Everyday Hate: How antisemitism is built into our world and how you can change it
Dave Rich, Biteback Publishing, 2023, 320pp, £20 h/b, ISBN: 9781785907906
Paul Jackson, our regular commentator, reviews a book that provides a guide to the dynamics of anti-Semitism and offers practical suggestions on how to challenge age-old tropes
Dave Rich’s excellent new book, Everyday Hate, begins with a series of examples of how Jewish people in Britain are regularly targeted with swastikas, verbal abuse and physical violence. As Rich explains, anti-Semitism is a prejudice impacting in very real ways on Jewish communities today and is rooted in centuries of history that has embedded anti-Semitic ideas across the modern world. Worryingly, later in the book, Rich clearly sets out how anti-Semitism and related conspiracy theories are becoming more common among younger people.
Written across eight engaging chapters, Rich dissects key examples of anti-Semitism, such as ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, fearful talk around the supposed power of the Rothschilds and Holocaust denial. Yet, despite a clear understanding of the past, the book specifically states it is not a history of anti-Semitism, but rather seeks to explore how ideas from the distant past are used by anti-Semites in the present day.
Throughout, striking examples are used. Regarding the reframing of the blood libel trope of the medieval era, Rich explains that it can be seen in some of the anti-Semitic responses to the Grenfell Tower disaster. One Facebook post he cites specifically claimed that people had been ‘burned alive in a Jewish ritual sacrifice’ and that Jewish people were making money from insurance claims. Such examples not only highlight that anti Semitism is nothing new but demonstrate how social media is playing a prominent role in disseminating these old ideas in new, digital formats.
Rich’s analysis identifies how major political leaders have played a part in giving licence to anti-Semitic prejudices in modern times, as well as how crises such as the Covid pandemic have created new situations for anti-Semitic conspiracies to find new audiences. The book also dives into the cultural normalisations as well, highlighting how ambiguity can help anti-Semitism enter the mainstream in plain sight. For example, Rich notes in his discussion of the animated television series South Park that its characters Cartman, who is often overtly anti-Semitic, and Kyle, a Jew on the receiving end of such abuse, allows for repeated, outrageous anti-Semitism to be broadcast.
Whatever else such cultural products do, they allow anti Semitic statements to be expressed in very public ways. Rich does not call for South Park to be ‘cancelled’, and notes it can be genuinely satirical, but he goes on to discuss how such media might relate to much more disturbing material, such as the Happy Merchant meme. Variants of this image have been widely shared on social media in recent times, including by many extreme right networks. It depicts a Jewish man as stereotypically greedy and sinister. If we want to think about the rise of anti-Semitism among young people, such synergies between the mainstream and the extremes need to be better understood.
Rich identifies some practical approaches on how to challenge anti-Semitism too. This includes making sure that addressing anti-Semitism is a core aspect of anti-racist campaigning. He also argues that anti-Semitism needs to be more carefully measured, to foster a better understanding of its nature and scale.
Interestingly, Rich highlights that calling out anti-Semitism is not simply part of Jewish history, but part of everyone’s history. Modern society is built on cultures that have been deeply anti-Semitic, so why is it typically only Jewish museums that identify and problematise anti-Semitism? School education and the ‘pre-bunking’ of anti-Semitic tropes among young people, before they get exposed to them, is also a crucial part of addressing anti Semitic prejudices, he explains.
As Rich concludes, everyone can play a part in rooting out anti-Semitism. Doing so will make for a better type of society where conspiracy theories based on hate carry far less influence, and ideally none at all. For anyone wanting to understand the origins, and especially the current dynamics of anti-Semitism, Rich’s Everyday Hate is an essential, short read.
Paul Jackson is a senior lecturer in history at Northampton University, specialising in extreme right ideology today