Misdirected Passion

By Lerman, Antony | New Statesman (1996), December 15, 2008 | Go to article overview

Misdirected Passion


Lerman, Antony, New Statesman (1996)


Globalising Hatred: the New Anti-Semistism

Denis MacShane

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 208pp, [pounds sterling]12.99

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 certainy 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 andunderstanding 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.

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