Sol Goldberg, Scott Ury, Kalman Weiser, eds. Key Concepts in the Study of Antisemitism. Palgrave Critical Studies of Antisemitism and Racism Series. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021. xviii + 336 pp. $19.99 (e-book), ISBN 978-3-030-51658-1; $29.99 (paper), ISBN 978-3-030-51657-4.
Reviewed by Robert E. Blobaum (West Virginia University)
Published on H-Poland (September, 2021)
Commissioned by Anna Muller (University of Michigan - Dearborn)
The three editors of Key Concepts in the Study of Antisemitism along with the contributors to this volume are to be congratulated on the publication of a truly excellent resource. From my own experience now sixteen years ago as the editor of a volume of studies on antisemitism but situated in a defined place and time and with a different goal (Antisemitism and Its Opponents in Modern Poland ), I know how difficult a task it is to maintain overall coherence and a consistent standard of quality throughout. In this regard, Sol Goldberg, Scott Ury, and Kalman Weiser have succeeded most admirably. One might ask why the decision was made not to organize the book into sections or parts grouping related essays (those suggested by Weiser in his introduction), but all of the essays are so interesting that shifting gears between them (for example, between the James Loeffler essay on anti-Zionism and the Kieval Hillel essay on the blood libel, or between Richard Levi’s essay on the Holocaust and Goldberg’s on Jewish self-hatred) is made with relative ease.
This volume also succeeds in its goal of serving as a handy reference for instructors and as a resource for students. None of its twenty-two contributions runs more than fifteen pages, making each readily digestible. Moreover, there is no redundancy among them. Even someone long engaged in the study of antisemitism could certainly learn from it. I have already used it to respond to questions about the intersection of antisemitism with racism or conspiracy theories, guided by Robert Bernasconi’s and Jovan Byford’s respective contributions. I can also think of numerous times in the past when I wish this book had been available. Admittedly, before opening Key Concepts one may wonder what is left to be said about antisemitism. Quite a lot, it turns out.
The editors were also wise in their decision not to impose a single unifying definition of “antisemitism” on the volume, given the subject’s complexity. Even if we try to limit the scope to “modern antisemitism” as I did in my volume, it still proved difficult to come up with a consensus definition. A narrow one—seeing modern antisemitism as something peculiarly socioeconomic and political—would ignore where it overlaps with religious-based antisemitism, which we typically associate with the premodern era. Or we would have to make exception for instances from the premodern era for what today we would view as politically motivated pogroms, in ancient Alexandria and medieval Valencia, as Jeffrey Kopstein points out in his essay for Key Concepts. And what to say about the blood libel?
If that was one issue best to avoid back in 2005, another, opposition to antisemitism in the modern era, proved far more difficult. To be sure, one could find soloists—as the late Jerzy Jedlicki put it—but these voices of opposition were most often drowned out by the Christian nationalist choir. Jedlicki nonetheless believed that the inclusion of these voices, almost exclusively from the intellectual elite, was necessary to demonstrate that antisemitism WAS resistible. One might add to that another example from before and after the Great War—the resistance to Christian nationalist inspired anti-Jewish boycotts by significant numbers of consumers, maybe not out of principle but out of their own economic self-interest. Here it is not so much a question of whether antisemitism was resistible but of its reach. Such approaches are not featured in Key Concepts. The book is not meant to be encyclopedic in its coverage; however, its versatility as well as its chronological and geographic scope more than make up for its admitted gaps.
Readers of H-Poland should be forewarned: not a single essay in this book is devoted specifically to Poland, despite the scholarly pedigree of several of its authors—Ury, Weiser, Kopstein, Brian Porter-Szűcs, and Magda Teter. In fact, direct references to Poland are few and far between. Nevertheless, the majority of the concepts deployed in the book can be applied to Poland or could have drawn from Polish examples, both past and present. In fact, this is yet another reason to recommend this illuminating book; it makes those of us invested in scholarship on Poland think and reflect not just about antisemitism and its many sources and manifestations but also about Poland’s place in a world where antisemitism is alive and well.
. Laura Engelstein takes the same tack in her new book, The Resistible Rise of Antisemitism: Exemplary Cases from Russia, Ukraine and Poland (Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2020).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-poland.
Robert E. Blobaum. Review of Goldberg, Sol; Ury, Scott; Weiser, Kalman, eds., Key Concepts in the Study of Antisemitism.
H-Poland, H-Net Reviews.
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