a dark-haired woman in glasses smiles, sitting at a desk
Bari Weiss at her desk in The New York Times building. (Photo/JTA-Josefin Dolsten)

Inquiries into anti-Semitism past and present earn Natan book awards

Two recently published books that grapple with the historically tangled threads of anti-Semitism and Zionism across the political spectrum have been selected as the Natan Notable Books for fall 2019.

Bari Weiss’ “How to Fight Anti-Semitism” and Susie Linfield’s “The Lions’ Den: Zionism and the Left from Hannah Arendt to Noam Chomsky” are the winners of the Jewish Book Council distinction, formerly known as the Natan Book Awards.

Handed out twice a year, the Natan Notable Book awards are intended to draw attention to recently published (or about-to-be-published) nonfiction books on Jewish themes that are aligned with the themes of the Natan Fund’s grant­making: reinventing Jewish life and community for the 21st century, shifting notions of individual and collective Jewish identity, understanding and confronting anti-Semitism, and Israel and its evolving relationship with diaspora Jews.

Previous winners have included Matti Friedman’s “Spies of No Country” in 2018 and Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land” in 2013.

The two new winners “offer fresh and nuanced analysis of complex issues,” the Jewish Book Council said in its Oct. 7 announcement.

In her book, the release continued, “Weiss explores the permutations of contemporary antisemitism — from the right, from the left and in radical Islam  — each of which has a different kind of intensity and character, and none of which can afford to be overlooked.”

Susie Linfield
Susie Linfield

In the other winning book, “Linfield untangles the intellectual knots which some prominent 20th-century thinkers on the Left twisted to disparage and demonize Israel and Zionism.”

Franklin Foer, co-chair of the Natan Notable Books committee, said in the release, “The books are in fruitful dialogue with each other” with respect to anti-Semitism, which, “as both writers clearly demonstrate, [is] a multi-headed beast.”

Added committee co-chair Tali Rosenblatt-Cohen: “At a time when many people gravitate toward Tweetable over­simplifications of complex problems and to idealistic visions that fail to account for context, history or the necessities of realpolitik, both authors remind us that real life is messy and difficult to understand, often requiring people to hold multiple competing ideas in their heads at once.”

Linfield is a social and cultural theorist at New York University who is a self-described leftist and Zionist. “Lions’ Den” offers critical studies of eight seminal leftist intellectuals: Hannah Arendt, Arthur Koestler, Maxime Rodinson, Isaac Deutscher, Albert Memmi, Fred Halliday, I. F. Stone and Noam Chomsky. Of this group, only Memmi and Halliday supported Israel’s right to exist.

“Only in the case of Israel is the eradication of an extant nation … considered a progressive demand,” Linfield writes.

Weiss, a New York Times opinion page editor and writer, grew up in Pittsburgh, where she attended the Tree of Life synagogue. The attack on that synagogue last October prompted her to take a deep dive into the subject of anti-Semitism. This is the career journalist’s first book.

Weiss spoke at the JCC of San Francisco last month and was interviewed by J.

“There’s a lot of misunderstanding that it is just prejudice against Jews,” she told J., referring to new types of anti-Semitism emerging in society and online. “Yes, it can manifest as that, but it’s really a signal of a society that has replaced lies for truth, and open societies are dead or dying. This is the early warning signal.”

Each author will receive a $5,000 prize and promotional support.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s former culture editor.