I have read tomes about antisemitism. Books that attempted to encapsulate the reasons for, and provide an understanding of this oldest of hatred. There is the psychological angle, the historical angle, the sociological angle, the political and religious perspective. But none of them ever actually come up with a really good reason why. Why is there antisemitism? What is it about the conspiratorial aspect of this oldest of ancient beliefs that so permeates the human soul?
Many had thought 70 years after the Holocaust that humanity had turned a corner with an introspective look into the recesses of its own soul. They were wrong. In truth, antisemitism never really went away. It only morphed into a different form, one more appropriate for today’s political, economic and religious reality.
In her latest book, Antisemitism Here and Now, the renowned Holocaust historian, Deborah Lipstadt, attempts to provide a practical guide to understanding antisemitism. Her book is written as correspondence between herself, a colleague and a student. The writing is easy to understand. There is no convolution. No belabored points. Her lessons are very straight forward. She is holding a very important class, on a topic that so many need to understand. Not merely because of the growth of animus within our own society, but because of the growth of the acceptance of this animus in our society.
From a very meaningful discussion on how to spell antisemitism, she also discusses its historical etymology, its syntax and usage, she segways into a discussion about the different types of antisemites found in society. How to identify them, by not only their dress, but more importantly their words, deeds and inaction.
There is a discussion of the media savvy, clean cut image used by the Right wing alt right, to make themselves out to be the acceptable next door all -American neighbor. They know how to play the game. Yet, even by their words you can identify them. Their “blood and soil” language, their politics of contempt and outright hate are still very clear to see.
Lipstadt discusses the Holocaust denier, the 9/11 conspirator, and the Protocols of the Elder of Zion antisemite. All reveling in the belief that some kind of magical Jewish cabal controls so much of the world. That somewhere Jewish puppetmasters spin tales of mysticism to the point that even the most influential and powerful gentiles on the planet fall into line beneath these contemptuous Jewish, nay Zionist, plans.
She also does not shy away from discussing the antisemitism of the radical Islamists, and how so much of the European leaders refuse to see the hatred for what it is. Instead so many trying to blame Israel for antisemitism of the Moslem world, as if, there never was antisemitism before the Jewish state was reborn. She discusses how the Jews of Europe behave in order to protect themselves, and to survive in today’s modern gauntlet of trying to live as a Jew in Europe. sandwiched between the radicals of every stripe.
But it is when she shows the progressive left wing antisemite that things get truly interesting. For progressives, those that fight racism, can’t be antisemites? After all, they have spent their lives promoting equality, understanding and acceptance. But it is in these progressive spaces that the most virulent antisemitism exists. You can say it is left over antisemitic/AntiIsrael rhetoric from the Soviet Union. But then you would also have to ask yourself, why was it so easily accepted by persons who would reject any other form of hatred in their midsts.
And where do we see the rise of progressive antisemitism? On college campuses both through student organizations and professional academic organizations, in the form of European political parties, most notably the UK’s Labour, and in the artistic world with the BDS movement. She does an indepth dive into the real meaning of the Boycott and Divestment movement, and how in practice it is and has always been an antisemitic movement.
In fact, in the end one of the more egregious antisemites is not necessarily someone who would consider themselves a bigot at all. It’s not that they don’t harbor antisemitic stereotypes, they could or could not, it’s just not something that they believe makes them an antisemite. They don’t openly hate, or malign. They don’t do anything overt in their lives that would be considered prejudiced. But what they do is allow others to follow through on their antisemitism. Even worse than the open antisemite, is the enabler of antisemitism. And who is one of the worst enablers? Donald Trump, President of the Untied States. She presents quite a case for her theory, too.
In this context of the enabler, she discusses the abject insult when people say “some of my best friends are Jewish, or my son married a Jewish girl, or I have dated Jews myself (Livingstone),” as an excuse that you are not trafficking in antisemitism. She also discusses those Jews who themselves promote Jewish stereotypes, especially the JAP phenomena, excuse antisemites as some do when trying to enter progressive spaces, and have ingested these hatreds as part of their own persona. Many of us call them self-hating Jews. She on the other hand, does not like that term. She simply feels pity for them.
Lastly, the professor talks about how to react and to fight antisemitism. What can be done about hatred that refuses to see itself as a form of hate, whether in intersectional spaces, the Women’s March, or modern academia. How do you fight against a hatred that both the Left and the Right have embraced as something that is legitimate, albeit for different reason?
If you are looking for an understanding of why antisemitism. You are not going to get it in this book. Honestly, I don’t think there is ever going to be an understanding of why. But if you are looking for an understanding of what it is, where you can find it even when it tries to hide as something else, and what we can do about it, then this book is a very good place to start.
This book is available January 29, 2019.