Yos Tarshish

8 books on antisemitism to add to your bookshelf

After devoting over a decade of my life to combatting antisemitism on university campuses, I’ve come to appreciate the complexity and persistence of this deeply-rooted prejudice. Through countless interactions, heated debates, and tireless advocacy, I’ve fought against its myriad manifestations, witnessing first-hand the insidious ways in which antisemitism infiltrates academic institutions and impacts the lives of students and staff alike.

The battles we fight against antisemitism are not solely waged in conference rooms or at protest rallies; they’re fought in the realm of knowledge and understanding as well. This belief is perfectly encapsulated in the principle coined by Stephen Covey, which advises to “sharpen the saw” — the metaphorical saw being our knowledge and ability to challenge prejudice and hatred.

I firmly believe that the fight against antisemitism isn’t just about resistance, but about relentless learning. To counter this age-old hatred effectively, we must seek to deepen our understanding of its origins, its evolution, and its modern manifestations. We must arm ourselves with knowledge, challenging ourselves to grasp the intricacies of antisemitism and its impact on Jewish individuals and communities worldwide.

In keeping with this ethos, I present a carefully curated list of eight pivotal books on antisemitism. Each of these works offers unique insights into the historical context, current manifestations, and ways to combat this enduring form of prejudice. Through engaging with these texts, we don’t just expand our knowledge — we sharpen our saws, fortifying our resolve and equipping ourselves with the understanding needed to counter antisemitism more effectively. Whether you’re an activist, student, academic, or simply someone committed to fighting against hatred, these books are invaluable resources in the fight against antisemitism.

1. ‘Antisemitism: Here and Now’ by Deborah Lipstadt

Lipstadt’s insightful book is not just a study; it’s an urgent exploration of antisemitism as it manifests in the world today. Through a series of imagined conversations with a colleague and a student, she explicates the subtleties and complexities of modern antisemitism, tracing its roots and identifying its core characteristics.

The narratives, interactions, and sharp observations bring to light the insidious ways antisemitism can seep into public discourse and personal beliefs. In her analysis, Lipstadt doesn’t shy away from investigating antisemitism across the political spectrum, highlighting its presence in unexpected spaces and conversations. Her book serves as a guiding light, offering valuable tools to understand, identify, and counter this form of hatred. It’s a compelling call to stay vigilant and combat antisemitism wherever it appears.

2. ‘People Love Dead Jews’ by Dara Horn

Horn dives into a disturbing paradox: the world’s fascination with the tragic history of Jewish suffering while dismissing or trivialising the antisemitism faced by living Jews. Through a collection of essays, Horn reflects on a range of issues, including cultural appropriation of Jewish narratives, the romanticising of Jewish historical tragedies, and the often overlooked challenges faced by the contemporary Jewish community.

In her exploration, Horn acts as a sharp cultural critic, revealing the disparity between societal memory and action. Her critique shines a spotlight on how the living Jewish community is perceived, often through an inescapable historical lens that can overlook their current struggles with antisemitism. The book is a sobering call for a more nuanced understanding of Jewish identity beyond the tragedies of the past.

If you read my last blog you will know that I’m a huge fan of podcasts and one of my favourite things about this book is that Dara Horn produced an accompanying podcast to it. If you want to go deeper into any of the subjects explored then you must check out “Adventures with Dead Jews” on Spotify, Apple or where ever you get your podcasts. Each episode corresponds to a chapter in the book where Dara will take you deeper than you imagined into her writing process and share extra facts she couldn’t fit in the book.

3. ‘Jews Don’t Count’ by David Baddiel

In his thought-provoking book, Baddiel, a comedian and writer, presents an articulate argument for the inclusion of antisemitism in the wider discourse on racism and discrimination. Using his unique blend of wit and insightful commentary, he uncovers the often unconscious biases that lead to the minimisation or exclusion of antisemitism from social justice narratives.

In dissecting these biases, Baddiel encourages readers to re-evaluate their understanding of what it means to be a minority and what constitutes prejudice. His powerful narrative underscores the need for inclusivity in combating all forms of discrimination, including antisemitism. ‘Jews Don’t Count’ is a clarion call to recognise and challenge the hierarchies of discrimination that persist in society.

4. ‘How to Fight Anti-Semitism’ by Bari Weiss

Weiss’s impassioned book tackles the complex issue of antisemitism head-on. She doesn’t just define and describe antisemitism but provides readers with a robust framework to identify and combat it. Weiss explores the ideological sources of antisemitism, from far-right xenophobia to far-left anti-Zionism, painting a picture of a deeply rooted and widespread prejudice that transcends traditional political boundaries.

Weiss also provides a practical roadmap for fighting back against antisemitism. She outlines ways to call out prejudice, engage with Jewish culture and history, and support Jewish people in the face of discrimination. In essence, ‘Fighting Anti-Semitism’ is not just a book, but a call to action – a charge to stand up and actively combat the rising tide of antisemitism.

5. ‘Uprooted’ by Lyn Julius

In ‘Uprooted,’ Julius provides a poignant recounting of the nearly forgotten history of Jewish communities in the Arab world. She takes us on a heartbreaking journey, exploring the decline and dissolution of a thriving civilisation that, almost overnight, became a shadow of its former self. Julius weaves historical events, personal accounts, and cultural analysis to create a tapestry of lost communities and shared memories.

Her narrative doesn’t merely focus on the tragic exodus but also highlights the rich cultural and social legacy left behind by these communities. By exploring a part of Jewish history that is often overlooked, ‘Uprooted’ broadens our understanding of Jewish diaspora and the impacts of antisemitism. It’s a crucial read for anyone seeking to comprehend the vastness and variety of Jewish history and the destructive effects of prejudice.

6. ‘Maus’ by Art Spiegelman

Spiegelman’s revolutionary graphic novel ‘Maus’ breaks down traditional storytelling norms to bring a deeply personal and affecting tale of the Holocaust. Told through the conversations between Spiegelman and his father, a Holocaust survivor, the narrative uses anthropomorphic characters to represent different ethnic groups, offering a unique lens through which to view this horrific period.

While not a traditional analysis of antisemitism, ‘Maus’ powerfully illustrates the human consequences of such hatred, detailing the fear, pain, and devastating loss experienced by those targeted by antisemitism. The book serves as a potent reminder of the human cost of prejudice, driving home the importance of remembering the past to prevent future atrocities.

7. ‘Neighbours: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland’ by Jan T. Gross

Gross’s chilling account delves into a dark chapter of the Holocaust, when the residents of the Polish village of Jedwabne turned against their Jewish neighbours in a horrifying act of violence. Through meticulous research and heartrending personal accounts, Gross presents a narrative that’s as disturbing as it is necessary.

The book doesn’t only chronicle the brutality but also delves into the complex social, political, and psychological factors that enabled such a horrifying act to take place within a community. It challenges us to question notions of collective guilt, bystander complicity, and human capacity for evil under societal pressure. ‘Neighbours’ is a potent examination of the destructive power of antisemitism and a stark reminder of the necessity of vigilance in the face of hatred.

8. ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ by Hannah Arendt

Arendt’s seminal work is a masterful dissection of the societal and political conditions that give rise to totalitarian regimes. While not exclusively about antisemitism, a substantial portion of the book, titled ‘Antisemitism,’ provides a profound exploration of the historical development of this prejudice. Arendt meticulously traces the rise of antisemitism, relating it to the social and political upheavals of the time.

Arendt’s exploration of antisemitism is not an isolated study, but part of a broader critique of the structures of power and the mechanisms of oppression. By understanding the origins and perpetuation of such hatred, we can better equip ourselves to recognise and combat similar threats in the present. ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ is an essential read for those seeking a comprehensive understanding of how societal structures and attitudes can breed and bolster antisemitism.

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By delving into these books, we deepen our understanding of the multifaceted issue of antisemitism, enabling us to counteract its resurgence more effectively. Each book imparts invaluable insights, reminding us of the necessity of education, empathy, and action in fighting prejudice.

About the Author
Yos Tarshish is the Director of Queen's Hillel in Kingston, Ontario, bringing a decade of experience in global Jewish student communities. A UK native, Yos previously served as President of both the Union of Jewish Students and the World Union of Jewish Students. Passionate about social activism and building inclusive Jewish communities, he holds a BA in Youth & Community Studies, sits on the steering committee of IPF Atid Toronto and on the board of Kingston's Beth Israel Congregation.
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