George Washington (Wikimedia Commons/W Kennedy/https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en)
Over the past two columns, I have shared with you quotes – profound, sublime and humorous – about what Jews have said about Jews.
Well, Jews don’t have the monopoly in this department. Today we are going to look at what some non-Jews have said about the Jews. A note of caution: looking online for quotes about Jews can be a gamble. It won’t be a surprise that there is a lot of very nasty stuff out there. Some of these pernicious quotes are dubious; unfortunately, many more are quite genuine. You already know those tropes and you won’t find them in this column.
Let’s start with this lovely one:
“…If statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one per cent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of stardust lost in the blaze of the Milky way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvellous fight in this world, in all the ages; and had done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it.”
Mark Twain, Concerning The Jews, Harper’s Magazine, 1899
(For the record, Jews currently only make up about 0.2 per cent of the human race.)
“This people are not eminent solely by their antiquity, but are also singular by their duration, which has always continued from their origin till now … in spite of the endeavours of many powerful kings who have a hundred times tried to destroy them.”
Blaise Pascal, French Mathematician (1623-1662)
Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859) was a British historian and Whig politician. Notably, his maiden speech in Parliament was in favour of abolishing the “civil disabilities” (legal restrictions and limitations) placed of the Jews in the UK.
“In the infancy of civilization, when our island was as savage as New Guinea, when letters and arts were still unknown to Athens, when scarcely a thatched roofed hut stood on what was later the site of Rome, this contemned people had their fenced cities and cedar palaces, their splendid Temple, their fleets of merchant ships, their schools of sacred learning, their great statesmen and soldiers, their natural philosophers, their historians and their poets.”
Thomas B. Macaulay, English statesman, 1833
Perhaps the most famous quotation from a politician about Jews is from George Washington’s Letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, 1790
“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Writing at MyJewishLearning.com, Michael Feldberg does a great job telling the story behind the letter, history has Moses Seixas to thank. Seixas was the warden of Congregation Kahal Kadosh Yeshuat Israel, better known as the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. Seixas had written a letter to welcome Washington to his city. Feldberg writes that “the congregation expressed its pleasure that the God of Israel, who had protected King David, had also protected General Washington and that the same spirit which resided in the bosom of Daniel and allowed him to govern over the ‘Babylonish Empire’ now rested upon Washington.” It was Washington’s gracious response to Seixas that made history.
By the way, there is a much less complimentary quote attributed to George Washington floating in the jetsam of the web. He is quoted as saying that Jews were a dangerous scourge who should be “hunted down as pests to society and [are] the greatest enemies we have to the happiness of America.” Thank you Snopes.com for researching – and debunking – this quote. If you are not familiar with Snopes, I suggest that you bookmark and visit this excellent fact-checking site whenever you come across something on the web whose veracity seems a bit off.
“Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.”
Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain
“The rise in anti-Semitism across Europe should be alarming to all of us, and not just for moral reasons. History shows that the mindset which embraces anti-Semitism rarely restricts its hatred to the Jewish minority. Today’s threats against Europe’s Jewish populations are both different and more diverse than those in the past.”
Stephen Harper, Former Prime Minister of Canada, 2018
We’re told to go on living our lives as usual, because to do otherwise is to let the terrorists win, and really, what would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?
Ellen DeGeneres, actor and host
I started this column by saying that I would not be focusing on slanderous things that have been written about the Jews. But I feel that I cannot forego sharing with you this classic tale of the Jew who was obsessed with reading just that.
Rabbi Altmann and his secretary were sitting in a coffeehouse in Berlin in 1935. “Herr Altmann,” said his secretary, “I notice you’re reading Der Stürmer! I can’t understand why. A Nazi libel sheet! Are you some kind of masochist, or, God forbid, a self-hating Jew?”
“On the contrary, Frau Epstein. When I used to read the Jewish papers, all I learned about were pogroms, riots in Palestine, and assimilation in America. But now that I read Der Stürmer, I see so much more: that the Jews control all the banks, that we dominate in the arts, and that we’re on the verge of taking over the entire world. You know – it makes me feel a whole lot better!”