From neo-Nazi riots in the new Europe to the resurgence of open hatred in America, anti-Semitism is on the rise. And organized anti-Semitism is moving from the fringes to the centre of public life. Why? What can explain the popularity that nearly elected a Ku Klux Klan leader governor of Louisiana? The outpouring of right-wing resentment that stunned the Republican convention? The anti-Semitism that often lurks behind anti-Zionism or the campaign for "traditional" American values? The increase in hate crimes? Or the murder of a Jewish bystander after violent conflicts between Hasidic Jews and African-Americans in New York? Benjamin Ginsberg puts the new anti-Semitism under the miscroscope of history. In this text, he examines the cycle of Jewish success and anti-Semitic attack throughout the diaspora, with a concentrated focus on the "special case" of America. For Ginsberg the essential issue is not anti-Jewish feeling, which has been widespread throughout history, but the conditions under which such sentiment is likely to be used in the political arena. His book identifies the political dynamics that have historically set the stage for the persecution of Jews.
Wherever Jews settled, Ginsberg shows, they held the troubled ground between rulers and the ruled, exchanging political and economic services for security and opportunity. When the balance of power changed, in Muslim empires, feudal kingdoms, and capitalist or communist states, Jews became touchstones of opposition to the regimes they helped build. Time and again, the embrace of established authority turned fatal. Is America, as many argue, the exception to this scenario? Does America's liberal tradition preclude the possibility of mobilized anti-Jewish hostility? Surveying the history of Jews in America from the Civil War to the 1992 presidential election, Ginsberg shows that political anti-Semitism ebbs and flows with the position of Jews on the national stage. The Bush administration's hostility to Israel signalled a waning of Jewish clout, and left Pat Buchanan free to attack Congress as an "Israeli occupied territory"; when the traditional civil rights coalition weakens, some black leaders use anti-Semitic rhetoric to jockey for favour and power. Despite the apparent renewal of Jewish interests under Clinton, Ginsberg is cautionary about the future.
But he offers an antidote to both complaceny and fear: he seeks to reminds the reader that while anti-Semites are always with us, to fight anti-Semitism is to understandand and defuse the political interests it serves.