Walter Laqueur’s The Changing Face of Antisemitism (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006)
“At the present time antisemitism, by whatever name, is still much more than a mere historical memory.” The last sentence of Walter Laqueur’s most recent publication effectively sums up his two-hundred plus page project in seventeen words. The Changing Face of Antisemitism provides an overview of antisemitic thought as it manifested itself from the diaspora to the twenty-first century. This hefty task is made more manageable by focusing on different motivations for antisemitism: theological, xenophobic, racial and reactionary. The thematic approach permits comparisons, for example between Stalinist and contemporary Islamist antisemitism, that might otherwise go unnoticed. A detailed index combined with a textbook-like structure of eleven free-standing chapters focusing on the relationship between Jews and a ‘new’ discriminator makes finding specifics a simple task. Unfortunately, it also leads to redundant claims and examples in already constrained space: Laqueur harps on the point that though a few Jews in Central and Western Europe attained a level of affluence that inspired envy and animosity, they were not the norm. On three separate occasions he uses a bracketed “for example, the Rothschilds,” a technique that is not only repetitive, but unsatisfactorily cursory. Furthermore, it is not the first reference that provides the reader with a brief description of this imminent family, but fourth and last (175). This instance is representative of what appears to be the main fault in an otherwise well-argued piece—over-condensation of a vast, immense, topic.
The thrust of Laqueur’s argument is difficult to miss. The antisemitism of the contemporary world have little in common with its precursors. The radical left’s rejection of Zionism, capitalism and globalization is depicted as a particularly nefarious because its main adherents deny the discriminatory elements of their stance. The Changing Face of Antisemitism presents this trend in antisemitism as more akin to the theologically based persecution of the medieval Church than the racialism of Nazi Germany:
Jews were regarded with distrust unless they made it abundantly clear that they actively participated in the struggle against capitalism, imperialism, globalism, and, in some cases, the existence of a Jewish state….There was salvation through conversion (189).
The links made between different ages of antisemitism are both insightful and credible, though they do lead this particular reader to wonder if the antisemitism of the New Left is more a rejection all that is not New Left, i.e. the ideological other, rather than any specific aggression towards Jews in particular. Perhaps in a more detailed account, Laqueur would have been able to provide an analysis of possibilities similarities to the rejection of Christian fundamentalism that would further bolster his argument.
The most obvious form of antisemitism prevalent today is the antisemitism rampant in the Muslim world. Laqueur makes the obvious, yet still necessary point, that of course in the wake of the Six Day War, hostilities arose between the victor and the dispossessed. The Changing Faces of Antisemitism argues, however, that the hatred of Jews in Muslim countries arose as further justification for opposition to Israel, rather than causing it. Laqueur points out that “millions of people were expelled from their homes after World War Two in Europe as well as in Asia, but eventually they were resettled and the situation was normalized within a generation or two” (204). The Peace Process after the Six Day War (see timeline on pg 23 of June 2007 ISRAFAX) has been obstructed by a number of factors linked to antisemitism. The rule of Palestine by a minority which had lost their status as the chosen people by refusing to convert to Islam is but one cause of a hatred that Laqueur has shown is not constant across historical eras within the Maghreb and Levant. More importantly, opposition to Israel and the perceived Jewish influence in politics and economics has borrowed from the conspiracy theories of the past and “been used as a lightning rod both by governments and Islamists….[without which] the underlying aggression would find other outlets” for demonstrating anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism (206). The Changing Faces of Antisemitism provides us with an innovative, historical and genealogical troupe with which we can approach the current conflict in the Middle East – in which the Six Day War is but one miraculous chapter.
The above will be published, in a much shorter, edited version in the June 2007 ISRAFAX – my first published work ever. I get to have a big smile, yes?