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'A Lethal Obsession' by Robert Wistrich

A history of anti-Semitism, tracing it from its sources in the ancient past to its uses in the present.

January 24, 2010|By Jonathan Kirsch

Wistrich takes an expansive view of what belongs in a book about Jew-hatred. He complains, for example, that Carter has "systematically abused the term 'apartheid' in the context of Israel and Palestine," and shows concern about "Carter's visceral dislike for Israelis (secular and religious)" and his "rancor" toward American Jews. But he does not try to make the case that Carter is an anti-Semite according to any definition that would apply to Hitler and Stalin, Idi Amin and Osama bin Laden.

Indeed, some readers will come away from "A Lethal Obsession" with a sense of frustration over the author's refusal to distinguish between criticism of Israel on specific points of policy and the kind of violence, both verbal and physical, that characterizes anti-Semitism. Wistrich himself refuses to engage in any such debate -- "The focus of this book is not . . . to examine the rights and wrongs of Israeli government policies" -- and he argues that the anti-Semites in both Muslim and Western circles have made it meaningless to do so.

"My research reveals that paranoid and hysterical anti-Semitism has provided perhaps the deepest substratum underlying the ongoing Middle East crisis, yet it is barely evoked in the mainstream media and simply ignored in most scholarship that relates to the Middle East conflict," he writes. "The miserable failure to resolve the Palestinian problem is less surprising when one considers the implications of such blindness."

After Auschwitz, observed the philosopher and social critic Theodor Adorno, to write a poem is barbaric. And, we might add, anti-Semitism after Auschwitz is not merely an atrocity but an obscenity. Wistrich, however, confronts us with the fact that history does not provide clear beginnings and endings and that Jew-hatred, no matter how it is defined or demarcated, is something that we always have with us.

Kirsch, author of 13 books, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

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