Whether in the Black-Irish tension of the movie Gangs of New York, the poetry of Amiri Baraka, libelling Jews as absent from the World Trade Center on September 11, or the tendency of the Irish Republican Army to align itself with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the images of the past few years feature antagonism between separate groups. This differs markedly from the way that the groups themselves previously constructed such relations.
Blacks, Jews and Irish regularly associated themselves with each other in a positive sense to a much larger degree than we now suppose, while their external critics lumped the groups together in a negative sense. Racist pseudoscientists of the day regularly viewed all of them as inferior races, and would jump from one to the other often on the same page or even in the same paragraph. Correspondingly, Black Nationalist thinkers liked to invoke the Zionist movement as a positive model for Africans or African-Americans, and leading Zionists paid tribute to the leaders and strategists of Irish nationalism.
One road into what we have forgotten begins with the tour of famine-struck Ireland by Frederick Douglass, the anti-slavery campaigner and Lincolns adviser during the Civil War. So thoroughly has this episode been erased from current- consciousness that in several years of lectures and discussions in the classroom and at scholarly conferences, I have never met anyone in North America (and only a few in Ireland) who even knew that Douglass made such a tour.
Certainly, no one would learn of it from such now canonical sources as The Norton Anthology of American Literature or The Norton Anthology of Afro-American Literature, the first of which fails to mention Douglasss trip altogether and the second of which misdescribes it as a tour of England. Nor does either reprint anything of Douglasss moving accounts of his experiences there. Yet in late 1845 and early 1846 Douglass did make an anti-slavery lecture tour of what was then Britain, building momentum as he moved from four months in Ireland and five in Scotland to his culminating success in England. Along the way he contributed regular accounts of the tour William Lloyd Garrisons journal The Liberator, which carried on its masthead at the time the motto Our Country is the World - Our Countrymen All Mankind.
What Douglass said on the tour sounds even more surprising to us now, conditioned by expectations of separateness and resentment, than the fact that he barnstormed through the then British Isles at all. In one article the dregradation of Irish oppression astonished him into a new outlook on the anti-slavery struggle:
The fact that Douglass says this and many similar things shows how closley irish and Black cuases oculd be linke din the nineteenth century, just as Douglasss invocation of Psalm 137 in his 1852 speech The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro invokes parallels to Jewish exile and enslavement:
In linking Black, Jewish and Irish suffering and oppression, Douglass was not exceptional for his age. George Eliots last major novel, Daniel Deronda (1876), foreshadows the themes of the following half-century. References to African Americans, especially to the slave platnations of the West INdies and to the Civil War in the United STates, do t the novel, though as often overlooked by the characters themselves as by the readers. Eliot tells us at the start that Gwendolen had no notion how her maternal grandfather got the fortune inherited by his two daughters as a white plantation owner in the West Indies, and a few chapters later reiterates that it had never occurred to her to inquire into the conditions of colonial property and banking, on whihc, as she had many opportunities of knowing, the family fortune was dependent.
These references culminate in the dispute between the Gentile Grandcourt and the Jewish Deronda about the brutal suppression of the Jamaican slave rebellion by Governor Edward Eyre in 1865 that echoed throughout England: Grandcourt held that the Jamaican Negro was a beastly sort of Baptist Caliban; Deronda said he had felt a little with Caliban, who naturally had his own point of view and could sing a good song. Derondas sly inversion of the Caliban isue eerily prefigures a characteristic move of contemporary postcolonial theory in valorising the subordinate Other; here it tellingly reinforces the Black-Jewish connections to the novels subtext.
Eliots friendship with Harriet Beecher Stowe might have encouraged her to insert references to the American Civil War into this proto-Zionist novel. They, too, begin early in the book, but they multiply near the end in Derondas impassioned speech to Gwendolen of his commitment to restoring a political existence to my people, making them a nation again, giving them a national centre, such as the English have. Eliot interrupts that account to invoke the dire clash of civil war in the United States as a time when submission of the soul to the Highest is tested.
Just as Daniel Deronda calls up Jewish-Black associations of its time, so does it summon Jewish-Irish ones, even if of an occasionally stereotypical sort. When the supreme Jewish musician Klesmer reverts to Germanic intonations, the narrator immediately invokes the simile as Irishmen resume their strongest brogue when they are fervid or quarrelsome. The links can be sexual as well as political: Grandcourts early paramour, Mrs Glasher, had eloped with him from her marriage to an Irish army officer. And they can be national. When Mordecai brings Daniel to the discussion at his Philosophers Club, Deronda discovers that most of the members are Jewish, but that Croope, the dark-eyed shoe-maker was probably more Celtic than he knew.
George Eliots great essay on anti-Semitism, The Modern Hep! Hep! Hep!, was published shortly after Daniel Deronda in her collection Impressions of the Theophrastus Such. On one page she first invokes the Black-Jewish analogy:
After that fiery passage, Eliot turns her attention to discrimination against Irish Catholics too, again invoking a parallel to treatment of the Jews:
Eliot connects the dots astutely here, moving easily among complex topics. She also tends to concentrate on the religious element, just at the moment when European anti-Semitism began to develop a pseudo-respectable scientific racial rationale to augment the traditional religious one. The term anti-Semitism was invented by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr only a year later (1879) to describe the racial orientation as part of his creation of the first Anti-Semitic League, which led to the growth of explicitly anti-Semitic parties throughout Europe. But the religious component of Black, Jewish and Irish linkages took primacy for a long time.
Most important was the story of the Exodus from Egypt, which became a foundational trope in the growth of Irish, Black and of course Jewish nationalisms. The story of Moses leading the enslaved children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt into freedom in Canaan had for centuries represented liberation of the spirit from things of this world and a turning of the soul from idolatry towards God. In Dantes Purgatorio, to take one of myriad examples, the saved souls sing the 114th Psalm (In exitu Israel de Aegypto) as their boat reaches the mountain of their salvation. Late nineteenth-century nationalisms favoured instead the political allegory. Comparison of leaders to Moses and the ancient Hebrews to modern Irish, Blacks and Jews electrified adherents and helped to attract more. James Joyce inscribes in Ulysses one of the most famous speeches of the modern Irish Nationalist movement, the orator John F. Taylors crucial comparison of the modern Irish and ancient Jewish causes. Despite the overt anti-Semitism of some Nationalist leaders (chief among them Arthur Griffith and Maud Gonne), Taylors sympathetic parallel between Jews and Irish struck the more normative note. Ironically, the actual speech was never printed and exists now only in multiple versions, among them those given by Joyce in his novel, by W. B. Yeats in his autobiography, and by The Freemans Journal the day after its delivery in 1901. Taylors speech touches the key tropes of deliverance from bondage to a mighty enemy, independence for a beleaguered people, and the importance of a charismatic leader that would animate Irish, Black and Jewish nationalisms and link them to each other.
When the Irish leader Charles Stewart Parnell died in 1891, the young Yeats immediately vented his grief in a poem called Mourn - and Then Onward! which invokes the Mosaic analogy developed more fully by Taylor. The sentiments are impeccable, though not the technique, and Yeats later wisely omitted the lyric from his collected works:
Yeatss association of Irish and Jewish themes would shortly blossom into endorsement of the Zionist project, not least because of his indignation at the English historian Amold Toynbees famous assignment of the Jewish and Irish national movements to the dust heap of history, and description of living members of those groups as fossils. During an American lecture tour in early 1920 near the height of the Irish struggle against the English, Yeats issued a supportive statement to the Palestine restoration fund committee. He clearly had one eye on the situation in Ireland, and much of his endorsement transfers readily to his hopes for his homeland.
The notion of a special sympathy between Blacks and Jews because of their respective suffering was commonplace a century ago and articulated by intellectual leaders and the popular press of both groups. The same affinity with the Exodus story is evident, in the moving rhythms of African-American spirituals sung in the slave South. Part of an oral tradition, these songs first made their way into print at the start of the nineteenth century in a collection by a Black church leader. They focused often on the travails of the children of Israel during the Exodus. Those parallels also pervade the Harlern Renaissance, for example, whose landmark anthology of 1925 The New Negro proclaimed that Harlem has the same role to play for the New Negro as Dublin has had for the New Ireland. Zora Neale Hurston based her novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain (1939), on a triple analogy with ancient Hebrews in bondage in Egypt, African Americans in the slave South, and Jews trapped in Nazi Germany.
Theodore Henry Shackelford, the grandson of escaped slaves who followed the underground railway through the Northern free states all the way into Canada, was born in 1888 in Windsor, Ontario, and produced two books of poetry before his death in 1923. His second collection, My Country and Other Poems, included the poem The Big Bell in Zion, which became his best-known work when James Weldon Johnson included it in his landmark anthology The Book of American Negro Poetry (1922). In his preface to the original edition, Johnson argued that What the coloured poet in the United States needs to do is something like what Synge did for the Irish; he needs to find a form that will express the racial spirit by symbols from within rather than by symbols from without.
Affiliation between Black and Jewish liberations did not stop with ancient Israel and nineteenth-century African Americans, nor with songs of freedom and biblical tropes. They extended as well into practical politics and political philosophy, particularly the interweaving of African nationalism and Zionism as twin causes. That conception informs the work of Edward Blyden (1832-1912), whom The Oxford Companion to African American Literature describes as the most important Affican thinker of the nineteenth century. Bom in St Thomas in the Caribbean, Blyden made his way first to America and eventually to Liberia and Sierra Leone, where he had a successful career as a journalist, writer and politician, serving eventually as Liberian Secretary of State and then, ambassador to the Court of St Jamess among other distinguished posts. The Exodus analogy was central to this thought. He wrote, The Negro Leader of the exodus, who will succeed, will be a Negro of Negroes, like Moses was a Hebrew of the Hebrews - even if brought up in Pharaohs palace he will be found. ....
Though sketched by rare scholars like Hollis Lynch and Paul Gilroy, the importance of Jews and Zionism to Blyden goes unmentioned in major anthologies and reference books such as The Oxford Companion. Blyden himself, however, had no doubts of a lifelong affinity and in his pamphlet The Jewish Question, written at the end of the century, he extolled that marvellous movement called Zionism.
Texts from the first quarter of the twentieth century that both champion specific groups and call for interracial cooperation include the writings of the Zionist leader Israel Zangwill, the Black nationalist thinkers W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. and finally a crucial scene in James Joyces Ulysses. Now largely forgotten, Zangwill was once an important Zionist leader. He was also the author of a now little-performed, or read, play whose title survives in a phrase that pops up in nearly all interracial and intergroup discussions: The Melting Pot. It is popular today to denounce the play (without reading it) as favouring suppression of individual groups by a dominant culture. But Zangwill intended just the opposite, arguing in an afterword that The process of American amalgamation is not assimilation or simple surrender to the dominant type, as is popularly supposed, but an all-round give-and-take by which the final type may be enriched or impoverished. He carefully wrote into the play the transformation of initial hostility between the Irish maid Kathleen and the elderly Jewish Frau Quixano into fervent mutual loyalty. He also made sure to associate the anti-Semitic bigots with anti-Black sentiments as well, and to denounce the practice of lynching. In the afterword, he presented himself as a Zionist leader and paralleled the Jewish immigrants as the toughest of all the white elements that have been poured into the crucible to amalgamate the African Americans, for whom he predicted that even the Negrophobia is not likely to remain eternally at its present barbarous pitch. Zangwills views fit well with those of Herzi, who as we saw also associated Zionism with both Irish and Black causes.
The Pan-African leader who most emphasized the triangle of Black, Jewish and Irish causes was Marcus Garvey. Born in Jamaica in 1887, Garvey became the most famous Black nationalist of his time, especially after setting up his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and moving its headquarters to Harlem. Though increasingly given to antiSemitic outbursts about Jews and economics, he regularly praised both Zionism and Irish Nationalism as political movements and upheld them as ideals for Black liberation movements as well. Garvey vibrated deeply to the tropes of Exodus and Moses; to this day, one of the best biographies of him is called Black Moses, and his followers regularly made that comparison. A Garvey supporter in South Africa in 1919 observed that Africans have the same confidence in Marcus Garvey which the Israelites had in Moses. The Universal Negro Improvement Association is no joke, Garvey wrote that same year. It is as serious a movement as the movement of the Irish today to have a free Ireland, as the determination of the Jew to recover Palestine. Garvey would echo those sentiments repeatedly, even obsessively. And when UNIA held its first convention in Madison Square Garden in 1920, Garvey began his rousing remarks by reading first a telegram of congratulation from the Zionist leader Louis Michael that said As a Jew, a Zionist and a Socialist I join heartily and unflinchingly in your historical movement for the reclamation of Africa.
After Garvey designed the black, red and green Pan-African flag still often seen at Black Power or Black nationalist rallies, he repeatedly indicated that the green stood for Ireland, which he saw as the first British colony to gain independence in the twentieth century and as a model for African aspirations. Zionist leaders paid homage to the Irish, too. For example, while fighting the British in Palestine, Yitzhak Shamir, later Prime Minister of Israel, adopted the code name Michael in tribute to the Irish guerrilla leader Michael Collins.
The confluence of Irish, Jewish and Black nationalisms reaches one high watermark in Ulysses, with its continual inscriptions of Zionism, Irish nationalism and minority liberation of all kinds, right from that first chapter with Stephen and Buck Mulligan in the Martello tower through to the end of Mollys soliloquy. They cluster most thickly in Chapter Twelve, Cyclops, where the problematic Irish Jew Leopold Bloom encounters in a pub the even more problematic narrow Nationalist known in the novel as the Citizen and based on the historical Michael Cusack, founder of the Gaelic Athletic Association. As the scene builds to its violent confrontation, our familiar triangle emerges. I have argued in a recent book called Material Modernism: The politics of the Page that Joyce expanded the parallels and allusions to Irish, Jewish and Black causes as he continually revised this scene and others in the process of composition. One epitome of that comes in the late invocation of the song now beginning if the man in the moon was a jew, jew, jew. Originally, Joyce had referred instead to the Irish Nationalist ballad The Boys of Wexford before revising that to the current line about Jews, which itself contains a major Joycean intentional error. The chorus to the actual hit song began instead, If the Man in the moon were a coon, coon, coon. Joyces successive revisions, then, from Boys of Wexford through coon, coon, coon to jew, jew, jew provide an archaeology of links between Irish. Jewish and Black liberation.
The antagonism which Joyce seeks to counter has its crescendo earlier In the scene, when the Citizen challenges Blooms claims to be an Irishman rather than a half and half, by saying insultingly, What is your nation if I may ask?. Bloom responds with the note of simple humanity that Seamus Heaney, in his wonderful poem Traditions, cited in reference to the Troubles in Northern Ireland: Ireland, says Blook. Bloom. I was born here. Ireland. But the Citizen and his cronies refuse Blooms claims and provoke him to identify with Jewry:
[Edited version of longer piece to appear in Modernism/Modernity later in the year.]