Anti­semitism: An Ancient Hatred in the Age of Iden­ti­ty Politics

  • Review
By – December 1, 2023

An aca­d­e­m­ic who writes about law, Philip Slay­ton was sur­prised when a pub­lish­er friend approached him and sug­gest­ed he write a book on anti­semitism. Despite his ini­tial reluc­tance, Slay­ton even­tu­al­ly delved into a years-long process of research — the result of which is Anti­semitism: An Ancient Hatred In The Age Of Iden­ti­ty Politics.

One of things that sep­a­rates this book from oth­ers like it is Slayton’s unique per­spec­tive as a lawyer and a legal schol­ar. He moves between sec­tions that feel per­son­al and oth­ers that main­tain an aca­d­e­m­ic dis­tance. Slayton’s pol­i­tics also seem to defy expec­ta­tions. At cer­tain points, he aligns him­self with the far left, as when he speaks about Israel. At oth­ers, he aban­dons that world­view and attacks left­ist iden­ti­ty politics. 

Although the book’s time­line isn’t arranged chrono­log­i­cal­ly, read­ers will leave with many key take­aways about both ancient and mod­ern anti­semitism. Slay­ton intro­duces his read­ers to top­ics like the his­to­ry of Jews in Turkey, the role of mod­ern-day Evan­gel­i­cals in anti­se­mit­ic dis­course, the plight of today’s French Jews, and the ills of social media. Although the book doesn’t lend itself to a full explo­ration of any of these top­ics, Slay­ton whets his read­ers’ appetite and includes use­ful sources in his foot­notes, should they want more information. 

The author also pep­pers his book with sto­ries of indi­vid­ual strug­gles, par­tic­u­lar­ly those suf­fered dur­ing the Holo­caust. These nar­ra­tives put a human face to the many sta­tis­tics he brings forth and demon­strate what’s real­ly at stake when we talk about antisemitism. 

Through­out the book, Slay­ton ques­tions many of the sta­tis­tics he cites. In a time of much hys­te­ria, Slay­ton calls for cool­er heads. Not all anti­semitism, he explains, should get the same reac­tion. Rather, he out­lines dif­fer­ent kinds of anti­semitism, such as degrad­ing speech, vio­lence, and quo­tas. It is to our per­il, Slay­ton con­cludes, to treat all acts of hatred and dis­crim­i­na­tion against Jews the same. Each demands its own tai­lored response.

Rab­bi Marc Katz is the Rab­bi at Tem­ple Ner Tamid in Bloom­field, NJ. He is author of the book The Heart of Lone­li­ness: How Jew­ish Wis­dom Can Help You Cope and Find Com­fort (Turn­er Pub­lish­ing), which was cho­sen as a final­ist for the Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

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