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Combating Anti-Semitism: A Reading List

Tuesday, October 30, 2018| Permalink

The following is an excerpt from the 2019 issue of Paper Brigade, the Jewish Book Council's annual literary journal. You can pre-order the issue here.

Amid the recent upsurge of anti-Semitism, we asked prominent authors of recent or forthcoming nonfiction to recommend a book for this list. The breadth of topics and time periods covered by the works below attests to the insidiousness of anti-Semitism, but also to the impressive range of scholarship devoted to examining and overcoming it. Even the spelling of "anti-Semitism"/"antisemitism" is currently under scrutiny; to reflect this, the recommenders’ chosen spellings of the word have been left intact.

Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech by Victoria Saker Woeste

We live in a new era of antisemitic hate speech and we have no idea what to do about it. Should Jewish organizations police hate speech in the media and sue antisemites? Or does that only fan the flames of antisemitism and stifle free expression? One place to look for answers is in legal historian Victoria Saker Woeste’s wonderful 2012 book, Henry Ford's War on Jews and the Legal Battle Against Hate Speech. Woeste deftly reconstructs the first major episode of antisemitic hate speech in American society, the publication of Henry Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, and how Jewish lawyers debated the proper way to combat it.

—James Loeffler, author of Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (2018)

Contemporary Left Antisemitism by David Hirsh

This is an incisive, hard-hitting, and very readable examination of antisemitism coming from the left. Hirsh’s focus is primarily on Britain and the Labour party. It is written with a scholar’s insight and balance and with a tinge of sadness as Hirsh, a longtime Labour supporter, ponders what has happened to the party that has been his political home for all his adult life.

—Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of Antisemitism: Here and Now (2019)

A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism by Phyllis Goldstein

Any book that starts with a slaughter of Jews in ancient Alexandria is not going to be a light, easy read. But as I was writing my most recent book, Goldstein's sweeping compendium became my grounding. The book is exhaustive; I can't imagine too many flare-ups of the ancient hate missed her gaze. But in reading the sweep of anti-Semitism in ancient to modern history, I was able to put this moment into perspective—for better, and, sadly, for worse as well.

—Jonathan Weisman, author of (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump (2018)

Jews, Judaism and Anti-Judaism: Reading the New Testament After the Holocaust edited by Paula Fredriksen and Adele Reinhartz

One of the earliest and most enduring sources of antisemitism is the interpretation of the New Testament; works like the Gospel of John continue to play a role in fostering misunderstanding and suspicion of Jews today. In Jews, Judaism and Anti-Judaism, two leading scholars of early Christianity aim to help readers better understand some of the key canonical texts that have long fueled Christian hostility to Jews and Judaism. This is by no means the only book to address the role of the New Testament in the history of antisemitism. What distinguishes it is the editors’ effort to include a range of divergent scholarly perspectives—in addition to their own essays, the volume includes contributions by three other major authorities in the field, E. P. Sanders, John Gager, and Amy-Jill Levine, along with a bibliography of additional readings. Slim and accessible, the book is a good entry point for those wishing to know more about the beginnings of Christian hostility to Jews, and makes a case for deeper historical understanding of the New Testament as the best way to overcome its role as a catalyst for Christian anti-Judaism.

—Steven Weitzman, author of The Origin of the Jews: The Quest for Roots in a Rootless Age (2017)

On Modern Jewish Politics by Ezra Mendelsohn

This book explores the different approaches taken by East European and American Jews toward anti-Semitism in the early twentieth century. Writing in a lively style full of telling anecdotes, Mendelsohn divides Jewish political groups into integrationists, who believed anti-Semitism was a manageable problem; and separatists/nationalists, who believed it was not. The rub was with Jewish socialist movements, which had a foot in both camps. An added benefit is Mendelsohn’s comparison with early twentieth-century African American politics.

—David E. Fishman, author of The Book Smugglers: Partisans, Poets, and the Race to Save Jewish Treasures from the Nazis (2017)

Warrant for Genocide: The Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Norman Cohn

Originally published in 1967 and reissued several times, this is a classic historiography of antisemitism. It traces the origins of one of the most infamous and dangerous books of the twentieth century, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion,which claimed the existence of a Jewish conspiracy to dominate the world. Despite being a demonstrated forgery, Protocols was used to justify anti-Jewish persecution—including the Holocaust. Cohn identifies a number of political and literary texts that were used to build this narrative of a secret design of world conquest and domination by Jews. Although Protocols was most likely drafted at the beginning of the last century in czarist Russia, several of the works that inspired them were French; at the turn of the twentieth century, France was, in fact, one of the headquarters of modern political antisemitism (as exemplified by the Dreyfus affair). In an age of fake news, Warrant for Genocide shows how false anti-Jewish accusations were built and spread through an ambiguous and frightening text, which became the justification for hatred and murderous violence.

—Simon Levis Sullam, author of The Italian Executioners: The Genocide of the Jews of Italy (2018)

When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation by Paula Fredriksen

Increasing recognition that Jesus was a Jew and should be understood within the history of Judaism has played a major role in tackling Christian antisemitism over recent decades. Still, few Christians are fully aware of the Jewishness of Paul and most others in the early Church. With empathy and scholarly precision, Fredriksen tells the gripping story of the early Jewish followers of Jesus, tracing their changing perspectives as they awaited the end-time, and as events unfolded in ways they did not anticipate.

—Martin Goodman, author of A History of Judaism (2018)

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