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Rahel
Posts: 223
Registered: ‎08-06-2007
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Disraeli and Elections

Dear Readers,

So it's election day, and having voted in record time -- I guess that 3:30 is the magic hour in my polling place -- I'm settled in with a cup of tea and Benjamin Disraeli while I anxiously await the beginning of the returns. I can't help but wonder what voting must have been like in his time. Here in Maryland we are voting on little ATM-like screens -- a big departure from the levers I've always used in NY and NJ. I must say that the levers were more satisfying. What would it have been in 19th century England? A gathering of men in a town church or pub or other central location? Anyone know?

Whatever it was, we've certainly come a long way, both in terms of how we vote and who votes. I keep thinking about Jonathan Rosen's characterization of Disraeli as an outsider -- funny name, looked different --  who nonetheless made it to the highest office. It may be difficult for us to consider just how "other" Jews were in 19th century England. But certainly in the contemporary literature, like Daniel Deronda and The Prime Minister which Adam mentions in his introduction, there is the idea that Jews look different from the rest of the population, are easily identified. Very different from what most Jews experience in the US, where we have to choose to make that part of our identities obvious (unless you share my name or one like it:smileyhappy:

 

What are you all thinking as you start the book?

 

Best, 

Rahel

 

Rahel
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Rahel
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Re: Disraeli and Elections

Well, I think my head is still stuck in the election. Because the line I can't stop thinking about in this book is from Adam's introduction, "a tribute paid to Disraeli by one of his rivals: 'To the imagination of the younger generation your life will always have a special fascination. For them you have enlarged the horizon of the possibilities of the future.'" Now as then. I hope I'm not being too partisan -- and if I am, come on and tell me -- but I heard almost the exact same words spoken today about President-Elect Obama. And I think the comparison is a helpful one as we explore Disraeli's life, and try to understand what obstacles he overcame.

Or am I crazy to be comparing the status of a Jew in 19th c. England -- with no history of indigenous violence against Jews (the Crusades having been many centuries before, and mostly not in England) -- with the position of Blacks in America only 150 years after slavery?

Agree? Disagree? Let us know.

Rahel

 

Rahel
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Choisya
Posts: 10,782
Registered: ‎10-26-2006
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Re: Disraeli an Anglican

[ Edited ]

England -- with no history of indigenous violence against Jews (the Crusades having been many centuries before, and mostly not in England)

 

I regret to say that there has been a history of violence and discrimination against the Jews in England, as in Europe, and the Crusades were partly financed by taxing English Jews. Disraeli was baptised and raised as an Anglican after the age of 12 by his Jewish father, who had quarrelled with the Rabbi of his synagogue. He could not have become a Member of Parliament in 1841 had he been a Jew as Jews were excluded from Parliament until 1858.  His accession as Prime Minister in 1868 was only possible because of enactment of the Jewish Disabilities Bill which repealed the law forbidding Jews to enter Parliament.   When Disraeli, as an MP, spoke to this Bill he argued that christianity was 'completed Judaism' and asked Parliament 'where is your Christianity if you do not believe in their Judaism'.  The Conservative party bitterly opposed this Bill and his speech was thought to be blaphemous which ruled him out of being a member of the Tory Cabinet for some years.   Disraeli suffered a great deal of 'jew baiting' both at school and in Parliament.

 

Queen Victoria once asked him, "Mr Disraeli, what is your real religion? You were born a Jew and you forsook your great people. Now you are a member of the Church of England, but no one believes that you are a Christian at heart. Please tell me, who are you and what are you?" To which Disraeli is famously said to have replied, "Your Majesty, I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New."

 

Jews here have certainly had a similar struggle to blacks as there has been a great deal of anti-semitism, as shown in quite a lot of English novels of the period (including Disraeli's),  and which came to a head in the rise of Mosley's Fascist Party in the 1930s and parallelled the rise of the Nazis. This did not abate until after the Holocaust when the world began to wake up to the evils of anti-semitism. 

 

Another point is that Jews have had the advantage of being able to assimilate and hide their identity, which a great many did, but blacks do not have this advantage and this perhaps has made their fight to gain status and equality lengthier. It has been commented that had President elect Obama been a full negro and not of mixed race, he might not have gained the Democratic Party nomination.  Being of mixed race is perhaps a form of assimilation.  It may also be significant that the UK have not had a Jewish Prime Minister since Disraeli and the US has never had a Jewish President.  Is that fight still to be won?

 

 

 


Rahel wrote:

Well, I think my head is still stuck in the election. Because the line I can't stop thinking about in this book is from Adam's introduction, "a tribute paid to Disraeli by one of his rivals: 'To the imagination of the younger generation your life will always have a special fascination. For them you have enlarged the horizon of the possibilities of the future.'" Now as then. I hope I'm not being too partisan -- and if I am, come on and tell me -- but I heard almost the exact same words spoken today about President-Elect Obama. And I think the comparison is a helpful one as we explore Disraeli's life, and try to understand what obstacles he overcame.

Or am I crazy to be comparing the status of a Jew in 19th c. England -- with no history of indigenous violence against Jews (the Crusades having been many centuries before, and mostly not in England) -- with the position of Blacks in America only 150 years after slavery?

Agree? Disagree? Let us know.

 

Rahe

Message Edited by Choisya on 11-06-2008 05:43 AM
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Choisya
Posts: 10,782
Registered: ‎10-26-2006
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Re: Disraeli and Elections

What would it have been in 19th century England? A gathering of men in a town church or pub or other central location? Anyone know?

 

Polling booths in the UK have not changed very much since the limited enfranchisement of the early 19C (secret ballots were introduced in 1872).  They are set up by local government officials in the halls of churches, schools etc and are just long wooden tables divided by wooden screens. The tables have thick pencils tied to them by string and voting papers are handed out by officials.  You write your X  against the name of your chosen candidate(s) and place your folded ballot paper in a large, locked black box which is later transported to the local town hall for counting.   The elderly and infirm have had postal votes for some years and this facility has been extended to a larger proportion of the the population in recent times although this has caused problems with fraudulent representation. 

 

There have been  attempts to make polling booths more accessible by setting them up in supermarkets and other more central venues and experiments have been made with e- voting but so far the latter is unpopular.   Here is a nice little animation showing how the traditional polling booth process works in the UK.

 

(Congratulations to the US in achieving such a high turnout in a very well organised election - it was a tribute to democracy.  Turnouts here and in Europe generally have been very poor in recent years and I hope that we can learn from your success for our next election in 2 year's time.  It was particularly heartening to see so many young people involved in the election process.)   

 

 

 


Rahel wrote:

Dear Readers,

So it's election day, and having voted in record time -- I guess that 3:30 is the magic hour in my polling place -- I'm settled in with a cup of tea and Benjamin Disraeli while I anxiously await the beginning of the returns. I can't help but wonder what voting must have been like in his time. Here in Maryland we are voting on little ATM-like screens -- a big departure from the levers I've always used in NY and NJ. I must say that the levers were more satisfying. What would it have been in 19th century England? A gathering of men in a town church or pub or other central location? Anyone know?

Whatever it was, we've certainly come a long way, both in terms of how we vote and who votes. I keep thinking about Jonathan Rosen's characterization of Disraeli as an outsider -- funny name, looked different --  who nonetheless made it to the highest office. It may be difficult for us to consider just how "other" Jews were in 19th century England. But certainly in the contemporary literature, like Daniel Deronda and The Prime Minister which Adam mentions in his introduction, there is the idea that Jews look different from the rest of the population, are easily identified. Very different from what most Jews experience in the US, where we have to choose to make that part of our identities obvious (unless you share my name or one like it:smileyhappy:

 

What are you all thinking as you start the book?

 

Best, 

Rahel

 


 

Moderator
Rahel
Posts: 223
Registered: ‎08-06-2007
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Re: Disraeli an Anglican


Choisya wrote:

England -- with no history of indigenous violence against Jews (the Crusades having been many centuries before, and mostly not in England)

 

I regret to say that there has been a history of violence and discrimination against the Jews in England, as in Europe, and the Crusades were partly financed by taxing English JewsDisraeli was baptised and raised as an Anglican after the age of 12 by his Jewish father, who had quarrelled with the Rabbi of his synagogue. He could not have become a Member of Parliament in 1841 had he been a Jew as Jews were excluded from Parliament until 1858His accession as Prime Minister in 1868 was only possible because of enactment of the Jewish Disabilities Bill which repealed the law forbidding Jews to enter Parliament.   When Disraeli, as an MP, spoke to this Bill he argued that christianity was 'completed Judaism' and asked Parliament 'where is your Christianity if you do not believe in their Judaism'.    Disraeli suffered a great deal of 'jew baiting' both at school and in Parliament.

 

Jews here have certainly had a similar struggle to blacks as there has been a great deal of anti-semitism, as shown in quite a lot of English novels of the period (including Disraeli's),  and which came to a head in the rise of Mosley's Fascist Party in the 1930s and parallelled the rise of the Nazis. This did not abate until after the Holocaust when the world began to wake up to the evils of anti-semitism

 

Another point is that Jews have had the advantage of being able to assimilate and hide their identity, which a great many didbut blacks do not have this advantage and this perhaps has made their fight to gain status and equality lengthier. It has been commented that had President elect Obama been a full negro and not of mixed race, he might not have gained the Democratic Party nominationBeing of mixed race is perhaps a form of assimilationIt may also be significant that the UK have not had a Jewish Prime Minister since Disraeli and the US has never had a Jewish PresidentIs that fight still to be won?

 



 

Dear Choisya,

Thanks so much for your responses, and especially your comments about the history of anti-Semitism in England. You're right that it was a long and pervasive prejudice in England, going back to the first blood libel in Norwich in the 12th century. I was referring more to violence rather than discrimination, in a clumsy attempt to examine how we can compare racial prejudice in the US and anti-Semitism in England, and use each to shed a light on the other, especially for those of us who aren't familiar with the history in England, that it could help readers understand what the situation was like, but then I also wasn't sure how appropriate the comparison is. But I still think it is helpful, especially for Jewish readers who thankfully haven't faced anti-Semitism themselves, to use the lens of racism, which may be more familiar, to help explain what Disraeli overcame. But these are very messy things to talk about, and I didn't do it so well

 

On to your last point, I don't know when the US will finally elect a Jewish president -- Jews are, of course, a much smaller minority in the US than African-Americans, so in many ways it isn't surprising that an African-American has broken that barrier first. But on the other hand, Jews were an even smaller minority in England when Disraeli was elected, so that doesn't indicate much, I guess. And of course, the US still hasn't managed to elect a woman, and we are actually the majority! Will we elect a Jewish man before we get to a woman?

 

Rahel
Rahel
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Moderator
Rahel
Posts: 223
Registered: ‎08-06-2007
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Re: Disraeli and Elections

Choisya,

thanks also for the info on voting in Britain, and especially that fantastic video! It is wonderul that Britian does so much to make voting easy -- here in the US it is different in every state, and very confusing. Having just moved from NY to Maryland, it was an entirely different system here, and a voter who was less familiar with computers might have found the touch-screen very intimidating. The pamphlet that they mail out in advance doesn't do much to explain how the interface works. So I thought that cute little video was a great thing.

Thanks 

Rahel

Rahel
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Author
AdamKirsch
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Registered: ‎11-04-2008
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Re: Disraeli an Anglican

Choisya is certainly right that there is a long history of anti-semitism in England, as indeed there is everywhere in Europe. Still, I think it's possible to overstate the degree of prejudice Disraeli faced. It's true that Jews were not allowed to sit in Parliament until the oath "on the true faith of a Christian" was changed in 1858. But that oath was not introduced specifically to keep Jews out--it was, rather, a holdover from the early 18th century, when it was introduced to force MPs to swear allegiance to the Hanoverian dynasty (instead of the old Stuarts). Jews in England did not face the kind of legal discrimination they did in France or Germany--they were allowed to own land, testify in court, vote, and practice most professions. They were no worse off, in most ways, than Catholics, Dissenters, and other minority religious groups. And while there had been great violence against Jews in the middle ages in England, there was no modern tradition of anti-Jewish pogroms or riots, as there were in Eastern Europe. The comparison of Mosley's Fascist party to the Nazis tells the whole story--the Mosleyites were never more than a tiny splinter group, more laughed at than feared. So while Disraeli overcame a lot to become Prime Minister, it's only fair to note that he could only have done it in England.

 

 

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