Anthony Julius first came into the public eye as one of Britain’s top lawyers, his best-known client being Princess Diana. His interest in antisemitism emerged when he acted successfully for Deborah Lipstadt when she was sued for libel by Holocaust denier David Irving. Julius then acquired new renown as an authority on T.S.Eliot, particularly the poet’s vitriolic Jew-hatred. Now Anthony Julius’ area of interest encompasses the whole history of English antisemitism. His substantial and scholarly new book Trials of the Diaspora explores the subject in depth, comprehensively and from every angle.
Quiet, erudite, lucid and a pleasure to listen to, Julius – in conversation with the MP Denis MacShane – led us through the medieval First Jewish Settlement and into the Second (starting with Cromwell), up to the present day.
When Denis MacShane asked, What makes antisemitism different from any other racism? Julius was spell-binding as he described its bizarre, distinctive characteristics: fantasies of malign Jewish power, a conviction that Jews secretly run the world and a belief in Jewish abuses of non-Jewish human bodies.
Today’s antisemitism, he said, is concentrated on hatred of Israel and uses all the same ideas – a conviction that Israel is key to world affairs, wields secret powers, and sets out to destroy and abuse non-Jewish human bodies (he cited current popular beliefs that Israel deliberately targets children, and collects non-Jewish organs).
The hatred is even more virulent in other countries. Today’s Islamic writing about Jews is literally frightening, he said, while Canada’s annual Israel Apartheid Weeks – catching on worldwide – is a “carnival of misinformation.”
Yet Anthony Julius seemed surprisingly upbeat about the future. He believes most people will come to their senses about Israel, while western values like freedom of speech and tolerance will become attractive to Muslims. “The argument” he said, “is there to be won”.
Travel writer Andrew Sanger was a speaker at Jewish Book Week last year, discussing his highly successful first novel, The J-Word, which explores how a violent antisemitic attack on an elderly, secular grandfather affects his own Jewish identity, and that of his whole family.