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Critiquing Anti-Semitism With Restraint

In the preface to his important new book, The Devil That Never Dies: The Rise and Threat of Global Anti-Semitism, former Harvard professor Daniel Jonah Goldhagen says he considered many options before conceptualizing anti-Semitism as the devil. He realized some people might think the metaphor overdrawn, but he believes it is not: anti-Semitism has induced people to “commit mass murder again and again, including one of humanity’s most cataclysmic assaults, the attempted murder of an entire people, felling six million of them in one historical instant,” and it “threatens a similar destruction again.”

The book is a chilling explication of the explosion of anti-Semitism in the last two decades, fueled by the Internet and other modern means of global communication, as well as a sophisticated analysis of the inter-related international institutions and political trends that underpin it. It is essential reading.

In yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, Jeffrey Goldberg reviewed the book and found it written in “a hyperventilating style, starting with its title,” which he considers “heavy breathing.” (Mr. Goldberg suffers on occasion from breathing in and out too rapidly himself: he thinks Sarah Palin may be a “rapture-enraptured evangelical” who “hopes that I will convert to Christianity and then die;” last week he wrote – the day after 700,000 people gathered in Jerusalem to mourn the death of Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel – that Yosef was the “Israeli Ayatollah,” whose admitted good works Goldberg argued could not ameliorate his “egregious words”). 

In his review, Goldberg quoted the following paragraph from the book (it is Goldhagen’s one-paragraph conclusion following three pages of description of Turkey’s sustained, serious, and systematic mistreatment of Kurds, Greeks, Armenians, Cypriots, and others): 

“In a rational world, the Turks’ systemic and large-scale violence against and suppression of Kurds’ legitimate rights and national aspirations, not to mention the Turks’ genocide of the Armenians, and mass killings of Greeks and others, not to mention their invasion, dismembering and occupation of half a sovereign country, Cyrus, in 1974, the occupation lasting now for almost forty years, might have brought upon Turkey the world’s condemnation and generated in international organizations, including the United Nations, a preoccupation with its predations and the production of intensively negative beliefs and passions, including prejudice (if one believes, as all those who blame Jews and Israel for the existence of anti-Semitism believe, that prejudice is a reaction to a people’s misdeeds) similar to and perhaps far exceeding that against Jews. But it has not – not even 1 percent as much.” 

Goldberg wrote that: 

Goldhagen’s strengths and weaknesses are on display in this previous (typically dense and over-intricate) paragraph. He makes a valid point, but the hectoring tone and the hyperbole – how did he reach the conclusion that Turkey is criticized 1 percent, and not 2 percent, as much as Israel? – undermine the message. … Goldhagen’s book has its uses, but today we need something decidedly better: a book on anti-Semitism that combines original reporting, accessible writing and a sense of restraint.” 

My impression is Goldhagen was being charitable: the real percentage, rounded down, is probably zero. But admittedly, I haven’t done the research. So yes, perhaps what we really need is for someone to run down the exact Turkish-Israeli percentage, and write it up in a restrained and easy-to-understand way. But those who read Goldhagen’s book will not likely think this is a morally serious reaction to it. 



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