For Election Day: The famous 1961 debate over the claim that the 'Jews are a fossil race'

The debate between historian Dr. Arnold Toynbee,and Israeli Amb to Canada Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Herzog as an accompaniment to elections. Op-ed.

Ezequiel Doiny ,

Kotel swearing in ceremony
Kotel swearing in ceremony
United Hatzalah

Recently, Melanie Phillips wrote in an article posted on Arutz 7 "...The controversy started with a tweet by the Labour Party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, congratulating the new head of the Scottish Labour Party, Anas Sarwar, on his appointment. Rayner described Sarwar, who is of Pakistani descent, as “the first-ever ethnic minority leader of a political party anywhere in the U.K.”

Sarwar is certainly the first Muslim or Asian leader of a political party. But there have been four Jewish party leaders in the United Kingdom—from Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli in the 19th century to Labour Party leader Ed Miliband in the last decade.

...This erupted on the BBC’s daily show, “Politics Live,” which chose to respond to protests from British Jews over Rayner’s remark by hosting a discussion with a title card: “Should Jews count as an ethnic minority?”

To many Jews, even to ask this question was demonstrably absurd. How could they not be counted as such? And why were non-Jews suddenly presuming to tell Jews what they were or were not?

Yet not only was there a nine-minute discussion about this on the show involving four non-Jews and one Jew, but this quickly piled much more offence on top of Rayner’s original tweet.

Asked whether the first ethnic minority leader was Sarwar or Benjamin Disraeli, Labour peer Lord Wood demurred on the basis that Disraeli had converted to Christianity. This elicited a protest from the one Jew on the panel, the chief executive of Pink News Benjamin Cohen, who observed that while someone can reject the Jewish faith he cannot alter his ethnic identity as a Jew.

...Responding to the row after the show, the BBC’s head of politics, Rob Burley, tweeted: “According to the Government—not Politics Live!—Jews aren’t an ethnic group in the UK.”

He followed this up by linking to a government page that lists 18 ethnic groups recommended for official use when asking about someone’s ethnicity.

Jews aren’t included in that list. However, the site makes clear that the government had considered adding “Roma, Sikh, Jewish and Somali ethnic groups” to the 2021 census. In other words, there were reasons why Jews and other ethnicities weren’t included; it’s not that they weren’t actually deemed to be ethnic groups.

As editor of The Jewish Chronicle Stephen Pollard furiously observed, Jews haven’t been included on the census in part because memories of the Holocaust have led to an instinctive fear of such official categorization..."

Back to the 1961 debate

The claims that Jews are not an ethnic minority are not new, I would like to describe a debate that happened in 1961 at Montreal's McGill University and became world famous - what we today would call viral - with recordings still existing. It was between the famous historian Dr. Arnold Toynbee, professor at the London School of Economics, and Israeli Ambassador to Canada Rabbi Dr. Yaakov Herzog. Herzog's brother, Chaim Herzog, would later become the sixth president of Israel. He was also the son of the second Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yitzhak Herzog.

The debate probed among other topics whether Jews today are a vibrant continuation of a people rooted in antiquity. Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau describes the debate in which Toynbee described the Jews as a fossil race.

"Dr. Toynbee insisted that Israel is not truly a nation, and does not deserve a state. The Jews, he claimed, are a religious sect with a mission to guide mankind in monotheism, morals and ethics in the Diaspora, but are not a nation. Permit me to use an imaginary voyage to develop a point made by Dr. Herzog."

Rabbi Lau continued with the following:

An Olympic aircraft lands at Athens airport, and a customs official asks an elderly passenger the purpose of his visit.

“I’m Socrates, and I’ve come back to see my hometown.” The excited official tries to converse with him; they both speak Greek but have no common language, so they call a translator.

Socrates asks, “Can I see the Acropolis?”

“Sorry, it’s in ruins.”

“The Temple of Zeus?”

“There’s no Temple of Zeus here. We have a Greek Orthodox Church, but it’s Christian. We have no Neptune, no Mars, no Aphrodite, no Helen. Only Christianity.”

There's no Temple of Zeus here. We have a Greek Orthodox Church, but it's Christian. We have no Neptune, no Mars, no Aphrodite, no Helen. Only Christianity

“How many countries are under Greece?”

“None. Greece is a small country in NATO.”

“What do we excel in? The Marathon? The Olympics? Philosophy?”

“Sorry, Sir, none of the above. The only thing we have in common with the Greece of Aristotle or Plato is geography.”

An Alitalia flight stops at the Fiumicino airport near Rome, and an old fellow deplanes. A customs official approaches him.

“Your name, please?”

“Julius Caesar. Veni, vidi vici.”

“May I help you?”

Caesar doesn’t understand the question. Latin and today’s Italian are not the same.

“Will you please take me to the Temple of Jupiter?”

“Who is Jupiter? We have the Vatican here.”

“What is a Vatican?”

“It’s a church. Catholic. This Pope‘s from Germany. His predecessor was from Poland. Not Italian. No Jupiter.”

“What’s on in the Colosseum today?”

“Sorry, it’s in ruins.”

“Gallia still belongs to Roma?”

“No. France is Chirac. Rome is Parodi. Yesterday Berlusconi.”

“What countries do we control? Abyssinia? Angola?”

“None. Italy is a NATO state.

“What are we number one in?”

“Car production, maybe.”

“Car?”

“Cars are robotic chariots without horses.”

At Ben Gurion airport, a customs officer welcomes an elderly man with a white beard: “Shalom Aleichem!”

The man answers, “Aleichem Shalom. My name is Moshe.”

“Really? I’m also Moshe! I was born in Tbilisi, Georgia.”

“And I was born in Egypt.”

“Did you visit Israel before?”

“Unfortunately never.”

“So it’s not your homeland.”

“This is my homeland. I personally know of the Divine promise. Are you Jewish?”

“Of course I’m Jewish. Ani Mosheke m’Gruzia.”

“I’d like to sightsee, but I didn’t take along Tefillin. Do you perhaps know where I can get Tefillin?”

“Tefillin? I’ll give you mine.”

“You have tefillin?”

“Of course I have Tefillin. I davened Shacharit an hour ago.”

“You also have a tallit with tzitzit?”

“Of course!”

“Do you have a quiet place for me to pray?”

“Sure! We have shuls here in the terminal. Sefard and Ashkenaz.”

“And what Nusach (version) is your Torah scroll?”

“Nusach???!!! We all have the same Torah, each word carefully transcribed back to Moshe Rabenu!”

Same religion. Same language. Same homeland. Same commandments. Same faith. If this is not a nation, what is?"

On Israel's Election Day, let us remember and give thanks.

Ezequiel Doiny is author of "Obama's assault on Jerusalem's Western Wall"



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