By Ann Levin / The Associated Press
Deborah E. Lipstadt was surprised at how hard it was to write her latest book. A leading authority on the Holocaust, she was used to “skulking in the sewers of anti-semitism and genocide.” But that was history.
What made her latest work so challenging—documenting the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and America, on the right and the left—was that it was happening now.
The end result was well worth it.
Antisemitism: Here and Now (Schocken Books) is an indispensable guide to contextualizing activities as diverse as the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, also known as BDS.
And it’s about as even-handed as it could be, given the disturbing subject matter and the fact that Lipstadt’s strong self-identification as a Jew made the topic intensely personal for her.
The book is structured as a series of letters between a Jewish student of hers named Abigail and a colleague named Joe at the law school at Emory University, where Lipstadt is on the faculty. They are fictional characters who are composites of many people she’s had discussions with over the past few years.
The letter format gives the book an urgency that might, otherwise, be lacking in a scholarly work, although at times, it can seem a little contrived.
Lipstadt is best known for being sued for libel by David Irving after calling him a Holocaust denier. She won the case, which was later made into the 2016 film Denial starring Rachel Weisz.
At the outset, Lipstadt expresses her hope that both sides of the political divide will be discomfited by her analysis and conclusions, and they probably will. For instance, she classifies both Donald J. Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, the head of Britain’s Labour Party, as “anti-semitic enablers”—Trump for failing to call out the white supremacists, racists and anti-Semites who support him, and Corbyn for tolerating the anti-Semitism of his political allies.
“While Trump is probably not
an anti-semite,” she says, “enabling anti-semites is itself an anti-semitic act that causes as much damage as something that comes from an ideological anti-semite.”
Lipstadt wrapped up the manuscript in August 2018 after noting that pace of anti-Jewish incidents and rhetoric had made it almost impossible to finish. Sadly, she was right.
Just weeks after penning her note to readers, a man gunned down 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest attack on Jews in US history. The suspect had a history of posting anti-Semitic vitriol online.