Ivan Davidson Kalmar and Derek J. Penslar
At the turn of the twenty-first
century we are painfully aware that in spite of growing globalization there
remains in the world a split between the West and the rest. The manner in which this split has been
imagined and represented in Western civilization has been the subject of intense
cross-disciplinary scrutiny, much of it under the rubric of “orientalism.” The term “orientalism” has in this debate
referred to the western image of the “Orient,” usually with a focus on the
worlds of Islam (and not, as the uninitiated might suppose, the
The major objective of this volume is consequently to demonstrate the urgency of making connections between the study of orientalism and the study of Jewish history. We seek to throw light on these connections, to raise new questions relevant to both fields of inquiry, and to stimulate future research. Each contribution – written, we hasten to add, from a variety of vantage points, not all of which necessarily agree with the editors’ - has been selected not so much because it says the last word on its subject, but rather in order to invite further discussion and expansion.
The central fact around which
all debate on orientalism and the Jews must be formed is that, historically,
Jews have been seen in the western world variably and often concurrently as
occidental and oriental. Even today, when the Jews are generally
thought of as a western people, that perception is nuanced by the fact that
unlike any genuinely western state
Orientalist representations of the Jews have always been at the very center of orientalist discourse, which we believe to be based historically in the Christian West’s attempts to understand and to manage its relations with both of its monotheistic Others. Strangely perhaps, one benefit of studying the Jews as a topic in orientalism may be the discovery of the extent to which orientalism has been not only a modern Western or imperialist discourse, but also a Christian one, with roots deep in the middle ages.
Following the publication, in 1978, of Orientalism by Edward Said, the overwhelming importance of the Muslim Orient to Western history was driven home by a good number of excellent contributions by Said himself (he died in 2003), his followers, and his critics. In contrast, orientalist sensibilities about Jews may appear to be a minor issue, comfortably treated as a relatively autonomous appendix to what really matters.
The historical record, however,
does not justify such an ancillary role for orientalist representations of the
Jews. In fact, Jews have almost always
been present in one way or another whenever occidentals talked about or
imagined the East. How biblical Jews
formed, since the Middle Ages, the model for Christian depictions of Muslims is
demonstrated in this volume by
Given, then, that western discourses about Muslims have almost always had something to do with western discourses about Jews, why has more work not been done on orientalism and the Jews? Of the historical correlations just listed (and there are others, as we shall soon see) only that between orientalism and Zionism has received vigorous attention by scholars focused on orientalism.
There can be little doubt that
one reason is political. Edward Said was
a leading spokesperson for the Palestinian cause, while most Jewish Studies
specialists identify with
Said himself well recognized,
as would anyone familiar with the facts, that Jews as well as Muslims had been
the target of orientalism; indeed, he called orientalism the “Islamic branch”
of anti-Semitism. Focusing on Jews as targets rather than
perpetrators of orientalism, however, decreases (in rhetorical terms though
certainly not in logical ones) the effectiveness of the argument for Zionism as
a form of anti-Arab orientalism. It is,
therefore, perhaps understandable if writers primarily concerned with a
critique of Zionism overlook other aspects of the relationship between
orientalism and the Jews. They generally
see Zionism as an example of orientalist ideology in the service of western
colonialism, and consequently link the creation of
As Derek J. Penslar has argued elsewhere, the link between Zionism and colonialism is undeniable. On the other hand, there is more to Zionism than that: it has also been one of an oppressed people’s response to racist discrimination, and the discrimination has often been expressed in orientalist terms. Martin Kramer has argued that nineteenth century European Jews questioned the East-West dichotomy because it excluded them, as “Easterners,” from the national polity. Much in the attitudes to Islam of such nineteenth-century Jewish thinkers as Abraham Geiger, Heinrich Graetz, and Ignaz Goldziher appears, according to John Efron’s article in this volume, to support Kramer’s point, though Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin’s article points to what he sees as its limitations.
Whatever the merits of Kramer’s case may be, there can be no doubt that in the nineteenth century the Jews were much more importantly the targets rather than the perpetrators of orientalism. To reconcile this fact with Said’s emphasis on orientalism as a colonialist ideology, some authors, most notably Susannah Heschel and Jonathan Hess, have produced interesting work that explains the parallels between imperialist and anti-Jewish orientalism on the premise that European Jews were a kind of colonized population, subject to quasi-colonial domination by the Gentiles.
Hess provides some concrete
support for the “Jews-as-colonials” argument.
The German biblical scholar Johann David Michaelis (1717-1791) was an
orientalist and an anti-Jewish polemicist.
Hess notes that Michaelis came up with a colonialist solution to the
“problem” of the Jews as the Asiatic residents of
Hess’ work, while demonstrating
the value of the colonialist paradigm, also shows up its limits. As anyone examining the sources must realize,
orientalist depiction of the Jews was common in the late eighteenth century and
indeed, as several articles in this volume demonstrate, much before. Michaelis’ proposed deportation of the Jews
While studies of orientalism and the Jews on a more-or-less Saidian pattern – whether looking at Zionism as orientalism or at the history of antisemitism as colonialism – can be of crucial importance to our understanding of specific issues such as were investigated by the authors mentioned above, the full depth and breadth of the connection between orientalism and the Jews reaches well beyond the limits of the Saidian paradigm, especially as it has been developed in the last two decades or so.
In this respect, the assumption that orientalism can be entirely subsumed as a specific instance under the general topic of colonial discourse has been a hindrance, much as it has in other ways advanced our understanding of the power politics underlying orientalism as a major western ideological complex.
Many writers have defined
orientalism not by its formal content as a set of western representations of
the Orient, but in functionalist terms as “a discourse of western
domination.” The tendency has been to
minimize differences and maximize similarities and historical connections
between examples of western domination over various parts of the world. To some authors, indeed, any discourse of
Otherness that is associated with domination merits the label of
orientalism. Ernest J. Wilson III, for
example, writes of African-Americans as targets of
This broadening of Said’s Orientalism to the study of colonialism in general as a discursive phenomenon has already proven to be among the most important achievements of scholarship at the turn of the twenty-first century. Many of the scholars furthering this line of inquiry (though sometimes in ways quite contrary to Said’s) themselves have non-western, “colonial” antecedents and are writing from a postcolonial position as residents either of the former colonies or of their diasporas in the West. Some, like Lila Abu-Lughod or Talal Asad stem, like Said did, from the Arab world, but most are South Asian: Aijaz Ahmad, Arjun Appadurai, Homi Bhabha, Partha Chatterjee, Gyan Prakash, Gayatri Spivak, Gauri Viswanathan, and others. This may be a minor reason why they have shied away from the term “orientalism,” generally preferring to focus on local Indian conditions in the context of global influences, with potential comparisons made to not only the hub of Said’s Orient – Islamic North Africa and West Asia – but any other part of the Third World and even the Third World diaspora in the West. However, the major reason for orientalism having in many ways evolved into an avatar of “postcolonial studies” is given by the very nature of the project of subsuming orientalism under the rubric of imperialism. Said and others have shown impressively how orientalism as a discourse functioned within the building of western empires. But if there is nothing other to orientalism than that and orientalism is seen as merely a special case of imperial domination, then why maintain a separate topic of research labeled “orientalism” at all? Indeed in the last decades of his life Said himself preferred to focus on imperialism and colonialism rather than orientalism per se.
Colonialism and imperialism,
however, are relevant only since the late eighteenth century; yet both
orientalism and its Jewish connection are much older, as the articles by
Jews responded to the anti-Jewish orientalism of the late eighteenth to early twentieth century in three different ways (typical, we believe, for other targets of orientalism, including Muslims, as well): first, by rejecting it wholesale; second, by idealizing and romanticizing the Orient and themselves as its representatives; and third, by setting up traditional Jews as oriental, in contrast to modernized Jewry which was described as “western.”
The wholesale rejection of an
oriental identity for the Jews was common among segments of both liberal and
orthodox Jewry in
The romantic self-image of a
noble oriental Jew can in part be seen in Abraham Geiger as explored by
Susannah Heschel and in
this volume by
The “internal orientalism” of
Jew versus Jew, practiced by modernizing, western or westernized, Ashkenazic
Jews vis-à-vis their more traditional brethren was not unrelated to the
romantic self-orientalization just mentioned.
Ismar Schorsch and others have shown that the identification of
nineteenth century liberal Jewry with Judaism in medieval Muslim Spain was in
important measure a way to avoid the stigma of identifying with the Ostjuden
Clearly, romantic Jewish counter-orientalism as well as internal Jewish orientalism towards “Eastern” Jews of one kind or another has something to do with the colonial context of orientalism. Equally clearly, the colonial context is not the issue that is central to it.
If the transition from orientalism to postcolonialism has left important elements of our topic of “Orientalism and the Jews” by the side, the same is true of another (and related) switch from Said’s original reading of orientalism as positing a rigid structural opposition between East and West, to a new recognition that here as elsewhere boundaries are flexible and permeable. Recent work has focused in Turnerian fashion on the “liminal” region between Occident and Orient as a most productive source of orientalist discourse (and performance) and the counter-discourses it generates. Homi Bhabha has been perhaps the most effective proponent of the thesis that postcolonial populations (both “at home” and in the diaspora) have been defining themselves largely in response to western influence and domination. The result are “hybrid” discourses of identity, and these may reflect local social and cultural patterns rather than any traditions that the occidental observer may deem “oriental.”
It is perhaps surprising that scholars concerned with postcolonial “hybridity” have paid so little attention to the Jews (and vice versa). Indeed, in this volume Sander Gilman argues that for the “multicultural” writers that are so much the focus of much of postcolonial literary studies, the Jews seem to be the eternal exception, a people who, far from hybrid, have an essence that is both unchanging and contrastingly distinctive (as do, in the orientalist conception, all orientals).
Yet if ever there was a
population that lives at the borders between cultures and civilizations it is
the Jews. More than that, we suspect that, at some
level, the liminal region between Arab/Muslim, Jew, and Christian – what
Jacques Derrida and others have called “the Abrahamic”
– must be quite central not only to any understanding of the Jewish aspects of
orientalism, but of orientalism tout
court. Derrida speaks of “the fold [pli] of this Abrahamic or
Ibrahimic moment, folded over and again [replié] by the Gospels between the two other “religions of
the Book.” This volume’s essays by Akbari and
For the reasons listed above, although both the colonial/postcolonial and the related “hybridity” paradigm of research on orientalism stand to profit from incorporating the relationship between Jews and orientalism, the current volume is emphatically not meant to be primarily a response to the existing literature on orientalism and postcolonialism. Apart from the fact that we considered it preferable at this stage to establish the breadth of the issue without prior theoretical, political, and other restrictions, we recognize, too, that the existing paradigms may have to be broadened to do justice to the historical facts.
One way is to pay more serious attention to the role of religion as one of the primary referents of orientalist discourse. It is the Christian religious tradition that forms the missing link explaining the necessary, rather than accidental, connection in orientalism between representations of Muslims and representations of Jews.
Clearly, discourses about the Islamic world were what most interested Said in Orientalism, and “Muslimism” might have been a more correct, if also more awkward, term for his subject matter. Yet the fact that the oriental Other Said’s book deals with was for the most part an Islamic Other seems to get much less play than would seem to be merited by the facts. This is merely one side of the coin, for this under-representation of Islam is the consequence of Said’s under-representation of Christianity as a major, and perhaps historically the principal, factor in orientalism. True, Said realized that “present-day Orientalism” was a “set of structures inherited from the past, secularized, redisposed, and re-formed by such disciplines as philology, which in turn were naturalized, modernized, and laicized substitutes for (or versions of) Christian supernaturalism.” But Said was content to leave the implications of this aperçu more or less unexplored: he no more than touches, for example, on the missionarizing rhetoric of imperialism, and minimizes the personal involvement of missionaries along with colonialists and imperialists. Was he as a Christian protecting his religion from the charge of complicity in orientalism? Or was he just, as a secular thinker, underestimating the deep power of religion over discourse both in the East and in the West? The answer matters little. The importance of recognizing the Christian foundations of orientalism is an intellectual necessity, dictated by the facts rather than by elements of any scholar’s personality.
Recognizing how important
Christianity has been to orientalism might actually have helped Said to justify
a decision that otherwise appears rather problematic – excluding the
In this volume the Christian
foundations and enduring Christian undertones of orientalism become clear in
the contributions by Akbari, Parfitt, Zhou,
This is not to say that orientalism was the same regardless of whether it dealt with the Orient itself or with the “Orientals of Europe.”
The exact nature of the relationship between orientalist images of Jews and Muslims has undergone, like orientalism itself, substantial historical variation. One has to guard against positing eternal semiotic systems that survive regardless of the social and political context. Although Said professed to be a follower of Foucault, his account of orientalism diverged radically from the historiographic habits of his professed master. Foucault, who focused on radical discontinuities in history, would not have subscribed to Said’s view of orientalism as spanning antiquity, the Middle Ages, modernity, and beyond. Indeed, his essentialist and idealistic conception of a timeless orientalism permanently inherent in some sort of a “Western mind” has been accused of preventing Said from formulating an effective anti-imperialist position.
Orientalism itself can be regarded as a form into which various content can be cast. We will suggest below a periodization of orientalism in general and of its relationship to representations of the Jews, rooted in continuities and discontinuities in the history of the Western world. In this sense it is more like what Foucault called “language” (a finite set of principles that can generate an infinite number of discourses), rather than “discourse,” a word that Foucault used to refer to a finite corpus of historically located texts. (We will, however, continue to follow Said’s lead in referring to orientalism as a “discourse” - meaning “ways of representing” the Orient – as this has now become a common practice.) Looking at orientalism as language rather than discourse would open it up to theorizing in terms of the Bakhtinian notion of slovo. According to Mikhail Bakhtin, slovo, a Russian term quite homologous with the French parole and typically translated as “the word,” is a stage on which changing and competing, socially conditioned views are played out. And indeed, orientalism has, like words, kept a continuity of form while recharging itself periodically with new content.
New ideas require new language at times, but more often they take hold more easily if clad in familiar forms. New content infuses old form, and the earlier content does not quite disappear but leaves traces that are recognizable in the new. For example, when imperialism became the new content of orientalism the old Christian content continued to structure its form. Indeed, imperialist rhetoric continued to be accompanied by Christian rhetoric, and the talk of waking up the dormant East through Western intervention was often accompanied by the proselytizing discourse of missionary societies eager to bring true religion to the ignorant oriental Muslims and Jews.
We suggest a periodization of orientalism that recognizes its changing content as consonant with changes in the geopolitical and economic relations between East and West as well as between Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The periods we distinguish are: 1) the Saracen period from the rise of Islam until the end of the fourteenth century, when comparisons between Muslims and Jews were founded on religious grounds with no necessary geographic correlation, and the Islamic enemy was referred to generically as the “Saracen;” 2) the Turkish period from the late fourteenth until the late eighteenth century, when the prototypical Muslim in the Western imagination was a “Turk;” 3) the Arab period from the late eighteenth century until the 1960’s, when the “Turk’s” place as the stereotype of the oriental was replaced by the Arab and specifically the Bedouin, orientalism was characterized by both romantic notions and progressively more openly racist vituperations, and both secular antisemitism and Zionism were organized as social and political movements; and 4) the postcolonial period when discourse about Muslims becomes primarily political and only Jews with roots in the Arab world continue, though most of them now live in Israel and the Western world, to be called “oriental” (Mizrahi). These periods overlap greatly. They also show considerable internal development. All relate to the changing sociopolitical and economic realities of the relationship between the Christian West and the Muslim East, as well as (to a lesser extent until the most recent periods) Christian relations with the Jews.
In the proto-orientalist
imagination of the early Middle Ages, the Jew was imagined in terms of the
oriental location of the
True, from almost the beginning
of Islam in the seventh century,
Although the Crusaders were
fighting for a “real” land and their decline has typically been blamed on
venality (they plundered Christian Constantinople) and carnal sin (many died of
sexually transmitted diseases) they conceptualized their fight in biblical-historical
rather than geopolitical terms. Akbari
shows how some medieval tales of the Siege
of Jerusalem conflate conquest by the Crusaders with conquest by the
Romans, equating in complex ways the Christians with the Romans on one hand,
and the Jews with the Muslims on the other.
There was in these accounts, however, no indication that the Other under
siege, be it Jew or Muslim, was thought of as oriental, that what was under
siege was the Orient. The “Saracen”
forces were at least as firmly established (and more menacing) in the southern
and southwestern than in the eastern
With Christians in
The souls that you see passing in this ditch
were all sowers of scandal and schism in life,
and so in death you see them torn asunder.
The ditch contained more than a hundred sinners, and apart from Muhammad and Ali they appear to all have been not Muslims (or Jews or pagans) but bad Christians. Muhammad and Ali are represented here as schismatics, not infidels, and certainly not as outsiders to European civilization.
The imagined equation between
the Orient and Islam appears only near the end of the 14th
century. The “Saracens” were then all
but expelled from
In the spirit of Renaissance humanism, the Ottoman ascendancy was interpreted in Christian Europe in secular terms. Unlike in the preceding periods, events in the Orient as elsewhere could now be painted with the hues of human conflict rather than of the apocalyptic imagination. Indeed the Muslim advance may actually have been not only the object, but also in large measure a cause of this overall secularization of history, which was part of “the primary event of modernity; the affirmation of the powers of this world, the discovery of the plane of immanence.” For if history was entirely governed by God alone then how could one explain the enormous conquests of the Islamic foe?
The emphasis on the secular
aspects of the Muslim conquest led to a need to imagine the conquerors in
relatively solid ethnographic terms, rather than as incarnations of apocalyptic
A geographically continuous region under the firmly entrenched control of Islam, inhabited by people whose customs as well as religion were understood as distinctive from those of the Christian West - these were the necessary if not sufficient conditions for the rise of orientalism. The Orient became orientalized.
Ottoman military and, many
would say, cultural supremacy continued into the seventeenth century, with
One example that is
particularly relevant to orientalism as it concerned the Jews was
Freemasonry. Masonic notions of oriental
religion were used to challenge the established Christian traditions. The esoteric, often quasi-kabalistic
interpretations of the Bible by the Masons allowed some of them to be open to
Jewish membership in their lodges. It is
true that the German (as opposed to English and French) Masonic authorities
often denied admission to Jews, but German Jews bypassed the restriction by
entering lodges licensed, in Germany, by the Grand Orient of Paris.
According to Jacob Katz, in
One of the many fascinating
episodes studied by Katz was that of the “Asiatic Brethren,”
The incident illustrates the
potential of Masonic ideology to support a notion of Jewishness as a sort of
patent of nobility, certifying descent from the ancient Israelites who created
the spiritual heritage of the West. The
image of a “noble Jew,” cast in orientalist terms, was particularly common in
The “noble Jew” was not an
anomaly in European fiction at the time.
Charlene A. Lea has counted more than fifty German-language plays
featuring an idealized wise Jew in
The effort for self-representation as a noble people was, among Jews, part of the broader process that Hannah Arendt described in the following terms:
[T]o transform the whole nation into a natural aristocracy from which choice exemplars would develop into geniuses and supermen, was one of the many “ideas” produced by frustrated liberal intellectuals in their dreams of replacing the old governing classes by a new `elite’ through non-political means… [It was] as significant for English as it was for German race-thinking that it originated among middle-class writers and not the nobility, that it was born of the desire to extend the benefits of noble standards to all classes.
This development should be
viewed in the context of a bourgeois society that placed great value on all
signs of noble descent – at the dinner table where they received high-born
guests the successful bourgeois would serve pedigreed wines and talk of noble
races of horses or dogs. The late
eighteenth century marked the origin of all sorts of connoisseurship associated
with breeding animals or plants, and the craze continued in the nineteenth
As ladies and gentlemen bred animals and improved plants, they practiced on their surroundings the doctrine of race as nobility. The Jews among them felt that their race, the Chosen People who brought knowledge of God to the world, was perhaps the noblest of them all. (Besides, for the increasing number of Jewish apostates, deists, agnostics, and atheists, a racial understanding of Jewishness helped to give positive content to the fact that they were still universally regarded as Jews.) Noting the trend, Goethe is said to have joked that the “Jews claim descent from Adam and Eve. The rest of us, however, have other ancestors as well.”
Popular “race thinking” went hand in hand with scientific efforts to classify races of humans (an effort that was related to the advances in animal and plant classification which themselves probably owed something to the concept of race). When in 1781 the theologically trained historian August Ludwig von Schlözer invented the term “Semitic” he applied it primarily to a language family, but his choice of term betrayed the mixture of Christianity, science and evolving “race thinking” characteristic of the time. In Schlözer’s mind the languages he was referring to were all spoken by races descended from the biblical character Shem (Gen. x – xi). The category “Semitic” thus gave support to the truth of the Bible at the same time as it conflated (and confused) relations of language and race in a fashion that was thoroughly in accord with the latest scientific advances of the period.
Likewise when Franz Bopp
published, in 1816, his Conjugation
System of Sanskrit in Comparison with Greek, Latin, Persian and German, the
Indo-European linguistic connection was immediately contrasted with the Semitic
family. The Indo-European or “Aryan”
peoples were imagined as holding sway from the Germanic inhabitants of the
In this way, orientalism was recast in a racial mold. The Christian West was the domain of the Indo-European races, while the Semitic “Arabians” inhabited the Muslim Orient. The Jews, the Asiatics of Europe, straddled both worlds but were understood by everyone to stem from “oriental stock.”
The idea of a Semitic Orient could only develop when Ottoman power was no longer supreme in the Arab world. The Turkish language is not Semitic, so it followed from the racial-linguistic assumptions of the time that the Turks were a different race from the Semitic-speaking Arabs and Jews. But with Ottoman power beginning to fade it was the Arab character of much of the Orient, and of the Islamic religion, that took hold of the Western imagination.
From the early nineteenth century Western art, fiction, and scholarship was replacing the Turks with the Arabs as the “typical” living orientals (the ancient Egyptians were also in vogue as the principal dead ones). William Beckford’s Vathek, conte arabe (1787), featured an Arab ruler even if his court had many of the trappings of the “oriental despot” traditionally associated with the Ottoman sultan. The Arab identity of the protagonists is much clearer, and more important, in Mejnoun and Leila, the Arabian Petrarch and Laura by Isaac D’Israeli (Benjamin Disraeli’s father), published in 1797. And while Ingres’ Grande Odalisque of 1814 was probably meant to evoke a harem in Constantinople (like his Turkish Bath), Delacroix translated the orientalist idiom into an Arab context in his North African paintings, and most famously in the Women of Algiers in their Apartment (1834), with its narguileh-smoking harem inmates who are, incidentally, widely believed to represent Delacroix’s Jewish Algerian models.
The continuing decline of the
In this period Jews were little
troubled by being labeled as Semitic. It
is true, as the example of Michaelis shows, that their ascribed oriental
identity meant to some of their enemies, already, that they had no place in a
Outside academic scholarship,
it was perhaps Benjamin Disraeli, the leading Tory statesman and Prime Minister
There were early indications
that Semitic pride among the Jews would backfire and become an additional
target of antisemitism. But things only
came to a head towards the end of the century.
In the seventies a severe economic depression was followed by ever
louder complaints against the alleged Jewish domination of the economy, of some
of the liberal professions, and of culture.
It is well known that the new antisemitism rose in the Western world at the same time as the scramble for overseas possessions that extended the Great Powers’ control or influence to reach some four fifths of the globe’s population. It is worth considering if the development of what became known as “imperialism” (an ideology justifying colonization, and a notion that the nation depends upon the empire for survival) was in some ways linked with the growing agitation against Jews. The answer is complicated. Even Hannah Arendt, who included Antisemitism and Imperialism among the three sections of her Origins of Totalitarianism, failed to articulate a cogent explanation of how antisemitism and imperialism related to each other (as opposed to how each related to totalitarianism). Yet such an explanation will be indispensable to the full understanding of the connection between orientalism and the Jews. Here we can do no more than attempt a brief discussion of the lines along which an inquiry into the question might proceed.
Parker Thomas Moon’s Imperialism and World Politics, published in 1926, was in its time the standard American text on the subject. It recognized that “Imperialism, nay, all history, is made by the dynamic alliance of interests and ideas.” At the nexus of imperialism, orientalism, and Jewish history it is simpler to identify the “ideas” than the “interests.” Ideologically, both the Western quest to control foreign lands and the move to exclude Jews from Western society were grounded in the ideology of race. Whatever else one might say about them, imperialist and antisemitic ideologies are all unquestionably examples of racist thought.
Where the “interests” rather than the “ideas” behind imperialism are concerned, scholarship offers a proliferation of rather different approaches. They may be divided, for the most part, into those that emphasize the economy and those that emphasize politics.
Of the economic approaches the Marxist ones are particularly noteworthy. It is perhaps relevant that among the Marxist students of imperialism there were many persons of Jewish origin: Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Kautsky and others. Imperialism is an attractive subject for a leftist Jew as it is harder than any other aspect of capitalism to attribute to Jewish activity. According to most Marxist as well as many non-Marxist analysts, the classic imperialist economy imported raw materials and exported finished goods to the colonies. (It was this dependence on foreign manufactures that was opposed by Gandhi in his swadeshi movement.) The elements of the bourgeoisie who most benefited from the imperial system were, consequently, exporters of manufactured goods, importers of raw materials, owners of plantations and mines overseas and, finally, the financiers who provided the funds and the traders who mediated between producers and consumers. Jews did not figure prominently among these lynchpins of imperialism.
For various reasons, Jewish
participation in manufacturing indexed the backwardness of a West or Central
European capitalist economy and, relatedly, its relative lack of involvement in
empire building. Jewish manufacturers
were extremely important in
Nor did the Jews have a very
great presence in government, in spite of the influence from the outside that
was afforded the richest financiers and merchants among them. Demagogues like Edouard Drumont in
Territorial control, as a
defining feature of imperialism, necessitated not only capital and capitalists
but bigger government
and an enlarged military. The imperial
service, both civil and military, provided employment for the sons of the
privileged at the helm and for the superfluous “masses” at the bottom. Few Jews were found in either group. Throughout the Western world Jewish
participation in the armed forces and the civil service was minimal due to
overt discrimination or covert hostility.
The marginal status of the Jews in manufacturing as well as the political and military apparatus meant that they were, as a group, objectively irrelevant to imperialism. Yet it was during the height of imperialism that they began to be more than ever reviled for their alleged control over the economy and the politics of every Western state. Antisemites identified the Jews as a major noxious force just when their sociopolitical importance was objectively in decline.
There was, in this, more at play than in the case of the declining aristocracy who, as Arendt pointed out, came to be hated once their socioeconomic usefulness was spent. Although the Jews played a small role in the politics and economics of imperialism, they received extraordinary attention in its ideology. Imperialist ideology reformulated Christian evangelism in secular terms. Much of it concerned the purported need to spread to the rest of the world not only the Gospel but the superior civilization of the West. And that civilization was, fatefully for the Jews, understood as the achievement no longer only of the Christian faith but also of the European “races.” It was not generally believed that the Jewish “race” was one of them. The relative absence of the Jews in the imperial enterprise made it easier to argue for excluding them, along with the “natives” of the colonies, from the benefits of the “Western” guarantees of liberty and equality, and indeed of residence in the West.
One consequence of the theories
of an ineluctable racial difference between Semites and Aryans was the belief
that the “Jewish question” could only be solved if the Jews were isolated from
Gentiles either in ghettos or, more radically, expelled from the Western
world. To an antisemite like Adolf
Wahrmund, a professor of oriental studies at the
In Africa the nomads have been pushed back into the desert from North and South: the new Congo State and the German colonies mean cutting off the nomads and Islam from the South, in Central Asia Russia has laid its fist upon the Touranian nomadic tribes …; even the Turkish nomads of Asia Minor will soon have their practices stopped by the West; but among us, in the realm of Christian German statehood, the Semitic-Pharisaic nomad lays down the law.
If Jews were not often involved
in the major imperialist projects of the time, it is also true that western
imperialism defined the geopolitical situation that enabled Zionism to
succeed. In the late nineteenth century
Europeans continued to wage a struggle to fill the power vacuum being left by
the continuous decline of the
In this way the Jewish people became embroiled in imperialist intrigue, and the Zionist movement became from both the Western and the Arab point of view an instrument of European imperialism. Such was the beginning of the end of the story of the Ashkenazic Jews as a target of orientalism, and was no doubt what Said had in mind when he suggested that the Jews, unlike the Arabs, were able to escape the stigma associated with the label, “Semite.” As he put it, “…Western anti-Semitism has always included both the Jews and Muslims. The latter have yet to be released from that ideological prison …”
Yet Zionism has been more than just a typical colonial movement; as we have said earlier in many respects it is itself an anti-colonial liberation movement. Zionism galvanized the energies of portions of modernizing Jewry because it promised a national rejuvenation and political independence for an oppressed minority. Its own aims were not primarily imperial. The early Zionists’ inexcusable disregard for Palestinian rights was a sin of omission rather than commission. The early Zionists were wont to describe their movement as aspiring to provide a people without a land with a land bereft of people. In contrast, typical colonialists of the era were more than aware of the local foreign population, and often emigrated precisely to take economic advantage of non-western labor.
Indeed, the culture of Zionist and other modernizing Jewish intellectuals closely resembled that of colonial intelligentsias. Both Jewish and colonial elites recast their history to speak of past glories that were lost in part because of the shackles of tradition that destroyed their people’s potential for technical and scientific progress. Both imagined themselves, too, as emasculated and feminized, and presented their national movements as capable of instilling vigorous masculine character into the body politic.
Although the early Zionists
made much of their usefulness to the imperialist state, this rhetoric was
primarily used to convince Jews and Gentiles that Zionism was a rational
project; it was rarely a source of
Zionist passion. Subjectively, to
many Zionists the Realpolitik of
alliances with goyim was
never more than a means to realize a radical separation from the Christian
world (even if the physical exit to the Orient was in many ways, as
Raz-Krakotzkin argues, a means of becoming a “normal,” i.e. western-style,
nation). Many Zionists must have felt
something of the passion of the obviously disturbed author of an anonymous
manuscript found among the papers of Aladar Deutsch, a leading
In this expression of rage, the Jew becomes simultaneously colonized and colonizer, throwing off the yoke of Gentile domination while assuming a mission civilisatrice to revivify an allegedly barren land as a means to regenerating the Jewish people. As Raz-Krakotzkin’s essay points out, Zionism’s mental horizon, like that of 19th-century Jewish scholarship in Germany, was the ancient and medieval Middle East, the incubator of symbiosis between Jewish and Muslim Semites, and not the contemporary Arab world, which was considered corrupt and degenerate. The Palestinian Arabs were seen not as the Jews’ biblical cousins, each claiming a divinely-promised patrimony, but rather as ancient Palestinian Jewry’s devolved descendants, whose preservation of shards of ancient Hebrew customs and place-names bore witness to the truth of Zionism’s claim to the land. There is an obvious association between this view and the classic Christian belief that fossilized Judaic practices bore witness to the truth of Christianity. Indeed, as Raz-Krakotzkin argues, the very concept of a Zionist “return to history” was based in Christian views of time, redemption, and the Jews’ place therein. Thus Zionist claims of affinity with the Orient were, in fact, steeped in European perspectives and reflexive projections of Judaic-Orientalist fantasies on to the Palestinian landscape.
During the first half of the past century
those fantasies could, as in Western orientalism in general, assume varying
forms. In Dalia Manor’s piece on Boris
Many, but not all: Arnold
Zweig, whose work is explored here by Noah Isenberg, is typical of the group of
German-Jewish intellectuals we have mentioned earlier who, galvanized by
encounters with their Russo-Polish brethren during the first World War,
romanticized the Ostjude
as the soul of Jewish authenticity and the source of Jewish cultural
renewal. For them,
Given this book’s theme of tracing the modern Jewish response to the orientalist discourse surrounding and directed against them, it is appropriate that Raz-Krakotzkin’s essay concludes with a discussion of the Israeli political party Shas, a creation of Jews of varied origins who, upon arrival in Israel, were lumped together under the rubric of “oriental” Jewry, and in time created for themselves a unified oriental Jewish culture where none had exited before. The mizrahi Jewish response to Zionist orientalism is no less varied than that of Ashkenazic Jews in previous eras, and it, too, is subject to change.
Indeed, one could argue that although Jews the world over continue to hold orientalist stereotypes of Muslims, in today’s world Christian perceptions of Judaism and Jews are decreasingly likely to be refracted through an orientalist prism. Regardless of where one’s sympathies regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict may lie, the conflict is viewed the world over as one between an occidental state and an oriental people. In the United States the association between Israel and the West is generally positive and framed in terms of an alliance against fundamentalist Muslim terror, whereas the deep-seated hostility to Israel in much of Europe stems precisely from its resemblance to Europe’s bygone colonial regimes, which evoke painful sensations of shame mixed with nostalgia.
perceptions of Jews have all but disappeared in
On the other hand, orientalist
fantasy never played as important a role in
Among Jews, the view of
themselves as an oriental people that one encountered in the 19th
and early 20th century has all but disappeared. Ironically, some contemporary North American
Jews are perturbed by what they see as
Edward W. Said, “Orientalism Reconsidered,” in Francis Barker, Peter Hulme,
Margaret Iverson and Diana Loxley (eds.), Literature, Politics and Theory: Papers from the
 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1979), 28.
 Edward W. Said, "Zionism From the Standpoint of its Victims," Social Text 1 (1979): 7-58.
 Derek J. Penslar, "Zionism, Colonialism and Post-Colonialism," The Journal of Israeli History 20, 2-3 (2001), 84-98.
 Martin Kramer, Introduction to The Jewish Discovery of Islam: Studies in Honor of Bernard Lewis (Tel Aviv: The Moshe Dayan Center, Tel Aviv University, 1999), ed. by Martin Kramer, 3.
 Bryan Turner, Religion and Social Theory: A Materialist Perspective (London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1983), 29.
 Ernest J. Wilson III, “Orientalism: A Black Perspective,” Journal of Palestine Studies 10, 2, winter 1981, 59-69.
 Ella Shohat, “Area Studies, Transnationalism, and the Feminist Production of Knowledge,” Sign: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 26,4 (2001), 1271.
 Susannah Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
Michael Brenner, The Renaissance of Jewish Culture in
 Ismar Schorsch, "The Myth of Sephardic Supremacy," Leo Baeck Institute Year Book 34 (1989), 47-66.
 “Hybridity” is an important concept in much of Homi K. Bhabha’s work. It is developed most particularly in some of the essays included in his book, Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1995).
In what may have been his last publication Edward Said wrote that Freud’s image
of the Jewish people as founded by a foreigner (the Egyptian Moses) could be
taken as prototypical for non-European identities today, marked as they are by
the indelible impact of western domination.
Edward W. Said, Freud and the
Non-European, with an introduction by Christopher Bollas and a Response by
Jacqueline Rose (
 See, for example, Jacques Derrida, "Hostipitality," in Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion, ed. by Gil Anidjar (New York and London: Routledge, 2002), 356-420. The term “Abrahamic” is also used in much the same sense by Marc Gopin throughout his book Holy War, Holy Peace: How Religion Can Bring Peace to the Middle East (New York, Oxford University Press, 2002), although with no apparent reference to Derrida.
 Jacques Derrida, Donner la mort (Paris, Galilée, 1999), 149. See the translation and commentary by Gil Anidjar, “Introduction: `Once More, Once More’: Derrida, the Arab, the Jew,” in Derrida, Acts of Religion, 10.
 Edward W. Said, Orientalism, 122.
 James Pasto, “Islam’s `Strange Secret Sharer’: Orientalism, Judaism, and the Jewish Question, Comparative Studies of Society and History 40 (1998), 437-74.
 Derrida, Acts of Religion.
 Gil Anidjar, “Introduction: `Once More, Once More’: Derrida, the Arab, the Jew,” in Derrida, Acts of Religion, 11.
 For a major polemical analysis of Said’s theoretical position, including his references to Foucault, see Aijaz Ahmad, “Between Orientalism and Historicism,” Studies in History 7 (1), n.s., 1991.
 Michel Foucault, The Archaelogy of Knowledge (London, Tavistock, 1972), 27.
Vološinov, Valentin Nikolaevich, Marxism
and the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge, MA, 1986), Part I,
 Dante, The Divine Comedy. Volume I, Inferno, transl. Mark Musa (New York, Penguin, 1984), canto 28.
 Said, Orientalism, 70.
Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire
Jacob Katz, Jews and Freemasons in
Katz, Jews and Freemasons,
 Charlene A. Lea, "Tolerance Unlimited: `The Noble Jew' on the German and Austrian Stage (1750-1805)," The German Quarterly 64(2), 1991, 167-177.
 Hannah Arendt, Imperialism. The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part Two (New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1968), 59-60.
 "Der Rassenkampf ist das Ursprüngliche, der Klassenkampf das Sekundäre." Moses Hess, Rom und Jerusalem, die letzte Nationalitätsfrage; Briefe und Noten (Prague, n.d.), 211 (Epilogue, section V).
 Parker Thomas Moon, Imperialism and World Politics (New York, Macmillan, 1926), 74.
Derek J. Penslar, Shylock’s
Children: Economics and Jewish Identity in Modern Europe (
 Adolf Wahrmund, Das Gesetz des Nomadenthums und die heutige Judenherrschaft (Karlsruhe and Leipzig, H. Reuther, 1887), 234.
Edward Said, “Arabs, Islam and the Dogmas of the West,” The New York Times Book Review,
Melani McAlister, Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and