Non­fic­tion

(((Semi­tism))): Being Jew­ish in Amer­i­ca in the Age of Trump

  • Review
By – September 9, 2018

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.

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