Into the Muck; or, Trials of the Diaspora

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A London-based lawyer with the firm of Mishcon de Reya, Anthony Julius has the unusual distinction of being a solicitor-advocate—that is, a solicitor who can also appear in court.  He was on the defense team in the suit filed against the historian Deborah Lipstadt by the Holocaut denier David Irving; he has participated in litigating many cases bearing on the interests of Israel; and he represented Princess Diana in the last years of her life. A first-rate scholar, he is also the author of T. S. Eliot: Anti-Semitism and Literary Form (1995), Idolizing Pictures: Idolatry, Iconoclasm, and Jewish Art (2001), and Transgressions: The Offenses of Art (2002).

Now comes Julius's magnum opus, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, just released in the United States. This large, sweeping book is more than a solidly researched and highly readable history of English anti-Semitism; it is an attempt to chart the evolution of anti-Semitism itself, to explain what it is (and what it is not), and to demonstrate how to recognize and name it. Its early chapters—on religious and literary anti-Semitism in pre-modern England—set the stage for Julius's coverage of the modern era and especially of the present day, when the boundaries between hatred of Jews and detestation of the Jewish state have become thoroughly blurred. Indeed, it is the prevalence of anti-Zionism in today's England that motivated Julius to undertake this lucid, erudite, and compelling study.

Julius insists on fair-mindedness but makes no pretense to dispassion. Writing this book, he says, has been like swimming long-distance through a sewer. Out of the mire of his subject, he has produced a work of gripping force.

Elliot Jager interviewed Anthony Julius for Jewish Ideas Daily.

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