Looking for an Enemy: 8 Essays on Antisemitism
“essential reading for anyone concerned with social justice. . . . a blueprint for a Jewish 1619 Project.”
It’s a sad comment on conditions today that Looking for an Enemy: 8 Essays on Antisemitism provides essential reading for anyone concerned with social justice. Sadly, precisely those people probably won’t read it, feeling, as so many on the left do, that Jews may be a minority, but they’re a privileged one. Or as Tony Kushner says, “The Jewish problem is created by the Jews themselves.” Kushner quotes from a July 1946 survey that found public opinion solidly behind the view that “Nobody would interfere with Jews, not even Nazis, if they had not made themselves so conspicuous and hateful. The best solution would be for the Jews to pipe down.”
Thankfully, the eight Jewish writers in this collection do not pipe down, but instead share the ways antisemitism continues to thrive in their countries, from Britain to France to Poland to the United States. They provide forceful historic arguments for the deep roots of antisemitism and show how the ancient hatred manifests itself in different forms on both the left and the right. As Glanville writes in the introduction:
“European and American Jews do not fit with the model of victims of racism: they are perceived as privileged and white and therefore cannot be oppressed. As Philip Spencer observes in his essay on antisemitism and the left, they are seen as part of the global power structure. The resistance to viewing Jews as casualties of racism is part of the long history of seeing them as oppressors themselves, the victims as victimizers.”
Spencer goes on to say: “On this account, antisemitism has largely disappeared and Jews have become fully integrated into American society and are now indeed generally successful both economically and politically. Not only have Jews strongly supported the civil rights movement in the United States, which suggest that large numbers of Jews did not (and to not) see themselves as in any way defenders of a white power structure, but the argument at theoretical level rests on what is, on closer inspection, an extremely problematic notion of ‘whiteness.’ It is not, moreover, a view, it has to be said, which is shared by the growing number of white supremacists who are still very keen on murdering Jews, as the Pittsburgh massacre showed in 2018.”
The trope of Jews of holding global power, of forming an evil network that manipulates others to their benefit is, of course, one of the oldest antisemitic beliefs, as much alive now as it was in the Middle Ages. The essays here provide the ugly details of how this insidious view is used against Jewish communities, the Jewish state of Israel, and individual Jews, all of whom have seen a steep rise in antisemitic violence in the past decade. The recent hostage situation in the synagogue in Texas provides a vivid example of this—somehow a rabbi should have the power to get a prisoner released.
Jews reading this book will see their worst fears confirmed. This isn’t a distant problem anymore, one that ended with the Holocaust. Hatred of the Jews is simply too convenient to lose. What’s especially scary is the way the old Medieval blood libel, the myth of Jews murdering Christian children to devour their blood, is being actively revived, most notably by white supremacists in America and politicians in Britain.
These pages are grim reading. But the clarity of the arguments, along with the bringing together of international sources, provides an important structural understanding of why antisemitism is so deeply ingrained and so difficult to uproot. Just as Black scholars are now studying the ways that racism underlay the very beginnings of American society, this book provides insight into how antisemitism was baked into European culture and brought to America. Consider this book a blueprint for a Jewish 1619 Project. Let’s hope it’s as widely read.