Semites, antisemites, and Bernard Lewis

In 1986, Bernard Lewis published an unexpected book. Entitled Semites and Anti-Semites, it combined a careful typology of Jew-hatred, and a sobering account of how antisemitism had spread through the Arab world. Regarding the latter, Lewis made this arresting judgment:

The level of hostility, and the ubiquity of its expression, are rarely equalled even in the European literature of anti-Semitism, which only at a few points reached this level of fear, hate, and prejudice. For parallels one has to look to the high Middle Ages, to the literature of the Spanish Inquisition, of the anti-Dreyfusards in France, the Black Hundreds in Russia, or the Nazi era in Germany.

Lewis thoroughly documented the extent of the “new antisemitism” with his customary erudition, and the book became a classic. Yet it also stirred controversy. Its conclusions were challenged both by the Palestinian activist Edward Said, and by the historian of antisemitism Robert Wistrich.

Why did Lewis write this book? And why did he conclude that Arab antisemitism owed more to Europe than to Islam? In this illustrated webinar, done for the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism at Indiana University, I take a deep dive into the background and substance of Semites and Anti-Semites. View it here or below.

(And a correction: the head of MI6 was Stewart Menzies, not Robert.)