Antisemitism: Here and Now

By Deborah Lipstadt
Published by Schocken 2019

Review by Amy Bradford

The recent events in Israel and Gaza have brought international attention to their situation. To those with the slightest familiarity with the region, there was nothing surprising about the escalating violence. What might be surprising to non-Jewish people is that, according to the Community Security Trust, antisemitic incidents have increased by 500% in the UK as a result. It is therefore incumbent on pro-Palestine activists to be responsible and considered in their criticisms of the Israeli military and government policies without invoking antisemitic tropes. An important first step in this process is to increase our awareness and knowledge of antisemitism.

Antisemitism: Here and Now, written in the form of letters to an imagined student and colleague, sets out to expose modern-day antisemitism. Initially, I thought that an irritating gimmick. However, I quickly found this format helps the readability of the book, enabling the author to change topics without disrupting its flow. She begins by discussing the rise of the alt-right (and the way in which their ‘respectable’ presentation allows noxious ideas to seep into public discourse undetected) and the other types of (more subtle) antisemite she has identified. 

Lipstadt goes on to discuss Holocaust denial, and the related phenomenon of Holocaust inversion. I was interested to discover that this concept had an academic term to describe it, but her analysis of Israel critiques is where I became frustrated. She dismisses a one-state solution and criticism of the imbalance in the law of return, but doesn’t explain her reasoning in classifying these as antisemitism. It seems she’s forgotten that not everybody shares her familiarity with the minutiae of these debates, and that she ought to fill us in.

Every book on such a vast topic will have to make compromises in its scope to stay within the concentration span of the general public. What this book won’t do is provide historical context – no explanations of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, blood libel, expulsions, or massacres. There are thousands of years to cover, and it would be impossible for the book to retain its focus while doing justice to these topics. It won’t explain the ethnic divisions among Jewish people – differences between Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardic, Ethiopian, and Kaifeng Jews, for example. This would have added more nuance to the conversation, expanding the scope of her analysis beyond the discrimination against (predominantly Ashkenazi) Jews in the West.

It’s frustrating to read so much unrelated content about Islamic fundamentalism and misguided campus activism without any mention of non-Western antisemitism. Another omission is any verdict on whether antisemitism is a greater problem on the Left or the Right. However, her apparent fence-sitting seems a necessary omission. Not only is the political situation evolving far too rapidly to pin down such a position, but it would also give the opposing camp permission to relax and allow antisemitism to flourish within their ranks (because “at least we’re not as bad as them”). 

This is a great start for those exploring the topic of antisemitism, but it shouldn’t be the end. I am personally going to continue my reading, and invite you to do the same.

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