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Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies

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Brett Levinson

CENTURY SPAIN: DOES THE INQUISITION JUSTIFY ZIONISM?', Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies, 6: 3, 245 — 258
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/14636200500312169
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14636200500312169


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Brett Levinson



This essay represents the expansion of a talk delivered during a 2003 conference on
Spanish reactionary thinking.1 In tackling the issue of reactionary thought, however,
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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,2 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
Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies Vol. 6, No. 3 October 2005, pp. 245 /258
ISSN 1463-6204 print/ISSN 1469-9818 online – 2005 Taylor & Francis
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/14636200500312169
246 J O U R N A L O F S PA N I S H C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S

critic* as do all readings. The interpretation, more specifically, is necessarily shaped


by the proper name ‘‘Netanyahu,’’ or by the ‘‘author function.’’3 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-
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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.4 (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,
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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.5
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.
248 J O U R N A L O F S PA N I S H C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S

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
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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.6

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
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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
250 J O U R N A L O F S PA N I S H C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S

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.
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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

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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

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
252 J O U R N A L O F S PA N I S H C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S

‘‘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
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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
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.11 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.12
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
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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
254 J O U R N A L O F S PA N I S H C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S

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
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
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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’’13: into a larger and larger pluralism, a
bigger and bigger assemblage of individual bodies or I’s that, as self-determined, are
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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 ‘‘alter-
native’’ 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’’ [47], 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, ‘‘Margin-
alizing 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

256 J O U R N A L O F S PA N I S H C U LT U R A L S T U D I E S

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
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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.


1 ‘‘Spanish Reactionary Thinking: A Symposium,’’ Duke University, May 8 11, /

2003. A selection of the papers delivered at the symposium was published in The
Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies 5.2 (July 2004).
2 I recently spoke with members of ‘‘Seeds of Peace,’’ a highly reputable organization
that brings together Jewish, Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab youth* an organization

with long experience in Israel* who believe that Benjamin Netanyahu’s politics is

largely motivated by a desire, even if unconscious, for vengeance.

3 For an understanding of this last notion, see Foucault, ‘‘What is an Author,’’ 29 /

4 Kamen already discussed, in 1965, the thesis that the converso, regardless of his/her
practices, was the object of the Inquisition’s abuse. At the time, the postulate was
quite radical, but was more or less accepted by 1995, when the first edition of
Origins of the Inquisition appeared.
5 Netanyahu is unique among Hispanists, although Ruth too has begun to address this
matter, in that he treats the Inquisition from 1391 to 1450, the period covered in
Origins, as an episode of anti-Semitism’s history, not Spain’s history. It is not until
1480 that Spain, as national and political body, becomes the agent of the Inquisition,
or that the Spanish Inquisition starts. At that point, the Inquisition changes radically,
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in part because it is directed as much at Jews as converses, producing an entire

history of violence very distinct from the one discussed by Netanyahu. In other
words, Netanyahu’s study is called, ‘‘The Origins of the Inquisition in 15th Century
Spain’’ and not ‘‘The Origins of the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th Century,’’ for
good reason: it is a book about anti-Semitism and the Inquisition more so that about
6 I admit to be reading Bauman a bit against the grain of his intentions in this section,
but not against the grain of the overall essay.
7 I derive many of these ideas on the word made flesh from Rancière, 71 93. /

8 See Foucault’s ‘‘Society Must be Defended,’’ 257 262, Giorgio Agamben’s reading of

Foucault’s ideas on racism and anti-Semitism in Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare
Life, for a fuller discussion of these matters.
9 These ideas concerning the ‘‘species’’ are to be found also in Foucault’s
10 For fuller examination of these ideas concerning sacrifice, I would refer the reader
to Agamben, Homo Sacer.
11 Armistead generously shared his views with me in the winter of 2002 in Davis,
12 New scholarship on the Inquisition in Spain seems to be drawing a more nuanced
line between conservative and liberal historiography. Whether the studies address
the possibility that anti-Semitism is radically distinct from racism and nationalism,
and that the Inquisition ought to be studied from this point of departure* /

Netanyahu’s postulate* would require detailed readings of the many scholars


who have considered the Spanish Inquisition and/or the history of the Jews and
conversos in Spain such as Gutwirth, Dopico Black, Roth, Ward, Albiac, and

Anidjar among others. It would also require a deeper analysis of the political uses of
cultural pluralism and subjectivity at work in these works.
13 G.W.F Hegel’s bad infinity is introduced in his The Science of Logic, 149.

Works Cited
Albiac, Gabriel. La sinagoga vacı́a. Un estudio de las Fuentes marranas del Spinozismo. Madrid:
Hiparion, 1987.
Anidjar, Gil. Our Place in al Andalus: Kaballah, Philosophy, Literature in Arab Jewish Letters.
Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002.
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Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Bauman, Zygmunt. ‘‘Allosemiticism: Premodern, Modern, Postmodern’’ in Modernity,
Culture, and ‘the Jew.’ Eds. Bryan Cheyette and Laura Marcus. Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1998. 143 156 /

Chauchadis, Claude. Honneur, Morale et Societe dans L’Espagne de Philippe II. Paris: Editions
du CNRS, 1984.
Cheyette, Bryan and Laura Marcus, eds. Modernity, Culture, and ‘the Jew.’ Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1998.
Dopico-Black, Georgina. Perfect Wives, Other Women. Adultery and Inquisition in Early Modern
Spain. Durham: Duke UP, 2001.
Foucault, Michel. ‘‘Governmentality’’ in Power: the Essential Works of Michel Foucault,
1954 1984. Ed. James D. Faubian. New York: The New Press, 1997. 201 222.
/ /
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** . ‘‘What is an Author’’ in Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism.

/ /

Ed. Josue V. Harari. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977. 29 47. /

** .‘‘Society Must be Defended’’: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975 76. Trans. David
/ / /

Macey. New York: Picador, 2003.

Gutwirth, Eleazar. ‘‘Toward Expulsion: 1391 1492.’’ Spain and the Jews: The Sephardi

Experience 1492 and After. Ed. Elie Keduorie. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992:
51 73

Hegel, G.W.F. The Science of Logic. Trans. J. Sibree. New York: Humanities Press, 1977.
Kamen, Henry. The Spanish Inquisition. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965.
Krow-Lucal, Martha G. ‘‘Marginalizing History: Observations on The Origins of the
Inquisition in Fifteenth-Century Spain.’’ Judaism (2001): 46 59.

Levinson, Brett. Market and Thought. Meditations on the Political and Biopolitical. New York:
Fordham University Press, 2004.
Netanyahu, B. The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain. New York: Random
House, 2000.
Ranciere, Jacques. The Flesh of Words: the Politics of Writing. Trans. Charlotte Mandel.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.
Roth, Normal. Coversos, Inquisition, and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Madison, WI: U
of Wisconsin P, 1995.
Ward, Seth. ‘‘Crypto-Judaism and the Spanish Inquisition.’’ Shofar: An Interdisciplinary
Journal of Jewish Studies 22.4 (2004): 167 169./