Jane Austen’s important lesson for the anti-Israel lobby

Jane Austen
Jane Austen

As someone who takes a more-than-casual interest in anti-Israel bias, I often wonder how so many people – often Jewish people; often decent, thoughtful, compassionate people – have been sucked into anti-Zionism, AKA anti-Israel prejudice.

I often wonder what has prompted such people to align themselves with a campaign – and it is a campaign – essentially aimed at removing the Jewish homeland from the map?

Obviously, I am not wondering about the motivation of the hard-line (and possibly paid) ideologues on the Left nor even people of Muslim heritage, but the “useful idiots.” The men and women who enthusiastically sign up to BDS; who join marches with banners reading “We are all Hamas Now;” who write letters to newspapers; who edit Guardian headlines to put an anti-Israeli spin on a story; or who are just casually anti-Israel, making jokes about “letters addressed to ‘the occupier’” that must be “for the Israel man next door.”

Somehow, these otherwise decent, often intelligent men and women have entirely failed to realise that their activities actually do almost nothing to help Palestinians; that very far from putting them on the moral high-ground, these activities are fuelling antisemitism and serving the geo-political objectives of Iran, having formerly served the geo-political objectives of the Arab states and the Soviet Union.

But because they “know” Israel is the “evil occupier” they feel justified in being anti-Israeli. Having just re-read “Pride & Prejudice,” I think I can see the mechanism that leads people to this kind of extreme prejudice. And following this epiphany, I’m recruiting Jane Austen to be an advocate for Israel.

I realise the notion of Austen as a defender of Israel is bizarre, not least because she’s been dead for almost 200 years and may not have been especially well-disposed towards Jews. It’s also a little random, as there is no “hook” such as a Jane Austen anniversary. But I believe the great British novelist perfectly understood the nature of prejudice and would see how anti-Israel prejudice has been widely generated through deliberate falsification.

She would also see how, once established, it could flourish and be amplified through ignorance of facts; through antisemitism and through other factors with which she would have to be familiarised, such as media bias, Twitter, Facebook and the cultural echo-chamber.

The idea that Austen would understand the mechanics of anti-Israel prejudice came to me after I re-read – or more accurately listened to – “Pride & Prejudice”.  By listening, I found myself understanding more clearly Austen’s elucidation of prejudice, how it is initially constructed and then effortlessly perpetuated.

The prejudice in “Pride & Prejudice” is, of course, directed against Mr D’Arcy and arises after handsome, dashing Captain Wickham spins Austen’s heroine Lizzie Bennett a tale of his misfortunes and agonies, and claims to have been ill- treated and callously disinherited by Mr D’Arcy.

In case this analogy of how prejudice is created – and perpetuated –  is too subtle, please feel free to think of Mr D’Arcy as Israel; of Captain Wickham as the Palestinians, and of Lizzie Bennett – entirely taken in by Wickham – as “The Media” or “World Opinion”.

Lizzie believes Wickham’s story – or narrative – as it has sufficient truth to make it credible. It also cleverly feeds into her existing mild prejudice against Mr D’Arcy provoked by an uncomplimentary comment by D’Arcy which she has overheard. For Lizzie, therefore, Wickham’s narrative is not only credible but establishes the “fact” that Mr D’Arcy is “cruel” and “vengeful.,” leading Lizzie to develop a profound enmity towards Mr D’Arcy. (Perhaps we could call it anti-D’Arcyism).

This aversion to D’Arcy is “confirmed” by everything Lizzie subsequently hears about him and is further fuelled by a misunderstanding of his actions with regard to her sister. Indeed, she is so convinced of Mr D’Arcy’s iniquity, that she tells all her family and friends how cruelly and badly he treated Wickham, influencing them to be “anti-D’Arcy,” too.

In the novel, of course, Lizzie discovers, that Wickham’s omissions, half-truths and carefully concealed misdeeds explain, and even justify, all of Mr D’Arcy’s actions –  even those that had appeared, without truth or context, quite harsh. She realises she had been prejudiced against Mr D’Arcy by a series of lies, libels and omissions.

Sadly, unlike Lizzie Bennett who realises that she has been deliberately deceived and that Mr D’Arcy was libelled and traduced by George Wickham, the anti-Israel lobby – including great swathes of the media – remain steadfastly deluded.

They fail to see how they have been taken in by Wickham-type lies and omissions. They fail to see Israel’s actions – even those that seem harsh – as the actions of a nation fighting for its existence against enemies who aim to wipe it off the map militarily, and now use “prejudice” in the hope, ultimately, of influencing policy.

I am therefore suggesting “Pride & Prejudice” should be compulsory reading (or re-reading) for all BBC newsroom staff; for some at The Guardian and

The Royal Court Theatre and for all who harbour anti-Israel feelings in the mistaken belief they are occupying the moral high-ground. Oh yes, and Spanish translations of “Pride & Prejudice” should be sent to every member of the Barcelona municipality.


About the Author
Jan Shure held senior editorial roles at the Jewish Chronicle for three decades. and previously served as deputy editor of the Jewish Observer. She is an author and freelance writer and wrote regularly for the Huffington Post until 2018. In 2012 she took a break from journalism to be a web entrepreneur.