August 20, 2019

Antisemitism on the Left and the Right

“Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University, is perhaps best known for the libel suit filed against her, in the United Kingdom, by the Holocaust denier David Irving. Lipstadt won the case in 2000. She went on to write a book about it, “History on Trial,” which was the basis of the 2016 film “Denial,” starring Rachel Weisz as Lipstadt. In Lipstadt’s latest book, “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” she examines the recent rise in anti-Semitism in the U.S., the U.K., and Europe. There has been a sharp uptick in hate crimes against Jews, and prominent politicians and heads of state, including Donald Trump and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, have wooed voters with anti-Semitism (and, perhaps, just expressed their honest opinions).

Lipstadt’s book takes the form of a series of letters between Lipstadt and two fictional characters—a Jewish student and a non-Jewish colleague—whom Lipstadt describes as composites of people she knows who are worried about anti-Semitism. Lipstadt herself is very troubled by its resurgence, and is virulently opposed to both the Trump Administration’s dalliances with anti-Semitism and its embrace of a right-wing government in Israel that seems happy to ally itself with nationalist, anti-Semitic regimes like Orbán’s. At the same time, Lipstadt is worried by what she sees as the “subtle—and sometimes not-so-subtle—antisemitic attitudes and behaviors that one encounters in groups that are connected with progressive causes.”

I recently spoke with Lipstadt by phone. During our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity, we discussed the differences between right-wing and left-wing anti-Semitism, why Israeli leaders are willing to make alliances with anti-Semites, and whether “the negation of Jewish nationhood” is always anti-Semitic.”

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