top of page
< Back

A Reassessment of Benjamin Disraeli's Jewish Aspects

Benjamin Jaffe

<plain_text><page sequence="1">A Reassessment of Benjamin Disraeli's Jewish Aspects* BENJAMIN JAFFE The attraction of Disraeli's personality, the enigma of his career and of his success in British public life, preoccupied many biographers, writers, politicians and critics both during his life and after.1 A Punch cartoon described Disraeli as a 'Sphinx', and so he was considered by many friends and foes. Some biographers went out of their way to be hostile to their subject due to his 'Jewishness', some played down this side of his personality. The Jewish aspects of Disraeli were discussed in a number of scholarly works (L. Wolf, A. Kulisher, H. Waelder, B. Segal owitz, J. Caro, R. A. Levin and others). Most of these works were partial, were published forty to fifty years ago, and were based mainly on the definitive six-volume biography by Monnypenny and Buckle that appeared in the years 1910-20, for which the Disraeli archives ('Hughenden Papers') were used. None of these scholars saw the papers or looked for additional material which had not been found by Monnypenny and Buckle. It is interesting to note that Anglo-Jewish his? torians, except Wolf and Roth, did not deal with the subject, possibly because Disraeli was a converted Jew. Two assimilated Jews-Andre Maurois, the French biographer and novelist, and Georg Brandes, the Danish literary critic-wrote about Disraeli but did not succeed in penetrating his Jewish dilemma and enigma.2 Several questions can be asked concerning Dis? raeli's Jewish aspects: (a) What was his real attitude to Judaism and Jews? (b) Was he a converted Jew, a 'Crypto Jew' or a believing Christian, in terms of his feelings and identity? (c) What was his approach to the restoration of the Jews to the Land of Israel? (d) Was he active in his support for Jewish causes? (e) Was he rejected to any extent as a political leader due to his Jewish ancestry and advocating Jewish recognition? It is not easy to answer all these questions, but a * Paper presented to the Society on 2 July 1980. Based on PhD research at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, supervised by Professor N. Katzberg. review of his papers and writings can assist in reassessing his Jewish aspects. II Disraeli's enduring preoccupation with his ancestry is well known. Lucien Wolf and Cecil Roth cor? rected some errors about his forebears which Disraeli had included in the biography that prefaced the 14th edition of his father's Curiosities of Litera? ture.3 A document in the Hughenden papers dis? closed that even quite late in his life Disraeli enquired about his presumed relatives in Venice and received information concerning them from the British Consul there.4 In a correspondence with his elderly friend Mrs Brydges-Wilhams, Disraeli discusses the Coat of Arms of the Mendes Da Costa family to whom she was related, and to whom Disraeli believed he was also related.5 After a visit to Lytton House, where he found an inscription on Sir Rowland De Lytton, a Crusader warrior in the siege of Ascalon, Disraeli writes to Mrs Brydges-Williams: As far as ancestry, at this rate, I might put flags up at Hughenden from the invasion of the Holy-Land, and inscribe on them the title of my progenitors, from the siege of Jericho to the siege of Jerusalem, for I dare say they distinguished at both.'6 Possibly there is irony in these words, though we find similar passages in a number of his speeches and novels which sound serious. Disraeli was attracted by the personality and life of Daniel Manin (1804-57),a Venetian patriot and for some time President of the Venetian Republic, whose faher was Jewish and mother not. Disraeli believed that Manin was related to him, and Montague Corry, Disraeli's secretary, writes that Disraeli hoped one day to write Manin's biogra? phy.7 In another document, written as late as 18 71, Disraeli discusses his being related to the Lara family of Aragon 'who moved to Italy after the expulsion from Spain and changed their name from ii5</page><page sequence="2">n6 Benjamin Joffe "Lara" to "Disraeli" in order to express their pride in their race.'8 Ill Isaac Disraeli, the father, was certainly not in? terested in his Jewish ancestry. In his library of 25,000 books he had a small collection of Judaica, some of it in Latin. But as an enlightened intellec? tual influenced by Voltaire's writings, he looked on Judaism as just another curiosity of life and litera? ture. 'He seems to have been remote from any kind of passionate belief, something of an 18th-century Deist.'9 Isaac Disraeli's book Genius of Judaism (18 3 3) is a strange combination of admiration, rejection and doubt. In a letter to his son dated February 18 3 3 he writes: 'It is my best style, the work is highly philosophical and I am confident contains many keen views. There are difficulties in managing some parts of the subject, but I think I can get over them. I think it is a capital dissertation but still I do not know whether it would be advisable to publish it and how.'10 Sarah Disraeli, the sister, comments on 1 April 1833 in a letter to her brother: 'It is a fine thing, all save the chapter on conversion which seems to me nonsense.'11 The relations between father and son were reflected in some of the son's novels. These relations were ambivalent, with admiration mixed with rebellion, and were discussed by some of Disraeli's biographers. A point which is not clear is Disraeli's attitude to his conversion. We find only one reference to it in his papers, where he notes in a letter to his lawyer, in 1847, that his conversion could not have taken place in his grandfather's lifetime.12 A childhood friend of Disraeli testified to this after Disraeli's death: 'Benjamin the Elder objected to Isaac Disraeli and the children's conver? sion and Isaac had to postpone it until the death of his father.'13 This information brings us to wonder whether Isaac's decision to have his children converted was perhaps not connected with the rift between himself and the 'Parnassim' of the Spanish and Portuguese Community as some biographers assume, though we know that his friend Sharon Turner persuaded him to have them converted. Isaac, it is known, did not convert.14 Picciotto published the famous letter of Isaac Disraeli to the 'Parnassim',15 but the Hughenden Papers include a number of documents related to the controversy which have never been pub? lished.16 The biography of Isaac Disraeli by J. Ogden explains only partially the unique phenomenon of a Jewish intellectual and humanist in Georgian England, possibly the only Jew to become an English literary institution in his own time.17 Disraeli told Corry: 'at seventeen a great change took place in my life'.18 What he actually meant is not clear, since he went to the Mediterranean countries and the Holy Land in 1831 when he was twenty-seven years old. The outcome of this visit were his novels The Wondrous Tale of David Alroy (1833) and Tancred (1847). 'Alroy, the False Mes? siah', was a subject which, according to him, attracted him in his boyhood. In this book we find traces of his father's opinions on Judaism, though it differs in Benjamin's optimism and belief in a Jewish future. The son derived part of his ideas and knowledge of Judaism and Jews from his father, though Benjamin's was superficial and distorted. In the Hughenden papers we find an uncompleted manuscript by Isaac Disraeli on the 'False Mes? siahs', dated 1823, ten years before the publication of Alroy. Another longer and undated manuscript by Isaac on the 'Prince of Captivity', also deals with Alroy and includes a bibliography on the subject. It is not clear why the father did not complete this work, why he wrote it at all, and what moved the son to write a novel on the same subject.19 The attitude of Benjamin Disraeli to Jews was expressed in a letter to Mrs Brydges-Williams on 28 February 1853: T, like you, was not bred among my race, and was nurtured in great prejudice against them. Thought and mysterious sympathy of organization have led me to adopt the views with respect to them, which I have advocated and which I hope, I may say, have affected in their favour public opinion.'20 Disraeli had to fight his way into the political arena, to overcome the difficulty of his Jewish origin, to create a 'theory' which would make it possible for him to have political ambitions in Christian England. All these elements were non? existent in his father's approach, and this may be the key to their differences. A little-known sideline to Disraeli's interest in Jewish sources is that from 1854 to 1880 he used</page><page sequence="3">Benjamin Disraeli's Jewish Aspects - a Reassessment 117 regularly to receive data and books on ancient Jewish history and Biblical topics from Marcus M. Kalisch, a German-Jewish scholar who lived in London and was secretary to the Chief Rabbi and a tutor in the home of the Rothschilds.21 In 1863 Disraeli decided to offer a prize of ?500 or ?1000 for 'the best essay on the position of the Jewish Race in universal history under certain circumstances'. Gladstone, Canon Stanley and Disraeli himself were to be the judges.22 IV In Zionist terms Alroy and Tancred are of great importance. In both of them Disraeli expressed his rejection of assimilation and his belief in the restoration of the Jews to their ancient land. The setting of Alroy is historical. That of Tancred is contemporary and unfolds a full Middle East policy, including the 'revival' of Syria under British in? fluence, British annexation of Cyprus, defence of the Jews in the East and crowning Queen Victoria as Empress of India. The book is an extraordinary one; in parts it deals with the religious foundations and 'inspiration' of England and its relations with Judaism and in parts it is a challenge to the 'materialism' of Europe and English society. Disraeli never mentioned those who advocated the resto? ration of the Jews to Palestine in England, such as Palmerston and Shaftesbury in the 1840s, and we cannot presume any connection between him and the Evangelists who advocated the return of the Jews to their land as a step before their conversion to Christianity. If this assumption is correct Disraeli was a loner in his Zionist convictions. The following passage in Lord Derby's diary, dated January 1852, and unknown before its publication in 1978, is important in understanding Disraeli's interest in the idea of Jewish Restoration: On one occasion, during this very visit, Disraeli talked to me with great apparent earnestness on the subject of restoring the Jews to their land. I recollect it well - 'The country', he said, 'has ample natural capabilities; all it wanted was labour, and protection for the labourers; the ownership of the soil might be bought from Turkey; money would be forthcoming; the Rothschilds and lead? ing Hebrew capitalists would all help. The Turkish Empire was falling into ruin. The Turkish Government would do anything for money. All that was necessary was to establish colonies, with rights over the soil, and security from ill treatment. The question of nationality might wait until these had taken hold.' He (Disraeli) added that these ideas were extensively entertained among the nations. A man who should carry this one would be the next Messiah, the true saviour of his people. Lord Derby added: I have recalled to mind, and been perplexed by this singular conversation. He never recurred to it again. His manner seemed that of a man thoroughly in earnest. And though I have many times since seen him under the influence of irritation or pleasurelike excitement, this is the only instance in which he ever appeared to me to show signs of any higher emotion - in the succeeding four years I have heard of no practical step taken by him in the matter.23 In 18 70 in his book Lothair there are references to the idea of the restoration, but he returns to the subject in 1879. In that year Laurence Oliphant, the English eccentric, traveller, writer and 'Zionist' went to Syria and Palestine to explore the possibility of establishing a Jewish colony, a journey he later described in his book The Land of Gilead. Oliphant reports that Beaconsfield and Salisbury gave him their blessing and the Prime Minister asked him to report from the East on his impressions and the possibility of settling Jews in Palestine. On 26 May 1879 Oliphant sent Corry a full report on his journey and he added: 'Lord Beaconsfield however was so kind as to treat it [the proposal] seriously from the first, and I was encouraged by an observa? tion in one of his speeches that nothing difficult was ever undertaken successfully which is not at first laughed at.'24 We could not trace the relevant speech of Disraeli. But Sokolow, in his book Chibat Zion, quotes an unknown source that Disraeli wished to persuade the Turkish Government to grant autonomy to the Jews of Palestine, but that the Turkish Ambassador in London, Rostan Pasha, a Catholic of Italian descent, opposed this idea fiercely and the matter was dropped. The source of this information is vague and unreliable, but the fact remains that such rumours circulated.25 In his late novel Endymion (1880), in a passage devoted to the Jews, Disraeli writes: 'The Jews have been stealing into our "secret diplomacy", which they have almost appropriated. In another quarter of a century they will claim their share of open Government.'26 Again it is not easy to know what Disraeli actually meant. In a number of places he</page><page sequence="4">118 Benjamin Joffe discussed the 'Secret Societies' in Europe, and the involvement of Jews in them. These references were mentioned and discussed in various anti-semitic publications accusing the Jews of 'secret interna? tional plots'.27 A topic which could be related to Disraeli's attitude to Middle East policy was the occupation of Cyprus by Britain in 1878. In Tancred (1847) he writes: 'The English want Cyprus, and they will take it'. At the end of the 1870s the island was one of several alternative sites for a British base for the defence of Turkey and of British interests in the Eastern Mediterranean in the face of Russian ambitions and expansion. Sir John Headlam-Mor ley sees the Cyprus occupation as a step which sooner or later would bring Syria and Palestine under British rule or influence.28 In Tancred Disraeli writes: 'Britain should have Syria otherwise France will get it', Palestine then being considered part of Syria. The documents on the Cyprus issue reveal that the Cyprus event of 1878 was not necessarily directly inspired by Disraeli. The idea was evolved by several individuals, and Sir Henry Layard, the British Ambassador in Constantinople, was con? sulted as well as military experts. Salisbury, the Foreign Secretary, was more involved in the matter than the Prime Minister. In any case, Cyprus was considered at the time less provocative vis-?-vis the French, who had strong interests in Syria, than a base on the mainland. Incidentally, it later became evident that Cyprus was not the ideal base for England, whose main interests were then in the Euphrates Valley.29 V Disraeli's interest and ideas on religious topics appear in most of his novels and some of his speeches. He wrote to Mrs Brydges-Williams: 'It is race, not religion that interests me in the instance in question. All Europeans and many others profess the Religion of the Hebrews.'30 All ideas and theories of Disraeli concerning religion and race were confused, unclear and very much moved by intellectual originality. His book Coningsby, pub? lished in 1844, deals in part with the 'superiority' of the Jews, the importance of 'race' and the part of the Jews in the diplomacy and culture of Europe. This book, which was one of the trilogy of 'Young England', led in August 1845 to a series of seven articles, unsigned, in the London Morning Post under the title 'Young England Philosophy'. The author writes: 'Mr. Disraeli cherishes some curious opinions as to the Jews, as to the purity of their blood, their courage, their genius and their vast influence which they wield over the destinies of the human race.'31 The critic rejected Disraeli's opinions concerning the dispersion of the Jews in the time of Jesus and their innocence concerning Jesus' death. Disraeli's curious arguments that the first Jesuites were Jews and that the Jews are part of the 'Great Caucasian Race' which is 'superior' to other races were questioned by many, and were eventually used against Jews by their enemies. On 18 August 1845 Disraeli published a letter to the editor of the Morning Post in which he replied to his critic and attempted to vindicate the Jews and demolish all accusations levelled against them in antiquity and the present. Sir William Fraser says in his book Disraeli and his day (1891): 'The professed creed of Disraeli was a complete Jew. To use his own words: He believed in Calvary as well as in Sinai.'32 In Tancred he writes: 'The life and property of England are protected by the Laws of Sinai', and he reiterated it in his famous speech in 1847 in the debate on the Jews Disabilities Bill. In 1852 Disraeli published the biography of his colleague Lord George Bentinck who passed away at a young age. The twenty-fourth chapter was dedicated to an elaboration of his religio-historical theories concerning the Jews and Judaism, using the argument that 'Christianity was the completion of Judaism' to justify the struggle for their political rights. Quite a number of Christian scholars and clergymen reacted strongly to Disraeli's exposi? tions, expressed as articles in periodicals and the press. Alfred Padley published a pamphlet in which Disraeli was strongly criticized: 'all his opinions and statements are evidently designed unduly to exalt unbelieving Jews into favour with the British public and to dispose the mind of Christians to esteem them as "choice allies", and not as they really are, in their unconverted state of mind and heart, the open avowed enemies of Jesus Christ and his gospel.' The author rejected the right of Jews to participate in the political life of the 'English Christian State'.33 Lord Shaftesbury forwarded a letter to Disraeli from the Reverend J. Binney, who</page><page sequence="5">Benjamin Disraeli's Jewish Aspects - a Reassessment 119 wrote that this chapter 4has some strange extrava? gant ideas about the Jewish race, though includes some right thoughts especially about Christianity being Jewish religion in another form.'34 The Reverend William Giffard Cookesley, master of Eton College in the years 1830-54, wrote a long letter to Disraeli in January 1852: 1 am very anxious that you should stand well with the Church of England Party.' The master saw in Disraeli's struggle for the admission of Jews to Parliament an act of 'separation between Church and State'.35 In 1851 Disraeli told Lord Derby that he hoped one day to write the life of Christ 'from a national point of view',36 and eleven years later, in 1862, he wrote in his diary: T look upon the Church as the only Jewish institution remaining. I know no other. The Jews owe everything to the Church and are fools to oppose it. The history of the Jews is development or it is nothing. If ever history is development, it is that of the Jews.'37 In advanced years Disraeli pursued his preoccu? pation with his rather unusual form of Christianity. Catholicism was now the point of focus. In Sybil (1845) he saw the 'Church of Rome as representing the only Hebreo-Christian Church extant. All other churches established by the Hebrew apostles have disappeared but Rome remains.' In Lothair (1870) he returns to his attraction to the Church of Rome, but this is mixed with irony. I would suggest that his interest in Judaism was then diminishing, although he continued to wrestle with his concept of Christianity. Clyde Lewis, in his essay on Dis? raeli's conception of divine order, summarizes his attitude to religion: 'Disraeli needed a faith not only as a mooring place for his political ideals, but also as a guarantee of his personal emotional security.'38 After his death several reports appeared in the press that Disraeli died a Catholic and received the last rites from a priest, although these reports were denied by Corry. Other reports claimed that he invited a Rabbi to attend his funeral.39 Disraeli was not considered by Christians as a Christian; nor by the Jews as a Jew. This chapter of his life was strange and added to the confusion and misunderstanding which surrounded him. VI Disraeli took his seat in the House of Commons on 15 November 1837. One of the issues debated then was the Jewish Disabilities Bill, which was a great dilemma for the new member, as Professor Gilam describes in a penetrating essay:40 'Disraeli did not feel sufficiently confident to support Jewish emanci? pation in view of the hostile responses of most Tories.' He even voted with the rest against the bill. 'Nobody looked at me'-he wrote to his sis? ter - 'and I was not at all unacceptable but voted in the majority with the utmost sangfroid.'41 During the years from 1837 to 1847 Disraeli refrained from becoming involved in this contro? versy, though he witnessed the important debates of 1841 and 1845. He changed his mind in 1847 and delivered his famous speech in favour of Jewish emancipation. What was the reason for Disraeli's silence during so many years? Was any pressure applied by Lionel de Rothschild? Was it that he now felt more secure in his political position?42 Disraeli advocated Jewish emancipation not on grounds of religious liberty, the basis of Jewish claims, but from a Christian standpoint: he was against excluding from the legislature 'those who are of the religion of which my Lord and Saviour was born, and because it is a religious country, the Jews ought to find a reception among you'. Disraeli irritated Christians and Jews alike. Professor Gilam thinks that Disraeli decided to intervene in 1847 when he saw that public opinion and Parliament would not tolerate long opposition to the bill and when he knew nothing could stop religious free? dom. He now found an opportunity to express the opinion developed in his books for many years. Disraeli was on the way to leadership of the Tory party but his origins and his ideas on Jews and Judaism were well known and might be obstacles to his ambitious career. Here was the opportunity to vindicate himself in the eyes of the British political and religious world. As Gilam says: 'By accepting his Jewishness in public he clarified once and for all that he was not going to be intimidated by insults on that account.' Even his opponents had to admire his courageous advocacy of Jewish emancipation, and one of them was Gladstone. After 1847 Disraeli spoke little on the subject. Perhaps he preferred others to do the job. He even criticized the leading Jewish emancipationists for being impatient, and advised them to be more tactful and patient until the House of Lords, which</page><page sequence="6">I20 Benjamin Joffe On the eve of the Berlin Congress, convened to deal with the Eastern Question including the status of the Balkan states, Lionel de Rothschild sent Disraeli a letter, dated 31 May 1878, dealing with the plight of Romanian Jews. On 13 June, Joseph Montefiore on behalf of the Board of Deputies, and Baron Henry De Worms, directed an appeal to Disraeli and Salisbury, the chief British envoys to Berlin. This letter was acknowledged by the secre? tary in a curt manner: 'The matter will be discussed duly in the Congress of Berlin'.47 Bleichr?der, Honorary Consul General of Britain in Berlin, was also a banker who represented the interests of the Rothschilds there and was a confi? dant of Bismarck. He led the campaign for Romanian Jews, a campaign which was connected with the commercial and railway links between Romania and Germany. The representatives of France and Germany were prepared to act on behalf of the Jews, but the support of the British envoys was not yet ensured, as we know from a letter from Bleichr?der to Corry, dated 24 June, during the deliberations of Congress: T have just received a letter from Baron Lionel de Rothschild in which he expresses his earnest wish for your answer to the letter which he took the liberty of writing to Lord Beaconsfield on the matter of Rumanian Jews.' Bleichr?der, in another letter to Corry, asked to be introduced to Disraeli.48 He also reported daily to Baron Lionel de Rothschild from Berlin on the Congress deliberations, on the 'lobby' which was held there, and requested the attendance in Berlin during the Congress of Anglo-Jewish leaders. Three representatives came from Paris (Netter, Veneziani and Kahn) and Bleichr?der wrote that 'everybody works hard'. He furthermore complained that he wrote to Sir Moses Montefiore but did not receive a reply.49 In the minutes of the Congress, Salisbury is the main British spokesman. The general attitude of the envoys was positive on the granting of equal rights to the Balkan Jews.50 The Congress passed the resolutions which granted Romania and Serbia independence, provided they would include in their constitutions 'full religious and civil rights to all religious minorities'. Such rights were granted also to minorities in Bulgaria, East Rumelia, Montene? gro and Turkey. Max Kohler and Simon Wolf in their book on this struggle say: defeated the bill many times, would decide to espouse Jewish emancipation. The Jews were furi? ous, Rothschild unhappy. Disraeli had his own idea as to how to change the law. He could not agree to the violation of constitutional principles, and pre? ferred for Jews to be exempt from the Christian oath, while the original Christian oath would stand. He had different tactics which finally, in 1858, led to the full emancipation with his full support, but then he was already a leader of his party, and the matter was settled as originally formulated.43 VII Another question mark remains over Disraeli's involvement in the struggle for the rights of the Jews in the Balkans, mainly Romania and Serbia.44 'Romania was the test case for Jewish Power and the prime target of Jewish discrimination and anti-Jewish riots', says Stern in his book on Bis? marck and Bleichr?der. This issue, taken up in the Berlin Congress held in June-July 1878, was not a new one in the late 1870s. Since 1870 it had preoccupied many Jewish leaders and organized bodies in Western Europe and the USA. After 1872 three international Jewish conferences were held in Brussels and Paris to discuss this issue. In England the matter was discussed in Parliament, the press and in public meetings. The Rothschilds, the banker Gerson von Bleichr?der in Berlin, Adolf Cremieux in Paris, and Sir Moses Montefiore, Joseph Montefiore, Sir Francis Goldsmid and Baron Henry De Worms in London were among the active leaders. It seems that none of these personalities approached Dis? raeli. The 350 pages of the Accounts and Papers which cover the years 1873-7 and include corre? spondence between Jewish bodies and personalities and the Foreign Office, as well as memoranda and reports from British envoys abroad, do not even mention Disraeli.45 This may reflect the attitude towards him of the Jewish leaders. In 1873 an English Bishop sent Disraeli a memorandum in French, dealing with the Romanian Jewish plight, written by M. Armand Levi, whom the Bishop met in Rome. Disraeli instructed his staff to translate this document into English. No information is included in the papers on what further steps were taken.46</page><page sequence="7">Benjamin Disraeli's Jewish Aspects - a Reassessment 121 The man in the street related to Beaconsfield the passing of the Congress provisions. While no doubt Beaconsfield lent this phase of the cause of religious liberty at the congress his loyal and hearty support, as did also his assistants, particularly the Marquis of Salisbury, he cannot be held primarily responsible for the insertion of these clauses in the treaty. England was compelled to concentrate upon other matters more vital to her.51 Baron Henry De Worms wrote in the Jewish Chroni? cle of 21 June 1878: 'Earl Beaconsfield had taken the liveliest interest in the future condition of those Jews. He was happy to say that there was every indication that the work of the B.O.D. and the A.J.A. would be crowned with success.' Gladstone was also quoted as indicating that Disraeli's contribu? tion was important. In Disraeli's interview, given in German in the Algemeine Zeitung des Judentum, he said: 'You see we are now engaged in bringing the Jewish question - by ways of humanity and free? dom - from prejudice to harmonious conclusion.'52 Whatever Disraeli's contribution, it is a fact that Jews were grateful to him. The 9 3-year-old Sir Moses Montefiore came to the station to pay his respects to the Prime Minister who brought 'Peace with honour' from Berlin. Messages of appreciation were sent by Joseph Montefiore and De Worms on behalf of the Jewish organizations; Adolf Cremieux on behalf of the French Alliance, and a Dr Emanuel Rosenthal presented Disraeli with a beautiful Hebrew scroll expressing their admiration and blessings.53 A typical attitude towards Disraeli was remarked by O'Conner, a critical biographer, in 1884, three years after Disraeli's death: 'That day [when Dis? raeli returned from Berlin] represented the triumph, not of England, not of English policy, not of Englishmen, it was the triumph of Judea, a Jewish policy, a Jew.'54 VIII These words reflect a prevalent attitude to Disraeli throughout his life. His 'dandy' appearance in youth, his ambitious manner, his original ideas and opinions, his early struggles with friends and foes, all caused anti-Jewish reactions to him and his personality.55 He was considered a foreigner even by colleagues like Derby, Salisbury and Cromer. Thackeray called him 'the illustrious English Gentleman' and published a very damaging anti Jewish satire in Punch ('Codlingsby'). Professor Goldwin Smith, Regius Professor of History in Oxford, Thomas Carlyle, Professor E. Freeman of Oxford and many others attacked him with anti Jewish innuendoes. Lord Shaftesbury wrote in 1868: 'Disraeli is a leper, without principle, without feelings, without regard to anything human beyond his personal ambition. There is nothing to admire in him, beyond the possession of talents.'56 These attacks became quite fierce at the time of the Bulgarian Atrocities controversy in 18 76. Disraeli's policy for Britain of safeguarding its interests and supporting the integrity of Turkey vis-a-vis Russian ambitions in the East was considered by Gladstone and many others as a 'Jewish plot'. Goldwin Smith wrote: 'Had England been drawn into the conflict it would have been in some measure a Jewish war, waged with Jewish blood to uphold the objects of Jewish sympathy or to avenge Jewish wrongs.'57 Gladstone suspected that Disraeli's 'Crypto Judaism' had to do with his Eastern policy: 'As the Jews of the East bitterly hate the Christians . . . Dis? raeli is fanatical on one subject, the Jews.'58 The Church Times wrote: 'Lord Beaconsfield's liking for the Turks is because they are Eastern unbe? lievers.'59 In a pamphlet entitled 'Breakers ahead of the doomed ship' (1878), which is dedicated to Gladstone with his permission, the anonymous author calls Disraeli 'a Semite adventurer, self seeking, unscrupulous. The Jews bribe Turkey and exploit it. Christians must die, that Turks may rule and Jews may rob.'60 A series of articles in the Fortnightly Review under the title 'The political adventures of Lord Beaconsfield' strongly attacked Disraeli 'who is essentially a Hebrew, not a Gentile Christian'.61 A considerable number of satirical booklets were published at the end of the 18 70s, some of them in verse and most of them with caricatures, all of them attacking Disraeli's 'Jewish traits'. They even attack the Queen who went to dine in the 'Jewish Ghetto' of Hughenden. One of them mocked Disraeli's marriage with a rich widow which is said to be typical of 'Jewish love of money and greed'. A very strong anti-semi tic attack is found in Sir Richard Burton's The Orientalist bro? chure (1883): 'Disraeli is in nature as in name a very Hebrew of the Hebrews who hates with racial hatred those who did not love his people. Let he be</page><page sequence="8">122 Benjamin Joffe the last of his Race ... He brought the deterioration of England which has now the influence of Ice? land.'62 When Disraeli died on 20 April 1881, The Times remarked perceptively: Few leaders of parties have been the object of so much denounciation and suspicion; and scarcely one can be named who in the face of many and great obstacles, so steadily advanced to a commanding place in the state. The fact remains that he won and wielded power as great as that of any of his predecessors and that under him England once more became a potent factor in the policy of Europe. Lord Shaftesbury said: Few careers have been so remarkable, exhibited such power of perseverance; such singleness of purpose, such daring ambition at the outset and such complete success at the end. Vast abilities, great penetration and self command made everyone subservient to him - but mak? ing every allowance, weighing every peculiar advantage, he was a wonderful man in his generation, but was he a useful one?63 Few tried to vindicate Disraeli after his death. Fredrick Greenwood wrote that whatever Disraeli's policy, it was a 'national policy, firmly held as a national necessity'.64 Alfred Austin, the poet Laur? eate, wrote a poem on the grave of Disraeli.65 The reference to his Jewishness was now less vocal and aggressive. History's verdict differed from that of his contemporaries, but this is beyond the scope of this paper. Disraeli's contacts with Jews and the Jewish community were non-existent, his involvement in Jewish affairs much less than some Jews imagined. Only the Rothschilds were his friends, and since he was a lonely man they gave him warmth and hospitality. He wrote to Charlotte de Rothschild in 1867: 'Amid the struggle of my life the sympathy of those we love is balm and there is no one I love more than you.'66 Disraeli was a target of British anti semites more than is realized, but he saw himself a British statesman and a Tory. In spite of all that was said about him, the expression of his Jewishness was possibly a tool in his ascent to the top. Paradoxically, his vindication of Jews was appre? ciated by some of his opponents who rejected his policies on most points. Isaiah Berlin wrote in his penetrating essay 'Disraeli, Karl Marx and the search for identity': The bolder spirits among the Jews hammered upon the gates, attracted unwelcome attention, were admitted grudgingly, and never attained to complete ease in their new surroundings. They resorted to various expedients in order to keep going, to triumph over their disabilities, to convince the others of their good faith, of their loyalty, of their genius, of their eligibility to the club. The more they protested, the more evidence they provided of the nature of the problem which they constituted and of the difficul? ties of any simple solution.67 Disraeli was a unique product of Anglo-Jewry. He was estranged from them but obsessed by his Jewish roots, and he believed in a Jewish future without understanding what it involved. He experienced the tragedy of assimilation and conversion. For this alone, his life and personality can and should be included in the annals of the Jewish people. Bialik, the Hebrew poet wrote: 'When one of your sons, a winged eagle in flight, rises in soaring strength, you drive him out of his nest forever. A thirst for the sun in the skies above, then, drunk with the sun, he fails to shower his light upon you below.'68 NOTES 1 R. W. Stewart, Benjamin Disraeli, a list of writings by him and about him (Metuchen, NJ 1972); Idem, Disraeli's Novels Reviewed 1826-1963 (Metuchen, NJ 1975); A. Gilam, 'Disraeli in Jewish Historiography', in Midstream (March 1980). 2 A. Maurois, Disraeli (London 1927); G. Brandes, Lord Beaconsfield - A Study of Benjamin Disraeli (1880 and reprint NY 1966). 3 B. Disraeli, 'Memoir of the late Isaac Disraeli', in Curiosities of Literature (London 1849, !4th edition). L. Wolf, 'The Disraeli Family', Trans. JHSE V (1902-5) pp.202-18; C. Roth, Benjamin Disraeli - Lord Beaconsfield (New York 1952). 4 Hughenden Papers, box 10, A/II/A. 5 Ibid., box 310, July 1859; Ibid., box 297-B/xix/3. 6 Ibid., box 310, 16 Aug. 1861. 7 Ibid., box 26, A/x/13/33. 8 Ibid. 9 I. Berlin, 'Benjamin Disraeli, Karl Marx and the Search for Identity', in Midstream (Aug.-Sept. 1970) p. 9. 10 Hughenden Papers, box 291, v/III/14. 11 Ibid. 12 Disraeli to Sir Philip Rose, 22 Oct. 1847, Hughenden Papers, box 229. 13 The Reverend Edward Jones, in The Standard (28 April 1887). 14 Hughenden Papers, box 26, A/x/B/18. 15 James Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (London i875)pp.295-30i. 16 Hughenden Papers, box 246, G/i/i099-1164. 17 J. Ogden, Isaac Disraeli (Oxford 1969). 18 Hughenden Papers, box 26, B/xix/3. 19 Ibid., box 266, G/III/17. 20 Ibid., box 310, 28 Feb. 1853. 21 Ibid., box 26, B/xxx/k/1. 22 ibid., box 303 (Scane Notes, 1863).</page><page sequence="9">Benjamin Disraeli's Jewish Aspects - a Reassessment 123 23 J. Vincent (ed.), Disraeli, Derby and the Conservative Party, 1849-1869 (Sussex 1978) pp.31-3. Lord Blake kindly brought this to my attention. 24 Hughenden Papers, box 138, B/xx/10/12. 25 N. Sokolow, Chibat Zion (Jerusalem 1934) p.98. 26 Lord Beaconsfield, Endymion (London 1880) in 1927 edn. John Lane, The Bodley Head, p.282. 27 'Mr Disraeli and the Secret Societies', in The Spectator (21 May 18 70); 'Disraeli and the Secret Societies and the Jews', ibid. (5 and 12 June 1920). 28 Sir John Headlam-Morley, Studies in Diplomatic History (London 1930) pp.193-211; Layard Letters, Hughenden Papers, B/xvi/c/140. 29 H. Templery, 'Disraeli and Cyprus', English Historical Review XLVI (April 1931). 30 Hughenden Papers, box 310, 29 Feb. 1853. 31 Morning Post, 4 Aug. 1845. 32 Sir William Frazer. Disraeli and his Day (London 1891) pp. 189-90. 33 Alfred Padley, An answer to some of the opinions and statements respecting the Jews by Benjamin Disraeli in the 24th chapter of his Memoir of Lord George Bentinck (London 1852). 34 J. Binney to Lord Shaftesbury, 5 April 1852 (Hughenden Papers). 35 Hughenden Papers, E/iv/r/i 5. 36 See n.23. 37 H. W. Swartz and M. Swartz (eds), Disraeli Reminiscences (London 1975) p.103 (Hughenden Papers, box 26, A/x/A/6). 38 Clive Lewis, 'Disraeli, Conception of Divine Order', Jewish Social Studies (New York 1962) pp. 146-61. 39 Hughenden Papers, box 24, ix/d/25/17; Notes and Queries, 6thSeries(3)p.363 (7May 1881);Ibid., 14thSeries(i6)p. 335 (7 Sept. 1931). 40 A. Gilam, 'Benjamin Disraeli and the Emancipation of the Jews', in Newsletter (The Disraeli Project) 5 (1) (Spring 1980) pp. 2 6-4 6. 41 Ralph Disraeli (ed.), Lord Beaconsfield's Correspondence with his Sister, 1832-1852 (London 1886) p.77. 42 Judge Israel Feinstein comments that Disraeli's attitude to his friend Lionel de Rothschild's candidature to Parliament conflicted with that of his 'Young England' colleague John Manners, in the same East End constituency. 43 N. C. N. Salbstein, The Emancipation of the Jews of Britain, (Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, London University, 1975). 44 For the Berlin Congress Jewish-rights struggle, see Max J. Kohler and Simon Wolf, 'Jewish Disabilities in the Balkan States', Publications of the American JHS XXIV (1916); Fritz Stern, Gold and Iron - Bismarck and Bleichr?der (London 1977); Jewish Chronicle, 31 May, 14, 21 June 1878; Hughenden Papers, box 73. 45 Principalities No. 1 (1877) Correspondence respecting the conditions and treatment of the Jews 1867-76, London 15 Feb. 1877 (Accounts and Papers 72). 46 Hughenden Papers, D/xvi/B/146. 47 Jewish Chronicle, 21 June 1878, 48 Hughenden Papers, box 73, B/xvii/85, 96. 49 Rothschild Archives (New Court) File 64/0 (1876-80). 50 Stern op. cit. chap. 14, n.42. 51 Kohler and Wolf op. cit. p.56. 52 A. Kohut (Interview with Lord Beaconsfield), in Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentum LVIII (1904) p.629. 53 Hughenden Papers, box 73 B/xvii/193. 54 T. P. O'Conner, Lord Beaconsfield (London 1879) p.668. 55 For anti-Jewish innuendoes concerning Disraeli see Colin Holmes, Antisemitism in British Society 1876-193 9 (London 1976); Boris Segalowitz, Benjamin Disraeli Orientalismus (Berlin 1930); G. C. Thompson, Public Opinion and Lord Beaconsfield 1875-1880 (London 1886); A. A. Bauman, 'Lord Salisbury and Disraeli', Fortnightly Review CXVII (1922) pp.84-94. 56 E. Hodder, Life and Works of the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury (London 1886) vol. Ill p.234. 57 R. T. Shannon, Gladstone and the Bulgarian Agitation 1876 (London 1963). 58 John Morley, Gladstone (London 1908) vol. II p. 120. 59 Church Times, 25 Aug. 1876. 60 H. H. J., Breakers Ahead or the Doomed Ship, Review of Lord Beaconsfield's Policy (London 1878). 61 Fortnightly Review XIX (1878) pp.484-9. 62 Re-published in Plain English, 9 April 1921. 63 Hodder op. cit. p.421 (Diary entry for 19 April 1881). 64 F. Greenwood, 'Disraeli Vindicated', Blackwood's Magazine CLXI (1897) pp.426-47. 65 Alfred Austin, 'By his Grave' (poem), Contemporary Review (1881) pp.1017-18. 66 Rothschild Archives (New Court) 28 March 1867, R/Fam/6/2/7. 67 I. Berlin op. cit. p. 6. 68 Translated by Professor Isig Silbershlag of the University of Texas.</page></plain_text>

bottom of page