The World's Oldest Obsession

Reviewed by Alexander H. Joffe

The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day
by Walter Laqueur
Oxford University Press, 2006, 228 pages.

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ew scholars have lived as en-meshed in their subjects as has Walter Laqueur, an estimable voice on the history of the twentieth century. Born in Germany, he left for Mandatory Palestine in 1938. As a journalist, he covered the Middle East and the creation of the State of Israel. He left to study in England, where he eventually became director of the Institute of Contemporary History and the Wiener Library, the premier research center on anti-Semitism, and was a founding editor of the Journal of Contemporary History. Laqueur also taught at Brandeis and Georgetown universities, and was chairman of the International Research Council at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Now in his ninth decade, he continues to produce books and essays on a regular basis. His present volume, The Changing Face of Anti-Semitism, forces us to confront the problem at hand starkly.
This synoptic book is something of a departure for Laqueur. His renowned studies of Zionism, the Holocaust, the Weimar period, and the Soviet Union, to name a few, all addressed discrete forms of calamity and responses to it. But in this new volume, Laqueur undertakes a survey of anti-Semitism from its beginnings in Greek and Roman antiquity to its modern incarnation among Muslims and the radical Left. In a slim volume he manages to cover the entire trajectory of a global phenomenon in a comprehensive yet accessible way. And in the end, the picture of anti-Semitism that emerges is of a phenomenon perhaps more consistent, and rather less evolving, than Laqueur himself is willing to admit....

Alexander H. Joffe is an archaeologist and historian. He is currently a director of research for the David Project, Center for Jewish Leadership.

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