Israel B. Bitton’s new book, “A Brief and Visual History of Antisemitism,” shouldn’t be needed — but sadly, it is.
A substantial work two years in the making, the visually rich effort features a foreword by Israeli President Isaac Herzog. It’s aimed at all people, but it is particularly designed for seniors in high school as some of the images and discussion could be too intense for younger readers.
Former longtime Democratic New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, was intimately involved in the creation of the book. He told me, “Knowledge is power. We wanted the book to be easy to read and follow.” And it is — even coming with “augmented reality bonus content” aimed at a generation that might not be as familiar as they should be with the long and sordid history of hate and violence directed against the Jewish people.
Hikind went on to note that in November alone, there were 45 hate crimes committed against Jews in New York City — almost three times as many as those committed against all other groups combined. Hikind also cited FBI Director Christopher Wray’s Nov. 17 testimony before Congress that “Antisemitism and violence that comes out of it is a persistent and present fact,” with the Jewish community “getting hit from all sides.” Wray then said 63 percent of religious hate crimes were motivated by antisemitism — a remarkable fact when considering that only 2.4 percent of Americans are Jewish.
The book runs 549 pages before hitting its densely packed endnotes, serving both as a well-documented resource book and a useful tool for the classroom. It’s divided into nine discrete units: Defining Antisemitism; Beginnings of Antisemitism; Proliferation of Antisemitism; Secularization of Antisemitism; Apex of Antisemitism; Easternization of Antisemitism; Politicization of Antisemitism; The Current Landscape; and Combating Antisemitism.
I queried Hikind about how antisemitism might be different today than it was when the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” was published in Russia in 1903. “There is no difference,” Hikind said, “The same thing Jews were accused of in the past are the same things they are accused of today.”
Hikind then noted that mass communication makes it much easier to spread the hate — that people like Kanye West (or “Ye”) and New York Nets star Kyrie Irving each have massive influence and can reach millions of people, many of whom “don’t want to be confused with the facts.” The danger is that celebrities can legitimize antisemitism, not only for mentally ill people but also for the frustrated and angry masses or the criminally inclined who do not need much of an excuse for violence.
In an illuminating section on the roots of modern antisemitism, the book details the Marxist origins of critical race theory (CRT). The practical effect is that “if whites are racists, and non-whites can’t be racists, then it follows that ‘white Jews’ are racist, too, especially whenever they take umbrage with antisemitism that comes from non-whites. After all … Jews must have done something to ‘deserve’ the hatred and ‘retribution’ since they were privileged.”
I asked Hikind if things are as bad today as they have been in the past, and he responded by recounting a recent call he got from a woman in her 70s from Queens who asked, “When will we know when it’s time to leave?” To that, Hikind recounted how over 700 to 1,000 years in Europe, Jews were welcomed in different nations at different times — Spain, Portugal, France, and England — until they weren’t. And then, in modern Europe, generally welcomed and even allowed to attend university until the Holocaust — with Hitler’s Germany organizing the murder of some 6 million Jews, including Hikind’s grandparents. His mother was sent to the Auschwitz extermination camp, where more than 1.1 million men, women, and children were killed.
When asked why antisemitism appears to be on the rise now, Hikind said, “Did something happen? We just seem to go through cycles. But when antisemitism reappears, we don’t do anything about it. And while we see it on both sides of the aisle, it’s especially frustrating that in places like New York, the vast majority of hate crimes against Jews are being perpetrated by minorities, not white supremacists, with the Biden administration only engaging in talk, talk, talk — only willing to call out hate from the far-right.”