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John Farber's Book Review of "Demonizing Israel and the Jews" by Manfred Gerstenfeld

by John Farber, Dec 20, 2016

Book Review

Demonizing Israel and the Jews by Manfred Gerstenfeld, RVP Press, 2013.

Reviewed by John Farber

December 20, 2016


Sometimes, perhaps even often, less is more. Such is the case with Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld’s 216 page book, Demonizing Israel and the Jews. Published in 2013, it is a compilation of excerpts from 57 interviews with a very wide range of experts on anti-Semitism and the demonization of Israel and Jews; academics, heads of NGOs, psychiatrists, political scientists, activists, clergy, and others. Several are well-known while others less so; all make a contribution to the demonizing of Israel dialogue.     


Dr. Gerstenfeld was recently characterized by Isi Leibler (a prolific Israeli writer) as one of the top experts globally on anti-Semitism, noting he has taken over from Robert Wistrich (z’l) after his recent and untimely death. Dr. Gerstenfeld has published or edited over 20 books on the subject of anti-Semitism and regularly publishes articles in many publications; way too many to list.


In this compact book, Dr. Gerstenfeld focuses mainly on anti-Semitism/Israel and Jewish demonization in Europe, but occasionally touches on the West as well. The book opens with an Introduction written by Gerstenfeld, in which he summarizes various dimensions of anti-Semitism. Topics include How Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism Overlap, Verbal Demonization: Lies, The Perpetrator Categories, etc. These short synopses are interesting and even introduce some new issues, but the coverage is rather superficial and would benefit from more expansion. 


The remaining chapters are contained under two Sections; Interviews Demonizing Israel and Interviews Demonizing Jews; the latter mostly a European country-by-country review with a few religious groups thrown in. Each of the 57 chapters is an excerpt of an interview with the various experts. Each begins with a short (2-5 sentence) description of the interviewee; their major affiliations, accomplishments and contributions. It is followed by a short introductory paragraph or two about the topic, often a quote from the person interviewed. The remaining two or three pages (few go beyond 4 pages) are largely quotes from the interviewee pertaining to the topic.


It took 2-3 reads of this book to fully appreciate its value.  This is not an exhaustive review of each topic/issue. Rather, it gives the reader a “taste” or hint about the various issues related to anti-Semitism/demonization from the perspective of the interviewee. The book not only presents the breadth of issues, but might even hold the seeds to a grand theory of anti-Semitism.


What makes this book of particular interest is its offering of insights into anti-Semitism that are not often discussed, yet critical to any discussion. For example, the second interview is with Georges-Elia Sarfati, a professor of linguistics at the Sorbonne and is entitled Language as a Tool against Jews and Israel. In the opening paragraph, Gerstenfeld introduces this chapter with a quote from Sarfati that says in part, “All words have a history, which have an impact on their use, even if people are not aware of this. Rather than words being neutral, they serve to introduce a certain vision of the question one addresses. This is particularly clear in the case of anti-Semitism and its manifestations.” (page 32) Sarfati goes on to elaborate on this topic.  


Similarly, one of the most intriguing interviews is with Psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Levin entitled The Psychology of Jews Who Embrace Their Enemies. Drawing on his fascinating and extensive book The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege, Levin speaks to his thesis about what drives and motivates Jews to adopt anti-Israel/anti-Semitic attitudes. While some will rail at his analysis, it offers  significant and cogent psychological understanding about this phenomena. By-the-way, Levin’s book is well worth a read as well.


There are simply too many chapters to review, so here is a sample list of other topics and interviewees:


Indoctrinating Palestinian Children to Genocidal Hatred: A Psychiatrist Perspective, Dr. Daphne Burdman, Psychiatrist and Pathologist.

Where European Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism Meet, Andrei S. Markovits, Karl W. Deutsch Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies.

Non-Governmental Organizations against Israel, Professor Gerald Steinberg, teacher of political science and international relations at Bar Ilan University.

Christian Friends and Foes of Israel, David R. Parsons, Media Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Muslims Drive out Christians from Palestinian Territories, Justus Reid Weiner, International human rights lawyer.

Exposing Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism through Documentaries, Gloria Greenfield, President of Doc Emet Productions.

Threats of Anti-Semitism and  Terrorism on the Internet, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Israel: The Most Imperiled Member of Our Civilization, Giulio Meotti, Italian journalist and author.

Comparing Israeli Realities and Dutch Ones, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author and parliamentarian.

The Egyptian Beginning of Anti-Semitism’s Millennia-Long History, Professor Pieter van der Horst, Professor of Jewish Studies at Utrecht University

Myths and Truth about Muslim Anti-Semitism in Europe, Dr. Gunther Jikeli, Anti-Semitism researcher at the Kantor Center.

Anti-Semitism Embedded in British Culture for a Thousand Years, Professor Robert Wistrich (z’l), Neuberger Chair for Modern European and Jewish History.


The best way to think about this book is as an introduction to the array of issues surrounding the development and perpetuation of anti-Semitism over the millennia. The interested reader can use these short introductions to further pursue the topic presented or the writings of the person interviewed.


If one understands the purpose of the book, there is little to criticize. Notwithstanding that it was hard to determine when the interviews actually took place - it would seem most were in 2012, the value of the book is in its breadth of topics. The book could be better organized along thematic lines. Several interviews focused on the same or related topics (and are often adjacent to each other) but it would be easier for the reader if they were grouped by more specific topics than simply two sections, demonizing Israel or Jews.  Finally, the book largely focuses on European anti-Semitism, though some see this as a precursor to what may eventually make its way West and “across the pond”.


Overall this is a good introduction for someone unfamiliar with the breadth of the topic and who wants a quick and interesting overview of its many facets by experts in the field. It also gives a good introduction to the large number of people from varied backgrounds who are engaged in the study of and writing on anti-Semitism and offers a reasonable “jumping off” point for further study and investigation.

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