Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Sad But True: George Orwell, Who Was So Astute About Authoritarianism, Didn't "Get" Jews and/or Israel

While reading Churchill & Orwell by Thomas E. Ricks today, I came across this depressing/disappointing passage:
Another more repellent thread runs through the book [Down and Out in Paris and London]--a kind of quick and casual prejudice against the Jews he encounters. In a coffee shop he sees, "In a corner by himself a Jew, muzzle down in the plate,...guiltily eating bacon." The animallike "muzzle" in that sentence is particularly disturbing. At another point he recounts a tale told by his friend Boris, a former Russian soldier, of being offered the sexual services of a Jewish girl for fifty francs by her father--"A horrible old Jew, with a red beard like Judas Iscariot." Orwell's playing with this offhand sort of anti-Semitism appears in some of his other work. It is little consolation that he is an equal opportunity bigot, as when in Down and Out he approvingly quotes the proverb "Trust a snake before a Jew and a Jews before a Greek, but don't trust an Armenian."
The fact of the matter is that Orwell was always tin eared about Jews. During World War II, Orwell would write extensively against anti-Semitism, but in the course of doing so he failed to reexamine his own writings of the previous decade. After the war, he had surprisingly little to say about the Holocaust, one of the major events of his time. He remained strongly anti-Zionist throughout his life, but that probably should be seen more in the context of his enduring distaste for nationalism rather than the anti-Semitism of some of his early writings. Even so, his friend the journalist Malcolm Muggeridge would conclude that "he was at heart strongly anti-Semitic."
Sigh. Et tu, George?

Update: Report reveals complex nature of antisemitism in the UK

No comments: