Thursday, November 15, 2012

How Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister, Dealt with Anti-Semitism

Nadene Goldfoot
Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) was the British Prime Minister at a time that I have been doing a lot of genealogy searches of my family.  As it turns out, he was born into a Jewish family.  He had grown up in a house full of books and simply devoured them.  His father was a literary critic and historian.  So it was inevitable that he grew up to be one of the most articulate leaders of his age.

He wrote a novel when only 22 years old about corruption in high society.  It became a best seller, but critics, not his father necessarily, treated it as trash, causing him to have a nervous breakdown.  He recovered later around the age of 27.  You could say he was a sensitive person.

His father's way of dealing with the prevailing anti-Semitism was to have Benjamin baptised into Christianity at the age of 12.  However, at the age of 26 and feeling better, he took a trip to the Middle East to explore his Jewish roots where he embraced his Jewish identity.  

Later on he was elected as a Tory, a name for a Conservative Party member.  He was a man that was able to use his erudition, wit and sharp tongue to deal with critics, while rarely losing his poise.  One day he was attacked by an Irish Catholic leader, Daniel O'Connell for being Jewish.  Disraeli responded calmly, "when the right honorable gentleman's ancestors lived in bogs and painted themselves blue, mine were high priests in the Temple of Solomon."  He did have chutzpah!

What a great answer to someone who hated Jews for being Jews.  Queen Victoria liked him, though and had offered him the chance to form a new government.  In 1874 he took over as prime minister for the 2nd time. He's well known for stopping the Russian expansion and overcame the refusal of his Conservative Party to provide strong opposition to the Liberal Party.  His lesson he gave to people was to look at ways to broaden your appeal to other audiences.  He said that circumstances are the creatures of men.  I guess he thought man could also change those circumstances.

Resource:  Investor's Business Daily 11/15/12 by Scott S. Smith "Benjamin disraeli, Prime for British Achievement

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