Anti­semitism and the Amer­i­can Far Left

Stephen H. Norwood

  • Review
By – June 24, 2014

Stephen Nor­wood has giv­en us a book that cat­a­logues and doc­u­ments the far left’s anti- Semi­tism in Amer­i­ca. He leads us through the details, the vari­eties, the changes, and the excep­tions. He elu­ci­dates the far left’s Amer­i­can man­i­fes­ta­tions and traces its links to the Com­mu­nist world. He shows us how anti-Semi­tism flowed from far-left ide­ol­o­gy, but he also makes clear the incon­sis­ten­cies and absur­di­ties in far-left anti-Semitism.

Nor­wood resists the temp­ta­tion to offer a grand the­o­ry explain­ing far-left anti-Semi­tism, prob­a­bly because an appre­ci­a­tion of anti- Semitism’s com­plex­i­ty and vari­ety sug­gests mul­ti­ple sources on sev­er­al eti­o­log­i­cal lev­els. He shows us that the sources of anti-Semi­tism some­times pro­vide alter­na­tive routes to the same dis­ease. Oth­er times, the sources inter­act to rein­force one another.

One con­tin­u­ing theme that can be detect­ed in Norwood’s compila­tion is that extrem­ists are gen­er­al­ly more like­ly than mod­er­ates to be anti-Semi­tes. It is sig­nif­i­cant that the oth­er polit­i­cal con­text of rabid anti-Semi­tism, in addi­tion to the far left, is the far right. It may be that mod­er­ates are more like­ly to appre­ci­ate the com­plex­i­ty of human char­ac­ter and his­tor­i­cal real­i­ty and less like­ly to believe stereo­types or to scape­goat, and thus find it hard­er — though, sad­ly, not impos­si­ble — to vil­i­fy the Jews. In addi­tion, the mul­ti­di­men­sion­al com­plex­i­ty of Jew­ish life and law and the sub­tle­ty of Jew­ish thought may be espe­cial­ly an­noying to peo­ple who crave sim­plic­i­ty and uni­for­mi­ty — in oth­er words, extremists.

This book is valu­able in sev­er­al con­texts — the his­to­ry of the far left, the sources and nature of anti-Semi­tism, and the dan­gers of extrem­ism. It tells us much about con­cerns that remain with us.

Mervin F. Ver­bit , a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia with a doc­tor­ate from Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, is pro­fes­sor of soci­ol­o­gy at Touro Col­lege and direc­tor of the Israel Stud­ies Insti­tute, which cul­ti­vates a bet­ter under­stand­ing of Israel among Amer­i­can aca­d­e­mics. For­mer­ly, he taught at Brook­lyn Col­lege of The City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York, where he also direct­ed the uni­ver­si­ty’s Pro­gram for Study in Israel and is now pro­fes­sor emeritus.

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