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Anti-Semitism in America, by Leonard Dinnerstein; A Scapegoat in the New Wilderness, by Frederic Cople Jaher

- Abstract

Not since the period between the two world wars, generally regarded as the heyday of anti-Semitism in the U.S., have demagogues manipulated the rhetoric of hatred so shamelessly and publicly as in our own day. Louis Farrakhan and his minions address mass meetings around the country, and, astonishingly, are welcomed at university campuses that pride themselves on their intolerance of real or imagined prejudice. The Aryan Nation exploits the media to spread its paranoid message of armed resistance to the “Zionist Occupation Government” in Washington. Holocaust deniers garner publicity for their vicious lies. The ancient canard of Jewish complicity in the poisoning of wells now finds expression in lunatic claims that AIDS was not only invented by Jews, but is intentionally spread by Jewish physicians. Finally, only three years ago, in one of the worst incidents of mob violence ever directed against Jews in the United States, blacks in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, rioted against their Jewish neighbors.

Coming in the midst of such troubling developments, these two new studies, each published within weeks of the other by a prestigious academic press, might seem to suggest that as far as anti-Semitism is concerned, a new and bleaker assessment of American realities is under way. But this is not quite so. In fact, Leonard Dinnerstein, a professor of history at the University of Arizona, ends his judicious survey on an optimistic note:

By comparing the strength of anti-Semitism in the United States today with what it had been in previous decades or centuries, the obvious conclusion is that it has declined in potency and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

About the Author

Jack Wertheimer is professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Among his contributions to COMMENTARY are “Judaism Without Limits” (July 1997), “The Orthodox Moment” (February 1999), and “The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism” (September 2007).