Manfred Gerstenfeld, Demonizing Israel and the Jews. New York: RVP Press,
2013. Forward by Rabbi Marvin Hier. 212 pp. ISBN:978-1-61861-334-9.
Jews the world over are concerned about many things on the eve of the new Jewish year 5774. But one of the things most prominent in the mind of anyone accessing Jewish media is surely the reportage concerning attacks on Jews, Judaism, and Israel all over the world that all too often seem to blend into one another. How is one supposed to make sense of the wide variety of incidents of this sort, from attempts to boycott Israeli products, to demonstrations supporting the destruction of the State of Israel, to verbal taunts and physical aggression against identifiable Jews?
Manfred Gerstenfeld's latest book, Demonizing Israel and the Jews, presents the reader with a most useful tool to help in understanding exactly what is going on. Rather than attempting to create a systematic and comprehensive picture of this complex and widely diffused phenomenon, Gerstenfeld wisely creates a series of over fifty mini-descriptions of the situation regarding opposition to Israel and Jews as it presents itself in widely diverse contexts and settings. Gerstenfeld asks intelligent and pertinent questions of people with a wide variety of backgrounds and expertise and lets them present what they know in a succinct way, usually in no more than three printed pages. The real strength of the book is in the diversity of its reportage.
Most of the reports concern the situation in European countries (with a bit of an emphasis on the situation in the Netherlands). They help the reader achieve greater understanding of such key phenomena as the role played in these events by Muslim immigrants to Europe, the attitude of the European left, the lack of differentiation among Muslims between Israel and Jews, the Soviet origins of the portrayal of Zionism as a form of racism, and self-hatred among Israelis.
The reader gets to share the thoughts of insiders caught up in the swirl of events. Thus, for example, we hear French Jewish intellectual Shmuel Trigano state plaintively:
During the first months of attacks, French Jewry requested help, but no one listened. This led many French Jews to realize that their place and citizenship in the country was now questionable. They understood that the authorities were willing to sacrifice the Jewish community to maintain social peace. (161)
In other words, the book successfully conveys the immediacy and seriousness found in the best sort of journalistic reportage, along with important perspectives on anti-Judaism and anti-Israelism in Europe today. One small book cannot, of course, do everything. The format, for one thing, does not give individuals the space required to present more than the most important salient facts and trends, many of which could surely benefit from a much longer exposition. It also does not deal in any detail with the playing out of these issues in North America, which will doubtlessly require a separate publication.
But in this book, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. It is not merely that Gerstenfeld presents a short essay at the beginning of the book that deftly ties together many of the issues presented in the individual points of view, it is also that the individual small pictures presented themselves create a cumulative whole. As Gerstenfeld points out, the contemporary war against Israel and the Jews is not “one big attack…but many small ones” (12). Understanding these many small attacks contextually therefore requires the many small descriptions contained in the book.
It is much too early to have a completely clear perspective on all the important issues touched by Demonizing Israel and the Jews, but those concerned with the contemporary situation of Israel and the Jews cannot wait for such a completely clear perspective to emerge. Gerstenfeld’s book admirably surveys the field and gives us the wherewithal to greatly increase our understanding of extremely important phenomena playing out before our eyes.
Academic Fellow, CIJR