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This article is taken from PN Review 252, Volume 46 Number 4, March - April 2020.

Obiter Dicta: In memoriam George Fischer Frederic Raphael


‘Jewishness is, in the 20th century, a club from which there can be no resignations.’ George Steiner’s pronunciamento sounds compelling, but Jews are a discordant clan, prophets against kings, reform against orthodox, Zionists against assimilationists. Garrulous antagonism is their habitual style, anti-Semitism not unknown: Karl Marx called a rival socialist a ‘yid’. The philosopher Berel Lang finds it offensive when people speak of the Jews, as if they formed a single, sinister bundle. The frequent use by broadcasters of ‘the Jewish community’ is a form of abstract ghettoization. Who speaks in that style of other citizens in an essentially secular society?

Greeks and Jews have in common that division is part of their strength. There were Greeks, as there were Jews, all around the ancient world, but no state called Greece until after the 1820’s. Even in fissile ensemble, Jews lack numbers to command a reliable majority anywhere, including Israel. In the twenty-first century, those in the Diaspora are being called upon, especially from the Left, to dissociate themselves from ‘the Jewish state’; they become admirable only by its condemnation. In symmetrical mode, ‘the Palestinians’ are divided from other Arabs and Muslims (who can wholly applaud Assad or the Iranian Ayatollahs?) and become innocent victims, always apt to be classified by the media as ‘civilians’, whatever rockets they fire, tunnels they dig.

In 1917, the British Foreign Secretary A.J. Balfour promised the traditionally vagrant race a ‘national home’ in Palestine. He feared, and over-estimated, their financial power more than he cherished their welfare. Apprehensive ...

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