Written by Vladimir Moss



     Among the nationalisms that became such an important feature of European life in the nineteenth century, none is more important that that of the Jews. Jewish nationalism is a particularly complex variety that does not fit easily into the category of the nationalisms either of the great, “historic” nations (Nationen) or of the lesser, newer nationalities (Nationalitätchen) that grew up in reaction to the former.[1]


      Of course, Jewish nationalism of one kind had existed for thousands of years, being closely linked with the religion, first, of the Old Testament and, later, after their rejection of Christ, of the Talmud. But nineteenth-century Jewish nationalism was of a different kind, being strongly influenced by the western varieties that arose out of the French revolution. Its development was slow because it had to contend with other currents of thought that also arose out of the revolution and were particularly strong among the Jews:  anti-nationalism or assimilationism, union with the prevailing liberal-secular culture of the West, and violent rejection of that same culture on the basis of the creed of the internationalist proletarian revolution. (In a speech in the House of Commons in 1852 Disraeli spoke of the secret societies aiming to destroy tradition, religion and property. And he said that at the head of all of them stood people of the Jewish race…) Other factors making for the great complexity of Jewish nationalism were: the lack of a territorial base or homeland, the different conditions of Jews in different parts of Europe, and the different relationships between the religion and the nation of the Jews in the different regions.


     Jewish nationalism arose at least in part as a reaction to assimilationism. Since 1789 and the declaration of the rights of men, Jewish assimilation into European life, which was achieved either through Christian baptism (the favoured route), or through the sanitized version of Talmudism known as Reform Judaism, had progressed rapidly, if unevenly, through Europe. It was furthest advanced in Britain, where we see it triumphant in the careers of such men as the banker Lionel Rothschild, the philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore and the Tory party leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. And yet the striking fact especially about these men is their continued attraction to Israel: Montefiore financed Jewish colonies in Palestine, and Disraeli travelled to Palestine and wrote a novel, Tancred, about the return to Zion. 


     Disraeli is usually contrasted with his great parliamentary rival from the 1850s to the 1880s – William Ewart Gladstone, leader of the Liberal Party. Both, writes Tombs, were “highly unusual men by any standards. In some ways both were characteristically but differently ‘Victorian’ – Gladstone in his agonized and introspective religiosity, Disraeli in his romantic devotion to aristocratic leadership and grandiose patriotism.”[2]


    “With his goatee beard, his dandified clothing, his profession as a writer of novels (which he continued to publish during his tenure of office), and his often frivolous wit, [Disraeli] hardly seemed cut out to lead a party of stolid gentry and landowners. Part of his secret was that he had a firm belief in the virtues of the aristocracy, strong-minded, independent, and not to be overawed by the mob; indeed, he believed that Jews themselves were natural aristocrats. The architect of the 1867 extension of the franchise, he was the founder of ‘Tory Democracy’, turning the Conservatives into a modern political party in terms not only of organization but also of ideology. On the death of Lord Palmerston in 1865, Disraeli was quick to appropriate his mantle of patriotism for the Conservatives.”[3]


     “One of Disraeli’s most influential achievements,” writes the Jewish historian Sebastian Sebag Montefiore, “was in creating an imperial ethos for the British empire. He sang the virtues of imperium et libertas (empire and liberty), and he saw Britain’s mission as not just to trade and establish colonial settlements, but also to bring British civilization and values to the diverse peoples of its ever expanding dominion…”[4]


     In his early novels, such as Coningsby and Sybil, Disraeli showed himself to be a passionate monarchist, a defender of the old aristocratic order based on the land and an enemy of the contemporary worship of Mammon that produced such a lamentable contrast between the “two nations” of England, the rich and the poor. “Toryism,” he predicted, “will yet rise… to bring back strength to the Crown, liberty to the subject, and to announce that power has only one duty: to secure the social welfare of the PEOPLE.”[5]


     Such a creed, combined with his Anglicanism (he was a baptized Jew from an upper-middle-class family) might lead us to believe that Disraeli was trying, like so many assimilated Jews, to distance himself as far as possible from his Jewish roots and make himself out to be a High Tory Englishman. But this was only half true. He once answered a taunt in parliament: “Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the Right Honourable Gentleman were living as savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon…” His novel Coningsby contains a character, Sidonia, who is an almost exact copy of the real Lord Rothschild, whom Disraeli greatly admired.[6]


     In short, while Disraeli seemed to be an English imperialist, he was in reality a Jewish anti-Gentile racist. For, as Constance de Rothschild wrote, “he believed more in the compelling power of a common ancestry than in that of a common faith. He said to me, as he has said over and over again in his novels, ‘All is race, not religion – remember that.’”[7]


     It was extraordinary how a Jew could ascend to the leadership of the greatest and proudest Gentile empire while not disguising his belief that he belonged to a superior race that was not British. But in his very chutzpah there lay the secret of his success among his peers, who disliked his Jewishness but admired his cleverness and boldness. It was in 1847 that he first made this belief public, first in the third novel of his trilogy, Tancred, published in March, and then in his famous speech pleading Jewish emancipation in the Commons in December. 


     “Tancred,” writes Sarah Bradford, “which Disraeli began in 1845, the year in which Peel’s Jewish Disabilities Bill had opened every municipal office to the Jews (membership of Parliament still remaining closed to them), was Disraeli’s favourite among his novels. It had originally been conceived as part of the Young England plan, an examination of the state of the English Church as an instrument of moral regeneration, but evolved into an exposition of the debt of gratitude which European civilization, and the English Church in particular, owed to the Jews as the founders of their religious faith. It was the expression of all his most deeply-felt convictions, combining his feeling for Palestine and the East and his theory of the superiority of the Jewish race with the revolt of the romantic against progress and scientific materialism…


     “… Disraeli’s hero, Tancred de Montacute, is young, rich and noble, heir to the Duke of Bellamont. Serious and deeply religious, Tancred, disappointed by the failure of the ‘mitred nullities’ of the Anglican Church to satisfy his spiritual needs, conceives the idea of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in search of redemption. He is encouraged in this project by Sidonia, a thinly disguised London Rothschild, whose City office, Sequin Court, and select dinner parties are minutely described. Sidonia talks to Rothschild of ‘the spiritual hold which Asia has always had upon the North’, recommending him to contact, Lara, prior of the Convent of Terra Santa in Jerusalem, who is a descendant of an aristocratic Spanish Sephardic family and a Nuevo Cristiano, or converted Jew. He compares Lara’s knowledge of the Old (Jewish) faith with the New (Christian) learning of the English Church in a manner extremely derogatory to the Anglican bishops, while introducing the main theme of the book: ‘You see, he is master of the old as well as the new learning; this is very important; they often explain each other. Your bishops here know nothing about these things. How can they? A few centuries back they were tattooed savages.’


     “This was hardly a tactful way of putting his argument to his English readers; but when Disraeli gets Tancred to the East, his statements become even odder and, to his Victorian Gentile audience, more offensive. Tancred visits Jerusalem and establishes himself in Syria… He meets and falls in love with a beautiful Jewess named Eva, whom Disraeli uses as a mouthpiece for his main message. ‘Half Christendom worships a Jewess,’ Eva tells Tancred, ‘and the other half a Jew. Now let me ask you. Which do you think should be the superior race, the worshipped or the worshippers?’ Disraeli goes even further, for not only do Christians owe a debt of gratitude to the Jews as the forerunners of their religion, but if the Jews had not crucified Christ there would be no Christianity. He aims his argument at a specifically British audience: ‘Vast as is the obligation of the whole human family to the Hebrew race, there is no portion of the modern population as indebted to them as the British people.’


     “As the book progresses Disraeli’s arguments become even more mystical and confusing. He introduces an odd supernatural figure, the Angel of Arabia, who accords Tancred a visionary interview on Mount Sinai. The Angel, in Disraelian fashion, blames the sickness of human society on the atheistic influence of the French Revolution… 


     “…The Angel, Tancred and the author are anti-Progress. In a famous passage that was to rouse The Timesto fury, Disraeli declares: ‘And yet some flat-nosed Frank, full of bustle and puffed up with self-conceit (a race spawned perhaps in the morasses of some Northern forest hardly yet cleared) talks of Progress! Progress to what, and from where? Arid empires shriveled into deserts, amid the wrecks of great cities, a single column or obelisk of which nations import for the prime adornment of their mud-built capitals, amid arts forgotten, commerce annihilated, fragmentary literatures, and by populations destroyed, the European talks of progress, because by an ingenious application of some scientific acquirements, he has established a society which has mistaken comfort for civilization.’ Tancred’s cure for the ‘fever of progress’ is to ‘work out a great religious truth on the Persian and Mesopotamian plains’, and by revivifying Asia to regenerate Europe.


     “Disraeli, carried away by the onrush of his feelings and wild ideas, simply backs away when faced with the necessity of producing some solution to Tancred’s vague plans for revivifying Europe… [He] had conceived the love between Eva and Tancred as a symbol of his most important message, the synthesis between Judaism and Christianity; but in the end he finds even this impossible to carry through…


     “… The Times… reproved Disraeli for writing a novel with a message: ‘It is a bastard kind of writing – that of fiction “with a purpose”, … the “unsubstantial” aim of “converting the whole world back to Judaism”.’ The reviewer ridiculed this notion by pointing out the anxiety of contemporary Jewry to approximate itself ever more nearly to Gentile society, with particular reference to the Rothschilds: ‘Whilst Mr. Disraeli eloquently discourses of a speedy return to Jerusalem, Sidonia buys a noble estate in Bucks, and Sidonia’s first cousin is high-sheriff of the county. So anxious, indeed, are the Hebrews generally to return to the Holy Land as a distinct race, that they petition Parliament for all the privileges of British citizens… During the last ten years the Western Jew has travelled faster and farther from Jerusalem than he journeyed during ten centuries before.’…


     “Disraeli was not deterred by the public reaction to Tancred; he was to repeat his arguments in the debate on Jewish Disabilities on 16 December. The background to the bill was the election, in August of that year, of Disraeli’s friend, Baron Lionel de Rothschild, as Liberal candidate for the City of London. As a Jew, Baron Lionel had felt unable to take the oath requiring a member of Parliament to swear ‘on the true faith of a Christian’ and was therefore debarred from taking his seat…


     “[Disraeli’s] argument… aimed at removing Christian scruples by pointing out that Judaism and Christianity were practically synonymous, that Judaism was the foundation of Christianity.


     “’The Jews,’ Disraeli began, ‘are persons who acknowledge the same God as the Christian people of this realm. They acknowledge the same divine revelation as yourselves.’ No doubt many of the listening squires did not greatly like the idea of their Anglican faith being equated with that of ‘the Ikys and Abys’, but worse was to come. They should be grateful, Disraeli told them, because ‘They [the Jews] are, humanly speaking, the authors of your religion. They unquestionably those to whom you are indebted for no inconsiderable portion of your known religion, and for the whole of your divine knowledge.’ At this point the first outraged cries of ‘Oh!’ broke out, but Disraeli only warmed to his theme. ‘Every Gentleman here,’ he told the astonished House, ‘does profess the Jewish religion, and believes in Moses and the Prophets’, a statement that provoked a chorus of angry cries.


     “’Where is your Christianity, if you do not believe in their Judaism?’ Disraeli asked them. He went on: ‘On every sacred day, you read to the people the exploits of Jewish heroes, the proofs of Jewish devotion, the brilliant annals of past Jewish magnificence. The Christian Church has covered every kingdom with sacred buildings, and over every altar… we find the tables of the Jewish law. Every Sunday – every Lord’s day – if you wish to express feelings of praise and thanksgiving to the Most High, or if you wish to find expressions of solace in grief, you find both in the words of the Jewish poets.’


     “No doubt most of Disraeli’s hearers thought he was going too far, and stirred uncomfortably in their seats. When, however, he prepared to launch into yet another paragraph on the same theme, ‘… every man in the early ages of the Church, by whose power, or zeal, or genius, the Christian faith was propagated, was a Jew,’ the dissidents in the House lost patience and shouted him down. ‘Interruption’ Hansard notes flatly.


     “At this, Disraeli too lost patience. He rounded on his tormentors, telling them in so many words that much of their concern for the safeguarding of Christianity was humbug, and that the real reason for their opposition to admitting the Jews was pure anti-Semitic prejudice: ‘If one could suppose that the arguments we have heard… are the only arguments that influence the decision of this question, it would be impossible to conceive what is the reason of the Jews not being admitted to full participation in the rights and duties of a Christian legislature. In exact proportion to your faith ought to be your wish to do this great act of national justice… But you are influenced by the darkest superstitions of the darkest ages that ever existed in this country. It is this feeling that has been kept out of this debate; indeed that has been kept secret in yourselves… and that is unknowingly influencing you.’ 


     “He ended defiantly: ‘I, whatever may be the consequences – must speak what I feel. I cannot sit in this House with any misconception of my opinion on the subject. Whatever may be the consequences on the seat I hold… I cannot, for one, give a vote which is not in deference to what I believe to be the true principles of religion. Yes, it is as a Christian that I will not take upon me the awful responsibility of excluding from the Legislature those who are of the religion in the bosom of which my Lord and Saviour was born.’”[8]


     It is difficult to know at whom to be more amazed – at the audacity of Disraeli in telling the highest assembly of perhaps the most powerful Christian nation on earth (which included bishops of the Anglican church) that all the greatest Christians were in fact Jews, and that Christianity was merely a variety of Judaism, or the ignorance of the English, who in essence bought the argument, eventually passed the Bill (Lionel Rothschild became MP for the City in 1858) and from then on acted as the main protectors of the Jews and Judaism on the stage of world history! This confirms Keble’s charge in his Assize Sermon of 1833 that “under the guise of charity and toleration we are come almost to this pass: that no difference, in matters of faith, is to disqualify for our approbation and confidence, whether in public or domestic life.” 


      Ignored, it would seem, by everyone in this debate was the fundamental fact that Judaism since Annas and Caiaphas was not the religion of the great saints of the Old Testament, that Christ was killed by the Jews, that the Jews had taken His blood upon themselves, and that the Talmud, the contemporary Jews’ real “Bible”, expressed the most vituperative hatred of both Christ and Christians. 


     Disraeli’s speech was a sign of the times, a sign that the Jews had now truly broken through the barrier of anti-Semitism to reach the highest positions in the western world, the top of the “greasy pole” (Disraeli’s phrase), where, as Tombs writes, he believed himself “himself destined to wield British power, ‘to sway the race that sways the world in an epic global chess game for world civilization against the forces of revolution, nationalism, militarism and pan-Slav imperialism.’”[9]  


     But the speech also showed that the Jews would unfailingly use their position to advance the interests of their race, whether baptised or unbaptised. In other words, if we were to judge from the behaviour of the Rothschilds and Montefiores and Disraelis, at any rate, the Jews would never be fully assimilated. For, as Disraeli himself said: “All is race, not religion – remember that…”


January 19 / February 1, 2022.

[1] David Vital, A People Apart: The Jews in Europe, 1789-1939, Oxford University Press, 1999, p. 253.

[2] Tombs, The English and their History, New York: Knopf, 2014, p. 504.

[3] Evans, The Pursuit of Power. Europe 1815-1914, London: Penguin, 2017, p. 575.

[4] Montefiore, Titans of History, pp. 357-358.

[5] Disraeli, Sybil; in Sarah Bradford, Disraeli, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982, p. 136.

[6] G. Edward Griffin, The Creature from Jekyll Island, Westlake, Ca.: American Media, 2010, p. 227.

[7] Rothschild, in Bradford, op. cit., p. 186.

[8] Bradford, op. cit., pp. 179-184.

[9] Tombs, op. cit., p. 505.

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