Hot words hide real danger

The Return of Anti-Semitism
May 20, 2005

Lionel Kochan finds a polemic on anti-Semitism does its cause no favours

Through its ability to assume a multitude of guises, anti-Semitism has been - and remains - one of the most powerful ideologies.

Its protean nature has enabled anti-Semitism to appeal to a variety of opposing outlooks: left/right, secular/religious, nationalist/internationalist, and so on. Gabriel Schoenfeld's book on the ubiquity of a revived anti-Semitism takes a sweeping approach, with special emphasis on the Islamist world - it "is today the epicentre of a particularly virulent brand of anti-Semitic hatred", he writes. This theme takes up a good third of the book, though not to the exclusion of other varieties, propagated, for example, by Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Jorg Haider in Austria, religio-nationalists in Central and Eastern Europe, and in America by certain Islamic nativist and left-wing forces. But it is still bewildering to read a sentence such as this: "If universities have become prime propagators of anti-Semitism in the United States, the media have hardly been derelict."

Schoenfeld has a particular target in certain American-Jewish intellectuals who have made public their criticism of Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and in the Occupied Territories - people such as Amitai Etzioni, Leon Wieseltier, Susannah Heschel and Daniel Boyarin. In creating this sense of a civil war among the American-Jewish intelligentsia, Schoenfeld reveals a failure to understand the distinction between a critique of Israel and anti-Semitism.

This is clearly a polemical work, which sees America and the Jewries of the world at odds with the same enemy. It is well documented, but Schoenfeld's scatter-gun approach enables him to deal only superficially with the anti-Semitism to which he refers. There is little attempt to discriminate between, say, the reported lament of the editor of the Church Times - "whenever I print anything sympathetic to Israel, I get deluged with complaints that I am Zionist and racist" - and an assault on the Central Synagogue in Kiev. All is grist to Schoenfeld's mill, so much so that at times he seems to suffer from the mirror-image of the anti-Semites'

nightmare of a worldwide conspiracy of Jews intent on subverting the existing order. He describes the European Muslim accompaniment to the second (al-Aqsa) intifada as a series of violent attacks on synagogues "in every corner of Europe: Salonika, Florence, Venice, Rome, Madrid, Geneva, Emmen and Oss in the Netherlands, Malmo in Sweden". Two years later, "in the spring of 2002, in the course of a mere two weeks, Europe went into a paroxysm of anti-Jewish fervour. Street demonstrations took place not only in every major capital but in hundreds of smaller cities and towns." Many of the demonstrators had posters equating Sharon with Hitler, or were mouthing death threats to Jews.

History is also not Schoenfeld's forte. His reference to seven decades of the Soviet Union's "flagrantly anti-Israel policy" is irreconcilable with Russian policy at the UN in 1947, and the prompt Russian recognition of the new state of Israel in 1948 and, even more, with Russian acquiescence in the clandestine supply of arms to Israel during the War of Independence.

This policy, of course, did no more than correspond pragmatically with Russian interests in the post-war world, and was in any case accompanied by the internal suppression of Jewish culture in the Soviet Union. But it remains a corrective to Schoenfeld's black-and-white vision.

The book does at least have the merit of documenting in detail today's undoubted revival of anti-Semitism, particularly noticeable in the pervasive obloquy heaped on Israel. But at this time of danger, what is required is not an assemblage of press cuttings linked by colourful language, but a serious analysis of the sinister forces at work. As it stands, this book renders a disservice to a worthy cause.

Lionel Kochan is a member of Wolfson College, Oxford.

The Return of Anti-Semitism

Author - Gabriel Schoenfeld
Publisher - Politico's
Pages - 186
Price - £17.99
ISBN - 1 845 123 9

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