Controversial sale of anti-Semitic book falls through

Friday, June 8, 2001 | by

RICHARD ALLEN GREENE



LONDON—A controversial Victorian manuscript widely described as anti-Semitic failed to sell Wednesday when it was put up for auction at Christie's in London.

The result of this week's auction was both disappointing and humiliating for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the umbrella organization that sought to sell the document after suppressing it for nearly 100 years.

The board's decision to auction the manuscript, "Human Sacrifice Among the Sephardine or Eastern Jews," by the 19th-century explorer Sir Richard Burton, provoked a furious reaction from leading members of Britain's Jewish community.

Lord Greville Janner, a former president of the board, said it was "immoral to propagate pornography—and this is worse than pornography."

He called the decision to "seek to sell a viciously anti-Semitic document," a "grotesque error."

The board decided to sell the manuscript in part to raise much-needed funds, said Sandra Clark, its administrative director.

The estimated sale price of the manuscript was $210,000 to $280,000, but the top bid was $196,000, less than the prearranged minimum price.

Janner described the result as "the worst of both worlds—the contents of this disgraceful document have been publicized, and the board has not raised the resources it needs."

He was not the only one upset by the attempted sale.

One London rabbi suggested that his congregation raise money to buy the book to keep it out of the hands of anti-Semites.

Sephardic deputies on the board were "shocked and surprised" at not having been consulted about the sale, and some compared it to online auctions of Nazi memorabilia.

Burton biographer Mary Lovell said, "Before he went to Syria his opinions on Jews were conventional enough. Afterward, his anti-Semitism was pronounced."

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