The antisemitism of Henry Wickham Steed

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Abstract:

Henry Wickham Steed (1871–1956), then editor-in-chief of the London Times, adopted an ambiguous position with regard to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion when the tract first appeared in English in 1920. He neither endorsed nor rejected it but instead mused in the editorial pages of The Times about whether it might be authentic. The following year, when The Times correspondent in Istanbul brought out proof that The Protocols was a forgery, Steed accepted his correspondent's findings and publicly retracted his earlier ambivalent position. This incident reflects on Steed's (deserved) reputation as an antisemite but it also suggests something of the complexity of his position. Steed's denunciations of Jewish influence, discovered, by his own account, through his experience as a foreign correspondent in Vienna before the First World War, are recurrent in his writings. At the same time, Steed lent strong support to Zionist aspirations at the time of the Balfour Declaration and thereafter, and, in the 1930s, he was among the very first English critics of Hitler's antisemitism. In this article, I propose to offer some hypotheses regarding Steed's antisemitism. Strange as it may sound in the wake of the Second World War, it was Steed's visceral Germanophobia that lay at the heart of his antisemitism. Until the advent of the Third Reich, Steed identified Jews with Germans and with German interests. As an ardent exponent of the ‘principle of nationality’, however, Steed consistently extended his advocacy of statehood for various Eastern European nationalities to the Jewish national cause. A final factor that helps to explain Steed's suspiciousness and gullibility is that, by disposition and as a lifelong journalist, he was drawn to conspiracy theories. He created a number of sensations in his career and, to return to the example of The Protocols, he was loath to discount so spectacular a conspiracy story.
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