- Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives edited by Alvin H. Rosenfeld
Alvin Rosenfeld has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most perceptive interpreters of the Holocaust. From the prism of his mastery—literary analysis— Rosenfeld has grappled with some of the most important issues relating to the events of the Holocaust and the impact of its memory and memorialization. So when he turns his attention to antisemitism, attention must be paid.
Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives is a collection of eighteen essays addressing the perplexing, agonizing, and dangerous rise of antisemitism in recent decades. Rosenfeld’s own work serves as the foreword and the coda. At first glance, the essay spans the globe, emphasizing less well-known conditions in under-studied [End Page 131] countries such as Norway, Spain, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, and Britain. Some familiar topics include the discussion of the boundaries between legitimate criticisms of Israel on the one hand, and anti-Zionism and anti-nationalism, and antisemitism on the other. Militant Islam is also considered. Literature, film, rhetoric, and culture are explored, as is antisemitism on American college campuses. One essay addresses not only Holocaust denial, but also trivialization, minimalization, falsification, and distortion of the Holocaust. One significant omission: the Internet, which has linked disparate group of antisemites and created a community for previously isolated factions, is not considered.
In a book of this scope and diversity, one can find real gems. Zvi Gitelman’s essay “Comparative and Competitive Victimization in the Post-Communist Sphere” is essential reading in an intellectual world that seeks to equate Nazi and Communist crimes and to ignore the singularity of the Holocaust.
And yet, specifically because the book is composed of fragments of a larger story, the reader may come away without seeing the larger picture. No single essay unites the fragments.
One can also quarrel with several of the essays. For example, Tami Rossman-Benjamin’s consideration of identity politics on campuses revisits the case of San Francisco State University, yet Black-Jewish tensions would seem to be “old news.” The more interesting and more contemporary clashes have to do with the joining together of radical Islam with Third World and anti-colonial forces with the anti-Israel left. The readers also should have been informed that Professor Rossman-Benjamin has initiated a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education against the University of California-Santa Cruz for creating a climate hostile to Jewish students—a complaint that has been rejected.
Anna Sommer Schneider’s essay on antisemitism in Poland does not deal with its opposite, philosemitism, or the intentional outreach to the Jewish community worldwide and efforts of Poles to grapple with their own history. The Auschwitz convent crisis of the 1980s demonstrated to Warsaw’s Cardinal Glemp that he operated in a global context: other ranking prelates, led by Cardinal Lustiger of Paris, were unwilling to endanger Jewish-Catholic relations so that Glemp could pander to a segment of his local congregants and let loose with his own antisemitic feelings. As the Poles moved toward the West in the 1980s, they deliberately chose to improve their relations with Jews. Schneider’s essay does not consider the rebuilding of the Polish Jewish community or events such as the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival. Young Jews rediscovering and reclaiming their Jewish heritage do not seem to me to be on a suicide mission.
As with any anthology on contemporary topics, events can often overtake analysis. Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial is now of little interest. His time has passed, though we may yet yearn for the clarity of his own belligerence. Of greater interest is the apparent move by Iranian leaders to put [End Page 132] Holocaust denial behind them—at least in the West—as they seek to engage the United States and Europe in negotiations over issues of nuclear capabilities. The West has made clear that Holocaust denial is a non-starter if a nation or an individual is to be taken seriously. Even if President Rouhami’s words...