Reviewed by NEAL GENDLER
Anti-Semitism, the world’s oldest hatred, is coming back in style, occasionally overtly but more often in disguise, says Deborah Lipstadt, a leading authority on that social malaise and its ghastly consequences.
Lipstadt points to outright expressions of Jew hatred in Europe and the United States but says it often underlies anti-Zionism and blaming of all Jews for Israel’s alleged misdeeds.
Although “physical acts and rhetorical expressions of anti-Semitism” have increased, “numbers should not be what drive us,” she says.
“What should alarm us is that human beings continue to believe in a conspiracy that demonizes Jews and sees them as responsible for evil.” The historical results have spanned centuries, leading to the Shoah.
“The heart of conspiracy theories is the notion of a secret cabal of powerful people, a demonic elite who control crucial elements of a particular society,” she says.
The theories often conflict. Some say Jews are Communists, others say Jews are greedy capitalists. It’s malicious nonsense: If Jews control the news media, why is Israel so often portrayed negatively?
Emory University professor Lipstadt gained wide fame after historian David Irving sued her in Britain — where the defendant has the burden of proof — for calling him a Holocaust denier. The judge ruled powerfully in her favor. The trial inspired the movie Denial.
She says Anitisemitism: Here and Now was more difficult than her books about the Shoah, because it’s not about past but present.
So she cleverly fashioned it as a series of letters among fictional Abigail, an intelligent Jewish student confronted by people who think Jews must have done something to have caused antisemitism, and Joe, a fictional gentile law professor troubled by anti-Semitism he can’t understand.
Dividing Antisemitism into seven sections, with subsections on specific topics, Lipstadt disassembles Jew hatred, expertly examining it piece by piece, explaining what is and what isn’t anti-Semitic.
For example, “negation of Jewish nationhood is a form of anti-Semitism, if not in intent then certainly in effect.” Denying the Shoah, “the best-documented genocide in the world,” is anti-Semitic. Criticism of Israeli policies is not, but “blaming all Jews for something wrong Israel has done” is.
So is the “yes, but,” argument — declaring anti-Semitisim wrong but rationalizing it to real or imagined Jewish behavior. The “dinner-party anti-Semite” publicly deplores anti-Semitism but privately disparages Jews. The “clueless anti-Semite” has so internalized anti-Semitic tropes that they’re spoken without awareness.
She cites Twin Cities-based anthropologist Riv-Ellen Prell’s description of the “Jewish American Princess” stereotype. Once a joke within the tribe, its broad spread belittles Jews and women, becoming what Lipstadt calles “a manifestation of latent anti-Semitism.”
So is rewriting of histories by some East European nations in ways that minimize participation in Nazi-era killing of Jews. Forms of this have occurred in Lithuania and Poland. A Budapest statue portrays Hungary as Germany’s victim; it was Germany’s ally. The Hungarian Arrow Cross murdered Jews.
Lipstadt says education is of little value for committed anti-Semites, whose “contempt for the Jew is not the result of a ‘cognitive error.’ Their views are “refracted through a pre-established prism of hatred.”
She says Donald Trump “is probably not an anti-Semite” and didn’t create white supremacist extremist groups, “but he has let these reprehensible genies out of the bottle. They are convinced that they have his imprimatur. And he has not disabused them of that notion.”
British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn — who could be Britain’s next prime minister — has an automatic sympathy “for anyone who is or appears to be oppressed or an underdog,” she says. This might exclude Jews, who could not be victims because they appear to be white, well off and a supposedly privileged group.
Corbyn was photographed in 2014 at a Tunisian wreath-laying ceremony honoring terrorists involved in the 1972 Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes. The terrorists died in a 1985 Israeli attack.
Lipstadt’s “Toxifying Israel” section shows that hatred of Israel on college campuses and among so-called progressive groups is worse than we think.
All this is just the tip of a mountain of fact, logic, explanation and refutation, and the cumulative force is enormous.
Still, she says, “It is hard, if not impossible, to explain something that is essentially irrational, delusional and absurd.”
Neal Gendler is a Minneapolis writer and editor.