In Britain, modern antisemitism, that is, the perception of Jews as a ‘race’ as well as the employment of pictures of the Jew in social and political debates, developed around the same time as did its French and German counterparts, in the second half of the 19th century. Concentrating on the years between the South African War and the conclusion of the Great War, this essay explores the functional character of antisemitism and the discursive context of negative images of the Jew. In Britain, too, Jews were identified as a negative ferment within the nation, and they figured largely as an agent of representative government. In addition, Jews were continuously used as a negative foil for the definition of what was ‘English’ or ‘British’. However, unlike their continental counterparts, British anti-Semites did not question Jewish emancipation and even distanced themselves from ‘antisemitism’ at a time when elsewhere in Europe, being an ‘antisemite’ was a positive social and political stance. Both elements reflected the political culture, within which British antisemitic narratives evolved: while allowing for various forms of manifest and latent antisemitism, late 19th century Liberalism secured the status of the Jews as a religious minority, and contained specific forms of antisemitism that emerged on the Continent during the same period.

issue 03 / July 2012 by Susanne Terwey