The Resur­gence of Anti-Semi­tism: Jews, Israel and Lib­er­al Opinion

Bernard Har­ri­son
  • Review
By – March 23, 2012

A good deal of atten­tion has been focused in recent years on the resur­gence of anti- Semi­tism in Europe, the Unit­ed States, and the Mid­dle East. Since the col­lapse of the Oslo peace accords in 2000 and the launch­ing of a ter­ror­ist war against Israel by Hamas and oth­er Pales­tin­ian groups, hos­til­i­ty to Jews and espe­cial­ly to the Jew­ish state has esca­lat­ed in ways that few fore­saw. The resur­gence of anti- Semi­tism may not have been caused by these events, but it has been fueled by them and has inten­si­fied since the 9/11 strikes in New York and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and the wars that have fol­lowed in Afghanistan and Iraq. This per­sis­tent prej­u­dice is clear­ly brew­ing in the world again. Across Europe there have been a series of vio­lent assaults against Jews and Jew­ish insti­tu­tions on a scale not seen since World War II. Anti-Semi­tism can be detect­ed on the polit­i­cal right, and as Bernard Har­ri­son so ably demon­strates on vir­tu­al­ly every page of his impor­tant book, it has also found a home on the polit­i­cal left in a fierce anti-Zion­ism that negates the very right of Israel to exist and resem­bles tra­di­tion­al anti-Semi­tism at its worst. The charge often heard in Europe, and to some degree in Amer­i­ca in the press, among aca­d­e­mics and senior intel­lec­tu­als and politi­cians, dur­ing protests, equat­ing Israelis with Nazis and Zion­ism with Nazism and racism is emblem­at­ic of these shrill attacks. In the Mus­lim world, par­tic­u­lar­ly in its Jihadist ver­sions, there is a hatred of Jews that seems to be at the core of its ide­ol­o­gy and world view. The belief in an inter­na­tion­al Jew­ish con­spir­a­cy is only one of the sev­er­al clas­sic myths about Jews that are cur­rent­ly wide­ly believed in the Mus­lim world. Jew­ish-Zion­ists are behind much of what ails Islam today, this irra­tional the­o­ry claims, and alarm­ing­ly The Pro­to­cols of the Elders of Zion” is now enjoy­ing a new pop­u­lar­i­ty and is reach­ing mil­lions of new consumers. 

The three books reviewed here pro­vide some wel­come light and analy­sis on this murky, but alarm­ing prob­lem. Ken­neth Stern, the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Committee’s expert on anti-Semi­tism since 1989, offers Anti-Semi­tism Today, a con­cise account and analy­sis of the new glob­al anti-Semi­tism. He writes with the con­fi­dence and com­mit­ment of some­one who has been on the front­lines of the fight against anti-Semi­tism, but his pas­sion is tem­pered by reflec­tion and evi­dence. In addi­tion to describ­ing what is hap­pen­ing in the world, his most impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions are his chap­ters on the chal­lenges being faced on the Amer­i­can cam­pus, and his sug­ges­tions for com­bat­ing anti- Semi­tism and the need to devel­op new strate­gies and ear­ly warn­ing mea­sure­ments. The book is a primer for that struggle.

In an excep­tion­al­ly well-craft­ed book, The Resur­gence of Anti-Semi­tism: Jews, Israel, and Lib­er­al Opin­ion, Bernard Har­ri­son, a dis­tin­guished British philoso­pher, exam­ines why the polit­i­cal left has become so com­fort­able with anti-Semi­tism new­ly dressed up as anti-Zion­ism. He demon­strates how it has spread to infect left-lib­er­al” dis­course on many oth­er lev­els and he explores how the anti-racist left finds itself, iron­i­cal­ly, in the thick of foment­ing one of the ear­li­est forms of racism. As Andrei Markovits does as well in Uncouth Nation, Har­ri­son shows that anti- Semi­tism in Britain and in Europe gen­er­al­ly is con­nect­ed to anti-Amer­i­can­ism and is gripped by an obses­sion with anti-Zion­ism which helps fos­ter Euro­pean iden­ti­ty, assuage old guilts about his­toric Euro­pean anti-Semi­tism and has the added ben­e­fit of being cloaked in the rhetoric of moral virtue itself. Britain is today sec­ond only to France as the site of the most numer­ous anti-Semit­ic inci­dents. In addi­tion to the hun­dreds of annu­al assaults and des­e­cra­tions, Britain has been at the fore­front of the anti-Israel boy­cott and divest­ment cam­paigns led by the Church of Eng­land and the country’s largest teach­ers’ union. Har­ri­son spends much of the book debunk­ing the false charges levied against Jews and Israel and expos­ing the bogus nature of the accusato­ry rhetoric now com­mon­ly employed against Israel such as apartheid,” racism,” fas­cism,” geno­cide,” and colo­nial­ism.”

Har­ri­son, Markovits, and Stern reveal the nature of con­tem­po­rary anti-Semi­tism, the groups and cul­tures most sus­cep­ti­ble to these ideas, what func­tion they play for them, and why anti-Semi­tism is emerg­ing in force now. They are required read­ing for all who fear that the threat is real and who want to help devise the best strat­e­gy to fight it.

Addi­tion­al Titles Fea­tured in Review

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.

Discussion Questions