Anatomy and Physiology of Anti-Semitism

By Lowe, Malcolm F. | Jewish Political Studies Review, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Anatomy and Physiology of Anti-Semitism


Lowe, Malcolm F., Jewish Political Studies Review


Anatomy and Physiology of Anti-Semitism The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism: Jews, Israel and Liberal Opinion, by Bernard Harrison, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2006, xv+219.

Reviewed by Malcolm F Lowe

For some years, it has been customary to refer to the "anti-Semitism without Jews" that has survived in an Eastern Europe depleted of its former Jewish population. More recently, Henryk Broder, a prominent German-Jewish author and journalist, testified before the Interior Committee of the German Bundestag (June 2008) about a phenomenon that has spread rapidly in the last decade: the "anti-Semitism without anti-Semites" of many supposedly progressive academics and journalists in Western Europe.

These are people whose criticism of Israel, and collaterally of Jews, has a hardly deniable anti-Semitic resonance, yet who almost invariably believe, with as much sincerity as they can muster, that they are anything but anti-Semites, that they are actively opposed to all racism whether directed at Jews or anyone else. This is the phenomenon with which Harrison's book is concerned. Like this reviewer, he is a British nonJew with training in analytic philosophy and fluent in French. More than that, he is an expert in recent French literary theory (Derrida, etc.).

There are some features of the book that migbt distract the casual reader from appreciating its significance. For one, the title is misleading and undervalues its specific contribution. Harrison is not primarily concerned with documenting the manifestations of this "new" antiSemitism; for that he relies partly on his own familiarity, especially with the British media and academia, but largely on other recent authors such as Phyllis Chesler, Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Sacks. His aim is to apply the resources of analytic philosophy and literary theory to elucidating the intellectual and ideological roots of the phenomenon.

His sentences will also, for some, seem extremely long. But this is simply a style of writing that goes back among analytic philosophers to the 1929 manifesto of the Vienna Circle. For him, like them, a commitment to truth demands clarity and precision. With modest effort, the reader will discover that the sentences are clearly articulated, that every word is chosen with care, and that there is no vain rhetoric or needless jargon. Just for that reason, however, it is difficult to summarize his arguments in fewer words. This review will therefore concentrate on outlining Harrison's enterprise; the reader should read the book for her/himself.

Two slips can be noted in Harrison's marshalling of many facts. He speaks of the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia, probably meaning Croatia or Bosnia, and he makes the Palestinian National Charter a reaction to UNSC Resolution 242, whereas it was rather revised after the Six Day War. There is also a superfluous "not" at the bottom of page 184. But tbe slips do not invalidate any of his arguments.

Definitions and Distinctions

Several of the chapter titles reflect familiar themes of anti-Israeli propaganda: "Jews against Israel," "Against Demonizing Israel," "The Accusation of Racism," "Who is to Blame?" Harrison's aim, however, is not simply to follow others in presenting facts to refute such accusations. Rather, he seeks to establish basic definitions and distinctions that can clarify the whole discourse both of and about the new anti-Semitism.

A fundamental distinction, made in his first chapter, is between "two types of anti-Semitism." One is "social or distributive anti-Semitism," namely, "contempt visited on individual Jews for no other reason than that they are Jews." As he says: "Expressions of it abound in Victorian literature." This has led some well known scholars of anti-Semitism to claim that British society has long dripped with anti-Semitism, but Harrison gives two reasons for not regarding it as presenting a serious threat to Jews. One is that Jews are not thereby singled out more than stage Irishmen or people whose lower class background is evident or all sorts of other kinds of sneered-at individuals.

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