Those Who Forget the Past: The Question of Anti-Semitism
edited by Ron Rosenbaum
(Random House, 2004)


Reviewed by Bob Jacobson


You are probably aware that this new century has seen increased anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment in Europe, the Muslim world and, within the United States, on some campuses and within segments of the anti-globalization and anti-war movements.  Ron Rosenbaum, magazine writer and author of Explaining Hitler, has compiled articles and essays from nearly fifty writers who report on, analyze, and offer perspectives on these trends.  Among their topics are the differences between the “old” and “new” anti-Semitisms, recent developments in specific Western European countries, the killing of Daniel Pearl, the alleged "massacre” in Jenin, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, Israel and the new anti-Semitism, and Muslim perspectives.

Is a second Holocaust possible?  For Rosenbaum the question is not if, but when.  The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier counters that this is highly unlikely, though Iran’s advanced missile capability does pose such a threat to Israel.  His sense that many American Jews are “speculating morbidly about being the last Jews”, even more than their Israeli counterparts, seems wildly inaccurate.  Fiamma Nirenstein, Jersusalem correspondent for Italian newspapers, weighs in with a totally different perspective, that Jews everywhere have to battle our “possible moral elimination.”

Some of the contributors write with great clarity on what constitutes anti-Semitism and whether anti-Zionism is its equivalent, particularly then-Yale senior Eli Muller. American Jews will probably be intrigued by the chapters on the difficulties of being Jewish today in England, France and Italy.  The late Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said took a very compassionate approach toward Israel, while remaining staunchly nationalistic.  He also criticized the “creeping, nasty wave of anti-Semitism” in recent Arab political thought and rhetoric.  The New Yorker’s Middle East correspondent, Jeffrey Goldberg, presents very frank interviews with prominent Egyptians, from moderates to extreme Islamists.

This compilation suffers from duplication, particularly on the distortion of what really happened in Jenin and on revival of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.  A few articles, while intellectually intriguing, are basically irrelevant to the core issues.  Joshua Muravchik's’contribution on "The Neoconservative Cabal” seemed particularly weak.

Only a handful of contributors report on responses to the new anti-Semitism.  Those Who Forget the Past will increase your understanding, but readers wondering what can be done to combat the trends it illuminates will have to look elsewhere.