The heat of Weisman’s outrage, tempered by the precision of his arguments, elevates this book to a must-read examination of the contemporary renaissance of anti-Semitism. It is a call for action, part warning and part how-to manual, addressing individual American Jews, Jewish communities, and, especially, Jewish institutions. The ugly head of anti-Semitism has returned to “the land of the free,” most notably in the messages and methods of the alt-right movement. According to Weisman, it is time to cut it off.
Partly rooted in Timothy Snyder’s writings, Weisman’s study provides a compact history of the rise of the alt-right, its canny exploitation of social media, its odd success at resurrecting ancient European clichés about Jews, and the affinity that seems to exist between the group’s rise and that of Donald Trump.
Weisman’s first chapter begins: “The Jew flourishes when borders come down, when boundaries blur, when walls are destroyed, not erected.” Weisman considers the Age of Trump to be an Age of Walls, at least in its aspirations. He identifies the success of the man he calls “the first Jewish citizen of the world,” Maimonides, as an outgrowth of the tolerance of the twelfth-century Islamic Empire, a time and place of fewer boundaries. Weisman goes on to address other exceptional “international” Jews in the context of their times, including Moses Mendelssohn.
Weisman’s focus, of course, is the history of Jews in the United States, which leads him to sketch the situation and success of Jews in North America during the centuries of discovery.
In his chapter “The Israel Deception,” Weisman warily probes Jewish dependence on Christian fundamentalism’s support of Israel. He also pays close attention to the successes and failures of Jewish political and public relations efforts. The American Jewish Committee (AJC), the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and other influential groups receive careful consideration.
In later chapters, Weisman examines President Obama’s terms, the proliferation of the alt-right, and — stridently yet hopefully — the need for Jewish unity as well as a collective response, on the part of all Americans, against white nationalism. He finds many convincing ways of warning readers that Jewish complacency is never fruitful. Throughout, Weisman addresses his own Jewish identity, interspersing vignettes about his personal experiences as an American Jew.
This passionate book provides strong and necessary medicine. Time will tell if, without other rallying voices, it is sufficient.
Philip K. Jason is professor emeritus of English at the United States Naval Academy. A former editor of Poet Lore, he is the author or editor of twenty books, including Acts and Shadows: The Vietnam War in American Literary Culture and Don’t Wave Goodbye: The Children’s Flight from Nazi Persecution to American Freedom.