Mikael Shainkman, ed. Antisemitism Today and Tomorrow: Global Perspectives on the Many Faces of Contemporary Antisemitism. Academic Studies Press, 2018, 274 pp.
This book offers a very accurate and duly pessimistic review of the new and powerful growth of anti-Semitism today. The 16 authors whose essays are collected here belong to many different institutions and countries—from Irena Cantorovich, a researcher of anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union domain and now bulletin coordinator at Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry; to Günther Jikeli of Indiana University, who is from the European Jewish Studies Institute of Potsdam; to Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University, head of the Kantor Center; to scholars with a focus on countries and regions.
Mikael Shainkman, curator and research fellow at the Kantor Center, offers a wide-ranging and insightful discussion of the overwhelming question concerning the reasons for and nature of the growth of contemporary anti-Semitism all over the world, an unexpected and disturbing phenomenon. Many dilemmas accompany the effort to characterize this development. “Following the Holocaust no one who wanted to be taken seriously in the Western world would accept the epithet anti-Semite,” Shainkman notes. “Prejudice and hatred against the Jews… disappeared together with their most vociferous propagators in the Third Reich”—or so it was thought.
One frequent mistake that was made regarding anti-Semitism, and that the greatest historian of the subject, the late Robert Wistrich, never committed, was to imagine—as widely believed, even among Jews—that defeating Nazi fascism also meant defeating anti-Semitism. History teaches that this was never the case—as in the Polish pogroms after the Holocaust, the persecution of Jews in the Soviet Union and its satellite countries, or the anti-Semitic hatred among Muslims. Such anti-Semitism was not necessarily dependent on either the Left or the Right. The Stalinist ideology, for its part, was well rooted in the history of left-wing anti-Semitic thought. From Proudhon to Marx and so many others, the Left propounded an ideological justification of anti-Semitism that is not a residue of right-wing anti-Semitism but a hydra with many heads that emerges and mutates in many different forms and contexts. While the Europeanization of various nations has institutionalized an official memory of the Holocaust, it can also—as we see in Poland—foster popular rebellion against the “correct” memories and responsibilities. Several essays in the book examine this issue in a highly engaging fashion. Irena Cantorovich rightly points out that in several countries, astonishingly, Jews have remained in the collective memory as the representatives of the hated Soviet power.
Shainkman, in his own essay and in his choices for other essays, accords prime importance to the new extreme Right, which has gained power by railing against the globalized economy and the undermining of traditional values. In assigning responsibility to the European rightist tradition, he goes so far as to identify a positive trend even in Iran’s internal dynamics. In his introductory essay he also maintains—a view that Prof. Porat considers profoundly mistaken—that while Western Europe tends to blame Islam and Muslim immigrants for its woes, “these accusations have been traditionally been pinned on the Jews and this is increasingly the case once again.” Yet Muslims are not being accused of a conspiracy to dominate the world, and Jews are not being accused of harassing women or selling drugs.
Porat, in her own essay on “The Struggle over the International Working Definition of Anti-Semitism,” offers good ideas for counteracting this new wave. It is always intriguing but also sad to retrace the world’s extreme difficulty in acknowledging that something even exists that can be called anti-Semitism, so that the first struggle is just to name and define. Porat notes that the 2005 Working Definition of Anti-Semitism required years of “concerted effort of institutions and individuals” and has always been harshly attacked, as when in 2011 the congress of Britain’s University and College Union pilloried the definition because it “includes passages about anti-Semitism being camouflaged as anti-Zionism.” The issue of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is a dispute that continues to this day, as in the recent American polemics about statements by the new Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
A common and related topic concerns the difference between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Even when it is totally evident that the Jewish state is being subjected to a double standard and demonization, denial persists, severely hampering the struggle against anti-Semitism. Porat depicts how aggressive attempts to deny the contemporary nature of anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism have long pervaded the European institutions. Indeed, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights went so far as to remove the Working Definition of Anti-Semitism (WDA) from its website. Thanks, however, to the ongoing efforts of activists and scholars like Porat, the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in Bucharest in 2016 has been gaining ground, having been adopted, for instance, by the governments of Austria, Israel, Romania, and by the European Parliament in March 2017. The WDA is also advancing again in the form of the IHRA definition.
Some of the book’s essays focus on Muslim anti-Semitism, a subject that also encounters a good deal of resistance. In 2002, the results of a study commissioned by an agency of the European Union were censured because of the evident anti-Semitism of Muslims who were interviewed, which was much greater than the anti-Semitism among non-Muslim respondents. In another of many examples, a comparative survey published in 2006 by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that in the United Kingdom, 47 percent of Muslims and 7 percent of the general population expressed an unfavorable opinion of Jews. While the gap may be less dramatic in other countries, still it is always wide, and many data reported in Antisemitism Today and Tomorrow confirm that Muslims in general form the largest anti-Semitic group in the world. I would have preferred that Günther Jikeli, in his candid study, instead of worrying about the danger of Muslims being considered “necessarily” or “naturally” anti-Semitic, had considered how to counteract this immense phenomenon, nowadays so dangerous to Jews’ very lives in the form of murderous terrorism.
Also notable is Mathan Ravid’s informative essay on Mohamed Omar, a Nazi-communist anti-Zionist writer with a Swedish mother and an Iranian father. After psychopathic adventures that took him from the radical Left to the radical Right and back again in the name of his hatred toward Jews, Omar is nowadays a columnist for an online newspaper owned by the Sweden Democrats party. In addition, Andre Oboler’s essay offers insightful reflections on hate speech and freedom of expression, and Liora Hendelman-Baavur has penned a persuasive piece on the enduring legacy of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.