Mark Levenson
On Jewish fantasy, folklore, and more

Literary antisemitism is bad and getting worse

The Authors Guild did nothing for Jewish writers who are lately being harassed and blacklisted, but there is something you can do
(sergeyxsp via iStock)
(sergeyxsp via iStock)

Last week the 14,000-member Authors Guild waded into the waters of post-October 7 antisemitism, found that water not to its liking, and hot-tailed it back to the beach.

Which is to say that the Authors Guild’s public statement of June 24 – which many had hoped would be a forceful denunciation of the rapidly spreading wildfire of review-bombing, blacklisting, protest, and cancellation of Jewish writers – was no such thing. Instead, it was an anodyne communication that one could read without thinking it had anything much to do with the Jew-hatred now plaguing the publishing industry.

The word “antisemitism” appears but once in the statement, and Hamas-adjacent readers can take solace that the word is immediately followed by “Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry and discrimination.” So, see, the Authors Guild isn’t especially worried about the impact of the war against Jewish authors. It’s worried about a lot of bad stuff that “chill(s) writers’ freedom of expression.” And the Authors Guild, of which I’m a member, is brave enough to acknowledge that antisemitism fits in there, somewhere.

The inclusion of Islamophobia on the list of dangers facing writers today is particularly rich and gives the game away. Despite what one might imagine after reading the Authors Guild statement, there is no organized campaign to review-bomb Islamic books online, as has happened to Jewish writers including Talia Carner. Her novel, The Boy with the Star Tattoo, which depicts Israel’s early days, was review-bombed [given bad reviews or low ratings to drive down sales) first on TikTok and Instagram, then on the widely read book-review site Goodreads — all before the book came out. Most of the 120 one-star ratings that Carner’s novel received came without explanation. The rest made clear that they opposed Carner’s Zionist background and the publication of a pro-Israel book “while Israel openly commits genocide.”

Carner isn’t alone. Author Gabrielle Zevin’s novel, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow received the same treatment on Goodreads. So did author Lisa Barr’s Woman on Fire, about a search for Jewish art stolen by the Nazis.

“This is organized harassment,” Carner told me. “This isn’t a good time for the Jewish novel.”

Similarly, no bookstores have canceled signing events for Muslim authors, as happened repeatedly to Jewish author (and “Stranger Things” star) Brett Gelman. At least three bookstores cancelled scheduled book tour dates with Gelman for his debut book, The Terrifying Realm of the Possible: Nearly True Stories, after receiving protests. The stores cited safety concerns, and Gelman reportedly speculates that the stores may not have wanted to associate with a prominent advocate for Israel.

And there are no online blacklists of Muslim writers, while Jewish authors were recently shocked by the very real “Is your fav writer a Zionist?” blacklist, a Google doc that Google admirably took down — after it was viewed by millions of people. The seemingly flimsiest excuse could land an author on the list, such as taking a Birthright trip to Israel, mentioning a concern for Jewish friends, or speaking to a Hadassah meeting (really!).

“What’s happening to Jewish authors gives lie to those who claim they’re not antisemitic, just anti-Zionist,” the American Jewish Committee’s Saba Soomekh told me. “This is a vendetta against any author who’s Jewish.”

The Authors Guild isn’t the only professional writers association with a Jewish problem in the wake of October 7. So is the free-speech association PEN America. Most of the incoming fire that PEN America has received has come from the left, furious that the organization champions free speech for all (including Jews) and isn’t sufficiently antisemitic. Hamas-adjacent writers stormed a PEN America gathering for including Jewish authors and, after more leftist writers announced boycotts of the group’s annual literary awards ceremony and “World Voices” festival, PEN America canceled them

In that light, the slant of PEN America’s public statement in March was understandable (though not forgivable). After restating the group’s laudably absolutist position on free speech, it spent most of its length bemoaning the fate of one side in the war – and it wasn’t the side that experienced rape, torture, child murder and more on October 7 – explaining what it has done for Palestinian writers, and promising to do more. Exactly 27 of its 1,643 words discussed antisemitism, although PEN America did remember the hostages in its call for a ceasefire. Sadly, that is what counts as a victory in the post-October 7 world.

The blight of literary antisemitism seems likely to grow. “Sadly, we’ve seen no response from government or the nonprofits to protect Jewish authors,” says AJC’s Soomekh.

Antisemitism on campus only began to turn a corner when elite college presidents, in their most condescending tones, told Congress on live television that calling for the destruction of the Jewish people is sometimes okay. Literary antisemitism is unlikely to have a similar high-visibility moment.

That’s because Washington doesn’t fund publishers and authors the way it funds education, providing fewer opportunities for Congressional attention. And the problem on campus entered living rooms through dramatic, highly visual television coverage of campus protests, encampments, harassment, and occupation of buildings. For the most part, literary antisemitism is of a type to which no camera can do justice: online chats, review-bombing, and blacklist spreadsheets. Even more subtly, its success can be measured in the number of books that never get published. The sad reality is that the literary landscape just does not matter as much as it used to; according to the National Endowment for the Arts, the percentage of American adults who read books for pleasure has been declining for a decade.

So many industry professionals – authors, publishers, retailers, agents and others – are on the wrong side of this issue that there might not be a critical mass left to stand up for the truth. If the biggest names in publishing – the Big New York Houses, for example – were to issue an unambiguous statement of support for harassed and blacklisted Jewish writers, with teeth for those who violate the principles of free speech, it could be helpful. If the biggest, most consistent names on the bestseller lists spoke out, their calls might be heard.

But don’t hold your breath. People in publishing are scared that speaking out will cause the mob to come for them, too.

You, however can do something. I mentioned several Jewish and pro-Israel writers above. Buy one of their books. Or all of them. Or the books of any Jewish or pro-Israel author you choose. Carner’s The Boy with the Star Tattoo, for example, is a gripping and beautifully drawn story of Israel’s early days that deserves a wide audience. It’s a good place to start.

Buy a book a month, or more if you’re a voracious reader. It could even make you smarter. And the world could use smarter people.

About the Author
Mark Levenson is a writer. His latest book is "The Hidden Saint" (Level Best Books), a novel of Jewish folklore. Learn more at
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