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A journey through Twenty-First Century antisemitism

Review by Karl Pfeifer

Some Of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism, by Ben Cohen

This well-edited volume contains selected thought-provoking articles by Ben Cohen, written in this century. His subject is the crude, violent “Bierkeller” antisemitism and the polite, modulated, ostensibly reasonable antisemitism, called nowadays “anti-Zionism” and so often expressed in the “progressive” camp.

Ben Cohen is not making sweeping judgments about the Left, but he calls a spade a spade and does not spare the rhetorical rod from those who engage in any form of antisemitism.

There is a foreword by Anthony Julius, the lawyer who successfully defended Deborah Lipstadt when she was sued by the Holocaust denier and antsemite David Irving. Julius asks if one can be like Ben Cohen an advocate of Israel’s cause and a commentator on the Middle East scene and concludes:

Notwithstanding the heat of the presentation, the urgency and the passion of the argument, truth has to be given its due. Ben Cohen meets that test.

In an obituary about the distinguished academic and prolific author and blogger Norman Geras, his former student Cohen wrote:

Norm gently chided Rosa Luxemburg for her declaration that she had “…no special corner of my heart reserved for the ghetto.” A Jewish socialist ought to be able to find some special corner of his or her heart for the tragedy of the Jewish people. A universalist ethic shorn of any special concern for the sufferings of one’s own would be the less persuasive for such carelessness.

In his essay on contemporary antisemitism in Hungary, Cohen quotes a statement released after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s speech to the 2013 Budapest meeting of the World Jewish Conference:

Mr. Orbán did not address any recent antisemitic or racist incidents in the country, nor did he provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe.

Ben Cohen’s comment is on the spot:

Ultimately, the WJC wanted something from Orbán that he wasn’t prepared to give them; not just an abstract statement that “antisemitism is unacceptable and intolerable,” but a concrete undertaking to eradicate it from Hungarian politics.

This highly readably book is full of information. Friends and enemies of the democratic and Jewish state can read it with profit.