In “Antisemitism Here and Now” (2019, Schocken Books), Jewish historian Deborah E. Lipstadt analyzes the roots and rise of anti-Jewish hatred, documenting its manifestations from the political far left as well as the far right, unabashedly calling out its enablers as well as its hardcore mouthpieces.
Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University, is best known for her books “Denying the Holocaust,” “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” and “The Eichman Trial.” The 2016 film “Denial” is based on the libel case filed against her and Penguin Books by Holocaust denier David Irving. Lipstadt and Penguin prevailed at trial.
Lipstadt’s new book is written as a series of short, fictional letters between her and two amalgams of people she has met through her work: a “whip-smart Jewish student” who has taken several of Lipstadt’s courses, and a non-Jewish professor at the university’s law school. The structure works well, allowing its author to deeply delve into her subject while keeping the text straightforward and conversational.
While Lipstadt’s well-researched revelations of the ubiquitousness of anti-Semitism are alarming, they are not alarmist. In exposing the pervasiveness of hate groups and individuals propagating vitriol and committing violence against Jews, the author is clear to distinguish the danger of contemporary anti-Semitism from that of 1930s Germany’s “state-sponsored anti-Semitism, in which national and local governmental bodies as well as academic institutions enthusiastically participated.”
Jewish Pittsburgh, though the target of the most violent anti-Semitic attack in the history of the United States, is a case in point, although Lipstadt finished her book before the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building. The first responders here risked their lives to protect the Jews inside the building under attack by a far-right extremist, while afterward, members of the interfaith community, as well as local, state and national politicians expressed their support and solidarity with the Jewish community.
Still, Lipstadt does not let anyone espousing anti-Semitic rhetoric off the hook, including those she labels “anti-Semitic enablers.” While she writes that she does not know whether President Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, she details — with meticulous citations — his many orations and tweets during the 2016 campaign that served as “dog whistles” to white supremacists, and his steadfast refusal to “seriously address the anti-Semitic behavior of his supporters.”
For example, when Jewish GQ reporter Julia Ioffe was called out on the anti-Semitic website Infostormer for an article she wrote about Melania Trump, its followers were instructed to let her “know what you think of her dirty kike trickery.” As a result, Ioffe was targeted with a barrage of anti-Semitic, violent threats. When reporters asked Trump if he had a message for those targeting her, he shook his head, and when pressed, said, “I don’t have a message to the fans.”
When Trump retweeted messages from Nazi sympathizers, and spoke during campaign speeches of “international banks” and “global financial powers,” white supremacists understood these terms as endorsement for their anti-Semitic ideology, Lipstadt points out. The editor of the anti-Semitic Daily Stormer, in response to Trump’s words, wrote: “Our Glorious Leader and ULTIMATE SAVIOR has gone full wink-wink-wink to his most aggressive supporters.”
Lipstadt then turns her attention to the political left, calling out the actions and rhetoric of the United Kingdom’s Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour Party for embracing those with similar left-wing political objectives, “their Jew hatred” irrelevant.
For example, Lipstadt points to Corbyn’s 2015 defense of former Church of England vicar Stephen Sizer, who has published an anti-Semitic website claiming Jews are responsible for 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, murdering Palestinian children “for sport,” and “harvesting organs from Gentiles at gunpoint,” among other repugnant and false claims. Corbyn has described Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and invited its leadership to meet with him at Parliament. In 2010, he responded to a caller on Iranian Press TV who described Israel as a “disease” that Arabs must “get rid of,” with: “Thank you for your call.”
Through these and scores of other examples, Lipstadt drives home the point that both those on the left and the right should be “discomforted” by the anti-Semitism in their own ranks.
“That discomfort should be caused by an acknowledgement on everyone’s part that extremism and anti-Semitism are not found only among people on the other side of the political spectrum. As long as we are blind to it in our midst, our fight against it will be futile,” she writes.
The book describes other insidious and overt manifestations of anti-Semitism, from the “dinner party anti-Semite” who makes off-the-cuff remarks about Jews based on stereotypes, to Nazis marching in Charlottesville, to progressives who “toxify” Israel. It is imperative reading for anyone interested in gaining a greater understanding of the origins and the threat of this unique form of bigotry.
Tragically, in the wake of the Tree of Life massacre, “Antisemitism Here and Now” is acutely timely. PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at