Anti-Semitism in Historical Perspective
In the October Issue of the American Historical Review
As the cover image below suggests, the October 2018 issue of the American Historical Review features an eight-part Roundtable on the vexed history of anti-Semitism. Initiated by Jonathan Judaken (Rhodes Coll.) in partnership with the International Consortium for Research on Antisemitism and Racism (ICRAR) at Birkbeck, University of London, the Roundtable reflects the ICRAR’s ongoing effort to overcome the isolation and politicization of the study of anti-Semitism. This is necessarily a controversial topic, and the wide range of essays included in this issue is sure to generate heated debate. The Roundtable is accompanied by featured reviews of recent relevant monographs in Jewish history and an assessment of Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The latter is part of a special section of reviews in the October issue focusing on museums that contend with traumatic racial pasts, including the recently opened Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
Judaken’s introductory essay notes several impasses currently facing the historical study of the widespread hatred and fear of Jews—what he labels “Judeophobia.” He points to essentialist and teleological narratives that de-historicize anti-Semitism and set it apart from the study of other forms of racial hatred and discrimination. Judaken attributes this to the contemporary politics of Jewish national identity, rooted in the legacy of the Shoah and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many of the seven essays that follow take up his call for new approaches to the periodization, comparison, and historical contextualization of Judeophobia. Others heed his suggestion that the study of anti-Semitism draw more effectively on work in critical social and literary theory, postcolonialism, and studies of race and gender.
David Feldman (Birkbeck, Univ. of London), Ethan Katz (Univ. of California, Berkeley), Daniel Schroeter (Univ. of Minnesota), and Scott Ury (Tel Aviv Univ.) contribute essays that historicize modern Judeophobia by putting it into dialogue with nationalism, Zionism, questions of minority rights, colonialism, and Judeophobia’s ideological twin, Islamophobia. Feldman’s essay, “Toward a History of the Term ‘Anti-Semitism,’” examines the evolution and meaning of the term itself in 20th-century Britain, showing how what was once regarded as a feature of modernity transmuted after 1948 into something understood as a continuous and ineradicable malaise. The key element in this transition, he maintains, was the creation of the Jewish state and the shifting relationship of Jews to state power, minority rights, and nationalism more generally.
The essays take up new approaches to the periodization, comparison, and historical contextualization of Judeophobia."
Katz probes another dimension in the shifting discourse of anti-Semitism, linking it directly to the entangled histories of Judeophobia and Islamophobia, most evident in French colonial North Africa, where Jews and Muslims lived side by side in a colonial setting. His contribution, “An Imperial Entanglement: Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and Colonialism,” offers a close reading of three historical texts focused on the Jewish position in the colonial Maghreb but also fully engaged with the question of Islam. Bringing colonial discussions of Jews and Muslims into a common analytical frame, Katz shows, offers a new perspective on their mutually constitutive relationship as marginalized groups in a social order subordinated to European powers.
In his contribution, “‘Islamic Anti-Semitism’ in Historical Discourse,” Schroeter addresses a similar set of questions, but from a postcolonial perspective. Schroeter contends that defenders of post-1967 Israel have created a myth of “Islamic anti-Semitism,” flattening the history of Muslim-Jewish relations. Their antagonists, in turn, tend to offer a muted account of anti-Semitism in the Muslim world. Schroeter offers a more nuanced approach, breaking down recent historical discourses of Islamic Judeophobia into three phases. The first mirrors the eruption of the post-Occupation national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians; the second emphasizes religious radicalization, focusing on Islamic beliefs about Jews; the last, post-9/11 phase, he argues, posits an eternal enmity of Muslims against Jews, obscuring the changing nature of Muslim-Jewish conflict over time. Schroeter concludes that any evaluation of historical treatments of Judeophobia among Arabs and Muslims must consider the imprint of conflicting narratives about the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Finally, Ury’s “Strange Bedfellows: Anti-Semitism, Zionism, and the Fate of ‘the Jews’” examines how anti-Semitism and Zionism have confronted and influenced one another. The essay begins with a discussion of the central place of anti-Semitism in canonical Zionist texts. Early Zionists, Ury shows, portrayed anti-Semitism as a permanent, immovable force, making emigration to Palestine inevitable. The next generation of diaspora scholars, like Salon W. Baron and Hannah Arendt, focused instead on the actions that Jews undertook as historical actors in specific contexts. Despite their influence, the study of anti-Semitism over the past two generations has returned to a perspective that is strikingly similar to traditional Zionist interpretations, Ury concludes, emphasizing anti-Semitism’s unique nature as “the longest hatred” and the recurrent abandonment of the Jews by their neighbors. Ury advocates a return to the contextual-comparative approach to the study of anti-Semitism as part of larger efforts to separate and insulate academic research on the topic from contemporary political considerations.
The remaining three essays apply interdisciplinary insights to the study of anti-Semitism. Stefanie Schüler-Springorum (Technical Univ. of Berlin), in “Gender and the Politics of Anti-Semitism,” focuses on the development of gendered anti-Semitic stereotypes in post-Enlightenment Germany. She argues that such caricatures of Jewish life coincided with the emergence of bourgeois gender roles and images of sexuality embraced by assimilationist middle-class Jewish families. Highly gendered Judeophobic imagery persistently blurred the line between the norms of masculine and feminine behavioral codes, she asserts; Jewish communities internalized this attack by blaming women for giving credence to anti-Jewish propaganda.
Defenders of post-1967 Israel have created a myth of “Islamic anti-Semitism.”
In “Literature and the Study of Anti-Semitism,” Maurice Samuels (Yale Univ.) asks what historians of Judeophobia can learn from literary scholarship. Focusing mainly on New Historicist critical approaches to literary texts about Jews and Judaism, his essay examines anti-Semitic literature as a register of ideologies such as nationalism and liberalism. Drawing on recent studies of Shakespeare, George Eliot, Trollope, T. S. Eliot, Balzac, Céline, and other writers, the article locates in texts the “political unconscious” of the period that produced them. Samuels calls attention to narrative elements underpinning all forms of anti-Semitic discourse—literary and non-literary alike—suggesting that the literary dimension of texts can bring key aspects of anti-Semitic ideology to the fore.
Finally, in “Postcolonialism and the Study of Anti-Semitism,” Bryan Cheyette (Univ. of Reading) examines writings by anticolonial theorists and camp survivors at the end of the World War II—most prominently, Jean Améry, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Albert Memmi, Primo Levi, and Jean-Paul Sartre. All of these thinkers, he notes, made connections between the history of genocide in Europe and European colonialism. His essay compares this strand of comparative thought with postcolonial theorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who sharply differentiate the histories of fascism and colonialism. Returning to the work of Hannah Arendt on similar topics, Cheyette seeks a more open-minded sense of historical connectedness with regard to the histories of racism, fascism, colonialism, and anti-Semitism—very much the agenda of the Roundtable as a whole.
The Roundtable does not entirely crowd out our usual features, however. The October issue also showcases a major intervention in queer history by David Minto (Durham Univ.). Minto’s article, “Perversion by Penumbras: Wolfenden, Griswold, and the Transatlantic Trajectory of Sexual Privacy,” provides a queer, transnational account of the US Supreme Court’s 1965 articulation in Griswold of a constitutional right to privacy. Historians of sexuality, Minto argues, have neglected an alternative source of the articulation of privacy law: Britain’s 1957 Wolfenden Report on homosexual offenses and prostitution, which recommended the decriminalization of gay sex. The report’s emphasis on a “realm of private morality and immorality,” Minto argues, captured the attention of those seeking to overturn state sodomy laws in the United States and inspired transatlantic legal debate that helped to make a sexual privacy right conceptually legible and politically realizable. Minto spoke about his article with one of the readers of the initial submission, Julio Capó Jr. (Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst), on our podcast, AHR Interview.
Minto’s article accompanies another one of our “Reappraisal” essays, this one focusing on a pioneer gay historian, John Boswell. As Mathew Kuefler (San Diego State Univ.) reminds us in his extended historiographic reflection, Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, first published in 1980, sparked immediate controversy because of its claims about the general tolerance toward homoeroticism among ancient Romans, early Christians, and the peoples of the early and high Middle Ages. Boswell famously asserted that there were “gay persons” who lived in these societies of the distant past and formed part of vibrant historical “gay subcultures.” As Kuefler notes, this book helped establish the field of LGBTQ history. Scholars after Boswell have challenged, refined, and expanded his ideas, but he remains the starting point for most explorations of queer desires in ancient and medieval history. Our December 2018 issue will feature a follow-up historiographic essay on more contemporary queer history by Regina Kunzel (Princeton Univ.).
A caricature by Charles Lucien Léandre, titled “Rothschild,” from the front cover of the weekly Le Rire, April 16, 1898. It not only encapsulates the anti-Semitic iconography prevalent at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, it distills many classic Judeophobic stereotypes: the aged, hook-nosed banker is crowned by the golden calf, and his corpulent body has digested the whole world, which is grasped by his animal-like claws. It connotes Jewish materialism, malevolence, and corruption, since the Jews’ only god is gold and their main desire is for world domination. Do such tropes signify differently in their context than caricatures of Muhammad do in the age of Charlie Hebdo? What is contextually specific about such images, and which aspects travel in time? Is this image anti-Semitic or better described as Judeophobic? Is this a visual form of hate speech, or does it express an ambivalent envy and fascination with the success of Jews in finance and their invisible power? These questions are interrogated in the Roundtable “Rethinking Anti-Semitism” in this issue.
New Faces at the AHR
After three years of patient service as associate editor, Konstantin Dierks has departed on a much-deserved sabbatical leave. The AHR is pleased to announce that as of August 1, the new associate editor is Michelle Moyd. An associate professor of African history at Indiana University and associate director of IU’s Center for Research on Race and Ethnicity in Society, Moyd is the author of Violent Intermediaries: African Soldiers, Conquest, and Everyday Colonialism in German East Africa (2014). She brings a wide range of expertise to the journal’s editorial team. In addition to writing about colonial East Africa, her work focuses on the African history of World War I, European-African interactions, humanitarianism, and global colonial/imperial military history.
Alex Lichtenstein is editor of the American Historical Review. His new book, co-authored with his brother, photojournalist Andrew Lichtenstein, is Marked, Unmarked, Remembered: A Geography of American Memory (2017).
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