(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

ANTISEMITISM was written to accompany a three-part series produced for Britain’s Thames Television, but it is an autonomous account of Judeophobia in many times and many places. Wistrich notes that the term antisemitism, which confuses linguistic and ethnic categories, was not coined until the 1870’s. Its inventor, German journalist Wilhelm Marr, meant to describe his own abhorrence only of Jews, not Arabs. The antipathy is as ancient as Haman and as current as Hamas. Wistrich reviews the atrocities of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin as well as the animosities of Jean-Marie Le Pen, Louis Farrakhan, and Abu Nidal.

A thorough study of antisemitism would almost have to be a history of civilization. The phenomenon has been versatile, adapting itself to a vast variety of eras and environments. It has even managed to survive the absence of Jews, in contemporary Poland. Jews have been accused of abducting Gentiles, spreading plague, and killing Jesus. Stereotyped as Shylock and Rothschild, they have been identified with avarice and privilege, with capitalist exploitation. But they have also suffered by association with Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky (ne Leib Bronstein), rabid revolutionaries. They have been made to suffer for not accepting Christianity or Islam, as well as for making each religion possible.

Jews have borne the brunt of opposition to Western liberal values. Though silent on Hindus and Shintoists and antisemitism in Argentina and Ethiopia, Wistrich notes that the United States has been more hospitable to Jews than any other Diaspora society. And he makes the moot claim that the Jewish “contribution in this century to American life has been second to none.”

Wistrich does not ignore the Holocaust, but his account of the most ambitious initiative in the history of antisemitism is elliptical. Crucial episodes in the annals of hatred, like the fraudulent PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION and the 1840 blood libel of the Damascus Affair, are relegated to endnotes. Is it naive to believe that if everyone read ANTISEMITISM, the book would never need updating?