The Guardian published a review yesterday of a book about Bethlehem written by Guardian contributor Nicholas Blincoe (Bethlehem by Nicholas Blincoe review – love letter to a town on the brink, Dec 23)
Though, based on his previous polemics on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, it seems likely that Blincoe’s book will be misleading and one-sided, the reviewer, Justin Marozzi, misleads on his own accord. For instance, he erroneously suggests that the Israeli security barrier surrounds Bethlehem. Marozzi also uncritically cites Blincoe’s claim that “no Israeli leader will ever make a deal with the Palestinians”, which ignores two Israeli peace offers (2001 and 2008) which included a contiguous Palestinian state in most of the West Bank with east Jerusalem as its capital.
However, the most troubling passage is in the final paragraph of his review when he opines on what he believes is the likely motivation for Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Nor, [Blincoe] reminds us, should the world see Israeli settlements as a purely ideological movement. As the Israeli historian and one–time deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti puts it, the settlements are a “commercial real estate project that conscripts Zionist rhetoric for profit”. The story of Jesus and the moneychangers somehow comes to mind.
His decision to emphasize such a historically toxic theme in service of his anti-occupation narrative is extremely troubling. To be clear, many scholars of antisemitism trace the age-old antisemitic charge of ‘Jewish greed’ to the New Testament story of Jesus and the money changers which he evokes.
This antisemitic idea has a long history.
During Middle Ages, when the church wouldn’t allow Jews to own land, farm, or join crafts and guilds, many were forced into money-lending and usury, reinforcing the association of Jews with greed.
Then, of course, there’s British literature.
The Merchant of Venice reflected the popularity of this stereotype by presenting the Jewish character, Shylock, as money hungry, greedy and conniving. Charles Dickens’ Bentley’s Miscellany tells of a cruel medieval Jewish moneylender and “merciless creditor” who “never abated one farthing of his due”.
Since the 19th century, the story of Jesus chasing money changers from the Temple, and antisemitic themes inspired by the Biblical story, has been exploited by extremists on both the right and the left, both by Nazis and communists.
As the late antisemitism scholar Robert Wistrich observed, in his attacks on “Jewish capitalism”, Karl Marx charged that “1855 years ago, Christ drove the Jewish money lenders out of the Temple” and that once again, the money changers of our age enlisted on the side of tyranny “happen chiefly to be Jews”.
On the white-surpemacist right today, groups such as Stormfront, evoke the story of Jesus chasing money changers from the Temple to support their conspiratorial charge of Jewish financial control.
Sadly, accusations – sometimes rising to the level of Protocols of the Elders of Zion style conspiracies – that Jews are greedy and use their ‘collective wealth’ to manipulate global affairs continues to resonate to varying degrees to this day, even in the mainstream non-extremist West.
During the US financial crisis of 2008, a Boston College poll showed that 24% of Americans (including 32% of self-described Democrats) blamed “the Jews” to some degree for the crisis. A 2009 poll by ADL of seven European countries revealed that 31% of adults polled blame Jews in the financial industry for the economic meltdown.
Regardless of the Guardian writer’s intent, it’s extremely troubling that editors at a self-styled ‘anti-racist’ publication would sanction words which necessarily evoke such a historically toxic, antisemitic calumny while ruminating on the motives of Israeli Jews.