Could Resurgence of Anti-Semitism Lead To a Second Holocaust?
● Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives
By Alvin H. Rosenfeld
Indiana University Press, 576 pages, $35
It is unbelievable that in 2013 we are still talking about the foul topic of anti-Semitism. “The dislike of the unlike,” in historian Salo Baron’s pithy locution. Whatever the catch phrase, there are few phenomena in history that have a record of 2,000 years.
We seem to be again in a season of academic studies of anti-Semitism, not the surveys and polls that marked the 1980s and ’90s, but with “institutes” on anti-Semitism popping up all over the place, devoted to figuring out what’s going on — again. One of these projects is Indiana University’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, run by the eminent scholar Alvin H. Rosenfeld.
In “Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives,” Rosenfeld, who has written on Jewish writers and on Holocaust literature, has collected essays that make a case for pondering the ways in which anti-Semitism is manifested today, and for addressing new versions of the ancient hatred.
The conceit of “Resurgent Antisemitism” — and both the strength and weakness of the book — is a series of nation-specific essays. Rosenfeld’s authors respond to this question: How does the history of a country affect and implicate the way in which the anti-Semitism of that country is contoured and developed?
No fewer than 18 chapters develop the past and present of Britain and Norway, and give a historical analysis of Spain, Central and Eastern Europe, and Poland. Especially insightful is the analysis of the Catholic Church, which is a central reality in Poland. Discussions of Turkey, Iran and, of course, Israel are valuable, as well. Chapters on discrete topics such as anti-Zionism, literature and European Islam flesh out this very rich book.
For the reader who is looking for facts, “Resurgent Antisemitism” will not disappoint; the book promises “global perspectives,” and the globe is delivered. Scholars will not be disappointed, either; the authors present valuable archival material. And for the most part, the analysis ain’t bad.
One stellar chapter is Zvi Gitelman’s essay, “Comparative and Competitive Victimization in the Post-Communist Sphere,” a superb conspectus of anti-Semitism in Hungary and Romania. Gitelman does what every historian ought be doing: He sets a context. Gitelman connects the dots from Nazism in Central and Eastern European lands, through the years under communism, to present-day realities. His analysis is sober, hardly “gevaltist.”
But it is, unfortunately, the tone of “gevaltism” that pervades “Resurgent Antisemitism,” an unrelieved litany, a parade of horrors that is about to befall the Jews of Europe. And the book goes beyond the “gevalt.” In his otherwise insightful analysis of recent Israeli cinema that has been harshly critical of Israeli policies and practices, film historian Ilan Avisar kvetches, “Israeli filmmakers prefer to bathe in the glory of the awards ceremonies and to ignore the possible political damage [wrought by their films].” It’s a cheap shot. The filmmakers are making their statements, appropriate in a democratic society, via their medium; they talk about war and peace, social justice, and other issues. Avisar’s unfortunately purple prose reflects, in part, the thrust of the book.
Another problem with “Resurgent Antisemitism” is not what the book says, but what it does not say. Whatever is going on out there with respect to the hijacking of Islam by the crazies, resultant Muslim anti-Semitism in some countries and the threat of resurgent Nazism in others — all of which is ably documented in Rosenfeld’s volume — left begging is a discussion at some level of the distinction between anti-Semitism and Jewish security.
Whatever is out there in terms of anti-Semitic behavior may or may not implicate the security of Jews — the ability of Jews to participate in the society — in various lands. This central dynamic, little discussed in the context of European anti-Semitism, is missing from “Resurgent Antisemitism.” The thesis of “Resurgent Antisemitism,” while relentlessly argued in the book, is therefore open to question. What is the anti-Semitism, according to Rosenfeld and his authors, that is “resurgent.” Is it anti-Semitism that emerges from the radicals who have hijacked Islam? Is it a leftover from the destruction of European Jewry, newly salted with Islamic radicalism, leaving Jews open to what writers are calling the “Second Holocaust”?
Eighteen chapters of measured frenzy prepare the reader for Alvin Rosenfeld’s epilogue, which sets out the thesis of “Resurgent Antisemitism” and which serves, as well, as a strong peroration to the reader. Centering his historical analysis on the iconic Auschwitz, Rosenfeld asks, “How bad is it likely to get?” He fears that the catastrophic near-past of Auschwitz is finding its way into the future, indeed into the present. “Long considered unthinkable,” Rosenfeld cries out, “new versions of the past are now being imagined by scholars.” “Second-Holocaust” thinking, while a staple of the past, emerges as a subtext in “Resurgent Antisemitism,” never far from the surface. With potent forms of anti-Semitism brewing in the Middle East and elsewhere, Rosenfeld avers that the danger signs are blinking red in a way we have not seen in years.
Another Holocaust possible? Or are Jews fundamentally secure in most places? Or is it a mixed, more nuanced picture? This topic deserves more, and better.
Jerome Chanes, a Forward contributing editor, is the author or editor of four books on Jewish history and public affairs. He is the editor of the forthcoming “The Future of American Judaism.” (Trinity/Columbia University Press).