Anti-Semitism has started to surface again in American political life. Only recently, a president and a presidential candidate questioned the loyalty of American Jews; a state governor pointedly deleted the "Judeo" from America's "Judea-Christian" heritage; and a Jewish bystander was brutally murdered during violent conflicts between Hasidic Jews and African Americans in New York. What explains the apparent resurgence of a phenomenon many Americans thought could never happen here? In this provocative book, Benjamin Ginsberg examines the cycle of Jewish success and anti-Semitic attack throughout the history of the Diaspora, with a concentrated focus on the "special case" of America. For Ginsberg, the essential issue is not anti-Jewish feeling, but the conditions under which such sentiment is likely to be used in the political arena. His book identifies the political dynamics that, historically, have set the stage for the persecution of Jews. Wherever Jews have settled, Ginsberg shows, their literacy, commercial skills, and even their social marginality have made them useful to kings, princes and sultans, to say nothing of prime ministers, commissars, and presidents. Ambitious rulers have found in the Jews a source of talent not tied to the status quo, and given them protection and opportunity in exchange for their services as administrators, financiers, and diplomats. Jews have played major roles in building states, including the United States of America. In this embrace of the state, Jews have risen to positions of wealth and power. Time and again, however, the influence has proved to be temporary, as Jews become the touchstones of opposition to the regime they helped build. The embrace of the state has proved to be fatal. Is America, as many argue, the exception to this pattern? Does America's liberal tradition preclude the possibility of mobilized anti-Jewish hostility? Surveying the political history of Jews from the Civil War to the 1992 presidential election, Ginsberg masterfully traces the ebb and flow of political anti-Semitism in the U.S. In America as elsewhere, opposing political forces have used anti-Semitic appeals to attack regimes with which Jews were allied. Because the embrace of the state has been so problematic for the Jews, Ginsberg is cautionary about the future, even in light of the extraordinary visibility of Jews in the Clinton administration.
by Benjamin Ginsberg
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