Neither of the authors of two new books on trying to understand and combat present-day anti-Semitism had planned to write them.
Bari Weiss, a relatively new lightning rod at The New York Times’ Opinion Page, was excited to dig into a completely different topic for her first book. And Keith Kahn-Harris, a sociologist in London whose expertise is British Jewry, prefers to write about Jews living Jewish lives rather than anti-Semites, who he notes are usually not Jews.
But then Weiss, 35, author of “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” opened a text message from her youngest sister on October 27, 2018: A live shooter was in the synagogue where their father prayed. Her father was not there that morning, but 11 other Jewish worshippers were gunned down by a white supremacist during Shabbat prayers in the tight-knit neighborhood where she grew up in Pittsburgh.
For Kahn-Harris, 47, author of “Strange Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and the Limits of Diversity,” his sixth book, the impetus were the accusations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party after the election of far-left Jeremy Corbyn as its head in 2015.
For both writers, these events represent historical turning points in how anti-Semitism plays out in their home countries and abroad. Both also look at how anti-Semitism has evolved on the fringes of the political right and left. Where Weiss arguably has a more polemical approach — calling out both far-left and far-right anti-Semitism as dangerous, albeit in different ways — Kahn-Harris focuses more on examining what he calls “the bafflingly complex societies” we live in today — the ones in which our old ideas of what anti-Semitism means no longer hold.