Zola and the Jews

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An article from New York's "The Sun" newspaper, dated May 31, 1896.



Jews Are What Christians Have Made Them by Nineteen Centuries of Ill Treatment –
Their Superiority in Business Instinct Due to Christian Contempt for Money Dealing –
Now They Are on Top of the Heap, and Christians Must Try to Acquire Equal Skill –
Zola Preaches the Universal Brotherhood of Man

From Le Figaro

For some years I have been following the campaign that men are trying to carry on in France against Jews with increasing surprise and disgust. To me it has the appearance of a monstrosity. I mean something beyond common sense and any idea of truth and justice, a foolish and blind thing that would put us centuries back, a thing that would end in the worst of all abominations, a religious persecution, covering all countries with blood. And I wish to speak out.

In the first place, what is the accusation against Jews? For what are they blamed? Many persons, even friends of mine, say that they can't endure them, that they can't touch their hands without feeling their flesh creep with repugnance; it is a physical horror, the repulsion of one race for another, of the white man against the yellow man, of the red man against the black man.

I will not inquire whether there does not enter into this repugnance the distant anger of the Christian against the Jew who crucified his God, a whole secular inheritance of contempt and vengeance. After all, physical disgust is a good reason, the only reason even, for there is no answering people who say to you: "I hate them because I hate them, because the very sight of their noses puts me beside myself, because all my flesh revolts at feeling that they are different and opposed to me."

But really this reason of the hostility of one race against another is not enough. Let us turn back then to the depths of the woods; let us begin again the savage war of kind against kind; let us devour each other because we do not utter the same cry, and because our hair grows differently. The aim of civilization is precisely to do away with this savage need of falling upon our fellow man when he is not exactly like us. In the course of the ages the history of nations is nothing but a lesson of mutual tolerance, so that the ultimate dream is to lead them back to universal brotherhood, to confound them all in one common affection, in order to spare them all as much as possible of our common suffering.

photo: À Mrs. J. Fraenkel Sympathique souvenir. Paris, 12 janv. 1901. Emile Zola (autograph). From the NYPL Digital Gallery.

  Emile Zola.

And in our day to hate and to bite one another because our skulls are not constructed in exactly the same fashion begins to be considered the most monstrous of follies. I come to the serious accusation, which is above all a social one, and I sum up the indictment. I mark out the main lines in it. The Jews are accused of being a nation within the nation, of leading the life of a religious caste by themselves, and of being thus, without regard to boundaries, a sort of international sect, without a real country, capable some day, if they triumph, of seizing upon the world. The Jews marry among themselves, preserve very strict family bonds amid the modern laxity, sustain and encourage each other, and show in their isolation an extraordinary power of resistance and of slow conquest. But above all they are a practical and shrewd race; they have in their blood a desire for gain, a love for money, a wonderful business sense, which in less than a century have gathered into their hands enormous fortunes, and which seem to assure them of the royalty at a time when money is king.

And all that is true. Only when the statement of fact is made it must be explained. What must be added is that the Jews, such as they are today, are our handiwork, the product of our 1,800 years of imbecile persecution. They were enclosed in infamous quarters like lepers, and there is nothing astonishing in their living apart, preserving all their traditions, drawing closer the family bond, and remaining the conquered in the land of the conquerors. They have been struck, insulted, overwhelmed with injustice and violence, and there is nothing astonishing in their preserving in their hearts, even unconsciously, the hope of a distant requital, the will to resist, to preserve themselves, and to conquer. Above all, the field of money, which was despised, was contemptuously abandoned to them, making of them socially traders and usurers, and there is nothing astonishing in the fact that, when the reign of brute force gave way to the reign of intelligence and labor, they should have been found masters of capital, with their brains quickened and trained by centuries of heredity, ready to rule. And now, today, in terror before this work of our blindness, trembling at the sight of what the sectarian rage of the middle ages has made of the Jews, you can devise nothing better than to go back to the year 1000, to take up again persecution, to preach again the holy war, that the Jews may be pursued, despoiled, huddled together with rage in their souls, treated like a conquered people amid a conquering people. Really, you are intelligent fellows and have a fine conception of society!

What! There are more than two hundred millions of you Catholics, there are hardly five million Jews, and yet you tremble, you call in the police, you make a fearful noise in your alarm, as if swarms of plunderers had alighted on the country. There is courage for you!

It seems to me that the conditions of the struggle can be accepted. In the domain of business why not be as intelligent and as strong as they are? During the month that I frequented the Stock Exchange in order to get some idea of what it meant, a Catholic banker said to me, speaking of the Jews: "Oh, sir, they are superior to us, they will always beat us." If that were true it would be really humiliating. But why should it be true? Even if the gift does exist, labor and intelligence are capable of everything, all the same. I know some Christians who are very distinguished Jews. The field is free, and if they have had centuries in which to love money and to learn to earn it, all we have to do is to follow them into this field, to acquire their qualities, and to defeat them with their own arms. Yes, indeed, to stop insulting them uselessly, and to overcome them by becoming superior to them. Nothing can be more simple; it is the very law of life.

What a proud satisfaction must be theirs at the cry of distress you utter! That a small minority should make needful such a warlike display! Every morning you thunder at them, you sound the alarm in despair, as if the city were in danger of being taken by storm. To listen to you we should reestablish the Ghetto. We should have again the Jews' quarter, and close it at night with chains. This quarantine in our free and open cities would be a delightful thing. I understand why they should not be moved, and should continue to triumph in all our money markets. For insult is the legendary arrow that turns around and puts out the eye of the wicked bowman. Keep on persecuting them if you wish them to keep on conquering.

Persecution, really you have got no further than that. You still cling to the fine idea that people can be suppressed by persecution. Why, the contrary is true. No cause has grown great that was not watered with the blood of its martyrs. If there are still Jews, it's your fault. They would have disappeared, they would have melted away, if they had not been forced to defend themselves, to form groups apart, to hold obstinately to their race. And even nowadays their greatest power comes from you, who make it felt by exaggerating it. You can create dangers after all by shouting out every morning that they exist. If you steadily hold out to the people a scarecrow, you end by bringing into existence a real monster. Don't speak of them any more and they will no longer exist. The day that the Jew is no more than a man like the rest of us, he becomes our brother. And the right policy is marked out clearly, absolutely opposed to what you are doing. Open wide your arms, put into force socially the equality recognized by the law, take in the Jews, absorb them, and confuse them with the rest of us. Acquire their good qualities since they have them, put an end to race wars by mingling the races. Urge into marriage and leave to the children the case of reconciling the parents. That alone is the work of utility, of humanity, and liberty.

The anti-Semitic agitation in countries where it really means something is never any more than the weapon of a political party, or the result of a serious economic situation. But in France where it is not true that the Jews as men wish to persuade us, are absolute masters of power and of money, the anti-semitic agitation is nothing but a fad, with no root in the people. It required in order to create the appearance of a movement, which at bottom is nothing but noise, the passion of a few muddle brains in which is struggling a misguided sectarian Catholicism that attacks even the Rothschilds through a literary sophism, as the descendants of the Judas who gave up and crucified his God. And I will add that the need of some grounds for making a noise, the desire of being read, and of obtaining resounding notoriety, have not been strangers to this lighting and public heaping up of auto da fès, whose flames are purely theatrical.

And what a lamentable defeat in consequence, after so many long months, so many injuries, denunciations, Jews pilloried daily as thieves and assassins, Christians even made into Jews when they were to be attacked, the whole Jewish world chased, insulted, condemned, and nothing to show but noise, rude words, a display of low passion, but not an act, not the sign of riotous crowd, not a cracked skull, not a broken window! What a good-natured, wise, and decent people our ordinary Frenchmen must be not to listen to these daily appeals for a civil war, to preserve their reason amid these abominable incitements, this daily demand for Jewish blood. It is no longer on a priest that the newspaper breakfasts each morning, but on a Jew, the fattest and most florid that can be found. A breakfast as poor as the other, and certainly as stupid. And of all this there remains only the hideousness of the work, the most senseless and execrable that can be done, and luckily, too, the most useless, since the passersby in the street do not even turn their heads for it, but leave the madmen to struggle like devils in befouled holy water fonts.

The strange thing is that they pretend that they are engaged in an indispensable and holy task. Poor people, how I pity them if they are sincere. What a frightful account they will leave of themselves; the mass of error, falsehood, angry envy, exaggerated madness that they heap up day by day. If ever a critic steps into this mud hole he will recoil with horror on seeing that there was in it only religious passion and unbalanced intelligence. They will be nailed to the pillory of history like social malefactors whose crimes came to naught, only on account of the strange blindness with which they were committed.

That is what astounds me constantly, that such a renewal of fanaticism, such an attempt to bring on a religious war should have occurred in our time, in our great Paris, amid our good people, and that in a period of democracy, of universal tolerance, when there is a great movement everywhere toward equality, fraternity, and justice. We have come to the point of destroying boundaries, of dreaming of a community of peoples, of calling together Congresses of religions, in order that priests of all sects may embrace of feeling that we are all brothers in suffering, of wishing to save ourselves all from the misery of living by raising one altar to human pity, and here there is a handful of madmen, of idiots, or of intriguers who cry out to us every morning, "Let us kill the Jews, let us devour the Jews, let us massacre, exterminate, and go back to the stake and the dragonnades." They have chosen their time well; nothing could exceed the stupidity of this, were it not so abominable.

That there is a painful excess of riches in the hands of some Jews, is certainly true, but the same excessive accumulation exists also among some Catholics and some Protestants. To make use of a revolt of the people by making it serve a religious passion, to throw the Jew of all men as a prey to the complaints of the disinherited under the pretence that the man of money is being thrown to them is the mark of a hypocritical and lying socialism that must be denounced and branded.

If some day the law of labor is formulated, is rearranged in the interests of truth and of happiness, it will redeem all humanity, and it will matter little whether a man is a Jew or a Christian, for the accounts to be given will be the same and so will be likewise the new rights and the new duties. Oh, that human unity, in which we all should try to believe if we wish to have the courage to live and to preserve in the struggle some hope inn our heart: that is the still confused cry which little by little is making its way, becoming clear, and rising from all peoples, yearning for truth, justice, and peace. Let us put aside our hatreds, let us love each other in our towns and across our frontiers, let us strive to combine all races into one finally happy family, and granting that it may need thousands of years let us believe all the same in the final realization of love, and beginning at least by loving each other as much as the wretchedness of the present time will permit us, and let us leave madmen and wicked men to go back to the barbarity of the forests, they who believe that justice can be done by the knife. Let Jesus tell his exasperated disciples that he pardoned the Jews, and that they are human beings.









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