Scholar and author Deborah E. Lipstadt offers a thorough, rational, evidence-based history and refutation of antisemitism.
Amid a global rise of nationalism and virulent political rhetoric, dangerous antisemitism is on the rise, writes Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta. She structures her report as a series of letters based on her responses to queries from a non-Jewish colleague and from a Jewish student.
Lipstadt reports a deterioration of tolerance in Europe and asserts that she felt compelled to respond to outlandish conspiracy theories, such as that Jews faked the Holocaust. She contends that failing to forcefully counter such toxic lies allows poisonous untruths to take root.
Lipstadt presents two composite characters – “Abigail,” a Jewish college student, and “Joe,” a Christian college professor – whose letters explore antisemitism, racism and other forms of bigotry. Their fictional correspondence reflects true-to-life conflicts and discussions. Lipstadt’s alter ego – Professor DEL – answers the letters based on her experiences as a Jewish woman, a scholar and a professor.
Antisemitism flourishes in a society that is intolerant of others, be they immigrants or racial and religious minorities. When expressions of contempt for one group become normative, it is virtually inevitable that similar hatred will be directed at other groups.Deborah E. Lipstadt
Professor DEL emphasizes that antisemitism threatens Jews and all people who treasure multicultural, democratic, inclusive societies.
Abigail and Joe wonder why antisemitism has persited. Joe asks why homophobia, racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia seem part of normal social discourse in the United States.
Whatever form it takes, we must always insist that antisemitism has never made sense and never will.Deborah E. Lipstadt (as Professor DEL)
Antisemitism is an ancient, ongoing conspiracy theory, which, by its nature, is ridiculous and potentially dangerous. Offering provable counterfactuals only pushes conspiracy believers to resist more deeply. Fighting antisemitism is difficult because no one can disprove illogical assertions.
On her 1972 visit to Russia, Professor DEL experienced powerful antisemitic lies. The Soviet Union’s Communist government falsely blamed shortages of food and shoes on Soviet Jews.The government actively persecuted Jews and encouraged antisemitism.Some Soviets viewed the hated Communist government as a Jewish conspiracy.
What should alarm us is that human beings continue to believe in a conspiracy that demonizes Jews and sees them as responsible for evil. Antisemites continue to give life to this particular brand of age-old hatred.Deborah E. Lipstadt
Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, antisemites blamed Jews for the World Trade Center attacks. The truth: Al-Qaeda, which carried out those attacks, is Sunni; Shiites in Hezbollah and Iran didn’t want to give Sunnis credit, so they blamed Jews.
Polite bigotry is especially dangerous because it normalizes discrimination and nurtures hateful actions.
Antisemitism lurks in academic footnotes and college discussions during protests and debates about the Israeli government and the Palestinians. Some students and professors – including many Jews – have sincere policy disagreements with Israeli leaders. However, antisemitism drives some of Israel’s critics. The proof: Antisemites criticize Israel for one set of policies or actions while overlooking similar policies and actions in other countries.
History, Religion and Politics.
For thousands of years, governments and schools blamed Jews for society’s ills and history’s misdeeds.One dangerous example – now thoroughly debunked – is that some Christian leaders cast blame at Jews for the death of Jesus.
Economic downturns, political tensions, unsuccessful military actions and a myriad of other crises were explained away by attributing them to the interference of Jews.Deborah E. Lipstadt
During the 14th century, Europeans blamed Jews for the bubonic plague. In 1920s Germany, Nazis accused Jews of embroiling Germany in World War I for profit.Left-wing detractors portrayed Jews as extreme capitalists who fought against social and economic assistance for the working-class and poor. Eugenic researchers falsely theorized about the genetic inferiority of Jews,while antisemites claimed that a small group of powerful Jews ruled the world. Antisemitism abounds in insupportable contradictions, but that does not lessen its appeal to hate-filled bigots.
In some places in modern Europe, Jews no longer feel comfortable showing their faith. Some wear baseball caps – rather than the traditional skullcap – in public.
When someone does not present as an out-and-out Nazi, observers often fail to recognize him or her as an antisemite. But to be an antisemite one need not be a Hitler or Nazi equivalent. Deborah E. Lipstadt
Neo-Nazi attacks and rhetoric are increasing in Germany and elsewhere. Far-right nationalism in Poland stirs antisemitism. Nationalist movements in Poland, Hungary and France downplay those nations’ role in the Holocaust or deny the Holocaust outright. Alarmed, some Jews have left Europe for Israel or North America.
Joe confides that he became depressed after watching neo-Nazis march in Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2017. Some marchers embraced the phrase “blood and soil” – Nazi Germany’s war cry. President Donald Trump accepted support from antisemitic ideologues and said the Charlottesville marchers who chanted antisemitic slogans were also “good people.”
During Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, white nationalists emphasized the Jewish identity of journalists and commentators by placing multiple parentheses – an echo symbol – around their surnames.Antisemitic vitriol inundated journalists. For example, Nicholas Kristof, a Christian columnist at The New York Times, received death threats for composing what antisemites called “a typical Jewish hit piece.”
In some of his actions, Trump normalized antisemitic stereotypes during his campaign. In a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, for example, candidate Trump played to caricatures of Jewish businessmen, and he amplified the voices of white supremacists on social media.Trump and some leaders from other nations who have expressed various antisemitic ideas nonetheless have given Israel political support.
Today’s American antisemitism, expressed in movements like the BDS boycott, taps into other insidious and dangerous elements in US society, including white nationalism. Many synagogues, Jewish museums and community centers have added extra security features, such as screening machines and guards, due to a spike in antisemitism and racism.
Antisemites call the Holocaust a fabrication, even though thousands of survivors have testified about its killings and atrocities; Nazi soldiers and prison guards confessed; and photographs, film and meticulous German records attest to mass murder.
The Holocaust has the dubious distinction of being the best documented genocide in the world. Deborah E. Lipstadt
If the Holocaust were a hoax, Lipstadt points out, the German government would push back against a false narrative that tarnishes its national identity. Instead, Germany has built memorials to Holocaust victims and pays reparations to survivors.
Professor Deborah E. Lipstadt offers a foundational text on the history of and – crucially – the contemporary tactics and manifestations of antisemitism and its related scourges of racism and suppression of freedom of religion. Her structure of a correspondence-based narrative device work only intermittently, but it brings a conversational, personal tone to sometimes academic text. She takes on a broad scope of history and succeeds in sticking to her subject and her purpose. Lipstadt’s research and heartfelt conviction – and her lack of polemic speechifying – combine to make this a superb teaching text for students and adults.
Deborah E. Lipstadt also wrote Denial: Holocaust History on Trial and The Eichmann Trial.