People of the Books - September 2023

Deborah Lipstadt, Antisemitism: Here and Now. Schocken, 2019.

For the past few months, I’ve been sharing some enjoyable summer reads in my reviews, even as I have been playing catch-up on more serious tomes. As we head into a new year as Jews, I’ve been particularly seeking to deepen my understanding of antisemitism today. Over the next two columns, I will share some of the results in reviews of Deborah Lipstadt’s Antisemitism: Here and Now (2019) and David Baddiel’s Jews Don’t Count (2021).

For those who don’t know Dr. Lipstadt, she is a historian, diplomat, and author of a number of compelling volumes, most related to the Holocaust. She is perhaps most famous for her work on Holocaust denial and a libel suit brought against her by British author and denialist David Irving. You can read all about this in her 2005 book History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving or get a snapshot via the 2016 feature film Denial. This year, President Biden has named Lipstadt the US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism, and Time magazine has identified her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. All of this, and her years of university teaching, qualify her well to write a powerful book on recent forms of antisemitism and how to respond to them. And she has. It does not surprise me that Antisemitism: Here and Now won a 2019 National Jewish Book Award.

Lipstadt begins her substantial volume with discussion of the term “antisemitism,” its meaning, history, definitions, and spelling. Next, she breaks down the figure of the antisemite, including those she terms extremists, enablers, the casual, and the clueless. The links and differences between antisemitism and racism appear in the subsequent section on contextualization. She also takes apart the complexities of Holocaust denial and the challenges of college campuses. To conclude the volume, she focuses on speaking truth to friends and celebrating the good despite the bad.

Lipstadt is particularly strong throughout in addressing traps and disguised language. From the way the concept of “globalists” is used as a synonym for “Jews” to Jewish American conflicts over Zionism, Lipstadt exposes and advises, offering wise words and nuanced examples to help us negotiate today’s discourses and divisions. As a reader, I found that even in areas where my opinion or experience differ from hers, her thoughts and advice are worthy of respect.

I do want to say a few words about the book’s particular style. Lipstadt proceeds through an imagined scenario of email communication between herself (or a version of herself) and two composite figures she invents: Jewish female college student “Abigail” and non-Jewish academic colleague “Joe.” Each chapter features exchanges in which the two characters pose questions based on their experiences and “Lipstadt” answers, creating possible responses to antisemitism today. The issues posed and answers given are engaging throughout, and there are valuable examples that seem based on Lipstadt’s actual lived experience. This said, the style is potentially offputting in its artificiality, with Lipstadt (or the Lipstadt “character”) at times coming across as self-important.

Of course, Lipstadt is an expert. I value her knowledge and recognize that the book’s chosen approach may well be of great benefit to those who do not wish to be lectured by a professor

but engaged with by someone in the struggle with them. A reader may see themselves in student Abigail or colleague Joe, based as these personae are on interactions from Lipstadt’s years as a university professor.

Ultimately, the book is valuable for all it packs into its 300 pages. I especially appreciate its prescience, written as it was before the Charlottesville rally, the Tree of Life Synagogue murders, or the COVID pandemic. The trends Lipstadt outlines have come increasingly to fruition since its 2019 publication, revealing its content to be relevant and very much deserving of our time.


Elyce Rae Helford, Ph.D., is a professor of English and director of the Jewish and Holocaust Studies minor at Middle Tennessee State University. She can be reached at


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