What is anti-Semitism? Most any attempt to define the term or, even more controversially, pin the label on someone, brings to mind Justice Potter Stewart’s famously pithy 1964 definition of hard-core pornography: “I know it when I see it.” But, of course, different people see different things, and so the debate continues.
In this instance it continues over at Open University, where Jeffrey Herf piggybacks on a recent review of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, to make a point about the Judeocentric nature of Nazi anti-Semitism.
According to Herf, “the distinctive and defining feature of Nazism’s radical anti-Semitism was precisely the idea that Jews were at the center of mid-20th-century history, that they had started World War II, made possible the alliance between the Soviet Union and the Western democracies, and conducted the war as one of extermination aimed at the German people.”
Herf, a professor of history at the University of Maryland at College Park, concedes that racial biology played a role in the Nazi worldview, but maintains that at the core of modern anti-Semitism is “the attribution to Jews of enormous power used for evil purposes.” It is that tradition of anti-Semitism that Herf hears echoes of in Mearsheimer and Walt’s case against the “Israel lobby.”
In a related bit of news, the Forward is reporting that The Israel Lobby and Foreign Policy will soon be available across the Arab world. “Books don’t sell all that well in the Arab world, where the tradition is more oral and visual,” said Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland at College Park. “But people are aware of it because of satellite TV.”
According to the Forward, the book is already garnering a great deal of interest in Europe, where it has been translated into German, Dutch, Danish, French, Italian, Spanish, and Catalan. In addition, Mearsheimer and Walt will embark on the European leg of their book tour next month, where events are planned at universities and think tanks in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris, Vienna, and London — where they will also address the House of Lords.