Non­fic­tion

Anti­semitism: A History

Albert S. Lin­de­mann and Richard S. Levy, eds.
  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

After the hor­rors of the Holo­caust, rea­son­able peo­ple assumed or maybe hoped that this per­sis­tent prej­u­dice, the longest hatred” as Robert Wistrich called it, would final­ly slide into obso­les­cence. But today the evi­dence is unmis­tak­able that anti-Semi­tism is dra­mat­i­cal­ly on the rise again and that it is glob­al and pow­er­ful. The torch­ing of Euro­pean syn­a­gogues, sui­cide ter­ror in Israel, the Holo­caust denial lit­er­a­ture spread­ing through­out the Mus­lim world, the relent­less com­par­i­son of Israelis to Nazis, the vio­lence and calum­ny erupt­ing on Amer­i­can and Cana­di­an col­lege cam­pus­es, the para­noid con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries, the pro­lif­er­a­tion of anti-Semit­ic lit­er­a­ture hark­ing back to medieval myths of blood libel, all sug­gest that anti-Semi­tism is alive and well and that it has become appeal­ing and social­ly and polit­i­cal­ly accept­able to many. 

Anti­semitism: A His­to­ry offers a read­able overview of the his­tor­i­cal con­text and reach of this old and now new” and renewed social pathol­o­gy. The edi­tors, Albert Lin­de­mann and Richard Levy, experts in the field, have gath­ered an impres­sive group of rec­og­nized schol­ars who have tak­en into account the most impor­tant devel­op­ments in their areas of exper­tise. The fif­teen essays con­tained in the vol­ume for the most part pro­vide suc­cinct and read­able intro­duc­tions to the his­to­ry and nature of anti-Semi­tism, empha­siz­ing the­mat­ic coher­ence and bal­ance. Col­lec­tive­ly, they cov­er a range of the top­ic, from the ancient world and the pre-Chris­t­ian era, through the Medieval and Ear­ly Mod­ern peri­ods, to the Enlight­en­ment and beyond. The lat­er chap­ters focus on the his­to­ry of anti-Semi­tism by region and coun­try, look­ing at Ger­many and Aus­tria, France, the Eng­lish speak­ing world, Rus­sia and the Sovi­et Union, East­ern Europe, the Arab and Mus­lim world, and Nazi Ger­many. The edi­tors pro­vide an excel­lent intro­duc­to­ry chap­ter that deals with the issues of def­i­n­i­tion, unique­ness, the­o­ry, ide­ol­o­gy, and action as well as a sug­ges­tive con­clu­sion that reflects on the chal­lenges of the new anti-Semitism. 

The essays are uni­form­ly good with sev­er­al, par­tic­u­lar­ly the con­tri­bu­tions of the edi­tors; Doris Bergen on Nazi era anti-Semi­tism, Nor­man Still­man on anti-Semi­tism in the Islam­ic world and Meir Lit­vak and Esther Wel­man on Israel and anti-Semi­tism, being espe­cial­ly impres­sive. One notable weak­ness is the bare­ly three pages devot­ed to Amer­i­can anti-Semi­tism. To read­ers seek­ing a short book that cov­ers a daunt­ing and com­plex phe­nom­e­non, this book will not disappoint. 

Michael N. Dobkows­ki is a pro­fes­sor of reli­gious stud­ies at Hobart and William Smith Col­leges. He is co-edi­tor of Geno­cide and the Mod­ern Age and On the Edge of Scarci­ty (Syra­cuse Uni­ver­si­ty Press); author of The Tar­nished Dream: The Basis of Amer­i­can Anti-Semi­tism; and co-author of The Nuclear Predicament.

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