Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St Clair (eds), 'The Politics of Anti-Semitism'

IssueMarch - May 2004
Review by Sarah Irving

One of the stickiest problems for individuals and organisations trying to engage with the horror that is the conflict between Israel and Palestine is the issue of antiSemitism. It lurks as a spectre of guilt for those coming to the topic without a “legitimate” interest, ie being Jewish or Palestinian. And it is hurled at anyone who dares to criticise the state of Israel by those who support any of that state's actions, however bloody.

This little book - hardly more than a pamphlet - is a collection of articles and essays by writers and activists who have tackled the Arab/Israeli conflict. There are usual suspects such as Robert Fisk and the late lamented Edward Said and leading Jewish commentators such as Uri Avnery and Norman Finkelstein. Along with a range of other authors they trace the history of anti-Jewish racism in all its repugnant forms, fully recognising the appalling treatment that has been meted out to the Jewish people for hundreds of years. But they also challenge the notion that this justifies the actions of the Israeli state towards the Palestinians. They do this by many means - from the description by Israeli peace activists of their thoughts and activities, to the rejection by an American Jewish writer of gratuitous claims of anti-Semitism as actually dangerous to Jews because of their trivialisation of a desperately serious issue, to an exposure of the cynical use of the charge of anti-Semitism by the Israeli state's PR rottweilers.

The ghastly complexity of the issues need more than 170 pages, but before they can be properly addressed the notion that they are somehow too sacred and shameful to discuss must be dispelled.

This book is an intelligent first step.

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