Is it all just hate-filled ignorance?


Are Jews everywhere really facing a serious resurgence of antisemitism? Does every spike in anti-Israel sentiment disguise eternal loathing against Jewry? Or is that just alarmist guff, and might current animus simply reflect passing anger at Israeli operations?

Into this fray leaps William Rubinstein, author of Israel, the Jews and the West — the Fall and Rise of Antisemitism (Social Affairs Unit, £10), a curious blend of arresting analysis and at times offensive generalisation.

Incredibly, the New York-born history professor at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, has managed to distil in 83 pages 2,000 years of Jewish history. He subtly analyses Jews’ varied responses to modernity; unsentimentally teases out Jews’ ambiguous financial roles; illuminates the vigour and adaptability of Jewish minorities; and candidly describes the chequered career of early political Zionism.

Most adroitly, Rubinstein traces antisemitism’s mutation from theological to xenophobic, from economic envy to racial hatred, down to the current “progressive” critiques that arguably just mask ancient prejudices.

Today, Israel’s leading foes, he contends, are more lethal than their Communist and pan-Arab predecessors. For what unites a weird axis of secular ultra-leftists and atavistic Muslim jihadis, he asserts, is a loathing of “the West”, Israel and, by extension, Jews.

Unfortunately, he ignores the long history of Jews in Muslim countries which might have gone some way towards mitigating his thesis that Islam is innately anti-Jewish and “uniquely Manichean, eschatological and violent”? His remarks about Arabs as “pre-modern”, backward and sexist, sit ill with a work combating racism.

Likewise, his assertion that rightist antisemitism has vanished contradicts evidence from Europe and even recession-struck America, and Israel, where Russian youth have daubed synagogues with swastikas.

The greatest danger, Rubenstein claims, comes from Third World demographics and growing Muslim populations in Europe and America. Yet by calling immigrants “the rich compost from which murderous terrorism will grow”, by characterising them as largely “unskilled and illiterate”, is Rubinstein not echoing the cant directed at Yiddish-speaking newcomers to Britain 100 years ago?

And positing Israel as a civilised outpost in a barbarous region, the “cutting edge of the West”, paradoxically undermines the historic narrative of the Jewish return, and bolsters the very Islamist stereotype he is fighting. Full marks to Rubinstein for raising crucial questions in highly readable prose, but his fiercely polemical tone erodes his argument.

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