Jewish Political Studies Review 19:3-4 (Fall 2007)
Overview of a Crisis
Antisemitism Today: How It Is the Same, How It Is Different, and How to Fight It by Kenneth S. Stern, American Jewish Committee, 2006, 216 pp.
Reviewed by Shalom Freedman
Kenneth S. Stern has since 1989 been the American Jewish Committee’s specialist on extremism and anti-Semitism. In this book he provides a general picture of the battlefield and offers some specific points of strategy for confronting the latest manifestations of the world’s oldest hatred.
In his opening chapter Stern gives a short working definition, not necessarily universally accepted, of anti-Semitism:
Antisemitism is hatred toward Jews and is directed toward the Jewish religion, Jews as a people, or more recently the Jewish state. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm non-Jews and is often used to give an explanation for why things go wrong. It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms, and action and regularly employs stereotypes. (8)
Stern goes on to discuss the factors that have spawned the new anti-Semitism. He contends that the Islamic successes in humiliating the United States in Iran in 1979 and in defeating the Soviet Union in Afghanistan led to a new sense of Islamic empowerment. Stern points out that the Islamists are “antisemitic to the core” and hence any increase in their power means intensified anti-Semitic ideas and activity.
He also notes that the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in September 2000 “gave new license to express vitriol against the sole Jewish state on the planet.” Stern observes that the European charges of Israel engaging in “Nazi-like behavior” were often a means to dispel guilt. In addition, Muslim demographic growth in Europe fostered growing tendencies to appease them with anti-Israeli expressions.
Stern next discusses the United Nations’ “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance” in Durban in the summer of 2001. This conference notoriously came to embody the very evils it ostensibly opposed. Although the story is now familiar, Stern recounts it with chilling effect.
Stern goes on to analyze 9/11 and its distortion by anti-Semites, including the myth of the four thousand Jewish workers who were supposedly warned in advance and stayed home that day. Stern shows how this libel fits into the long tradition of blaming Jews for whatever evil occurs in the world. The special irony in this case is that it is precisely those from whose ranks the 9/11 perpetrators came, the Islamists, who most vigorously spread the fabrication.
This leads Stern to consider anti-Semitism in its present heartland, the Arab and Islamic world. His small chapter cannot do justice to what has become a vast and ever-expanding category of paranoid fantasies and projections about Jews.
Stern then surveys anti-Semitism in Europe, where the Islamic and far-Right variants converge, and where the media tends to buy Palestinian propaganda uncritically and promote a picture of the Palestinian victim- heroes resisting the Israeli oppressor.
Other topics include Holocaust denial and anti-Israeli trends on U.S. campuses. Regarding the latter, Stern cites the work of Martin Kramer, which shows that many Middle Eastern Studies departments have become “virtual propaganda machines that ignore the human rights abuses in every Arab country, but rail against Israel, and assert that its mere existence is an example of racism” (128). Stern discusses the effort to counter this phenomenon by creating Israel Studies programs on campuses.
Stern also describes the intimidation that pro-Israeli students have suffered on campuses. Ultimately he recommends that less emphasis be placed on silencing the “distasteful voices” and more on ensuring that Israel’s narrative is told and that serious scholarship on Israel is encouraged.
Strategy and Leadership
In his conclusion, Stern proposes a multifaceted approach to combating anti-Semitism. He argues that it is crucial to understand the various kinds of anti-Semitism involved, since different kinds must be fought in different ways. Although he does not foresee a total victory, he expresses hope that future generations may experience less anti-Semitism than did his parents’ generation.
This is a valuable book, but the problem of the new anti-Semitism may be even more acute than Stern suggests. An increasingly isolated Israel and Jewish people face further and further efforts at delegitimization. Threats are made to destroy Israel (as Stern does mention) without adequate response anywhere. The United States, struggling in Iraq, is subject to constant propaganda advocating its abandonment of Israel. There is an urgent need for a more dynamic and responsible Israeli leadership capable of warding off the disaster that the anti-Semites are trying to instigate.
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SHALOM FREEDMAN‘s most recent book is Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Torah Sage and General (Jerusalem and New York: Urim, 2006).