Denis MacShane, a former Labour minister for Europe, is passionate about fighting racism and anti-Semitism and writes frankly about how he wants this book to be seen: "I hope [it] is polemical, partisan and political." It is. But does it increase our understanding of this deep-seated prejudice and propose new ways to combat it, or fail to rise above the bitter controversies - mostly about whether severe criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic - which characterise so much discussion of current anti-Semitism?
The book's subject is "neo-anti-Semitism", which the author sees as a dangerous threat of unprecedented proportions: "Neo-anti-Semitism is a developed, coherent and organised system of modern politics that has huge influence on the minds of millions. Neo-anti-Semitism impacts on world politics today like no other ideology." Although MacShane says neo-Nazi and right-extremist anti-Semitism is alive and well, he believes this "defining ideology of the 21st century" consists mostly of hatred of Israel and the denial of the Jewish state's right to exist, "expressed by Islamists in the east and intellectuals in the west".
To anyone who has followed the growing recent literature on current anti-Semitism, the arguments and material in MacShane's book will be familiar stuff that does not command universal agreement. Are they any more credible in his treatment than in anyone else's? Only if you are swayed by exaggeration and ready to overlook a surfeit of unsubstantiated assertions and errors of fact. Anti-Semitism has certainly worsened, but are we seriously to believe MacShane's view that it is "the world's most pernicious ideology and practice", that it is "preventing just and equitable solutions to world problems", and that Islamism is merely a sub-component of it?
What about the hatred that led to the Rwandan genocide? What of the Roma, by any measure the most discriminated against, disadvantaged, reviled and abused minority on the European continent? And don't world leaders bear some responsibility for the perpetuation of world problems?
To elevate the threat of anti-Semitism today to such levels betrays a lack of knowledge and understanding of its modern history. "Anti-Semitism is not a force consigned to history," MacShane tells us. But who said it was? Certainly no self-respecting serious student of the subject. He calls Israel "the one state in the world where anti-Semitism by definition cannot exist", when there has been ample evidence of anti-Semitic neo-Nazi groups emerging there in recent years.
He draws attention to how Jews were dis proportionately represented among the "disappeared" under the Argentinian junta of the 1970s and 1980s, but then grossly exaggerates the actual number. [And presumably ignores the fact that Israel was collaborating with the Galtieri regime at the time] He makes much of genuine Jewish fear of anti-Semitism today, but provides no evidence for his assertion that "no other religion, community or birth-defined group" has to face such a degree of fear.
Unsurprisingly, at the heart of MacShane's definition of "neo-anti-Semitism" is the belief that "anti-Zionism is Jew-hatred by other linguistic means". Some anti-Zionism is a cover for anti-Semitism, but expressed as a general rule, MacShane's view is conceptually and historically false. Moreover, it ignores the fact that hundreds of thousands of strictly Orthodox Jews oppose Zionism, and thousands more secular-leaning Diasporan Jews and Israelis, who feel strongly Jewish, reject Zionism's current form. The equation of anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred allows him to delegitimise Palestinian national claims by making anti-Semitism the defining element of Palestinian politics. "Palestinians will never have their state until they eradicate all traces of anti-Semitism from their politics and ideology," MacShane writes, when they are more likely to "eradicate" anti-Semitism from their politics once they have a state. And anyway, since when has a nation's prejudice against others prevented it from having a state?
MacShane wants a Palestinian state established alongside Israel, but the arguments in this book are a gift to the Israeli right and right-wing Diaspora Jews, who use the mantra "the world is against us and Palestinians are like Nazis" to stymie any determined moves towards a two-state solution.
I don't doubt that MacShane's polemical approach derives from genuine concern about the continued danger of anti-Semitism, but it is no substitute for cool-headed accuracy and balanced judgement. Combating anti-Semitism is made that much more difficult if you exaggerate the threat and wrongly conflate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Set the bar too high and effective measures to u it become almost impossible to imagine. Or you end up, as MacShane does, calling for "a new politics of tolerance and internationalism" - [and Jewish supremacy in occupied Palestine] hardly a match for the "defining ideology of the 21st century".
Antony Lerman is director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research
Engage will love this MacShane guy. Not so Antony Lerman, I'm guessing.
Aha, I was right. Engage have already linked to an astonishingly disingenuous review of Lerman's review. It's on the Z-word blog and needless to say, Lerman's argument is unashamedly misrepresented. The title of the review of the review is Lerman's flawed logic. Curiously whilst misrepresenting what he says, the review's reviewer does have the decency to block quote what it is that the he (Eamonn MacDonagh) is misrepresenting:
The calamitous weakness of the “anti-Zionism can’t be antisemitic because some Jews are anti-Zionist” argument ought to have driven it from the public square long ago. Nevertheless, this rotten corpse of an idea keeps popping to the surface, again and again.The problem is that a mere glance at what Lerman actually says shows that he isn't saying that Jews can't be antisemitic, he is saying that anti-zionism can be a cover for antisemitism but the fact that so many shades of Jewish opinion held by thousands (not one or two or three or four) of Jews are anti-zionist tends to suggest that anti-zionism is not, of itself, essentially antisemitic. We know, and Lerman knows, that Jews can be antisemitic and we know, as Lerman says, that anti-zionism can be used as a cover by such people. To use the example of one homophobic gay man in a profoundly homophobic society just doesn't cut it.
Unsurprisingly, at the heart of MacShane’s definition of “neo-anti-Semitism” is the belief that “anti-Zionism is Jew-hatred by other linguistic means”. Some anti-Zionism is a cover for anti-Semitism, but expressed as a general rule, MacShane’s view is conceptually and historically false. Moreover, it ignores the fact that hundreds of thousands of strictly Orthodox Jews oppose Zionism, and thousands more secular-leaning Diasporan Jews and Israelis, who feel strongly Jewish, reject Zionism’s current form.
Let’s try a few examples of the same argument in different contexts and see how it works. Roy Cohn, Joe McCarthy’s homophobic sidekick, was gay. From the existence of Cohn, and others like him, we might reasonably conclude, if we follow Legman’s logic, that there is nothing necessarily anti-gay about people who express hatred and contempt for homosexuals. After all, Ray Cohn used to do that and he was one himself, so what’s the problem?
What is wrong with these people? Anyway, good article by Lerman, but soft round the edges but he did make MacShane look desperately silly or just plain desperate.