In 2016, when the alt-right emerged from the corners of the Internet and into the public eye, Jonathan Weisman—a deputy editor of the New York Times—found himself a target of online anti-Semitic attacks. That experience, combined with the violent demonstration last year in Charlottesville and his conviction that the current president is at best an enabler of anti-Semites, led him to produce a book titled (((Semitism))). In it he concludes that in the face of today’s rising tide of hatred, Jews, and especially leaders of the organized Jewish community, have been indifferent. He also laments what he sees as American Jews’ division between Orthodox Jews and Zionists with their regrettable “tribalism” and those Jews whose identity lies wholly in the fact that they “read Philip Roth” and “eat bagels and babka.” Emma Green writes in her review:
[Weisman] complains that American Jewish organizations have all become “enthralled with [the] same mission; . . . all spoke of, lobbied on, and raised money for Israel, Israel, Israel.” Meanwhile, he says, neo-Nazis grab headlines, shouting slogans like “Hail victory!” and “You will not replace us!” at rallies on the National Mall. When this happened last summer, Weisman says, “the Jews slept.” . . . Weisman, alarmed by swirling hatred and lack of Jewish communal cohesion, seems to have cast about for someone to blame and settled on Jews themselves; his facts are wobbly and his prescriptions are thin. . . .
Throughout the book, Weisman seems to think he is the only Jew in America who sees the need to stand up to the forces of authoritarianism. . . . [But] Jewish institutions, from synagogues to activist groups to local community centers, have hosted innumerable events on this topic; . . . it is the concern I have heard most frequently in my reporting on Jewish communities over the past three years. . . .
[As for Wesiman’s claim] that major Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federation of North America . . . have been “remarkably quiet” about the “brewing storm” in America, instead focusing exclusively on Israel: maybe he just isn’t signed up for the right press releases. Both of these organizations and their local counterparts discuss anti-Semitism in the U.S. and abroad constantly. Both direct significant institutional resources toward countering bigotry.
The book is equally confused about the way that fractured Jewish identity is complicating this moment in American Jewish life. . . . [I]t’s not clear what [Weisman] wants from Jews. He yearns for a response to bigotry “grounded in a principle, a belief, a morality,” but doesn’t get any more specific about what that would mean. He seems to call notional, cultural Jews back to the roots of Judaism, but dismisses ritual and tradition as nothing more than the “mechanics of religiosity.” He makes many generalizations about what American Jews are like—often in the same weird idiom anti-Semites use, like “the Jew thrived” or “the Jew flourishes”—but he doesn’t spend much time excavating the experiences and differences among real, living people.