The Magazine

Blaming the Jews

Do we face a new anti-Semitism, or the return of the old anti-Semitism?

May 10, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 33 • By WERNER J. DANNHAUSER
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Never Again?

The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism

by Abraham H. Foxman

HarperSanFrancisco, 305 pp., $24.95

The Return of Anti-Semitism

by Gabriel Schoenfeld

Encounter, 193 pp., $25.95

KEEPING TRACK of anti-Semitism is steady work. The next instance is always lurking in the wings--and those who point it out will always seem to be exaggerating and making matters worse by playing into the hands of "real" anti-Semites. Yet the people who worry about anti-Semitism know a big thing: Anti-Semitism thrives on denial. The work of those who keep track of it is therefore not only steady but mandatory, and both Abraham Foxman's Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism and Gabriel Schoenfeld's The Return of Anti-Semitism are worthy endeavors.

The books could hardly help overlapping. Each offers a diagnosis of the alarming increase of anti-Semitism since the end of World War II, and each surveys the current scene. To a great extent they feature the same cast: One can't write such a book without referring to Arafat in the Middle East, Jörg Haider in Austria, Louis Farrakhan in the United States, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion just about everywhere--but especially in Arab countries.

What is more, both books agree on a wide array of facts and assessments: that anti-Semitism was given a bad name, as it were, by Hitler and therefore went into a lull after the Nazis' defeat, for example. But it did not vanish, and all the signs point to a continuing upsurge today. That upsurge received a boost by the onset of the second round of the intifada in Israel in 2000. Today's anti-Semitism may not be identical with anti-Zionism, but it is inseparably linked to it--and, because of the situation in the Middle East, it is on the verge of becoming indistinguishable from it. This calls for alarm, especially since even the United States, historically blessed by the unparalleled weakness of anti-Semitism within its borders, today shows signs of a spreading infection of the disease.

DOES ALL THIS MEAN that one can speak of a new anti-Semitism? On this point the authors disagree. Foxman refers to the "new anti-Semitism" in his subtitle; Schoenfeld speaks of the "return of anti-Semitism." The difference is real. Abraham Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, for which he has worked since 1965; in the public mind he is the Anti-Defamation League. Both he and his organization tend to view anti-Semitism as fundamentally a right-wing phenomenon.

Thus "the Right" appears in the title of two of his book's chapters, and Foxman repeatedly mentions Mel Gibson and his popular new movie, while Gabriel Schoenfeld mentions Gibson only in one footnote. Thus, too, Foxman is more concerned than Schoenfeld about breaches in the wall of separation between church and state--believing, with less than compelling evidence, that any breach is bad for the Jews (and the nation) and not acknowledging the complexity of the Constitution on this point.

Still, Foxman recognizes that the newness of the new anti-Semitism is in large part due to the great upsurge of left-wing hatred of the Jews. Anti-Semitism today has learned to speak in terms of Jewish racism and Jewish colonialism. As he puts it: "In today's new mutant strain of anti-Semitism, traditional elements of the extreme right and the extreme left are working together, often in concert with immigrants of Arab descent and terrorist organizations based in the Middle East."

The term "new anti-Semitism" may have the advantage of drawing attention to current misdeeds, but it has the disadvantage of tending to sever those crimes from the past and thereby make denial easier. Thus when young thugs in France desecrate cemeteries and burn synagogues they can be reprimanded for their "misguided" acts instead of being charged with murderous hatred of Jews. Schoenfeld does not fall into this trap, although he does not at all deny that there is something new in the air. Indeed, at one point he speaks of "an unexpected twist in the helix of anti-Semitism's DNA."