On Netanyahu’s the Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain: Does the Inquisition Justify Zionism?

Brett Levinson. Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies. Volume 6, Issue 3. 2005.

This essay represents the expansion of a talk delivered during a 2003 conference on Spanish reactionary thinking. In tackling the issue of reactionary thought, however, I found it necessary to move outside its parameters and into a related but distinct matter, one particularly crucial for Spanish cultural studies: the question of conservative reading practices, that is, of hermeneutic tactics that maintain, conserve, the modern Hispanist tradition.

Now, if any single US-based Peninsularist stands as the most obvious target for an accusation of reactionary thinking it would be Benzion Netanyahu, author of The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain. Netanyahu’s attachment to political Zionism need not be charted here. I need not outline the political record of the father of Israel’s hawkish former Prime Minister (Benjamin), in fact, of the entire Netanyahu family (which, as is well-known, helped shape the Zionist movement in Israel). A brief search on the World Wide Web will reveal the facts to the interested reader. More economical is a simple stipulation: to the Zionist, hence conservative leanings of the Netanyahu profile, inclinations whose purpose is indeed to conserve the post-1967 Israeli/Palestinian territorial and political divisions that—justified or not—favor Israel’s Jewish population.

However, the presence of Netanyahu’s Zionism within The Origins of the Inquisition itself is at most faint. The study, after all, is not in any direct way about the Middle East and/or the Zionist movement. To be sure, the book is dedicated to Netanyahu’s youngest son Jonathan, who famously planned and executed the daring 1976 rescue of the passengers of a hijacked Israeli plane in Entebbe, Uganda. Jonathan expired—he was the only Israeli to die—in the process. The Origins of the Inquisition’s dedication reads: “with unrelieved grief, to the memory of Jonathan, who fell while leading the rescue force in Entebbe.” And while there exists no shortage of people who believe that Benjamin Netanyahu’s uncompromising attitude toward the Palestinian cause is rooted in a desire to avenge his brother’s death, it would represent quite a stretch to suggest that the father’s The Origins of the Inquisition, even given its dedication, is determined in similar fashion by that loss.

Do the Zionist attitudes of Benzion Netanyahu at all inform, perhaps distort, his scholarship (the “content” of the book) on the Inquisition, which contains no straight discussion of contemporary Zionism? And if so, how could, and why would, we make this determination?

The queries may be unanswerable. The critic who locates “Zionism” in The Origins of the Inquisition may be correct in doing so; the reading may be accurate. But such a finding, true or false, results from the desire and/or prejudgment of this critic—as do all readings. The interpretation, more specifically, is necessarily shaped by the proper name “Netanyahu,” or by the “author function.” One cannot read The Origins of the Inquisition without first catching B. Netanyahu (not Benzion, but B.) on the jacket or spine. And the relatively informed person—most who would be reading The Origins of the Inquisition in the first place—cannot, today, read that name without “hearing” the word Zionism.

Netanyahu’s history of Spain may or may not be “Zionist.” Yet Zionism, or at least its trace, is in the work from the outset: from the outside cover through the dedication, then inward. No interpretation of the book can evade this trace.

Of course, the theme of Zionism within The Origins of the Inquisition surfaces not solely through the author’s name. For the text commences with claims about the beginnings of anti-Semitism in ancient Egypt, then follows anti-Semitism’s legacy. Judging from Netanyahu’s account the Jews, from the medieval era until the 19th-century, did not enjoy a place in which they could dwell, secure from pogroms (they sought not a Jewish state but a non-anti-Semitic one). And such a history validates the advent—the advent, not necessarily the consequences; the genesis, not the Israeli state that resulted—of the modern search for a Jewish homeland, hence of political Zionism. Yet if in The Origins of the Inquisition that B. Netanyahu justifies the commencement of the Jewish state, he offers little if any commentary—at least open commentary—on the Israeli politics that ensued.

In this vein, a further word on political Zionism’s initiation is crucial. This is not the place to delineate the motives for the specific pogroms just mentioned. Familiar is the sequence of discrimination. The not uncommon acceptance of Jews within particular states—as long as they remained “in their place” (the marked-off Jewish ghetto) and adhered to their own laws (rabbinical law)—was repeatedly followed by the Jews’ maltreatment and/or expulsion from country after country. A possible resolution to the problem materialized when Napoleon, as the walls of the Jewish ghettoes began to collapse, offered French citizenship to Jews in exchange for the abandonment of rabbinical law. This granting of citizenship was the promise of an earthly dwelling in which Jews could live sheltered not by their own or God’s law—which had rarely been able to tender physical but only spiritual security—but by the rules of states.

Citizenship, however, proved unable to offer this protection. Pogroms continued and intensified throughout the 1800s and into the next century, culminating in the Holocaust. The Dreyfus Affair was in this context decisive. It signaled, for those at the forefront of Zionism such as Theodore Herzl, that anti-Semitism would prevail (citizenship or no) not only in “marginal” areas but also in Western Europe and, by extension, within the West itself. The Dreyfus affair in essence confirmed that 1) the practice of anti-Semitism would be sanctioned, de jure or de facto, not just in this or that state but by all extant governments; and 2) that no international body could or would preclude the violence. The creation of a Jewish homeland thereby appeared, post-Dreyfus, all the more critical and reasonable to the Zionists themselves. Contemporary Zionism may well be founded on an offensive anti-Arab sentiment, on intolerance; the movement began, though, as but a new response to a general anti-Semitism. We shall return here.

Now, however, let us address the main argument of The Origins of the Inquisition, which is neither terribly controversial nor intolerably “political” nor even very new. The Inquisition, Netanyahu claims, did not develop throughout the 15th-century as an attack against Judaizing conversos but against all conversos. (The expulsion of the Jew “proper,” of course, would not take place until 1492, just following the commencement of the Spanish State’s official adoption of the Inquisition in 1480.) The terror, that is, was not a response to those New Christians who continued to live secretly as Jews, i.e. to the actual heresy of these people.

Netanyahu points out, that during earlier (13th and 14th-centuries) periods of the Inquisition, many conversos remained privately faithful to various Jewish customs, above all circumcision, while publicly acting as Christians. Yet over the course of the 15th-century, they emerged as increasingly indistinguishable from their Old Christian counterparts. Third and fourth generation conversos grew less interested in their own Judaism and in that of their ancestors. Indeed, the concealment of the Jewish past, because undertaken generation after generation, frequently obscured that past from the conversos themselves. Crypto-Judaizers did not disappear; but according to Netanyahu, by the year 1400 they were few in number.

To be sure, crypto-Judaism functioned as the image that the Inquisition used so as to assail the converso population. Typecast or accused of being crypto-Jews or heretics, conversos were subject to abuse and/or execution. But, according to Netanyahu, this imaginary was imposed upon the converso on the basis of negligible observation. No visible or cultural evidence was needed for the Inquisition to install, and then deploy as a tool of violence, the stereotype of the crypto-Jew: of the converso as heretic. Conversos suffered the fate of crypto-Jews, were often treated as if heretics, whether they were or were not. In the eyes of the Inquisition—and this is Netanyahu’s point—then, there was no difference between good Christian conversos and crypto-Jews since, for that authority, both groups were crypto-Jews, or potential crypto-Jews.

One might here recall, as repeatedly does Netanyahu himself, the importance of the socio-economic rise of the 15th-century Spanish converso community. As they assimilated into Christian society, conversos often assumed lofty positions. They thereby threatened the financial, social, religious, and political status of the Old Christians or “true” caballeros. The charge of crypto-Judaism was then utilized as a means to “dishonor” or eliminate conversos: this annoying, menacing competitor.

However, for Netanyahu, the principle cause of the Inquisition—the main concern of The Origins of the Inquisition—was neither real existing crypto-Judaism nor these socio-economic circumstances. That origin, according to Netanyahu, was far more complicated: the nature of anti-Semitism, distinct from the prejudices that result from nationalism and racism.

Now, if one argues that anti-Semitism is the source of the Inquisition, one ought, at a minimum say what anti-Semitism is, distinguishing it from other forms of prejudice. Netanyahu sets out to do this. Far more seductive, though, is the near-opposite endeavor, one put into practice in studies such as Modernity, Culture, and ‘the Jew’, edited by Bryan Cheyette and Laura Marcus. The purpose of this collection, implied and explicit, is to situate the “Jewish question” within the theoretical projects—such as cultural studies, postcolonial studies, and critical race theory—by means of which “race” has been politicized within and outside the Academy in recent years. The Jew, if unable to insert themselves into these discourses, risks getting forgotten by the most radical or emancipatory meditations on prejudice.

But this need not be the case, the Cheyette/Marcus compilation intimates. The plight of Jews, via paradigms analogous to the ones utilized by contemporary thinkers of race, can be more strongly politicized. The fact that the “Forward” to the study is written by Homi Bhabha, and the “Afterward” by Paul Gilroy, provides clear testimony to this initiative. A progressive or postmodern understanding of the Jewish question turns on the placing of the issue alongside if not inside the understandings of ethnic bias and racial emancipation that have gained political currency, understandings recalled by proper names such as Bhabha and Gilroy.

The majority of the essays in Modernity, Culture, and ‘the Jew’ hence show that the Jew, like other racial groups, has been misrepresented by the cultural frameworks and images of modernity. Analysis of the false depictions (the Jew as feminine, the Jew as oversexed, and so on), followed by their critique and rectification, make way for a racial politics grounded on 1) the global promulgation of a fuller consciousness of the nature of the anti-Semitism qua racism that lies at the heart of the West’s formation and advancement; and 2) the collective actions that this consciousness might spawn and has spawned.

At least one essay in the work, however, takes a distinct tack: Zygmunt Bauman’s “Allosemitism: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern.” Bauman fittingly entitles a key section of his piece “The Jews are Unlike the Others” (149). The subtitle signifies, as I read it, not only that the Jews are different from other people, unlike “others” in this sense. The Jew, as well, is unlike other Others: the Jew is unlike the Other. Anti-Semitism, more precisely, is unlike racism, since Jews—as cast by anti-Semitism—are unlike ethnic minorities.

In the fragment in question Bauman discusses the dissolution of the Jewish ghettos throughout Europe during the early 19th-century, and the ensuing integration of Jews into states. He notes that Friedrich Ruhs, in 1816, requested that Jews, as they increasingly intermingled with the world around them, wear ribbons so as to identify themselves. Bauman asks: Was this demand the product of an anti-Semitic sentiment or of a Jewish advocate? Was the ribbon intended to function as a sign of infamy or of distinction? Bauman maintains that it does not matter how one answers the query. The petition is anti-Semitic either way: “What is important is that it had to be a sign, and a visible one, and one visible at a distance. Jews were not like other people, and other people should know that they are the Jews” (146). For Bauman, a positive or negative tag, any sign assigned to the Jew, the signing of the Jew, is the anti-Semitic act par excellence, the sign of anti-Semitism proper.

The cultural studies model, which most pieces within Modernity, Culture, and ‘the Jew’ adopt in one fashion or another, separates “marked” from “unmarked” cultures. It situates a marked ethnic group over against unmarked or “non-ethnic” man: over against the universal person, general culture, or an ideal civilization. Imposed by these universalistic or dominant discourses, the Other’s mark thus functions as a stain, a spot, a blemish: as indicator of the Other’s faulty, spurious, damaged, dirty character. The sign of distinction makes of the Other not different but less than the Same: the Same, yet less so.

Let us state this point in other terms. All mortal beings are by definition imperfect, tarnished, smudged. However certain marks, such as whiteness, manage to emerge as a universal and disinterested standard. Cultural, socio-economic, and psycho-sexual constructions produce and reproduce the belief in this standard, which is consequently naturalized and nationalized. Whiteness does not designate an ethnicity but man himself who, without specificity, is ideal, unstained, and hence good. Alternative characteristics, to the contrary, materialize as emblems of a particular and partial person, one that is thereby less good, less than good.

The ethnic minority, then, is not misrepresented when marked but when marked as bad, when badly and falsely marked. One would not solve the problem, therefore, by “unmarking” or “cleaning up” these Others. Such a gesture would be as unjust as mis-marking them since, by stripped Others of signs, one denies as well their culture, thus their cultural difference. The rectification of prejudicial views is more judiciously effected, within the cultural studies model, by liberating the Other’s good marks from their suppression by the powerful yet fallacious “dominant discourses”: by recovering the signs by means of which Others define themselves, by liberating the positive cultural productions and practices from the prison house of an unfair field of representation and authority.

Through this latter maneuver, universal culture emerges not as embodied by one group but as a global field of distinct marks, with each mark representing the difference of a given collective, a distinction that is neither “less” nor “more” but, precisely, different. Not only is the Other emancipated from the Same’s abusive or bogus depictions; but also, a general pluralism, a compilation of legitimate and even competing representations, a heterogeneity of codes, is emancipated from a tyrannical homogeneity, from the ideology that holds that true culture is manifest in one culture. The correction of the Other’s mark thereby represents the release or potential release of both the Other (who is freed from his misrepresentation or abuse) and society itself (freed from the ideology of the One). The latter, indeed, now appears inclusive and tolerant precisely because a particular Other is freed, added to a new universal—a truly ideal universal, a pluralist one open to additions, receptive to the Other.

It should be noted that this double liberation (of the Other and of society) through the mining of the suppressed “minority” remains faithful to a foundational concept of the Western tradition, or at least this tradition since the advent of Christ: that of the word made flesh. This, the Incarnation, signifies that sign and body, signifier and material territory, are bound. Behind every sign (cultural product) dwells a “real body,” a signified; and supporting every body (individual or collective) are signs that testify to the truth of that same body. Or, in more specifically “religious” terms: the Old Testament contains the signs that prefigure or foretell the Advent, which is the significance of this Book; and the Gospels of the New Testament bear witness to the fact that Christ’s is the resurrected body that had been foreseen, that he is indeed the true savior (Rancière 71-93).

In this context “body” signifies not only human flesh but also cultural and material space. After all, one does not project signs that represent bodies without first occupying the space from which to do so. Beneath the word or a given assortment of customs lies the “home” of a particular people and culture, which is the true referent of these signs. Or in reverse: every “body” produces the signifiers that bear witness to the veracity of this body, to its legitimate right to the space that it occupies.7 The cultural analyses of Modernity, Culture, and ‘the Jew’, as they strive to grant the Other a mark and presence, culture and territory, are fully invested in this “Christian” (but really Judeo-Christian) structure. Find examples of Jewish culture, and you have found a Jewish territory within global politics; find that territory, and you have found Jewish culture.

Bauman, however, is not. For him, there is no Jewish sign, proper or improper, genuine or defective, good or bad, true or false, that represents the Jewish body. This explains, according to Bauman, the fundament of the imaginary by means of which Jews have been constructed over the course of history: when they come, they come without a sign, without notification of their Jewishness. Jews too are viewed negatively. But, unlike other races, they are accused of not showing this damage, of not displaying their true colors or discoloration. Racism, we intimated, miscasts the Other’s mark as a bad mark. Anti-Semitism commences not by marking the Jew badly but by marking him at all; not by identifying him as inferior but by rendering him identifiable. If the ethnic Other is substandard due to his mark, his lack of “spotlessness” or “whiteness,” the Jew is deprived due to his lack of a mark.

The Jews, then, mirrors, offers a deceptive reverse image of the dominant group or universal man, who is also unmarked. The Jew is lacking a mark; universal man is perfect, hence lacking nothing, no mark. The difference—between a people missing their mark and one that is unmarked—is impossible to tell; no narrative can describe it. And that is the problem: Jews ought to be signed, ought to be marked, so as to resolve this confusion between the inferior and the superior. Otherwise, Jews will wander about unchecked. With a universal ID as they mirror that universal, they look just like the Good who have no look, potentially infiltrating and poisoning every ideal. This is why the “signing” of the Jew, even with an attractive ribbon, is for Bauman an anti-Semitic gesture. It identifies the Jew as the one who refuses to exhibit a marker, who resists identification. A dangerous being for not even taking on an improper sign, the Jew paradoxically demands—if he can be located, though in this “if” lies the essence of the paradox—to be watched closely. The Jew is, in short, indicator of the most subversive and enigmatic difference: the one that does not pertain to the visible or invisible.

The Jew, stated differently, menaces the anti-Semite as the word not made flesh, or as flesh without its corresponding word. We said that if no sign marks the Jewish flesh, which therefore mimes ideal flesh, the Jew almost effortlessly adopts the signs and practices of the dominant culture. As dead ringers for the universal ones, such signs represent or refer to all bodies rather than to the true or proper body from which they emit, to wit, the Jew himself. A body without a proper sign, the Jew is therefore also a sign without a proper body or territory: Jewish bodies, armed with the secret master code, can be any body, occupy and spoil “rightfully” any land or neighborhood. Signs without flesh and flesh without determined signs, privative, deprived of a public symbol, privately different—all emblematized by circumcision: the sign that is privative—the Jew is deprivation without markers, without boundaries. The crassest, biological anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as elongated digits of the “thieving” Semite, are imposed not to misrepresent but to bound, monitor, and circumscribe the Jewish damage—or to license the slaying of these appropriators or thieves if the anti-Semite cannot do so.

The above, I want to be clear, does not represent Bauman’s comprehension of the Jew but of anti-Semitism. And it is the understanding of anti-Semitism that Netanyahu also pursues, which is why he posits the converso as the true object of the Inquisition’s reign of terror. If identified, conversos stood as signs that had ceased to signify the “truth” (to wit, that the body was “really” Jewish), and as bodies that did not promulgate their authentic culture: the Jewish one. If identified: yet conversos were not easily identified, for they had assimilated so well. Indeed, a long tradition of Spanish criticism—Claude Chauchadis’ Honneur, Morale et Societé dans L’Espagne de Philippe II is a good example—and literature has illustrated how conversos (and others) successfully forged their ancestries, nobility, wealth, and identities during the Spanish medieval and Golden Age periods, passing for caballeros. As the body missing its proper sign, the converso appeared as the ideal body in no need of a sign. He too easily simulated the social standard that he surreptitiously betrayed. The converso was thus the very figure of the shifting political ground of a waning feudalism, out of which would emerge the modern class structure: grounds in which social differences were no longer given in advance by blood—they possessed no “natural” basis—but had to be constructed, consequently could be forged. To a Spanish state dedicated to the control of these political swings, the converso, trace of the social or status distinctions that could no longer be traced (back to their roots or birthright), consequently represented a colossal threat.

The converso threatened not as another set of practices, a culture or a territory, but as a bodiless, signless, and propertyless emblem that precluded the Inquisition from setting off the good from bad Christian, the noble from the ignoble person. Yet 15th-century Spain’s construction of the converso as this nebulous figure did not impede the Inquisition but unleashed it: the existence of the converso converted all bodies into suspects. Putting every sign and every body in doubt, it helped to render all illusion and disillusion, ushering in the Baroque era. The Inquisition violated individuals and collectives not because they performed this or that ritual, but for no reason or for any reason at all—herein lies the terror that Netanyahu wants to highlight.

Let us sum up this portion of the argument. For the Inquisition of 15th-century Spain, people identified or misidentified as conversos were frequently cast as “truly” crypto-Jews, regardless of their practices. The Inquisition could always locate Jewish flesh “underneath” the converso’s performance of Christian rite; and it could always situate, behind any seemingly “clean” body, the Jewish word, the secretive Judaic rituals. This staging was not only an effective political tactic, although it was indeed that. It menaced nearly all people within Spain by turning them (the conversos who “pretended” that they were Christians, but also the Old Christians, who might themselves be conversos, given the capacity of the Jew to deceive) into potential heretics, therefore into individuals who the Inquisition could persecute, regardless of the nature of their conduct or “misconduct.” Yet the typecasting was astute also because it “relocated” the converso into the epistemic, ideological, artistic, and religious ideals upon which the state banked, and which the Jew imperiled: ideals that I am categorizing under the notion of “the word made flesh.” The allegation that the converso was a practitioner of Judaism, then, grew out of suspicions of a more profound heresy. Jews stood for signs assigned to no body, and bodies that contained no signs; to the word not made flesh and to flesh without words. If this heresy could be combated, if “beneath” the converso’s public persona Jewish flesh (circumcised flesh) could be uncovered, or if “behind” this flesh Jewish signs could be planted—if these truths could be confirmed, promulgated, and authorized, then conversos could be prosecuted as heretics and, at the same time, would bear witness to the truth of “Christianity” (the word had been made flesh). The Inquisition punished conversos for not following the lesson of Christ; and through the same punishment, it taught them this very lesson.

However, we do well here to reverse this argument about the relation of anti-Semitism and racism: Conversos menaced the Spanish state not as other than an ethnicity or race but, if we follow Michèl Foucault’s comments on anti-Semitism, as the index of race as such. Indeed the Jew, for Foucault, has over history been typecast as the example of race: not as a specific race but as race itself, as the race that is not one of the races. Likewise, anti-Semitism is not a specific racism but a representation of racism in general.8

Modern racism, Foucault’s argument runs, is grounded in the West’s often unstated concern for health and/or hygiene: from the desire to project, manage, and control societal “illnesses.” Thus, the Other that Western homogeneity most fears is life that, like an undiagnosed germ, dirty quantity of damaged DNA that cannot be deciphered, or even a bad computer byte or virus (in all cases, corrupt information), is presented as the force that might bring about not the end of an individual, a group, a state, or even a race (such as the white race) but of the entire species:9 unremarkable life which, as unremarkable and/or unnoticed, cannot be trailed, hence monitored.

Netanyahu’s converso is a good example of this unremarkable life. Indeed, the Foucauldian model nicely explains why the Inquisition tried to control converso commerce via representation, identification or “culturization” (by raising or reducing Jews to a sign): by labeling him a crypto-Jew. For as crypto-Jew—a Jewish body concealed under the mask of Christian rite or a practitioner of the Jewish rites that were covered up with an apparent Christian body—the unremarkable converso was indexed, dressed up in Jewish habits so that others could watch and contain the damage that he might inflict. More importantly, as marked or named heretic who could be thus staged, assigned to a public spectacle of punishment in the name of the good of the Empire, conversos could be publicly sacrificed for the well-being of all. To the contrary, as untraceable difference New Christians personified an internal stain that, because it could not be exhibited, could not even be sacrificed, hence was of no good.

Within an Inquisitional proceso that, literally, was refining its own inside, cleansing its blood via the credo of limpieza de sangre when that blood was already polluted, and the world it represented already obsolete, the Catholic empire portrayed the converso as a diagnosed illness or discernible negative attribute, as a bad culture, a “corrupt” insider who deserved to be cast outside: as scapegoat whose sacrifice would serve as a panacea for a stained nobility and for a politics that could no longer hold its place.

Now, however, I want address a very different—only seemingly so, however—matter: Why do Hispanists who support the most basic ideological stance of Netanyahu, to wit, that the Inquisition horribly exemplified Western anti-Semitism, view The Origins of the Inquisition as a deeply flawed if not offensive study? Samuel Armistead politely expressed these objections to me in a discussion at the University of California. A Martha Krow-Lucal article shares Armistead’s sentiments. Armistead in fact referred me to this study as one that authorizes his own outlook on the Netanyahu opus. Indeed Krow-Lucal’s piece, because it draws heavily upon leading Hispanists who, over a long period, have tackled the Jewish question in medieval Spain, such as Armistead, Joseph Silverman, Stephen Gilman, and Rosa Lida, seems to represent an entire tradition of Spanish criticism. I want to address that tradition only.

Krow-Lucal’s critique of The Origins is grounded in Netanyahu’s refusal to document and/or accept the cultural diversity of medieval times. Many kinds of conversos existed in 15th-century Spain, secret Judaizers and practicing Christians alike: Marranos, conversos, and New Christians. Each of these groups is represented by distinct cultural practices, and must be studied in terms of these distinctions. Repeatedly highlighting the “dazzling complexity” and “multifaceted motives and actions” (47) of the Spanish populace of the period in question, Krow-Lucal thus identifies Netanyahu as a non-progressive, even an uninformed or failed intellectual. Due to his denial of the Other’s voice, thereby of a plurality of voices (the Same plus the Other), Netanyahu takes a back seat to the more forward looking—for Krow-Lucal, the best (intellectually, politically, ethically)—scholars in the field. The latter seek to alter the state of medieval Hispanism and Hispanism itself rather than conserve it: “The final failure of Netanyahu’s work, then, is his failure to portray the richness of human lives and societies” (58).

The scholarship that Krow-Lucal champions, then, tracks down underrepresented and understudied cultural productions of Jews and/or conversos and, by uncovering these forms, increases the number of legitimate signs and figures within the field of the visible, within Spanish culture itself. This progressive critic would therefore find most attractive the actual practices of the crypto-Jew, a group that—in this vision—refused to acquiesce to the demands of the Same, to truly convert, to become part of the One. He or she would sanction secretive and suppressed practices and forms that can by retrieved and freed from previously authorized critical discourses, and then appended to a Spanish tradition that is rendered more heterogeneous by the additions. Netanyahu’s non-recognition of these practices, conversely, indicates the author’s suppression of this freedom that the converted Jew was clearly capable of exercising, and also, the general oppressive nature of The Origins of the Inquisition itself.

In short, heterogeneous-leaning versus homogeneous-inclined cultural criticism is for Krow-Lucal synonymous with progressive versus conservative politics. Netanyahu is wrong politically and morally because he is wrong intellectually; and he is wrong intellectually because he refuses to embrace not the idea of the crypto-Jew but of pluralism, to which the study of Spanish crypto-Jewish cultural productions would have brought him: “This [pluralist] view can be both exciting and threatening … Netanyahu, unfortunately, is either unaware of this relatively new kind of history, or is so disdainful of it that he ignores it completely” (48).

Opening with a Silverman assertion which intimates that, given the right to choose between two, the Spaniard will tend to select both, or a plurality (47), Krow-Lucal, indeed, seems to conflate the practice of anti-Semitism with the idea itself of homogeneity, as if anti-Semitism and an intellectual dislike of pluralism were founded in the same ideology (and they are not, as we will see). Netanyahu is mistaken on the Jewish question due to his non-openness to the “vast heterogeneous groups” (48) that dwelled in medieval Spain, be they directly related to Judaism or not, as if all prejudice were one prejudice, the prejudice against the more than one. Krow-Lucal consequently laments 1) Netanyahu’s refusal to consult productions by women and poor (54); 2) his insistence on examining only written and/or published texts (the products, during the period in question, of the privileged few who had the means to write and publish), hence his denial of other sorts of historical artifacts; and 3) his inattention to the Spanish Jews in the periphery, such as Mallorca and North Africa (51).

But if Netanyahu is intellectually conservative due to his denial of pluralism, this is not the sole ground of Krow-Lucal’s claims. Her allegations are also founded in the biography of the author. This point is evident when Krow-Lucal criticizes the fact that Netanyahu, at one juncture, posits the division between Old Christians and Jews as one between “natives” and Jews. Krow-Lucal insists that the Jews, too, were natives of Spain in the 15th-century, thus enjoyed rights to the cultural territory that Netanyahu seems to deny them: “If Netanyahu does not believe or recognize this, it may be because he is emphasizing implicitly the view that Jews cannot truly belong to any Diaspora society” (51). If Netanyahu does not view the Spanish Jew, who had indeed dwelled within Spain over a long period of time by the 15th-century, as a native, this is because, for the Zionist Netanyahu, the Jew is a native, occupant of a Jewish territory, only in Israel: “it may be because he is emphasizing implicitly the view that Jews cannot truly belong to any Diaspora society.” Of course, we have already seen that the Jew was not protected by natural right (he could be stripped at any time of his property) over the course of history, was not a native of anywhere until the 19th-century, and that this truth is key to any understanding of the history of anti-Semitism. Perhaps herein lies the reason why Netanyahu does not call medieval Jews “natives,” and not the more negative reasons cited by Krow-Lucal.

In fact Krow-Lucal does not know (she tentatively makes her point: “may be,” “implicitly”) that the just-discussed portion of Netanyahu’s analysis of the Inquisition is informed by an Israeli or Zionist bias. But a Zionist leaning is “sensed” by the critic all the same, obviously, via the author’s name.

Krow-Lucal even suggests that Netanyahu’s narrative may be anti-Semitic (53). Netanyahu refuses to acknowledge and highlight the persistence of Jewish cultural practices in medieval Spain, which is precisely the gesture that the racist would make: deny the Other his culture, hence deny the heterogeneity of history and of the globe. Netanyahu fails to allocate to the different Spanish bodies (conversos, Marranos, and so on) their proper signs. In all possible meanings of the phrase, Netanyahu does not incarnate the Jew, at least not the good Jew.

We have already noted that Netanyahu’s refusal to grant “sufficient” import to the cultural diversity of the converso is in fact rooted in his view of anti-Semitism, one that differs from the anti-Semitism-as-a-particular-racism argument proffered by Krow-Lucal and many others. Netanyahu simply does not redress anti-Semitism in the name of a more inclusive pluralism. But, as hinted at above, the politics of this particular maneuver is by no means transparent: heterogeneity possesses no necessary relation to a progressive politics or intellectual inclination, just as a critic who declines to endorse heterogeneity need not be a reactionary. A pluralist outlook might represent a progressive response to a repressive homogeneity. Yet it just as well might add to the field of choices by means of which critics qua consumers of discourses claim their place within, thereby legitimate a most powerful contemporary field of repression: the free market. For in generating or emphasizing cultural plurality, consequently a domain of possible selections and discourses (some progressive and some less so) critics freely choose. They thus affirm themselves as self-determined, as free agents working in the name of that freedom. The sheer multiplicity of discourses, views, and theories serves as the source, site, and sign only of a supposed intellectual emancipation, just as the mere right to choose among parties, products, and information channels is often sold as the marker of an authentic democracy.

The freedom behind any advocacy of pluralism may pertain to the ideology of the free market; and it may represent the political progressiveness of a scholar. I have showed this at length in Market and Thought, and cannot repeat the demonstration here. Certain practices and notions of multiplicity can indeed interrupt and displace the authorial and dogmatic political and intellectual structures in which we dwell. Yet it is just as true that a most authorial structure, the market, frequently conserves and reproduces itself by opening to cultural plurality. It operates through the ceaseless gathering of more and more territories, bodies, signs, identities, and cultures into an accumulation that Hegel labels “bad infinity”: into a larger and larger pluralism, a bigger and bigger assemblage of individual bodies or I’s that, as self-determined, are unbound to any relation, hence “free” from any politics—and it is this apolitics that sustains the status quo, the world as it is. Bad infinity names a totality without frontiers, one that can add “free individual cultures” infinitely on to itself, but whose additions never alter the whole. A poor absolutism, advancement without intellectual, social, or economic change, bad infinity is expansion that does not grow historically. (And what does not grow, according to Hegel, decays and gets worse.). Nothing is advanced in this advancement, in this progressive non-progressiveness rooted in the proliferation of debates, cultures, values, discourses, hence selections and “alternative” subjects.

Thus The Origins of the Inquisition and its author may merit the conservative label as defined above. But we cannot say that they do so merely because they refuse to highlight autonomous, native Jewish cultural forms and practices in 15th-century Spain—merely because they refuse to add this cultural space onto infinity so as to advocate the boundless expansion of the subject. Hispanism, particularly in some of its cultural studies forms, ought to be aware, possibly wary of this: today pluralism, or the mining of suppressed alternatives in the name of change, is a means to the conservation of the Hispanic tradition.

In fact, Krow-Lucal’s “Marginalizing History: Observations on The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain” explicitly reminds us of this last matter as the author puts various authorities and values to work for her argument. One such authority is a certain line of Hispanism, represented by Gilman, Lida, Silverman, F. Ross (the four to whom, along with her “first teachers”, her parents, Krow-Lucal dedicates the study), and Armistead. This is a group of scholars that, through archival work, has recovered the suppressed Jewish culture of medieval, renaissance, and baroque Spain. The other authority, obviously, is Netanyahu. Indeed, “Marginalizing History: Observations on The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain” is—whatever else it may also be—the staging of a competition between authorities. Netanyahu represents for the author of the essay the authority of conservatism, possibly of the anti-Semite, certainly of the reactionary. The author’s Zionism is evoked when needed so as to emphasize the association. Gilman, Lida, Armistead, and so on, stand for the power, hence also authority, of academic liberalism. Krow-Lucal’s pluralist Spain is thereby simulated by her approach, which pits liberalism against conservatism, authority against authority, in a competition that—because competition involves a plurality of parties—is sure to uphold the liberal authorities of Krow-Lucal, to conserve a Hispanist tradition that links freedom to the discovery of more traditions, to a greater number of Spanish national cultures.

I am not suggesting, with these comments, that a proper reading of The Origins of the Inquisition should ignore the author Netanyahu, pretend that this name or sign is not present in or on the text. “B. Netanyahu,” indeed, is a crucial figure in and on the work. For without involving this name, without connecting the book’s marginalia (“Netanyahu” literally appears in the margins of the study) to its central content, one could well miss the fact that every analysis of the Inquisition, today, includes within it a prism from which no examination of Jewish history can fail to look: political Zionism as the advent of a Jewish state. “Netanyahu” is the trace of this Zionism in The Origins of the Inquisition. To be sure, one might find the actual politics of Israel to be alarming, and Zionism to be atrocious. Yet this does not mean that the latter ought to be cleansed from scholarship on the Inquisition, as one might clean up or correct an error. For to dismiss Zionism in this fashion is to miss the nature of the history of anti-Semitism that lies behind the Inquisition, of the prejudice that grows from the conviction that the Jew, native of nowhere, is the Other without a nature or culture, proper body or proper sign. Zionism, indeed, is today a statement that recasts Jewish history as a whole; it is the site from which this history, now, demands to be analyzed. It comments upon the narrative which precedes it while simultaneously adding the commentary to this narrative, the whole of which thereby shifts. Zionism is an historical memorial to, a legend on atrocity (it may itself represent another chapter of atrocity) which Hispanists must—they cannot not— read through in order to reread the Inquisition. It reminds us, in fact, not only of the particularities of anti-Semitism, its irreducibility to racism and nationalism, but also the perils of various Jewish responses to anti-Semitism—ones, for example, that present Jewishness as a culture whose proper space ought to be recovered, as if that space were promised to the Jew or, for that matter, to any people.

In The Origins of the Inquisition the name “Netanyahu” indeed serves as a memorial, a reminder that Hispanism not forget Zionism as it reads Spanish history. After all, a Diaspora outside of a land promised to no one on earth rather than of this earth (the Diaspora prior to Zionism) is quite distinct from a Diaspora that dwells outside of a worldly nation-state qua homeland; that distinction, which only comes into view after the fact, once the idea of the Jewish earthly state is formed, ought be read back into the Inquisition. In fact, scholarship that bypasses Zionism in order to get to the Inquisition falls behind the history of anti-Semitism itself, therefore of the Inquisition too. Krow-Lucal is therefore quite right to implicate Zionism through “Netanyahu” into her critique of The Origins of the Inquisition. She, and a strong tradition within Hispanism, seems less certain on how to read that implication.