How do you explain the world’s oldest form of hatred to today’s young audiences? With an author who knows how to combine a narrative with memorable visuals and short visuals. The task was handled ably by Israel B. Bitton, a marketing and advocacy professional who devoted two years to produce A Brief and Visual History of Anti-Semitism, published by Gefen.
The title is misleading, as it is certainly not brief, with 618 pages, weighing in at five pounds, with a very busy cover art featuring neo-Nazis, Klansmen, a burning synagogue, white youths with tiki torches, and a Black preacher wearing a bowtie.
“It’s very easy to go through and become knowledgeable,” said former Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who assisted the author in producing the book. Together, they founded Americans Against Antisemitism in 2019 to confront the rise in hate incidents targeting Jews. Their task is to reach high school and college students.
“It gives young people and everyone the tools to understand the nature of anti-Semitism and how it hasn’t changed. It gives people the tools to defend the position,” Hikind said. “It is dealt with in a beautiful way, with a visual part and an app. There are 70 videos throughout the book. You can watch the United Nations partition vote. It’s an incredible feature.”
The book is divided into nine sections: Defining Antisemitism; Beginnings of Antisemitism; Proliferation of Antisemitism; Secularization of Antisemitism; Apex of Antisemitism; Easternization of Antisemitism; Politicization of Antisemitism; The Current Landscape; and Combating Antisemitism. Each has links to short videos, 70 in total, and numerous citations that make this book useful for historical research.
Hikind said that too many young Jews are not knowledgeable about their history and are unable to identify anti-Semitic tropes when they hear them. “Seth Rogen, the comedian, made comments that were very critical of Israel. When he was growing up, his parents made it sound like the Jews came to Palestine. ‘They never told me the truth.’ I wish his parents did.” The truth that Jews always had a presence in Palestine was not taught to the young Rogen, who assumed that it was only after masses of Jews made aliyah in recent decades that Israel became a country.
“The Jews living in Palestine were Palestinian Jews. Jews bought property and brought things back to life. For people who are not going to read a lot, they need the tools.”
Bitton said that the use of visual content to get the message out is not a new thing. “It makes sense. There have been visual materials for hundreds of years and we’ve used them in a balanced way,” he said, referring to the long history of anti-Semitic pamphlets, posters, and caricatures.
Bitton and Hikind founded Americans Against Antisemitism in 2019, as a nonpartisan organization that researches anti-Semitic incidents and educates the public. “We do not duplicate the efforts of other organizations; we try to make a difference,” Bitton said.
While white supremacist incidents receive more media attention, Hikind noted that in New York, they account for only three percent of anti-Semitic acts. “This book is consistent and speaks with one voice. Right now, things are beyond the pale,” he said. The preacher in the bowtie on the cover is in recognition of Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, a sect with a long record of hateful statements.
Bitton added that some recent acts involved individuals who believed that they are the “real Jews,” defined by their race rather than faith or ancestry. “We have a complete warping of anti-Semitism. They don’t want to be seen as simply another hate group. Look at the Jews from Ethiopia and India – they’re not denying the Jewish identity of other Jews.”
Concerning anti-Zionism, Bitton said that there is plenty of evidence showing how opposition towards Israel is framed in the same language as anti-Semitism, and the targeting of Israel to the exclusion of actual human rights violators is an example of this. “In no other instance is there an anti-national movement seeking to cancel a country,” he said. “At the UN, it’s at a crisis level.”
When asked whether Jews can be anti-Semites, such as leftist Jews or the Neturei Karta, Bitton emphatically agreed. “Jewish anti-Semitism is when even a Jew can be a Jew-hater. They openly consort with people who want to destroy Israel. They sell themselves out.” In contrast, most anti-Zionist chareidim are not a threat to Israel or the security of Jewish communities; they simply oppose it for religious reasons, and do not collaborate with Israel’s enemies.
Bitton thanked longtime Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman and Israeli President Isaac Herzog for offering their endorsements for this book. “It’s a great honor to have these distinct people in the book.” It demonstrates that the book has the support of community leaders across the political and religious spectrum.
“We are working on getting it into the best high schools. We have history and justice on our side,” Hikind said. “There’s nothing quite like this book.”
By Sergey Kadinsky