This passionate, highly personal jeremiad by noted feminist Chesler (Women and Madness) addresses what she sees as a reemergence of virulent anti-Jewish hatred cloaked in "political correctness," closely linked to anti-American attitudes, sustained by many liberal feminists, intellectuals and Jewish leftists, acted upon by Islamic terrorists and jihadists, and furled by a "demonization of Jews" in the media. One of the main thrusts of Chesler's argument is that in our contemporary world anti-Zionism is nearly inseparable from anti-Semitism, and that while there are valid criticisms to be made of Israeli policies—for instance, she sees the West Bank settlements as an impediment to peace—many of these critiques are, she contends, rooted in a profound and socially accepted anti-Semitism. This is definitely not intended as a scholarly work, but it too often undercuts itself when its author intends to be provocative—"African-Americans (not Jews) are the Jews of America but Jews are the world's niggers"; "a politically correct madness seems to have hijacked most North American univ ersities"; often her analogies shock rather than illuminate. At times Chesler's passion leads her to extravagant rhetoric - "today, Gheghis (sic) Khan has megabombs, Attila the Hun has biological and nuclear weaponry." This is an important topic and open public discourse is vital, but Chesler's tone and lack of intellectual rigor will not help her ideas to be heard by those who do not already agree with her. Agent Joelle Delbourgo. (Aug.)
Forecast: Chesler's topic is a hot one, and her views will resonate with many and alienate others. She should get much coverage in the Jewish and leftist press, and in the media in general. (Publishers Weekly, June 23, 2003)
In an old, rueful joke, one Jew sends another a telegram. "Start worrying," it commands. "Details to follow." To understand why such fatalism strikes a deep communal chord among Jews, one might consider the dramatic resurgence of anti-Semitism in the past three years. By midsummer of 2000, Jews in America and abroad seemed to have achieved unprecedented acceptance and safety. A Jewish senator, Joseph Lieberman, had been named to the Democratic presidential ticket, instantly adding 15 points to Al Gore's standing in the polls. Israel and the Palestinian Authority stood closer than ever to negotiating a two-state solution. On a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Pope John Paul II had paid homage at the Holocaust museum of Yad Vashem and introduced himself to a Jewish audience as "your brother."
When the Al-Aksa Intifada erupted that September, however, it did more than just shatter the peace process. It restored the public respectability of Jew-hating, particularly if conducted under the rubric of "anti-Zionism." Since then, Egypt has broadcast a 40-part television series based in part on the notorious forgery "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Protesters at San Francisco State University, invoking the medieval blood libel, have passed out posters depicting a can of "Palestinian Children Meat" that was "made in Israel" according to "Jewish rites." European scholars have banned Israeli academics, even those of impeccably dovish politics, from conferences and journals.
So one can well understand the forces that drove Phyllis Chesler to produce The New Anti-Semitism, her combination cri de coeur and J'accuse. Chesler's outrage is especially genuine and credible because she is not one of the Jewish community's professional watchdogs, paid to howl about bias anywhere and everywhere. Married to an Afghan in the 1960s, she experienced "enormous kindness, humor, good-naturedness among Muslims." She built her own speaking and writing career around feminist issues and even sued the Israeli government to force it to reform its policy of not allowing women to hold worship services at the Western Wall. "But my heart is broken," she puts it early in this book, "by the cunning and purposeful silence of progressives and academics on the subject of anti-Semitism and terrorism."
Indeed, Chesler's thesis rests largely on her perception of anti-Semitism flourishing among elites. "What's new about the new anti-Semitism," she contends, "is that acts of violence against Jews and anti-Semitic words and deeds are being uttered and performed by politically correct people in the name of anti-imperialism, anti-racism, and pacifism. Old-time anti-Semitism was expressed in the name of ethnic, Aryan, white purity, superiority, and nationalism . . . . The new anti-Semite cannot, by definition, be an anti-Semite racist because she speaks out on behalf of oppressed people."
More specifically, the new anti-Semite inflicts the language of the Holocaust on its targets. The Irish poet Tom Paulin, she points out, termed the Israeli military the "Zionist SS." Nobel laureate Jose Saramago declared that "the Jews endlessly scratch their own wound to keep it bleeding, to make it incurable, and they show it to the world as if it were a banner." Neither author's career, it might be added, has notably suffered as a result.
Yet one can subscribe to Chesler's premise while lamenting how little she has done with it. The New Anti-Semitism is a book with important things to say and a maddeningly sloppy way of saying them. Signs of haste mar this text not haste in the sense of alacrity and urgency, but in the sense of messy execution. Now, it may well be that for some readers, even many readers, Chesler's book validates itself simply by compiling so many egregious episodes of anti-Semitism in one place; for them, it should serve well as a fact sheet, a manual, a primer. Surely Chesler herself, though, would want her work judged in part on its writerly merits, and on those it falters severely.
In a book with more than enough disturbing information, Chesler nonetheless layers on hyperbole and absolutism. Not content to argue correctly that anti-Semitism pervades Islam today, she makes the completely unsupported assertion that "Not a Friday goes by when hatred of Jews, Israelis, America and the West is not preached in Arabic in every mosque on earth." Appalling as the violence against Jews already is, she insists on raising it to the level of an incipient Holocaust, asking, "Will six million more have to die before the bloodletting stops?"
Chesler duplicates certain anecdotes in consecutive pages, even paragraphs. She twice uses the same extended quotation from columnist Charles Krauthammer. She even repeats a joke about some disputatious Jews shipwrecked on a desert island. These gaffes betray an author who wrote in such a hurry that she lost track of her material, and they implicate an editor who failed to bring the most basic kind of order to a manuscript.
Having rightly perceived the contours of a new kind of anti-Semitism, Chesler rarely stops to analyze its development. How and why did it become part of the anti-globalism movement? How and when did Muslims begin adopting anti-Semitic tracts and myths created in Europe? When did Holocaust imagery start being used to attack Jews? What factors Muslim immigration to the West? cable television? the Internet? allowed the Al-Aksa Intifada to be internationalized in a way that the first intifada was not? And what has made the United States, despite some offensive incidents on college campuses, largely resistant to anti-Semitic propaganda?
To make such analyses is not to rationalize anti-Semitism; it is to help effectively fight against it. As a Jew and a Zionist, I want so much to be on Phyllis Chesler's side. As a reader and an author, however, I can only wish she had served our common cause in a more lucid and penetrating fashion. —Samuel G. Freedman, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, is the author most recently of "Jew vs. Jew: The Struggle for the Soul of American Jewry." (The Washington Post, Sunday, August 3, 2003)
"Her book is a passionate polemic...Chesler offers insightful analysis into the psychology of the phenomenon." (Library Journal,September 15, 2003)
Phyllis Chesler, a well-known feminist and the author of Women and Madness, has written an impassioned response to what she calls "the new anti-Semitism." Part polemic, part history, her book posits Sept. 11 as the moment when an unprecedented form of anti-Semitism gained "respectability" among a wide spectrum of opponents of the state of Israel.
Unfortunately, the phenomena Chesler writes about began forming long before Sept. 11, and the author only adds to the misconceptions surrounding the terrorist attack on the United States when she writes that "always it begins with the Jews. Osama bin Laden... explained that the twin towers had fallen because of American support for Israel." This view continues to have wide currency on the Internet, although most scholars agree that the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was Bin Laden's response to America's support for the Saudi royal family and the Mubarek government in Egypt.
I cite Chesler's misreading of Sept. 11 because it is symptomatic of the loose manner in which she uses her sources. Nevertheless, despite flaws in methodology, her book correctly defines the essence of "the new anti-Semitism."
What is new about the new anti-Semitism, Chesler argues, is that it has "metamorphosed into the most virulent anti-Zionism, which in turn has increasingly held the Jewish people everywhere... accountable for the military policies of the Israeli government." Nowhere, Chesler writes, is this more prominent than among the left, including her comrades in the feminist movement, where anti-Semitism masquerades as antiracism and anticolonialism.
Chesler argues that it has become politically and psychologically acceptable to be anti-Semitic. Opposition to Israeli policy is used to justify not only anti-Jewish violence - such as the burning of synagogues and the vandalizing of cemeteries in Europe - but also intellectuals' silence regarding suicide bombings in Israel.
Like Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, Chesler argues that while criticism of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians may at times be justified, there's an absence of comparable criticism of equal or greater violations by other countries. That discrepancy, she says, creates the impression "currently prevalent on university campuses and in the press that Israel is among the worst human rights violators in the world... . It is not true, but if it is repeated often enough, it takes on its own reality."
Chesler has gathered a great deal of information, much of it familiar to anyone who has monitored recent anti-Jewish propaganda on the Internet, but a good deal of it unfamiliar to the general public. Academics will criticize the manner in which her material has been put together, but one cannot deny the reality behind Chesler's arguments. It is sad and frightening to read how increasing numbers of naive and misinformed college students have come to believe that Israel is a racist, apartheid state.
Chesler concludes by making clear that while criticism of Israel is not proof of anti-Semitism, today's anti-Semites unquestionably hide behind a smoke screen of anti-Zionism. The new anti-Semitism, Chesler writes, "is being waged on many fronts - military, propaganda, political, economic - throughout the world, and anyone who denies this anti-Semitism or blames Jews for provoking it is, in my opinion, an anti-Semite.... Anyone who does not distinguish between Jews and the Jewish state is an anti-Semite." — Reviewed by Jack Fischel, professor emeritus of history at Millersville University. (The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 1, 2003)
“…impassioned and highly readable…” (Sunday Telegraph, 5 October 2003)