ANTISEMITISM: Here and Now – a book review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen

February 24, 2019 by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen
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ANTISEMITISM: Here and Now by Deborah Lipstadt

I am not sure that this book will please many despite being a tour de force. Some of my friends will argue that she has lightly let off anti-Semites {which in their minds includes those who are perceived as anti-Zionist}. Others will plead that she has overstated the case.

From both sides, they will cite events in the daily news, especially lately which has included seven members of the UK Labour Party resigning over both Brexit and Anti-Semitism in their party. And of course, there is no shortage of Anti-Semitism on the right either. And all this is conflated by perceptions over BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions].

Unless one has been living in a monastery or being similar place then one would not be aware of the recent destruction of graves or swastikas paint on the wall at Bondi or the increased incidents of anti-Semitic incidents in many parts of the world or the advise in some European countries for men not to wear a kippa in the street but either remove it or wear a more ‘conventional’ hat. It could have been attacks on Synagogues and Day Schools or shouting down visiting Jewish speakers on campus as has happened in both Europe and North America.

The book developed from many conversations she had over a few years about how anti-Semitism is defined, types of anti-Semites and the current situation which is, at best, troubling.

The format of this book is useful as it is a dialogue between Deborah Lipstadt and an imagined college student [Abigail] and an imagined colleague [Joe] who are perplexed by the resurgence of anti-Semitism. Each of these imagined individuals is very real in so many ways. It takes the form of short letters from the students and interesting responses from Professor Lipstadt- some only a paragraph or two while others can be a couple of pages long.

Professor Lipstadt has stated that this is a book she did not wish to write and with an open mind, it is worth the time for, as a historian, she presents the answers to the issues well. The book had its formation in an article she wrote a few years ago for the New York Times.

Many readers will remember the court case, followed by her book, when she was sued by the Holocaust denier, David Irving. She would be considered by most students and academics in the field of Holocaust Studies as one off the pre-eminent, if not the pre-eminent scholar today of those raised after the end of World War II

NSWJBD CEO Vic Alhadeff and Deborah Lipstadt

I am sure that most, if not all, readers have experienced anti-Semitism and will recognise at least some of the types of anti Semites she identifies in the early chapters- The Extremist (of both the left and the right); the Antisemitic Enablers; the Dinner Party Antisemite and lastly the Clueless anti-Semite. And each of us has stories from our life journeys which can illustrate some if not all of these types.

Perhaps the area of most concern and some readers will remember another time when the universities have become the source of so much prejudice and misinformation. For some readers it will be the pre-WWII days primarily in Europe, but not only there. For others, including this reviewer, it began in the days after the Six Day War and continued into the early 1970s. It is like the multi-headed serpent which keeps appearing no matter how often it seems to have been defeated.

Lipstadt stated its purpose so well in an interview. “The book is not a cri de Coeur; it’s not a vendetta – I tried to write in a meaningful way. I did not want to sound hysterical, over the top. We have a problem so let’s try to understand it.” She has definitely attained each of those goals.

This is a thought-provoking book. It is worth the time you can give to it.

Publisher: Scribe 2019 $29.99

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