“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one quarter of one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous puff of star dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly, the Jew ought hardly to be heard of, but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk.
His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine and abstruse learning are also very out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers. He has made a marvelous fight in this world in all ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself and be excused for it. The Egyptians, the Babylonians and the Persians rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greeks and Romans followed and made a vast noise, and they were gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch high for a time but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, and have vanished.
The Jew saw them all, survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”
Mark Twain, writing in his short essay “Concerning the Jews” (1898).
Though his essay is almost entirely philo-Semitic, Twain did include within it his view that the Jewish people, “like the Christian Quaker,” were unwilling servicemen – that they had “an unpatriotic disinclination to stand by the flag as a soldier.” However, after the War Department figures showed Jewish overrepresentation in the U.S. military, Twain issued a retraction which he titled “The Jew as Soldier.”
In 1867, a mere eight decades before the state of Israel’s formal declaration, Twain traveled to Palestine and chronicled his trip in The Innocents Abroad. One particular quote sheds adequate light on his assessment of the place:
[It is a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse… A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action… We never saw a human being on the whole route… There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.