The Sunday Magazine

Why anti-Semitism continues to spread

Deborah Lipstadt's new book on anti-Semitism comes at a time when the ancient hatred is finding new champions around the world. It is a clarion call to take anti-Semitism seriously as an evil that has led to the vilification, persecution and murder of millions of Jews for millennia.
A makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the deadly shooting. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

Two months after Deborah Lipstadt published her latest book on anti-Semitism, a gunman entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, massacring eleven people. 

Lipstadt, an award-winning author and historian whose work has focused on the Holocaust and Holocaust denial, wrote Antisemitism: Here and Now as a clarion call to take anti-Semitism seriously as an evil that has led to the vilification, persecution and murder of millions of Jews for millennia.

The attack in Pittsburgh in Oct., 2018 showed how grimly apt the title of her new book was. 

In fact, the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue was just the most horrifying and violent example of the growing incidence of anti-Semitism across Europe and in North America

Deborah Lipstadt is an American historian and author. Her new book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, traces the origins and examines the modern manifestations of anti-Semitism. (The Associated Press)

Roots of hatred in the church

Lipstadt traces anti-Semitism back to the early Christian church practice of blaming Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Though that hatred migrated out of the church and into various cultures over the centuries, she argues that several of its tenets have remained consistent.

"One, it has to do with money — the Jews somehow being overly concerned, overly controlling financially," Lipstadt told Sunday Edition host Michael Enright.

"It has to do with power — they have an inordinate amount of power. It has to do with intellect or smarts — that they're smart and educated, but in a conniving, pernicious kind of way. And there are other elements, such as that Jews only have loyalty to each other and not to the country in which they live."

She explained that anti-Semitism differs from other prejudices because it's a conspiracy theory that looks for someone to blame when things go wrong. 

"So you blame the Jews if your business goes bad. If you lose a lawsuit, you blame the Jews. And that conspiracy theory argues that Jews have a conniving way about them to get others to do their bidding. They may be small in number, but they know how to get powerful entities to hop to and follow them," she said. 

Rising tide of prejudice in the west

That persistence of anti-Semitism in contemporary political and social discourse has become impossible to ignore.

In 2017, the world was shocked by the spectacle of white nationalists and neo-Nazis at an alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia carrying tiki torches and chanting "Jews will not replace us."

The yellow vest movement in France and far-right populist movements in Europe have also unleashed new and brazen expressions of anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the political spectrum, Britain's Labour Party is tearing itself apart over anti-Semitism that some say has been institutionalized in the party. In the U.S., the Democrats are grappling with accusations of anti-Semitism among the progressive wing of the party.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been dogged for years by complaints about anti-Semitism within party ranks. He has said the party deplores all forms of racism. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

"There are people on the progressive left whose view of prejudice is refracted through a prism," said Lipstadt. "And the prism has an ethnic facet, and it has a financial facet. So they look at Jews, and they see white people — even though anti-Semites on the extremist right do not consider Jews to be white — but they see white, and they see financially privileged. And they say, ipso facto, you cannot be a victim."

Lipstadt says that leads some people to believe that calling out anti-Semitism always comes with an ulterior motive.

She points to two of the leaders of the right and the progressive left as a big part of the problem, arguing that UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and U.S. President Donald Trump are both, at the minimum, enabling anti-Semitism.

"Whether they are [anti-Semitic themselves] or not, I don't know. But the anti-Semites on the progressive left and the anti-Semites on the far right both think that Jeremy Corbyn on the left and Donald Trump on the right agree with them."

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.