Readmit all: Menasseh Ben Israel's successful 1655 petition to Oliver Cromwell (insert) imploring him to allow Jews to live in England
In the course of reviewing Jonathan Sacks's most recent book, Theo Hobson referred to the "philo-Semitic mood within the UK's main religious culture". He meant to indicate by this contemporary Christianity, and his remark was offered as a commonplace — that is to say, as unexceptionable, and certain to receive ready acknowledgment from his TLS readers. And yet to many, myself included, the statement came as a surprise.
So far from rehearsing a piece of received wisdom, banally true and beyond challenge, Hobson's statement seemed utterly out of touch with the experience not just of the generality of British Jews but also of many non-Jews of good will sensitive to the relatively high levels of anti-Semitism in the culture generally. Were Hobson to be correct, the distinguished intellectual historian Gertrude Himmelfarb would be among those who would welcome his judgment; but it is much more likely that she would regard it with some scepticism. In the preface to The People of the Book, she writes of the ominous resurgence of anti-Semitism in England.
Himmelfarb generously cites my opinion, expressed in my own recent work, Trials of the Diaspora (2010), that English philo-Semitism is a "past glory". By this I mean that philo-Semitism, as an aspect of English public discourse, did not survive the passing of the 20th century. It continues to exist in private spaces, of course; it continues to be expounded, in more or less eccentric versions, in marginal public spaces. But as a living tradition, informed by an appreciation of Jewish history and culture, and a sentiment of regard for Jews and their interests and concerns, it is no more.