Review: Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred

Solid bricks in a wall against ignorance


John Mann is an unlikely candidate to lead the fight against antisemitism in Britain. A blunt-speaking Yorkshireman who sits on Labour's back benches, the Bassetlaw MP came to the cause a decade ago without any apparent prior qualification or motivation. He has subsequently become one of the country's foremost experts on the fight against Jew-hatred.

As chairman, for the past decade, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism Mann has been in the front row as the issue has attracted greater interest across society and in the media. His willingness to speak his mind, to burst through the restraints of the Westminster village whenever possible, and to present himself and the causes he represents to all levels of authority, is probably what, ironically, makes this book feel somewhat limited.

It would have been far more entertaining to read 246 pages of Mann's thoughts on parliamentary colleagues, public figures and others who can be found spouting antisemitic sentiments.

The half-hour I spent with him last month discussing the book was one of my favourite Westminster interviews. He shot down the efforts of his former party leader Ed Miliband in fighting antisemitism, spoke freely about the challenges facing politics and politicians, and suggested American university bosses were next in his line of fire. The interview was as entertaining as it was informative.

To then pick up the book left me feeling a little flat. But Antisemitism: The Oldest Hatred is not, and should not be thought of as a John Mann book, in all honesty. What it really provides is a user's guide to combating antisemitism in public arenas. And in that respect it is a useful tool, a collection of essays, policy papers and speeches from more than a century of fighting antisemitism. From Einstein to Chaplin, via Obama and Kennedy, Mann pulls together the contributions towards the subject of some great minds.

'Much will be unfamiliar to British readers'

The three sections focus on "Survival", "Intersectionality" and "Zionism". They do not make for light reading. Elie Wiesel's The Perils of Indifference, a speech he made at the White House in 1999, is a chilling, heart-stopping piece. Possibly this and much other material that will be unfamiliar to British readers. It is in such essays - including those by Canadian Muslim writer Tarek Fatah and French politician Nicole Fontaine - that the book shines.

Mann suggests he wants the collection to be used as a research tool by students and others who find themselves speaking in public about antisemitism. The idea is that they can absorb and quote from the words of those who have gone before them. Away from the Churchills and the Weizmanns and Sadats, it is perhaps by providing examples that would rarely have been accessed that Mann and his research team have, as is so often the case in their work, struck gold.

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