The Jewish people, for generations, have been enjoying an acceptance and equality throughout the West, that too many officials affiliated with NGOs, the media, politics, and academia have been working to deny to those living in the world’s only Jewish-majority state. By exploiting their credibility, such misleading individuals, with reputable platforms, have been the predominant instigators in an uptick of antisemitism within enlightened societies. Today's increasingly hostile climate brings into stark relief the reality that peace for Jews has always been an anomaly.
As college students who vocally support Israel, and Hasidic Jews walking on the streets of New York City could testify, misplaced hostilities against the Jewish people had merely gone dormant, just to mutate and reemerge as today’s malicious trends. Antagonists in this arena have not only been exploiting the lack of knowledge among people vastly unfamiliar with Jews, Judaism, and Israel, but they’ve also been effective at targeting a population of Jews who are not so informed, and therefore vulnerable to the erroneous accusations targeting them and their ethnic kin.
This is where Americans Against Antisemitism co-founder, Israel B. Bitton, comes in with his new book published by Gefen Publishing House, A Brief and Visual History of Antisemitism, a massive account of societies’ overwhelming marginalization, scapegoating and violence against the Jewish people.
In the format of a textbook, this extensive volume on the history of the cruelties inflicted on the Jewish people, often at the detriment of the perpetrating societies, could very well be displayed as a coffee table book in an average home as much as be used as a resource for every high school and college student. Though it is painstakingly organized, and probably best understood in order, one could flip the book open to a random page and still benefit from its wisdom.
Among the consolidated writings are illustrations that include pictures used in anti-Jewish propaganda campaigns, historical photos, Medieval art, and snippets from social media. For example, the book opens with a marketing image used by the Brussels branch of the Belgian Socialist Party just ten years ago. Their advertisement showed a sinister human-like being (though seemingly inhuman and satanic), wearing an Israeli Defense Force uniform with both an Israeli and American flag patch on the sleeve. The creature dons a mask of a Jewish man, an antisemitic caricature, who, below the mask, is salivating with eyes flaming. His devilish pink finger presses on a scale that holds a single man wearing iconic prison garb imposed by the Nazis on their Jewish victims, seemingly giving the Shoah weight at the expense of the ethnic mix of people on the other side of the scale. (p. 4)
Toward the end of the book, there is a picture taken from a parade within the same country, six years later. Grimacing papier-mâché Hasidim greedily hold out their hands for money, even though the float they are on is littered with it. This was socially accepted entertainment on bold display in Belgium in 2019 (p. 476)
Though those instances are just a sliver of the unabashed hatred against Jews in today’s Europe, Bitton’s examples extend geographically far and chronologically wide as antisemitism is as old as the first monotheistic faith and spans the globe to where there are even no Jews. He includes examples of old and new propaganda, the latter especially chilling as society should be more sophisticated today; its existence signaling how people remain vulnerable to nefarious messaging. Even one of the United States’ respected news outlets, the New York Times, not long ago apologized for printing a cartoon with the then prime minister of Israel in the shape of a dog on a leash leading a blind president of the United States, and the New York Times continues to use their platform in ways that mischaracterize Israel. (39)
Not all of this is pessimistic. Bitton expresses gratitude to Jewish ancestors, “those who managed to survive and chose to retain their core identity . . . which essentially binds and unites every Jew throughout the space-time continuum . . .” (xii) The book offers an additional feature in the form of augmented reality ranging from old movie clips, social media snippets and illusions of items (like an Iranian weapons delivery system that seems to appear on the page). Download the free app and take advantage of these extra nuggets.
Some of the most heartening is of genuine footage of David Ben-Gurion declaring Israel’s statehood (p. 302), and of the liberation of Jerusalem (p. 329). The latter is an example of how non-Jews also suffer when antisemites try to punish Jews. In addition to their discrimination against Israeli Jews, the Jordanians denied Israeli Arabs from accessing what they consider holy sites (Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock) – until Israel liberated Jerusalem, extending religious freedom to all. That old footage is a testament to Israel’s generosity despite the many erroneous accusations against it.
Nonetheless, the optimism doesn’t quite soften the urgency to learn, or at least become familiar with the history and the current climate unpacked in this book. Joining today’s disinformation campaign are organizations (NGOs, news outlets, and people) that have been exploiting their previously built credibility to satisfy a nefarious agenda. The level of sophistication against the Jewish people, the Jewish country and against the truth is deepening in ways unprecedented this century.
Though the book touches upon people with Jewish ancestry who’ve assisted those who seek to harm/destroy their brethren, it could have had a section on the various groups that use a Jewish banner today (like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now) to whitewash antisemitism and/or double standards that often morph into mischaracterizations against Israel.
At the start, Bitton explains that the three main ingredients of antisemitism are “distortion, denial and appropriation,” and that distortion is more dangerous than outright lies because “facts are manipulated and intentionally confused, injected with venomous lies and half-truths so that the conclusion can be falsified and be made tougher to break down.” Because of this, good people unwittingly pass on lies that they have been convinced were true by those who manipulate facts.
This is why every individual, whether Jewish or not, should be equipped with the truth as it relates to Jews and Israel, to avoid being hoodwinked by those who use proven tactics (and improved tactics) to motivate individuals to work against their own best interest.
A Brief and Visual History of Antisemitism will put readers on guard with an understanding of what the Jewish people have endured, and what we are still up against.
Faith Quintero is the author of Loaded Blessings, a family saga that alternates between Inquisition era Spain and modern-day Israel. It’s among the Federalist’s top books of 2019 list and a Montaigne Medal finalist for the Eric Hoffer awards. The Montaigne Medal is an additional distinction, awarded to "the most thought-provoking books." Follow Faith on Twitter @FaithQuintero7