes that he “took the donation to be a rejection of what they took as our specifically Jewish perspective. Everyone suffers from cancer; it is no respecter of ethnicity. The donation felt like a snub.” Consider the schizophrenic fanaticism at work in the activities of someone who admits on the one hand that anti-Semitism “has not exposed me to any harm — indeed, it has been almost wholly free of risk of any kind,” and yet on the other states that “I have a sense of the malignity of many of the current attacks on Jews and Jewish State … and a strong sense of the persistence in this country of an obdurate, harsh anti-Semitism.”

Much of Julius’ book is built on such contradictions, as well as an overwhelmingly negative view of the non-Jewish world. Even his use of texts is indicative of his worldview. One of his favorites is Bernard Lewis’ Semites and Anti-Semites (1986). Lewis’ book is rejected as polemic by most serious scholars. Joel Beinin wrote in his review of the book for the Middle East Report back in 1987 that Lewis “appears to have adopted a more openly polemical writing style and a paranoid view of the world which is at points profoundly out of touch with reality.”[5] (Bernard Lewis is something of an exemplar of Jewish ethnic activist masquerading as scholar.) Like Julius’ book, which adopts a grating moralistic tone throughout, Lewis’ book  has “a certain judiciousness of tone, and judiciousness is the appearance not the reality of objectivity.” It is agenda-driven polemic dressed up as scholarly exploration. As will be seen, when Julius senses that his arguments are at certain points particularly weak, he grasps for the infantile assurance found in name-calling. For example, Julius never succeeds in coming to anything but a ridiculously capacious definition of ‘anti-Semitism,’ and, when he finds it difficult to understand precisely why at certain points in history some Jews have been disliked by some non-Jews, he resorts to describing the phenomenon with words such as “muck,” and “a sewer.” Such words, common throughout the text, are not altogether out of place — the book stinks.

And thus we have come to grasp at least what is necessary for us to proceed. In the next essay, we will move on to an examination of the text itself, taking on Julius’ extensive chapter on “Medieval English anti-Semitism.” We do so now with a clearer picture of our author, we can better predict some of his arguments and stances, and we are to some extent familiar with the types of sources that he is prone to use.

Go to Part 2.

[1] D.D. Guttenplan The Holocaust on Trial: History, Justice, and the David Irving Libel Case (London:2001), p.84.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5]  J. Beinin “Review: Semites and anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice” Middle East Report, No. 147, (1987), p.43.
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