Orwell has long been charged as an anti-Semite. I accepted it at face value like the charges against T. S. Eliot and others. But I just read an article in the Israeli paper Haaretz charging Orwell with antisemitism. I was surprised that there was little there. In some of his books, notably Down and Out in Paris and London, he runs across several quite unpleasant, rude or uncivilized people. They happen to be Jewish. He notes this. In fact, he regularly notes a person’s Jewishness. Supposedly this is anti-Semitism right there. If I write about my life and point out that various people in my life were Jewish, I’m an anti-Semite! Because it’s anti-Semitic to even notice such things.
I disagree with the charge. The people he meets are simply rude, unpleasant, uncivilized individual humans who just so happen to be Jewish. Nowhere does Orwell attempt to say that all or most Jews act that way.
Around 1941, Orwell pointed out that many Jews worked at British media outlets and that others outright controlled a number of British newspapers. Supposedly this is anti-Semitic. Except that it’s not. If Jews are 2% of your population and far more than that among journalists or media titans, it’s surely not anti-Semitic to point that out!
Around the same time, Orwell heard that a lot of the people sleeping in the London subway area were Jewish. He resolved to go find out. He went there and while everyone there was not Jewish, there were quite a few Jews sheltering there. He notes that Jews tend to stand out wherever they are. Supposedly this is more anti-Semitism. I can’t see it. He hears that a lot of Jews are sleeping in the underground subway area. He goes to check it out. Sure enough there are quite a few Jews there. He notes that they somehow tend to stick out and distinguish themselves from non-Jews. This is anti-Semitism?
Orwell also wrote many times opposing anti-Semitism. Apparently this is not enough to absolve him of the charge. Instead it just makes him complicated. Or, I would argue, human, as we are all complicated, complex and even ambivalent about most things.
Let me tell you something. I have never once heard of one single anti-Semite who wrote works attacking anti-Semitism. Anti-Semites don’t do that. If you do that you are de facto not an anti-Semite. Period.
Orwell also had many Jewish friends. In fact, people were shocked by how many Jews came to his funeral. Do you think Jews would flock to the funeral of an anti-Semite? Why would they? Did Jews flock to Wagner’s funeral? Hell, some Jews still walk out of the room if you put him on the turntable, and that was over 100 years ago.
Jews do not flock to the funerals of anti-Semites. You think they are stupid. Not all people Jews call anti-Semites are actual Jew-haters. Many are innocent. But on the other hand, most if not all actual anti-Semites are pegged properly as enemies by the Jews. The Jews definitely know who their enemies are. The only problem is they exaggerate their number. But this is one good thing about paranoia. The paranoid is very unlikely to be blind to any actual enemies in his life. He’ll spot them out before anyone.
Orwell also had many Jewish friends. Jews and Blacks and anti-racist idiots love the old chestnut “A lot of my friends are…” as a defense against racism. It is true that some mild racists have friends of the group they dislike. Their argument, appropriately enough, is that the friend is not like the rest of them. If the friend is just fine though, one wonders how racist the person really is as racists usually condemn the whole group.
Let me tell you something. I have known some real anti-Semites. I mean real hardcore Jew-haters. They came from different backgrounds but they all had one thing in common – not one of them had a single Jewish friend.
It’s the same with Blacks. People who truly hate Blacks don’t associate with any of them. I knew a racist who used to gather signatures for petitions as his job. He hated Blacks so much that if a Black man came up to sign the petition, he would not let him sign. Instead he would walk away, tell him to get lost, something like that. That’s not an unusual reaction. A lot of hardcore racists are exactly like that. An ex-wife of my cousin was from Southern Illinois. When the ex-wife was born, her father hated Blacks so much that he sent the wife to another hospital rather than have a Black physician deliver the baby.
So next time you hear some anti-racist scream, “Yeah, we know, a lot of your friends are _______. Sorry, that’s an old one. You’re still a racist!”
Think again. If you really do have one or God forbid quite a few friends of the hated group, you probably don’t really hate them that much.