Dr Antony Lerman “Whatever Happened to Antisemitism?”

Dr Antony Lerman on “Whatever Happened to Antisemitism? Redefinition and the Myth of the ‘Collective Jew’“, a webinar organised by the Jewish Network for Palestine based on his new book published by Pluto Press.

Antisemitism is one of the most controversial topics of our time. The public, academics, journalists, activists and Jewish people themselves are divided over its meaning. Antony Lerman shows that this is a result of a 30-year process of redefinition of the phenomenon, casting Israel, problematically defined as the ‘persecuted collective Jew’ among the nations, as one of its main targets.

This political project has taken the notion of the ‘new antisemitism’ and codified it in the flawed International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ‘working definition’ of antisemitism. This text is the glue holding together an international network comprising the Israeli government, pro-Israel advocacy groups, Zionist organisations, Jewish communal defence bodies and sympathetic governments fighting a war against those who would criticise Israeli Apartheid.

The consequences of this redefinition are alarming: suppressing free speech on Palestine/Israel, perpetuating occupation, reinforcing the denial of Palestinian rights, legitimising Islamophobia, and making Jews more, not less, vulnerable.

The Myth of the ‘Collective Jew exposed

The myth of Israel as the persecuted ‘collective Jew’ among the nations is central to the political project of redefining antisemitism as ‘new antisemitism’ and codifying it in the IHRA ‘working definition of antisemitism.

The fundamental argument of the book is that this myth is politically, philosophically, and conceptually unsustainable. And yet it plays a powerful role in the perpetuation of occupation, denying Palestinians their rights and reinforcing the demonising of Palestinians as the principal purveyors and disseminators of antisemitism. Exposing the bankruptcy of this myth is of fundamental importance in dismantling the barriers to Palestinians obtaining their inalienable rights.

Antony Lerman is Senior Fellow at the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, Vienna, Honorary Fellow at the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish Non-Jewish Relations, Southampton University and Associate Editor of Patterns of Prejudice. He was Director of the Institute of Jewish (Affairs (1991-96), then Founding Director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (1996-1999 and 2006-09).

He was one of the founders of Independent Jewish Voices. He is the author of The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist: A Personal and Political Journey (2012), co-author of Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief (2019), founding Editor of Antisemitism World Report (1992-98).

He has written on antisemitism, racism and other political issues for the Guardian, Independent, Prospect, Haaretz, New York Times, New Statesman, the Nation, London Review of Books, aufbau, Jewish Chronicle, openDemocracy, Middle East Eye and many other publications.

Whatever Happened to Antisemitism? is available from Pluto Press


‘The contemporary debate about antisemitism is both incoherent and appalling. It’s incoherent because there’s no consensus definition about what antisemitism is. It’s appalling because the definition employed by many influential Jewish organiza- tions and Western politicians label virtually anyone with a genuine commitment to Palestinian freedom a Jew hater. Faced with this hot mess, Antony Lerman offers a cool, well-reasoned, deeply learned and morally courageous meditation on what antisemitism is and isn’t. An urgently needed book.’ Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at Jewish Currents

‘Nobody unpacks the confusions currently circulating around antisemitism, nor the complexities of Jewish identity, better than Antony Lerman. This elegantly written, erudite book is essential reading for all of us, whatever our identifications.’ Lynne Segal, author of Radical Happiness: Moments of Collective Joy

‘This important, essential book by a leading expert on antisemitism offers a nuanced and insightful history of the use and abuse of the fight against the world’s oldest hatred. It powerfully unmasks the so-far very successful effort to twist the battle against antisemitism into a defence of the indefensible: Israel’s subjugation of millions of people on the basis of their national and ethnic identity.’ Nathan Thrall, author of The Only Language They Understand

‘This is the best book I have read on why anti-Zionism has been equated with antisemitism and how the “new antisemitism” has been mobilised for political gain in a variety of arenas. Coming from one of the world’s leading experts, Antony Lerman’s incisive analysis will undoubtedly serve as the major reference for both pundits and novices for many years to come. I, for one, have learned a great deal from it.’

‘We desperately need this book – and I can’t imagine anyone better than Tony Lerman to write it. An essential tool to understand the weaponisation of antisemitism and its dangerous impact on free speech, Palestinian rights, and the very real threat of actual antisemitism.’ Rebecca Vilkomerson, former Executive Director of Jewish Voice for Peace