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Jew’ve Come a Long Way? Not So Much, Says Diana’s Lawyer

January 31, 2010

Outrunning the past? Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and "Lord Lindsey" (Nigel Havers) in "Chariots of Fire."

Anthony Julius, lawyer to Diana of Wales, wrote in the London Times this week that his work for the misunderstood princess exposed him to “a subtle form of anti-Semitism that I had neither expected nor experienced at any previous time in my life.” Anglofiles stumbled around this minefield recently, in a post touching on Einstein, Orwell and Anglo-American newsman Roger Cohen, but failed to nail any specifics to her sense (and Cohen’s) that anti-Semitism persists in Britain in ways no longer tolerated this side of the pond.

Julius’s account, along with mordant insights into Diana’s character, offers the beginnings of a map. An outcast representing an outcast was how newspapers tended to characterize Diana’s choice of counsel in profiling him during her divorce proceedings. Julius recalls almost universal, but glancing, newsprint references to his tribal affiliation. But vague musings on his Jewishness turned to flagrant racial stereotyping in a profile by the conservative Daily Telegraph in July, 1996, that followed the divorce settlement.

Prince Charles’s lawyer, royal-family retainer Fiona Shackleton, was known for a “conciliatory approach,” the Telegraph reported, continuing,

“Unfortunately, her softly-softly approach is at odds with the more bullish attitude of the princess’s solicitor. Anthony ‘Genius’ Julius, 39, is not a divorce lawyer but a specialist in media law, acting for Robert Maxwell and once employed by the Daily Mail.

“His background could not be further from the upper-class world inhabited by his opposite number. He is a Jewish intellectual and Labour supporter and less likely to feel restrained by considerations of fair play.

“‘I’d be very worried if I were the royal family,’ says a Cambridge don who taught him. ‘He’ll get lots of money out of them’.”

Where to start? With “bullish,” “intellectual” (why not “cosmopolitan”?), and “he’ll get lots of money”? With the client Maxwell, a publishing titan, who was of course Jewish. Or with the anonymous (!) don, who could have been quoting his fictional forebears in Chariots of Fire. In their discussion of the extraordinary (and not fictional) scholar-athlete Harold Abrahams, one college master sniffs to another regarding the profession of Abrahams père, “Financier? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I imagine he lends money,” drawls his colleague. Even the college’s chief porter has an opinion of the young Jew’s inclinations. “What’s your friend studying,” he asks Abrahams’s sidekick, eyebrows raised. “Backroom law?”

The admirably thick-skinned Julius (author of several scholarly works on anti-Semitism*) took a mostly superior view to the Telegraph‘s slight. When an abashed editor phoned to offer a correction, Julius advised the paper to “do what it liked.” The half-hearted print apology that followed proved the slurs to have shown, he says, “an edgy, easily embarrassed anti-Semitism — quick to run for cover …

For Anglo-Jewry in general, anti-Semitism is the background noise against which we make our lives. Almost always barely audible, one then must strain to detect it, although very occasionally it irrupts into a dissonant, heart-stopping din. The question of the extent of my experience of anti-Semitism, then, is perhaps best answered thus: just enough.

Julius’s insights about Diana are likewise sharp (if you’ll excuse the term). He recalls her regret at having married into “a German family,” a statement inviting several possible interpretations. Was it an affinity for Jewish victimhood? Certainly, Diana had learned from her earliest days with “The Firm” at Buckingham Palace what it meant to feel alienated. Did it reflect the post-World-War resentment of her parents’ generation? (Before the war, British aristocrats had admired their Teuton neighbors, of course. It was the French they couldn’t abide — and, of course, the Communists.)

More likely, the author suggests, it was Diana’s famed empathy at work, and a worldview fogged by the social wind tunnel in which she’d been reared. “Under-educated in the approved style of her class and gender,” he writes, she operated more on gut instinct than knowledge:

She had a strong desire to please, to leave her interlocutor happy, but often without quite understanding what that person was “about”. She was intuitive, but not always accurate in her assessments of people. Sometimes she went wildly wrong — not just in the big things, but also in odd misreadings of moods or sentiments… She was interested in Jews but had no idea about them, save that Jewish men (she had heard) were more likely than the men of her own class and background to treat women decently. She was happy to take Jews to be hostile to everything to which she herself was hostile… [S]he had a tendency to esteem a thing just because it was not part of her world — even more if it was excluded by her world. She herself was not quite of that world, but did not belong to any other either.

In her choice of Julius, one has to admire, in the end, Diana’s steadfast, perhaps naive, trust in anyone offering stability in her topsy-turvy life. Julius first represented her in a lawsuit over surreptitious photos taken of Diana at the gym. When both Charles and his mother later demanded a divorce, she turned to this proven advocate with a dewy but determined faith:  “I told her that it would be my first divorce case. She replied that it didn’t matter — this would also be her first divorce.”

*NOTE: Updated 2/1/10 to reflect Julius’s research on anti-Semitism and also to correct the reference to him as a barrister. He is a solicitor.

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