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Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction by…
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Antisemitism: A Very Short Introduction

by Steven Beller

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: A Very Short Introduction (172)

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The Very Short Introduction series is hit or miss. The African History book is more about histiography than history. The Advertising book is surprisingly interesting. This one is a terrible miss. Sure this is a huge topic, but the author defines the term “anti-semitism” so narrowly, he brings it to the point of absurdity. There is an obvious agenda behind this definition which he gets to at the end-he believes that nationalism is the source of all evil in the world and post-modern multiculturalism will allow all humanity to live in harmony. To justify this belief, he tries to show that the Holocaust is a specific outgrowth of a very specific form of 19th c. German nationalism & that “political” anti-semitism no longer exists except among some Muslims, & in that case it’s justified because of evil Israel & it’s backwards nationalism (which obviously has the same roots as that evil German nationalism). The conflict is the fault of the Je—Zionists, & it’s only a few nasty people who conflate good Jews (like him?) with those very bad Zios. Isn’t it ironic that the Zionists attempt to redefine Jews as a nation, not a religion, is the flame that keeps antisemitism alive?

Disclaimer: I’m one of those “evil Zios” who live in Israel, so yes I have my own biases. But here are just a few of my critiques of this book.

First, his view of the world is so naive & so contradicts reality that one has to wonder what are they teaching people in universities these days: certainly not skepticism & critical thinking. A few kilometers from where I live, half a million Syrian people have been slaughtered, millions more exiled, not in the name of nationalism, but in the pursuit of raw power & hegemony. The Jews in Arab states who were kicked out in 1948 are actually quite lucky, because otherwise their fate would have resembled those of the poor Yazidis, or other minorities, or just any other Arab in the turmoil of the last decade since the “Arab spring.” Human beings are evil, not nationalism (which by the way is the basis of the modern liberal order).

As for European Jewry, it's not all the German's fault. As a son of refugees from the Holocaust, I mourn my relatives who were slaughtered in the war because the Brits (who are only mild Jew haters & really are good people according to the author) closed the gates of their own country & “Palestine”to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. If it weren’t for those awful Zionists, the Brits, as he himself notes, would have sent the survivors (whom they kept in horrible “displaced persons” camps) back to Poland where the locals would have finished Hitler's job. Why would any rational Jew trust the good will of any European? These awful things happened within living memory. Post-modernists are the last people I would trust not to throw me into the oven.

There are lot's of minor & major factual errors & omissions. One small example: The first massacre of Jews in Spain is in 1066 in Granada, not 1096 as he claims on p.13. But the biggest such example is that to validate his thesis, he downplays anti-semitism in all its various forms throughout the modern period & throughout Europe, West and East, but particularly in Britain: the Jewish question “not important in British political culture” p.25 “genteel anti-Jewish snobbery” only in certain circles, “Jewish integration was relatively easy” p.24 “Daniel Deronda”, the proto-Zionist novel in 1876 tells a different story.

He himself questions his assertion that “the Jewish question in France was relatively tame” given the Dreyfus affair. His answer that the Jewish aspect was marginal & only a reflection of the fight between Republicans & reactionary monarchists is not convincing at all. He should spend some time reading Proust.

His argument seems to be that since the political classes didn't egg on pogroms, Jews weren't being slaughtered en masse. Hence the non-“political” forms of anti-semitism-discrimination, property theft, oppression and mini-massacres, just didn't make life for the Jews all that bad. On the flip side, since he has no coherent explanation for “political”anti-semitism, he has to invoke all its other forms to explain why Jews, among all other groups, were the victims.

Well not quite. He does indulge in quite a bit of victim blaming, while constantly denying that’s what he is doing. His most egregious assertion is regarding Israel as noted above. But he constantly makes comments that even though it’s despicable, given how successful Jews were post-emancipation, jealousy & Jew hatred were understandable reactions. His trying to prove that anti-semitism isn't irrational leads him to make the jaw-dropping assertion that removing Jews & appropriating their homes in Vienna to solve the housing crisis, while despicable, was quite “rational”. Among other things, the author should take a class in economics 101.

Finally, I will just briefly mention that his thesis that being Jew is not primarily a national identify, flies in the face of how the vast majority of Jews identify themselves. Not all do, and there is no obligation for any individual to so identify themself, but as an historian he needs to acknowledge that reality and not impose his own views on millions of people (not to mention rewrite Jewish history).

I don’t read books to agree with them & it’s perfectly legitimate for an historian to put forth a thesis, even a provocative one. But at the very least, one expects a research historian to provide a coherent argument based on facts and logical and consistent arguments. If this was a high school paper I would give it an F. For a distinguished publishing house like Oxford Press, on such an important topic, this book is an embarrassment. ( )
  aront | Aug 26, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Steven Bellerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Rutmane, SandraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Antisemitism is a hatred of Jews that has stretched across millennia and across continents; or it is a relatively modern political movement and ideology that arose in Central Europe in the late 19th century and achieved its evil apogee in the Holocaust; or it is the irrational, psychologically pathological version of an ethnocentric and religiocentric anti-Judaism that originated in Christianity's conflict with its Jewish roots — and achieved its evil apogee in the Holocaust; or it is a combination of all of these.
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Jews are the canary in the coalmine regarding society's intolerance.

The best way to navigate these shoals of enmity is to engage the support of all other forms of difference...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192892770, Paperback)

Anti-Semitism has been a chillingly persistent presence throughout the last millennium, culminating in modern times in the horror of the Final Solution. This Very Short Introduction examines and untangles the various strands of anti-Semitism seen throughout history, revealing why hatred of the Jews appears to be so persistent through time. Steven Beller illuminates the history of the phenomenon: from medieval religious conflict, to the growth of anti-Semitism as a political and ideological movement in the 19th century, to the "new" anti-Semitism of the 21st century, as reflected in Holocaust denial and Islamic anti-Zionism. The author also discusses the role and attitudes of key figures such as Wagner, Nietzsche, and Marx, as well as key texts such as the forged "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." In short, this compact book offers an insightful account that underscores how anti-Semitism reached it its dark apogee in the worst genocide in modern history--the Holocaust--and how it still persists around the world today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:22 -0400)

From the Publisher: Anti-Semitism has been a chillingly persistent presence throughout the last millennium, culminating in modern times in the horror of the Final Solution. This Very Short Introduction examines and untangles the various strands of anti-Semitism seen throughout history, revealing why hatred of the Jews appears to be so persistent through time. Steven Beller illuminates the history of the phenomenon: from medieval religious conflict, to the growth of anti-Semitism as a political and ideological movement in the 19th century, to the "new" anti-Semitism of the 21st century, as reflected in Holocaust denial and Islamic anti-Zionism. The author also discusses the role and attitudes of key figures such as Wagner, Nietzsche, and Marx, as well as key texts such as the forged "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." In short, this compact book offers an insightful account that underscores how anti-Semitism reached it its dark apogee in the worst genocide in modern history-the Holocaust-and how it still persists around the world today.… (more)

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