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entries tagged with: Anti Semitism


Richard Wagner

The devil who had good tunes

Using stereotypes of Jews, a 19th-century newspaper cartoon mockingly commented on how appreciative and supportive Jews were of Wagner’s music.

Composer Richard Wagner’s feelings about Jews were summarized in his statement that “I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it.”

His virulent anti-Semitism poses a painful problem for music-lovers and particularly for Jews. He was not only a despicable human being but a great artist, and we want to believe that all geniuses are decent human beings — kind, generous, fair, selfless, and modest.

The notion that genuises are always noble is something we carry with us from childhood. Children need and want admirable role models; it’s only later in life that they may learn that George Washington kept slaves, that Shoeless Joe Jackson couldn’t say it wasn’t so (that he helped throw the 1919 World Series), that Sir Francis Bacon was a crook, and that Wagner was, as Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College, has called him, “a racist ass.” (Bard is holding a Wagner music festival beginning Aug. 14.)

Wagner’s life-long racism leads to a number of vexing questions. How responsible was he for what came after — Hitler and the Holocaust? Can anything be said in his defense? How should Israel — and Jews in general — respond to his music?

So frequently do people whom we admire wind up becoming fallen idols that maybe we need a phrase to describe this phenomenon. The Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde syndrome?

If there were a Hall of Fame for composers, would Wagner qualify? Or would he be excluded, the way Pete Rose is kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame because he bet on baseball games and lied about it?

Perhaps we could even mathematically measure our disenchantment with geniuses — by multiplying the estimated size of their accomplishment with the size of the gross offense. In which case, Wagner would surely rank at or near the very top. As the poet W.H. Auden once said, Wagner may well have been the greatest artist who ever lived, but he was also “an absolute s__t.” (Auden didn’t mince words.)

One possible explanation for the prevalence of fallen heroes: As Botstein has nicely put it, “You can’t be Ozzie and Harriet and Picasso at the same time.” Extreme people tend to remain extreme.

Why aren’t gifted people always admirable? Botstein, interviewed at his home on the Bard campus, replied: “Forget about it. This is the absolutely paradoxical reality. It’s true in art, in science, in literature. Great ambition, after all, requires a disproportionate ego. Those of us who weren’t wunderkinder [child prodigies] probably learned restraint in school.”

“The sane people are in the audience, not on stage,” Botstein continued. “Only crazy people go on stage. It’s a terrifying event. You really have to be off your rocker to get up in a costume or fancy clothes and go out here and sing — to really play your heart out and reveal your intimate self in front of crowd. These are not normal people. You can’t choose deviancy, abnormality, in a supermarket and link it with goodness.

“Look at Beethoven,” he went on. “If he had been born today, he would have become a gas-station attendant. No one would have tolerated the eccentricity of his behavior. He would have been medicated beyond recognition.

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College and a conductor, started the Bard Music Festival 20 years ago — and has scheduled programs focusing on Wagner beginning Aug. 14. STEVE J. SHERMAN

“We want to eat our cake and have it, too. We want to romanticize genius and throw out the things we don’t like. But being nice and ethical and honest isn’t built into the hardware of greatness. We impose a kind of restrictive morality on people — and also want them to be exceptional.

“Albert Einstein, by modern ethical standards, was a womanizer. Should we sacrifice the genius of his mental imagination, re-conceptualize our ideas of time and space, just because he wouldn’t sleep only with his wife? He would have been brought up on charges of sexual harassment.

“The world of art, science, great scholarship, great thinking, is a world of deviance. Our average neighbor doesn’t think great thoughts, write great poetry, or re-conceptualize our understanding of the natural world.”

As Botstein suggests, gifted people — powerful people in general — may, with their exaggerated sense of themselves, conclude that garden-variety rules of ethical conduct don’t apply to them. Recent examples in this country include congressmen, governors, and even presidents.

Botstein’s contention that there is a link between genius and abnormality has been made before. The literary critic Edmund Wilson, in a famous essay “The Wound and the Bow,” suggested that “genius and disease … may be inextricably bound up together,” and invoked the myth of the ancient Greek Philoctetes, who possessed a magic bow whose arrows always hit their mark. Poor fellow, he also had a disgusting, suppurating wound on his foot, where he had bitten by a serpent — the horrible odor from which protected him from thieves eager to possess his bow.

Wagner was no “casual” anti-Semite, given to occasional disparaging remarks about Jews. (Even Beethoven was guilty of that.) He was obsessed with the notion that Jews were responsible for just about anything untoward that happened to him — and everything evil in the universe. As he once wrote to his sometime friend, the composer Franz Liszt, his hatred of Jews was “as necessary to my nature as gall is to the blood.”

In 1850, he anonymously published an essay, “Judaism in Music,” arguing that popular Jewish composers — meaning Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer — were polluting the mainstream of German music. They lacked creativity; they were just imitators. In 1869, he republished the essay, and expanded on it — this time with his name on it.

Wagner had a muddled and messy mind. Actually, Mendelssohn had converted to Lutheranism as a child. Besides, his music and Meyerbeer’s were quite different — Mendelssohn wrote no operas, and he didn’t even like Meyerbeer’s music. And in keeping with Wagner’s narcissistic personality, both composers had helped Wagner with his career — Meyerbeer had even given him money.

Wagner’s everyday conversation was strewn with vulgar anti-Semitic remarks — about Jews with hooked noses, about “bloated” Jewish bankers.

One of the most repellent of his comments:

In 1871, Cosima, his wife, told him about a fire at a theater in a Jewish section of Vienna, during which 416 Jews died. Wagner’s “drastic joke,” as she called it: All Jews should be burned during a performance of “Nathan the Wise.” (Cosima, Liszt’s daughter, like her husband was an obsessional Jew-baiter. “Nathan the Wise,” written in 1779 by Gottfried Ephaim Lessing, was a plea for religious tolerance.)

Wagner was positively paranoid about Meyerbeer, believing that he knew that Wagner had written “Judaism in Music” and therefore had it in for him: He imagined a cunning and ruthless conspiracy against him “by a great expert in such things, Mr. Meyerbeer….” When a performance of “Tannhäuser” ran into trouble, Wagner believed that it did not “come about by chance; it is the work of Meyerbeer.” Wagner’s envy of Meyerbeer’s success, in fact, is considered to have played a pivotal role in Wagner’s suddenly becoming a Jew-hater.

Later, Wagner denied that Jesus was a Jew. He referred to a synagogue service he had heard as a “nonsensical gurgling, yodeling, and cackling.” After reading a book about the struggle for survival among animals, he commented that what “remains are the rats and mice — the Jews.” Although he sometimes said he favored having Jews integrate into Christian society, at least once he said he favored expelling Jews from Germany entirely.

When Hermann Levi, a Jew, was about to conduct performances of “Parsifal,” Wagner told Cosima that if he were a member of the orchestra he wouldn’t like to be conducted by a Jew.

When he and Cosima read about German successes in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, they were thrilled. Until they saw, with disgust, who had written the article: “Unfortunately the description is by a Jew [J. Rodenberg].”

Even Wagner’s operas seem to carry anti-Semitic overtones. Such Wagnerian characters as Mime, Alberich, Hagen, Klingsor, Kundry, and Beckmesser can be interpreted as Jewish caricatures, argues Marc A. Weiner in his book “Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination” (1997) — from their speech, from their singing, from their roles, from their body language. “All of the stereotypical cardboard, cookie-cutter features of a Jew… show up all over the place in his musical dramas,” Weiner said in a newspaper interview.

Beckmesser, the pedantic, ludicrous singer in “Die Meistersinger,” is certainly meant to be Jewish — he was modeled after Eduard Hanslick, a critic who disparaged Wagner. (Hanslick denied being Jewish; Wagner insisted that he was because his mother had been Jewish — although she had converted to Catholicism, and Hanslick was brought up Catholic.)

Weiner, professor of Germanic studies at Indiana University, is persuasive: It’s hard to believe that Wagner, possessed as he was with Jew-hatred, could write 10 major operas without his anti-Semitism sneaking in.

Botstein and others maintain that even if the operas are somewhat anti-Semitic, these days most audiences don’t notice the anti-Semitism.

If it weren’t enough that Wagner was a vicious anti-Semite, he was also guilty of a lot else. He was clearly a megalomaniac — a corollary of his narcissism. Milton E. Brener, a lawyer, writes in “Richard Wagner and the Jews” (2006) that Wagner judged people by their willingness or talent “to help in a great cause, namely, his own.” The New Yorker music critic, Alex Ross, has cleverly said that “There was a Charlie Rose in his head whose topic every night was Wagner.”

Also, Wagner lied and lied. As William Berger writes in “Wagner Without Fear” (1998), to him “the truth was always incidental.”

Wagner also was in the unfortunate habit of seducing married women — like Cosima (who was first married to conductor Hans von Bülow), to whom he once confessed, matter-of-factly, that he preferred married women to maidens.

Wagner is even frequently blamed for the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust.

In fact, Brener notes, some anti-Wagner scholars leave the impression that “without Wagner, the Holocaust would never have occurred….” He himself disagrees, pointing out — among other things — that Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” has only one reference to Wagner.

Still, Wagner was a favorite of Hitler’s, who once said that that whoever “wishes to understand National Socialism must first understand Wagner.” (The line is spoken by the Hitler character in the recent movie “Valkyrie.”)

Hitler certainly had a special fondness for Bayreuth, the opera house that Wagner built for his own operas. Thomas Mann, the novelist, called it “Hitler’s Court Theater.”

Someone has even said that the fifth installment of Wagner’s magnum opus “Der Ring des Nibelungen” — after “Das Rheingold,” “Die Walküre,” “Siegfried,” and “Götterdammerung” — was the Holocaust.

No wonder that today, writes Berger, Wagner “has become symbolic of everything evil in the world” — which was his own view of the Jews.

Wagner has his defenders.

Brener writes, “Never did he refuse the help or the friendship of anyone because he or she was a Jew, or on any other racial or religious background.”

Wagner, in fact, had several key Jewish friends, and Jews were among his most loyal admirers and supporters.

A Jewish impresario, Angelo Neumann, arranged for Wagner’s operas to be played all over Europe.

One of Wagner’s Jewish friends, who lived in Wagner’s home, was a disturbed pianist named Josef Rubinstein, who hated his Jewishness. He had written to Wagner asking for “de-Judaization”: “I am a Jew— for you, that says everything. All those characteristics noticeable in the present-day Jews I too possessed. … How can I keep from going under, since I myself am a Jew?” He sought an antidote for his Jewishness from Wagner — who welcomed him into his household.

Eighteen months after Wagner died, in 1883, Rubinstein shot himself.

Another Jewish admirer and friend of Wagner’s was Hermann Levi, the son of a rabbi who himself was non-observant. Wagner admired Levi, and tried again and again to persuade him to allow himself to be baptized. Levi would have none of it.

Oddly enough, Theodor Herzl, the “father” of Zionism, said he conceived the idea of a Jewish state while listening to Wagner’s “Tannhäuser.” (Perhaps because the opera argues for listening to the heart as well as the head.)

When Wagner died, two of the 12 pallbearers at his funeral were Jewish: Levi and the choirmaster Heinrich Porges.

Also in Wagner’s favor: In 1880, Wagner was twice asked to sign a petition protesting the granting of full citizenship to the Jews. He refused both times, explaining that he preferred to just write music, not to get involved in such mundane matters. (His anti-Semitic admirers, like Cosima’s ex-husband, were furious.) One Wagner biographer, the great Ernest Newman, speculates that Wagner refused to sign for fear of offending all the Jews surrounding him.

What’s the verdict? Jacob Katz, who was a professor of Jewish educational and social history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in “The Darker Side of Genius: Richard Wagner’s Anti-Semitism” (1986): the facts “prove to be incriminating enough, without burdening him in addition with the horrible deeds of Hitler.”

How should Jews respond to Wagner’s music today? It’s still a troublesome subject.

In pre-state Israel, Wagner’s music was banned after Kristallnacht, in 1938. And although his music has occasionally been played in Israel, there’s still an informal ban. David Stern, director of the Israel Opera (and the famous violinist Isaac Stern’s son), has said he will honor the Wagner ban as long as Holocaust survivors remain alive. Botstein doesn’t play any Wagner when he conducts the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, of which he’s music director.

Daniel Barenboim has conducted Wagner’s music in Israel and elsewhere, although he is Jewish. The Metropolitan Opera’s James Levine is in the same camp, and both men have conducted Wagner operas in, of all places, Bayreuth. Still, Barenboim has called Wagner’s writings “monstrous,” and declared that if he could spend 24 hours with any composer, “Wagner doesn’t come to mind.” (Mozart did.)

Botstein also favors letting Wagner’s music be heard in Israel. He has eloquently written — in “Richard Wagner and His World,” being published in conjunction with the Bard Festival — that “[o]nly an active and critical encounter with Wagner as a composer and dramatist can clarify his place in modern European Jewish history, in the history of anti-Semitism, and in the Nazi era. Israel must restore Wagner to the stage for the sake of the survivors, so that the causes of the Holocaust can be better understood….”

Still, it’s no accident that the first composer to be featured at the Bard Music Festival was a philo-Semite, Johannes Brahms. The second composer: Mendelssohn. Wagner is No. 20.

As opposed to Botstein and others, there’s the provocative comment of The New Yorker’s music critic, Ross: “In an odd way, Bayreuth may be the best argument for keeping the Israeli ban on Wagner in place…. If there is a place where Wagner alone is allowed to be heard, there should also be a place where Wagner is asked to be silent.”

As for any individual’s response to Wagner’s music, it’s clearly a personal decision. There’s nothing wrong with despising Wagner and avoiding his music. This writer confesses that he can no longer enjoy listening to Maria Jeritza sing, having learned that in the 1940s she led a pro-Nazi lobby in Hollywood. (Besides, a lot of sopranos are much better.) Someone else enjoys listening to Wagner, thinking how aggrieved the composer might be knowing that he was entertaining a Jew.

The overall lesson about Richard Wagner is that we must simply acknowledge that even unquestionable geniuses, like Wagner, may be thoroughly loathsome.

It’s just an unfortunate fact of life that the devil, if he doesn’t have all the good tunes, sometimes has a good many of them.


Hillel groups respond to hate acts by bringing together campus communities

More than 1,000 students, led by Sam Weiner, son of Paramus’ Rabbi Arthur Weiner, rallied at Rutgers Wednesday morning in a show of unity against the Westboro Baptist Church. Courtesy of Sam Weiner

SAN FRANCISCO – Stanford University’s Jewish community celebrated the first night of Sukkot eating the traditional festive meal inside the sukkah they put up every year.

The next morning, on Oct. 3, a student walked into the sukkah to discover that it had been vandalized: Someone had spray-painted large phalluses on the entrance flaps.

Campus police were called and the graffiti were covered with tapestries. Hillel alerted the entire campus with an e-mail blast.

Although the attack may have been shocking and upsetting, it was not unprecedented.

Sukkahs on college campuses, because they are temporary structures built in the open and typically are unguarded at night, are prime targets for vandalism, whether inspired by drunkenness or anti-Semitism. About two are hit each year on North American campuses, according to Hillel figures.

Along with sukkah vandalism, college campuses in recent years have been hit by a wave of anti-Semitic graffiti, from swastikas painted on dorm walls to anti-Israel slogans scrawled on the sides of buildings.

This is taking place within a growing atmosphere of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism on North American campuses documented in the revised edition of “The UnCivil University,” a publication of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco.

According to co-author Aryeh Weinberg, while violence against Jewish students has abated somewhat since 2005, when the book’s first edition was published, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic rhetoric on campus “has risen to a crescendo — the amount of background noise keeps the debate vitriolic.”

Universities don’t always work effectively to defuse dangerous situations, he says, and the Jewish community is often loath to respond, feeling it’s up to national organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League or Hillel to take the lead.

What has happened in the past year or two is that Jewish students themselves, faced with anti-Semitism or vandalism, have come up with some creative responses that involve the entire campus community instead of retreating into fear and isolation.

Responses to recent cases of vandalized sukkahs are a prime example.

In the fall of 2008, the sukkah at the University of Montana in Missoula was so badly vandalized that it had to be taken down two days into the holiday. In 2009, Hillel moved the sukkah to a more secure location and put out a campus-wide call for volunteers to sleep in it overnight to discourage attacks.

Many of the students who showed up were not Jewish, including freshman Robin Richardson. She spent one night in a tent right outside the sukkah, while two other students slept inside.

“I volunteered to do it because I don’t want to see anyone’s religious traditions destroyed,” says Richardson, who describes herself as a nondenominational Christian. “Yes, it was freezing out.”

At Stanford — in an unexpected outpouring of love and support that poured in after Hillel sent out its notice — administration, faculty, and students inundated the Hillel office with e-mails and phone calls in response to the sukkah vandalism.

Christian, Muslim, and Hindu student groups offered their condolences, said the Palo Alto school’s Hillel rabbi, Mychal Copeland, adding that a Muslim group offered to raise funds from all the campus faith-based organizations to buy another sukkah.

“We were saddened that such an act would be carried out on Stanford’s campus, a place that we generally assume is above such acts of hate and intimidation,” wrote Abdulkareem Agunbiade and Mohammad Ali, presidents of the Islamic Society of Stanford University and the Muslim Student Awareness Network.

Responding to live demonstrations of hatred is another challenge for Jewish students.

The virulently homophobic and anti-Semitic Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based hate group composed mainly of Fred Phelps and his family, since April has been targeting Jewish institutions, traveling from city to city to picket outside Hillel buildings, Jewish community centers, federation offices, and synagogues. Their posters denigrate gays, Jews, and others the “church” believes contravene God’s laws. (They picketed last week at Jewish and non-Jewish sites in New Jersey, including the office of The Jewish Standard in Teaneck. See

In early September, Westboro announced it was coming to Norman, Okla., on the eve of Rosh HaShanah to picket the University of Oklahoma Hillel before moving on to the Jewish federation and two synagogues in Oklahoma City.

University of Oklahoma Hillel students and staff, after consulting with the Anti-Defamation League, decided not to respond.

“Some of the students were upset; they said we need to do something,” said Keren Ayalon, executive director of OU Hillel. “I said that’s exactly what Westboro wants, a counter-protest to get publicity.”

Instead, several hundred non-Jewish students and faculty members showed up at the Hillel building during Westboro’s protest to show solidarity with the Jewish students.

Inspired by this outpouring of support, juniors Sam Scharff and Misheala Giddings organized a multicultural rally in the student union. Hundreds of students representing 60 campus groups, from the Black Students Association to the Society of Native American Gentlemen to Sooners for Peace in Palestine, showed up to sing, dance, eat, and sign a huge banner promoting diversity.

“There was a huge mass of support for us as Jews,” Scharff said. “It evolved into something much more meaningful than one response to Westboro.”

Hillel students at Stanford felt the same way after their sukkah attack.

Overwhelmed by the supportive calls and e-mails, Jewish Student Association president Jeff Gettinger invited the entire campus to join Hillel for Sabbath dinner in the sukkah on Oct. 9, the last night of the holiday. It is traditional, he wrote, to invite ushpizin, or guests, into the sukkah for a meal.

Sixty people crowded into the makeshift structure that night to eat and celebrate together. One was Anand Venkatkrishnan, head of the campus interfaith group Stanford FAITH.

“The vandalism of a holy structure is unacceptable to me as a person of faith,” he wrote Gettinger earlier in the week. “The duty of an interfaith leader is not only to condemn an attack on another, but to prevent it from occurring.”

In his letter thanking the Stanford community, Gettinger noted that a sukkah is not a permanent structure, that it is designed to be temporary, even flimsy.

“This is a reminder that no matter how rooted and permanent we may seem, each individual, each community is dependent on something larger than itself,” he wrote. “What grounds the sukkah is not the canvas and metal that make up the frame. It is the people and community that fill it.”


Stanford University Hillel members enjoy a meal in their sukkah in October, despite its having been vandalized. Stanford University Hillel

Speaker tells ‘human stories’ behind the Holocaust

Sara Losch, director of lifelong learning at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, recently wrote to congregants that “for years, I’ve heard from adults that they don’t have a legitimate education about the Shoah.”

“Many of us did not learn about it in school,” she added. “Some of us only know what we know from movies or novels.”

To address this need, the synagogue’s Elsie and Howard Kahane Holocaust Education Fund is sponsoring a three-part lecture series, “Why they did what they did: Understanding the human behavior behind the Holocaust,” led by educator Sharon Halper.

The program, employing personal narratives to explore human behavior, community dynamics, and social context, began on Jan. 13 and continues on Jan. 20 and 27.

Halper — who teaches both children and adults and has been a synagogue school director, teacher trainer, writer, and consultant — pointed out that her lecture series derives from her studies with Facing History and Ourselves, a group that “delivers classroom strategies, resources, and lessons that inspire young people to take responsibility for their world,” according to its Website,

Sharon Halper

At the heart of its work is the resource book “Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior,” from which Halper has drawn her series title.

A child of refugees and survivors, the educator said the topic of the Shoah has always presented “both a particular challenge and a particular desire to convey those aspects of the Holocaust that I find compelling.”

In her talks, which she said “are not linear history and are not devoted just to the Holocaust,” she will review with attendees what the world was like “before, during, and since” the Shoah.

“It’s important to understand what early 20th-century Europe, and the U.S., looked like,” she said. “Why was Hitler elected? We need to understand not just what it was like in the 1920s but in the 1890s. Why was the turf right?”

It is also important to understand how the Jews lived, she said.

“We think of it only as a time of death. But what did it mean to live and to resist?”

Halper pointed out that, in 21st-century terms, “resistance means winning, walking away. What does that mean with respect to those who perished?”

She said she finds it compelling to look at the documents and artifacts that survived the Warsaw Ghetto, where they had “soup kitchens, gardens, and handed out recipes saying what to do with frozen cabbages.”

“What did it mean to live?” she asked, noting that she will look at “human stories.”

Halper said she would begin her first session with a discussion of the eugenics movement and the movement called Social Darwinism.

“Why was the language Hitler spoke not a foreign tongue, even in America?” she asked, noting that the United States at the time was concerned about immigration, “people who didn’t look and sound like us.”

She will move on to discuss issues such as the Armenian genocide, World War I, and Versailles, tackling questions such as “What did Hitler learn from the world around him?”

In addition, she will explore the motivation of rescuers, people who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.

In discussing the Warsaw Ghetto, she said, she will make use of the archives of the Oneg Shabbos group of scholars and others, compiled by a social scientist in the ghetto first as resource material and later — when he realized that survival was not possible — as a historical record.

Halper said three boxes, containing thousands of artifacts such as diaries and letters but also things like Purim candy and children’s school schedules, were buried around the ghetto. Two have been unearthed.

The educator, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and has written curricular materials for the Union of Reform Judaism, said that her parents came to the United States in the late 1930s from Berlin and Vienna, and her stepfather from Russia.

“There are two kinds of families,” she said of Holocaust survivors, “those who spoke and those who were silent. My family was silent. You knew you could not ask.”

The Barnert lecture series is free and open to the public. For further information, call (201) 848-1800 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


Greece silent on anti-Semitism

Until recently, Greece had gone a long time without violent anti-Semitism.

The few manifestations of anti-Semitism here appeared mostly in the form of graffiti, racist screeds in marginal, neo-fascist publications, or the occasional verbal epithet leveled against a Greek Jew.

But then came the Gaza war a year ago, inflaming passions against Jews and setting off a series of anti-Semitic incidents.

News Analysis

The latest was the torching this month of the Etz Hayim synagogue on the Greek island of Crete. Thanks to two Albanians and a Palestinian immigrant that live across the street, the synagogue’s destruction was avoided.

Even more disturbing to Jews here than the attack itself was the lack of government condemnation. Not only the government but the press, political parties, and the Greek Orthodox Church were silent.

It took until last Friday, a week after a second arson attack on the synagogue and following a rebuke by the Anti-Defamation League, for the Greek government to respond.

“It is disappointing that the Greek government has so far failed to condemn the shocking arson attack targeting a synagogue on the island of Crete,” ADL National Director Abraham Foxman wrote on Jan. 14. “The previous government remained silent when synagogues were attacked and Jewish cemeteries desecrated, sending a message of insecurity to the Jewish community and of impunity to those who perpetrated the attacks. We hope your government will change that policy and declare that anti-Semitism has no place in Greece.”

“The attack on the Etz Hayyim Synagogue not only constitutes an attack on one of the remaining Jewish monuments in the island of Crete, but also an attack against the history and the cultural heritage of our homeland, Greece,” Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou wrote to the ADL. “The Government, I personally, as well as the entire Greek nation condemn this abominable act in the strongest possible terms.”

It’s been an unsettling year for Greek Jews. Until the upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks beginning more than a year ago, 1982 marked the last time there was a violent attack against a Jewish establishment. That was during Israel’s war in Lebanon, when a crude bomb was placed at the entrance of a Jewish-owned travel agency. Police sappers dismantled the bomb.

At the time, any major incidents of anti-Semitism were condemned by the government and dealt with swiftly.

Greek Jews point to the 2008 trial of a well-known lawyer and anti-Semite, Kostas Plevris, as a sign that things had reached a turning point.

Plevris was sued by the Greek Chapter of the Helsinki Human Rights Monitor and the Anti Nazi Initiative, a Greek organization combating Nazism, for incitement to violence against the Jews with his 1,400-page book “Jews: The Whole Truth.”

After a year-and-a-half and two trials, Plevris was acquitted unanimously of any wrongdoing by a five-judge panel in a court of appeals. In one trial, the prosecutor called the anti-Semitic tome a “scientific work.”

Anti-Semitic incidents surged in 2009, with nine cities reporting attacks. The Jewish cemetery in the city of Ioannina was vandalized four times. Graves and a Holocaust memorial were destroyed, and bones and bodies were unearthed, including the remains of the mother of the current president of the city’s 50-person Jewish community, Moisis Elliasaf.

Greek Jews protested that authorities did little to find the perpetrators. Jewish outrage grew when a high-ranking police officer caught in the cemetery immediately after one of the incidents was not questioned by authorities. Neither the mayor, the governor nor the Metropolite Theoklitos — the highest-ranking priest in every Greek city — condemned the incident.

George Karatzaferis, the leader of the far-right political party LAOS, which has 15 seats in Parliament, wrote an article in his weekly newspaper A1 calling the Jews “Christ killers” and saying that the “blood of the Jews stinks.”

No one responded when the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece asked the speaker of parliament and political leaders to condemn the article. And with the exception of one highly respected Greek columnist, Pashos Mandraveli in the daily Kathimerini, the Greek media stayed silent, too.

Left-wing leaders who harshly condemned Israel for its actions in Gaza refused to condemn the anti-Semitic incidents or even join Greece’s commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day in late January.

“There are no good Jews,” Jimmy Panousis, a well-known liberal radio personality and comedian, said on his radio show. “Jews are pigs and murderers, but fortunately their days are numbered.”

The newspaper Avriani, which blamed American Jews for causing the global economic crisis, warned that American Jews were plotting to set off World War III.

Piraeus Serafim of the Greek Orthodox Church warned of “Zionist monsters with sharp claws.” Salonica Anthimos, another church official known for his anti-Jewish statements, said Jews were being punished for killing Christ.

After the arson attacks in Crete, Greek Jews are increasingly anxious. While Jews in Western Europe have suffered worse in recent years, Greece stands virtually alone for its lack of condemnation of attacks against Jews.



Odious comparison


The frightening rebirth of anti-Semitism

An interview with a foremost authority on an ancient scourge that won’t go away

The disease known as anti-Semitism has been dormant in Western culture for thousands of years; sometimes it becomes an epidemic. This seems to be such a time. Anti-Semitic incidents have been increasing throughout the world.

Meanwhile, at universities throughout the world scholars are intensively investigating the causes of anti-Semitism and seeking possible antidotes.

In this series of articles, we report on the latest thinking about anti-Semitism — and what good people can do to at least reduce it to being just endemic again and not epidemic.

People, including the Jewish people, are really in massive denial,” warns Robert S. Wistrich, a foremost authority on anti-Semitism.

First in a series

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Wistrich points out, has repeatedly vowed to annihilate Israel. It follows that “it would be an act of suicide to permit Iran to have the bomb.”

Wistrich is the author of a magisterial new book, “A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad” (Random House, 2010, $40). His book, which has 941 pages of text (and which he wrote in longhand), has won unstinting praise from reviewers. Jonathan Israel of the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton has called it a “masterpiece.” It certainly is.

In person Wistrich is self-possessed and courteous, a marvelous conversationalist with a remarkable knowledge of history and a keen mind.

Since 1982 he has been Neuberger professor of modern European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he lives.

Below are excerpts from a recent interview, held in New York City.

Combatting anti-Semitism

Robert Wistrich, author of “A Lethal Obsession,” argues that Holocaust education is not a magical antidote for anti-Semitism. Douglas Guthrie

Jewish Standard: What can be done to reduce anti-Semitism? After World War II, when I was growing up in New Jersey, there were school programs to foster tolerance — including student essay contests. A notable book of the time was “Protestant-Catholic-Jew,” by Will Herberg, about our country as a healthy “triple melting pot.” Are educational programs one answer?

Wistrich: Before answering that, I think I have to issue a warning, a “health” warning. People always ask this and it’s natural: “OK, there’s a problem. How are we going to fix it?”

Americans in particular love this — it’s part of the national psyche. But this is not the kind of problem that lends itself to that approach — as has been proven in over 2,000 years of history. It hasn’t been fixed up to now, so surely it’s an act of almost hubristic naïveté to think that suddenly somebody is going to shout “Eureka! This is how we’ll fix it.” That’s not gonna happen. Plenty of people have had their minds focused on this, even if they haven’t had much success in seeking to find short- or medium-term solutions.

I’ve attended many conferences, spoken to government officials, been involved in the practical side of this, but I’ve never come out with a feeling that any of the measures taken are more than very short-term palliatives.

For instance, I’ve attended meetings of organizations in Europe, been a guest of and adviser to the State Department and the British Parliament, Canadian Parliament, French government officials, Polish government officials, and so on and so forth. They express good will, and have in some cases — such as Britain and Canada — instituted parliamentary inquiries of their own. They do seek to monitor the extent of the phenomenon more seriously than most other countries, which don’t monitor anti-Semitism properly or at all, and are not even prepared to put any resources into this.

These governments show good will, but what do we see, just looking at the statistics? The curve of anti-Semitism during the same period when they began to focus more on intensive countermeasures has risen. It’s not their fault, but it’s been unaffected.

Another example: Many people throw out a rather superficial and, as it turns out, quite unsound remedy. They say the answer is more Holocaust education.

In my chapter on France, I bring this out. For the last 20 years there’s been a tremendous advance in the scale and extent of Holocaust education in French schools. They came to it late, but once they began it became an integral part of the curriculum — and during this very period anti-Semitism intensified. And I can tell you that it is becoming extremely difficult to even teach the Holocaust there — mainly due to large Muslim influx. Those children do not want to hear about it, and they can become extremely abusive — and even take the Holocaust as an example of what they would like to implement.

A report to the French ministry of education recorded a North African Muslim teenager shouting to the teacher of one of these lessons, in French, “Hitler would have been a good Muslim!” Why? “He sought to wipe out all the Jews.”

So, let’s not be naïve. In some countries, handled sensitively, intelligently, Holocaust education may be useful. But it’s not an antidote. It can actually serve to inflame, as this example showed. So it’s not black and white.

Lethal & non–lethal anti-Semitism

J.S.: Isn’t it depressing — the history of anti-Semitism? One realizes that, 50 or 100 years from now, a much lengthier history of anti-Semitism probably can be written.

Wistrich: One message of my book is that in just 15 years the size of the book might have to be doubled. Anti-Semitism is certainly not going to go away.

The question is, how do you ensure that anti-Semitism doesn’t become truly lethal? Through different phases of history, sometimes anti-Semitism has been dormant and sometimes it explodes. The scale of the catastrophe varies enormously.

And to some extent what will happen is in our hands. I don’t see this as decreed by some inscrutable fate. It may indeed have a purpose and a design beyond our comprehension. If you are a religious person, you may well believe that it is the hand of divine providence. I don’t exclude anything.

But I think that a deeper understanding can enable us to take measures to prevent anti-Semitism, even though it is part of the human condition, from becoming lethal.

And that would be achievement enough. Believe me, if we can neutralize it to the point where we can live with it, that is more than enough. Any other notion is pie in the sky — the historical record proves this beyond any doubt.

The terrible decade

J.S.: How does your new book differ from other books on anti-Semitism, including your own previous study?

Wistrich: There are a number of striking differences. The other books usually stop in 1945, while most of my book deals with post-Shoah. Books that do deal with post-1945 have tended to be, to a great extent, quickly written books responding to a particular trigger event — often written by journalists — without any sense of the history of the phenomenon — and they are as transient as the event that triggered it. I wrote a book in 1990 on the subject, and I think it was an important work, “The Longest Hatred,” a term I coined. But this new book describes the last 20 years, which witnessed explosions of anti-Semitism across the world. It outweighs the years between 1945 and 1989 in terms of intensity and global scope.

Countries without anti-Semitism

J.S.: Pre-Nazi Germany was a discontented country. Are countries whose people are relatively contented less likely to harbor anti-Semitism?

Wistrich: An interesting hypothesis, worth exploring.

I’m well aware that at least two major civilizations, Indian and Chinese, have not within their own culture produced any of the varieties of anti-Semitism I analyze in my book. To some degree you may find pockets of it, but it’s purely a result of tensions that existed during the Cold War between India and Israel, or China and Israel. During the Maoist period, there was unconditional Chinese support for the popular liberation struggle of Palestinians. But even that was without any notable anti-Semitic lining — unlike Soviet communism, which was quite different. The Russian culture produced anti-Semitism, but the Chinese culture did not.

So yes, India and China are exceptions, and those two exceptions account for 40 percent of humanity — so that’s an encouraging thought. But not a great consolation, because the other side of that coin is they don’t really understand anti-Semitism. They’re not wired to this problem at all.

Why the Chinese admire the Jews

Wistrich: Three years ago, I was invited to the University of Nanking to speak before an international conference. They wanted to compare the Holocaust with the Nanking massacre of 1937, when the Japanese army conquered large chunks of China and entered into Nanking, which was then the capital. And they massacred 300,000 Chinese civilians — very deliberately —the most horrific kind of slaughter.

One of the reasons I was invited to this conference was that the Chinese loathe the Japanese — who, by the way, never really apologized for that atrocity in any meaningful way.

At the lunchtime break I was sitting with a Chinese professor, and someone asked me to compare the Holocaust with that massacre. I said there’s no comparison, and secondly I wasn’t an expert on what happened in China. We had an interesting conversation, and they are really free, as far as I can see, of any suggestion of anti-Semitism and have difficulty understanding it.

But they admire the Jewish people, they think Jews are very smart and that they have a great deal to learn from them. They admire Israel, too — even though politically they are careful about what they say.

And I asked the Chinese professor, what do you think really lies behind this conference? Why have you chosen this theme? He said that “some Chinese experts are tremendously impressed by the fact that you Israelis and Jews only amount to100 million people, and we are 1.5 billion, and yet the whole world knows about the Holocaust and nobody knows about the Nanking massacre! We want to learn from you how to do it.”

I had to correct him. “We’re not 100 million people, we are more like 13.5 million.” And he was totally flabbergasted.

It’s interesting as an exercise in perception because, in Europe, even though publicly the Holocaust is memorialized and political leaders will say it was a most awful event, do their mea culpas, and say a few words of mourning for the dead Jews of Europe, then they will launch their very own one-sided criticism of the State of Israel, sometimes amounting to outright vilification.

Jews in Israel, who actually defend themselves against attack, are another matter entirely, and Europe has not come to terms with that. Unlike the United States, though under the Obama administration this is becoming a little blurred.

The disappearing anti-Semite

J.S.: It has dawned on me that nobody admits being anti-Semitic anymore. But by an amazing coincidence, the number of anti-Semites who have disappeared is just about equal to the number of people existing today who are thoroughly and implacably anti-Israel.

Wistrich: I think that’s probably fairly accurate, even though we don’t have to take it literally, in statistical form. The way we formulate it is this: People always ask, what is the relationship between antagonism to Israel and anti-Semitism? Can’t there just be criticism of Israel?

In the last 40 years, people have discovered a socially acceptable, polite way of expressing sentiments that are no longer politically correct. Anti-Zionism in practice has become a legitimate substitute for anti-Semitism.

Anybody who has any resentment, any grudge, any issue with the Jews will tend to express it in an anti-Israel form. That is almost an iron rule today.

J.S.: But aren’t some people innocent dupes? Taken in by the propaganda?

Wistrich: There always are dupes in every time and place. Lenin, who had an astute nose for this, even though he was at the end of the day a mass murderer though not an anti-Semite — Lenin said he believed that the capitalist world would ultimately go down to defeat for two reasons:

1. The Soviet Union would give the capitalists enough rope to hang themselves. America in particular extended aid to the Soviet Union during its early years, to save the Soviets from starvation! That did not prevent the Cold War later on.

2. Lenin counted on all the fellow travelers of communism around the world — the “useful idiots,” he called them — and there are millions of useful idiots around the world, especially today.

These idiots, on the issue of radical Islam, do not understand the nature of the threat, even when it is coming closer and closer to their doorstep. And that is not just a Jewish matter, even though Jews happen to be on the front line of that struggle. But Jews — or even Israel — are by no means the primary target or victim of Islamists.

Prejudice vs. anti-Semitism

J.S.: I overheard a couple of women talking recently, and one said of someone else, “She doesn’t like Jews.” Isn’t one key cause of anti-Semitism the fact that people are too prone to generalize? This woman has met one or two Jews she didn’t like, and decided that Jews are all the same.

Wistrich: It’s absolutely fundamental to draw a line, but not an absolute dividing line, between prejudice — ethnic, national, social, racial, religious, whatever — and anti-Semitism.

Prejudice is usually a component of anti-Semitism, but at the lowest rung of the ladder. Prejudice is universal. I have never yet met a person, and I include myself, without prejudice. If you think about the world, you will pre-judge. Sometimes you have no choice. We have to pre-judge to presume things that may or may not be true — because we don’t have the time or the resources to investigate everything in all its aspects. So we jump to conclusions, we make snap judgments, we generalize — and we discriminate when we do it. That is unfortunate at times but inevitable.

But discrimination has several meanings, and not all of them are negative. In the negative sense, to discriminate is to unjustly or arbitrarily exercise a judgment that is unfavorable to certain groups. But discrimination also has a positive sense. “He’s very discriminating” means he can distinguish between good and bad, beautiful and ugly, good taste and bad taste. There’s nothing wrong with that. People make judgments and that is a necessary part of the mental process.

Prejudice will never be eradicated but it can be contained. We can palliate it through education, greater knowledge — all these things are valuable and important. We don’t want to encourage prejudice in the negative sense. But anti-Semitism — and that’s really at the heart of my book — is several stages beyond that. Anti-Semitism is already a crystallization of all kinds of antipathies, fears, hostilities, resentments — which may indeed be based on prejudicial positions, but could even have some kind of rational kernel to them. They crystallize into a view of the world, into an ideology, into political or social action — which may have very unpleasant consequences. They permeate institutions, may be reflected in laws, or boycotts, all kinds of actions that are damaging to Jews. That is anti-Semitism. Mere prejudice, Jews have lived with throughout history and will continue to live with, and we shouldn’t be too scared of that. In actuality, some other groups suffer even more. In American society, we all know black people suffered greater levels of prejudice — and outright racism. It’s been partially corrected, but it took a long time and it is not yet a thing of the past.

Responding to anti-Semitism

J.S.: I’ve been the victim of overt anti-Semitism several times in my life, and never knew how to respond. A drunk once sat next to me on a bus when I was a kid, and nonstop disparaged Jews — while I remained embarrassed and silent. Today I would respond. Why aren’t Jews in general more assertive in responding to instances of anti-Semitism?

Wistrich: The social reality that existed through centuries of Jewish exile was that Jews were a particularly vulnerable minority and suffered from discriminatory laws. They were ghettoized. They didn’t have much choice but to be extremely careful in the way that they would respond to avoid provocation and hope that the storm would pass.

Once Jews became citizens of democratic countries, where they were granted equal rights, this behavior pattern slowly began to change. It’s only in the 20th century, I think, that Jews became more assertive, as indeed they had every right to be — to defend their interests, their rights as citizens, just like any other citizens — and not to tolerate insult, damage, and threats. I think that this is one of the more striking characteristics of American Jewry taken as a whole when you compare it to most other Jewish communities in the diaspora. I know of other Jewish communities that are also assertive, and often they’re English-speaking democracies like Canada, Australia, and so on. And in France, too, the behavior pattern has changed. And I think that this is a healthy sign — and that one of the reasons why post-1945 in the United States anti-Semitism gradually diminished, without ever disappearing. American Jewish organizations began to be more active in the steps that they took to counteract manifestations of hostility or discrimination in the wider society, both toward them and others. So that the organizations like the American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Wiesenthal Center, and so on — made an important contribution. They’ve acted politically — make no mistake about it, politics is important — and in America we see that the results have been beneficial because Jews have created for themselves some modicum of countervailing power — a sort of shield — just as Israel acts as a shield for the Jewish people since the creation of the State of Israel. This undoubtedly contributed to a greater feeling of self-confidence of Jews being able to stand up for themselves — to give back as good as they get — to defend themselves when attacked or when threatened. It’s come with serious problems, which I explain in my book.

Israel itself has become the major target of anti-Semitism around the world, and its legitimacy is contested. A vast enterprise of delegitimization is taking place on so many fronts. But it’s extremely important to the Jewish world and for all people who wish Israel well and understand its vital importance in the international community and what it stands for — it’s vitally important that a strong right hand is preserved to fight off these efforts. Because if, God forbid, these efforts were to succeed, the consequences for Jews in the diaspora as well as for what would happen in Israel itself would be felt very quickly.

It’s one thing we should disabuse ourselves of. We live in a predatory world — every day in our newspapers we see further confirmation of that. So you have to have deterrence — one of the hardest lessons that the Jewish people learned in the 20th century. Believe in God, trust in the Almighty, but keep your powder dry — this is what Oliver Cromwell so rightly said in the 17th century when he led the Puritan revolution to overthrow the English monarchy. Both are equally necessary — belief in providence, and arms for self-defense.

On Jews against Israel

J.S.: Reading your chapter on anti-Israel Jews, I reached one incontestable conclusion: A lot of people are crazy. Absolute nutcases.

Wistrich: Well, many anti-Zionist Jews are intellectuals and academics.

You know, when I think of the more pathological examples of anti-Israel Jews, one could write an entire book just on that theme — and I have enough material to do it. But this may be a golden opportunity for psychoanalysis to finally produce something useful!

I’m reminded of something that was said by an English journalist in the 1930s, George Orwell. He was reacting to that section of the English intelligentsia that was unconditionally pro-Soviet — and although he was a socialist, Orwell could not abide the hypocrisy and the doubletalk of these intellectuals. He then made a remark that I would apply to some of the anti-Zionist Jewish intellectuals. He said that there are some things in this world that only intellectuals would be stupid enough to believe!

And this is how I feel about some of the vilifications and lies about Israel and the Palestinians or the “Jewish question” in general. How can one be stupid enough to believe this propaganda?

Thinking the unthinkable

J.S.: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the situation in the Mideast? Do you think Iran might attack Israel with nuclear weapons?

Wistrich: Think about Haman the Wicked, grand vizier of the Persian empire. I know it’s a legend, but it’s remarkably prescient. It is there for a purpose even if we cannot fully decode it. This Purim story is about what? A man rises to power in Persia and embarks upon a project to exterminate all the Jewish people in one day — all the Jewish men, women, and children of the Persian empire. And he plots and conspires and convinces the emperor to do that, to strip the Jews of everything they have and then wipe them out.

That is also Ahmadinejad’s goal. Of course the bomb is the key to that; that is the only way Iran could carry out such a project, and Iran is feverishly working in that direction.

Come what may, irrespective of what the international community may say, what the United States might claim, Obama stretched out his hand and it was symbolically chopped off by the Iranian leader. I don’t know whether Obama even noticed. But he is still holding it out while manufacturing crises with Israel over minor settlement issues that are like tiny pebbles in the mighty ocean.

I believe that Ahmadinejad’s fate will be like that of Haman. In other words, the tree that he has prepared, metaphorically, to hang the Jews of Persia, to wipe out the State of Israel in our time, is the one on which he himself will be hanged. How that will come about I don’t know. I am not a prophet, and neither the Israeli government nor the intelligence service has told me what their plans are. Realistically, Iran is a great danger, as is radical Islam in general. How do you frustrate such an evil design? It’s not a simple matter. We all know that there are dispersed nuclear sites, but we don’t know where all of them are. I certainly hope that Israel knows where they are, because it will be left largely alone to fight this battle.

Anybody who says that Israelis can live with an Iranian bomb under the regime of the ayatollahs doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It’s the nature of this regime — its fanatical, messianic, apocalyptic ideology, its vicious anti-Semitism, its declared intention, brazenly repeated, to wipe out the Jewish state — that is at issue. In these conditions, it would be an act of suicide to permit Iran to have the bomb. The rest is just commentary.

J.S.: You were born in Russia in 1945 and grew up in England, attending schools there. As a child, did you experience any anti-Semitism?

Wistrich: I was subjected to less abuse than others. If you were athletic, as I was, you became half a gentile. Another reason was, I was the best pupil in the class, and teachers do like to have a few pupils who can actually answer their questions. Anti-Semitism was part of my social experience. It seemed normal; we lived with it, we dealt with it. It was certainly long before such things as the race relations act.

The p.c. of today makes that impossible — which is almost the only good thing about political correctness. It has put an end to that kind of open, blatant racism.

But on the other hand, modern anti-Semitism may be character-building — making you want to prove yourself. I felt the way many of my school friends felt. You know, this is the way they look at us; OK, we’re going to prove them wrong just by being better than anybody else.

And maybe that’s one of the reasons why Jews have been overachievers.

J.S.: That’s a good thought to end this interview. Thank you.


Anti-semitism:  the disease that won’t go away

‘Education, education, education’:

That’s the antidote, says Abe Foxman

Abraham H. Foxman, 69, director of the Anti-Defamation League since 1987, was a hidden child.

An only son, he was born in Poland. When his parents were ordered to enter a ghetto, they left him with his Polish Catholic nursemaid, Bronislawa Kurpi, in 1940. Foxman was baptized as a Roman Catholic under the name of Henryk Stanislas Kurpi and raised as a Catholic. While his parents did survive the Holocaust, he lost 14 family members. In 1946, at age 6, after several legal custody battles, he was returned to his parents.

The family immigrated to the United States in 1950. He graduated from Yeshiva of Flatbush and earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the City College of New York, with honors in history. He also has a degree from New York University School of Law. He did graduate work in Jewish studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary and in international economics at the New School.

The Anti-Defamation League was begun in 1913, and Foxman joined its law department in 1965. In 1987, he was the consensus choice of the ADL’s board to become its new national director, replacing Nathan Perlmutter.

In his 23 years as national director of the ADL, Foxman has proved to be consistently wise and resourceful in defending the Jewish people.

Jewish Standard: Is anti-Semitism increasing, and if so why?

Foxman: Anti-Semitism is increasing, and 2009 had probably the greatest incidence since World War II and since we began monitoring the inventory. It was global. There was no country, no continent, that did not experience it.

Why? You know, anti-Semitism ebbs and flows. Probably the most significant catalyst this time was the Gaza war. Now, every time there is violence in the Middle East, we see a fallout of anti-Semitism — but nothing like this time. The demonstrations and the attacks against Jewish institutions and Jewish individuals resulting from the Gaza campaign were unlike any that we’ve ever seen before.

If you pressed me and said, “Okay, why now?” I would say that a major ingredient is the Internet. The Internet today enables individuals to spread messages of hate, and they use it to reach, recruit, incite, and inflame. And partly as a result of the Internet and the sharing of information globally, we saw more demonstrations with the same themes — Jews were equated with Nazis, Gaza was compared to the Warsaw Ghetto, and so on. We saw it from Kuala Lumpur to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The same themes, the same messages, and the same recruitment through the Internet.

J.S. There are now anti-Semitism study departments at Yale and at Indiana University. Can they do any good?

Foxman: Today there are more centers for the study of anti-Semitism and the Holocaust than there have ever been. They certainly can and do have a positive impact. Their existence legitimizes the study of this ancient hatred and its modern permutations — which is not an exact science. To put an academic dimension to it gives the issue a greater seriousness and a greater weight. The fact that serious academic institutions are devoting time and money and energy and personnel to the study of anti-Semitism gives it greater significance.

You might also ask a question about the United States government mandating all our ambassadors around the world to monitor and respond to and combat anti-Semitism. There are a couple of countries in the world that are looking to follow this lead and are assigning ambassadors to the Jewish community, which in effect means dealing with issues of anti-Semitism. In Europe, some of them are also teaching and dealing with issues of restitution. You have it in Poland, you have it in France and in Spain. So this is a new phenomenon that takes the issue of anti-Semitism more seriously.

You also have more conferences on anti-Semitism today than we’ve ever had in the past, with meetings in Vienna, Berlin, Warsaw, Brussels, and Jerusalem bringing together foreign ministers, leaders of nongovernmental organizations, and others to work toward a common goal of countering anti-Semitism. What does that do? For one, it has helped to mitigate the denial. For many years, some leaders of European nations denied that anti-Semitism existed among their own people. France was among those at the top of that list. Indeed, many European countries denied that anti-Semitism existed, and wouldn’t do anything about it. The moment that these conferences happened, it was the end of denial and the beginning of addressing the issue forthrightly.

In the same way, when academic institutions begin to focus on anti-Semitism, it sends a message to the rest of academia that this is a serious issue and it needs attention, focus, and close scrutiny.

Will all of this new activity and interest eradicate anti-Semitism? Not by itself. But students at Yale and Indiana University will not be denying that anti-Semitism exists.

J.S. Are there any mysteries, any questions, that these study centers can help solve?

Foxman: The mystery is the same old mystery, which is: Why, why, why? Probably the most creative answer was given by Mark Twain in his 1898 essay “Concerning the Jews,” when he traveled the world and wherever he was he found anti-Semitism, but he found different reasons. Some anti-Semites were ignorant, some intelligent, some religious, some atheistic, some old, some young. His conclusion was that anti-Semitism was the result of jealousy — jealousy of Jews’ achievements, their success.

The mystery continues to be: Why?

What we’ve found is that Jews have been a very convenient scapegoat throughout history — used by religious leaders and by nonreligious despots. We are on the top of the conspiracy food chain.

We see it now in the wake of the global financial crisis. Our polling has shown that nearly one out of five Americans blames the Jewish community for the recent economic crisis. In Europe, it’s one out of three.

So, the mystery is: If an anti-Semite is not born with hatred and bigotry, if it’s acquired, then why is this hatred so pervasive? It’s been acquired for 2,000 years — regardless of whether the country is Christian or Islamic, whether it’s a poor country or rich, whether there are Jews there or not. It continues to remain a mystery.

J.S. What can be done to lessen anti-Semitism?

Foxman: There’s only one answer. Until we find an antidote, a vaccine, or something in the DNA that causes people to hate, the answer is education, education, education.

Now, look, today the greatest threat to our safety and security, the greatest catalyst for Jew-hatred, is radical Islam. If radical Islam is the legitimizer, the transmitter, the manufacturer of anti-Semitism, what is the antidote?

The antidote is to return Islam to legitimate moderate leadership — take it away from the fundamentalist extremists.

But who’s going to do this?

Another answer is to defeat Islamic extremism. The United States is fighting two wars against extremist Islam, in Iraq and Afghanistan; Israel is fighting Hamas and Hezbollah. So, part of the answer is to stand up and fight.

Still, the best answer is education, education, education. If the Arab-Muslim world would permit open education, for tolerance, for respect toward other faiths and other traditions, of democracy, we would have a lessening of anti-Semitism.

J.S. Are most people who are fervently anti-Israel really anti-Semites? Or are some of them dupes?

Foxman: Yes, there are all types. You can disagree with Israel. But you have to ask yourself, is this person who’s anti-Israel, is he anti any other country?

I’m not talking about people who criticize Israel’s policies. There’s more criticism of Israel per square kilometer in Israel than anywhere else in the world. Israel is a democracy and you can criticize it. But once somebody is anti-Israel, chances are that he’s motivated not by politics but by something else, which is usually anti-Semitism.

Can you be critical of Israel and not be an anti-Semite? Absolutely. But can you be anti-Zionist and not be an anti-Semite? My answer there is, probably not — unless you are opposed to nationalism. You can be opposed to Zionism if you’re also opposed to Palestinian nationalism, French nationalism, American nationalism. But if the only nationalism that you find offensive or racist is Jewish nationalism, that’s anti-Semitism.

All nationalisms are exclusive. They reserve citizenship only for themselves, and they make the regulations, borders, songs, or whatever. If you find an individual who detests nationalisms, he’s entitled to be anti-Zionist. But most of them only don’t like Zionism, and that’s a cover for anti-Semitism.

In Europe, there are students, churches, and others who want to project their advocacy of human rights. And one of the ways they express their views is through boycotts. “We’ll boycott companies that violate human rights,” they say. Fine, okay. They’re entitled.

But if you want to do that, I’ll give you a list of 20 countries that violate human rights. You can start with China, go to Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Sudan — a whole list of countries. If you include Israel in that list, I will argue that Israel, as a democracy, is respectful of other views. If you want to include Israel on a list of countries that you believe violate human rights, fine. But if the only country that you single out to boycott is the state of Israel, that’s anti-Semitism. Where is Iran on your list, where is Saudi Arabia? Most of the time, being anti-Israel is a disguise for anti-Semitism.

Natan Sharansky established a short formula. If you criticize Israel, victimize Israel, delegitimize Israel, demean Israel, and you use a double standard, chances are that you’re an anti-Semite.

As for journalists who criticize Israel, if in 10 or 20 years there was nothing positive that they found in the Israeli experience, not one thing that they found to commend – and all you find is criticism, criticism, criticism – that, too, leads me to say, that is not legitimate, that is anti-Semitism.

J.S. Are there studies indicating what anti-Semites have in common — personality, demographics, geography?

Foxman: The lower the level of education, the higher the level of bigotry or anti-Semitism. Younger people are more susceptible — it’s a question of ignorance and lack of education. The higher the level of education, the lower the level of anti-Semitism.

But we also find in certain instances that the higher the level of academic degree, the greater the anti-Israel bias. That’s because most of the institutional centers on Middle East studies were and are Arab-funded, and most of the scholars are former ambassadors to the 22 Arab nations. That has an impact.

Also we’re finding something strange: The older and the younger are more anti-Semitic. The reason that older people tend to be more anti-Semitic is that at a certain age you don’t care — you’re not involved in political correctness. When you mature and go into business or whatever, you know there are certain things you don’t say and you don’t express. But at a certain age you don’t care anymore.

As for geography, it depends on the country and the continent. There are very few variances of anti-Semitism in the United States, for example. In other parts of the world there are greater regional disparities. The most anti-Semitic country by virtue of various measures is Spain — then Poland, then the United Kingdom.

I don’t think it has anything to do with the weather, with culture, or the food. But in the United States, we also have economic strata — and the lower in the economic strata, the more bigotry, but that’s also a function of education. One follows the other.

Ethnicity does have an impact — among the African-American population, for instance, over the last 40 years we have seen a level of anti-Semitism of 30 percent to 40 percent. The reason is that there has been no real leadership on this issue. Martin Luther King Jr. was the last national African-American leader to stand up and forcefully condemn anti-Semitism. Today you have a leadership that is focused on other issues, and some African-Americans even deny there’s a problem. Then there are the likes of Louis Farrakhan, who uses his pulpit to spew anti-Semitism and racism and still enjoys a surprisingly strong following.

The Hispanic-Latino community also has a high level of anti-Semitism. Here, there’s good news and bad. The bad news is that foreign-born Hispanics are much more prone to being anti-Semitic — more than 40 percent among those surveyed in our polls. That’s again the result of lack of education, and perhaps a reflection of what is still being taught in the church. The Vatican teachings on tolerance have not filtered down into the pews in many Hispanic countries.

The good news is that only 20 percent of American-born Hispanics, or nearly half of the country’s Hispanic population, hold strongly anti-Semitic beliefs. The other good news is that the Hispanic leadership doesn’t deny that it exists — and is working with us to inoculate Hispanics against anti-Semitism.

J.S. Why are certain Jews against the State of Israel? Are they desperately trying to call attention to themselves?

Foxman: I’m not a psychoanalyst. I don’t pretend to know why some Jews have the need to be critical of their own people. The fact that there are Jews opposed to Israel hurts and troubles us. I don’t know what their reasons are. But often their actions are even more distressing than their reasoning.

Take, for example, Neturei Karta — we know their followers don’t recognize Israel. But their marching with Palestinian terrorists, or consorting with Holocaust deniers, or meeting with an Iranian leadership that has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” is unconscionable and deeply distressing. Once they see that they are being used by enemies of the Jewish people, I don’t know why they do not at that point desist.

J.S. Have you yourself ever been a victim of anti-Semitism?

Foxman: Yes. Certainly in the e-mails I receive, which are very, very creative anti-Semitism.

Listen, I grew up during the Holocaust. I know what anti-Semitism is. I came in crying to my Polish-Catholic nanny at the age of 5 that “They called me a dirty name, tell me I’m not a Jew.” Even growing up in Brooklyn and yeshiva, it was latent. Most anti-Semitism is latent.

Our surveys show that 12 percent of the American people are infected with strongly held anti-Semitic beliefs. Yet they don’t get up in the morning and say, “How am I going to hurt the Jews?” What is troubling is that we don’t know what the flashpoint is. Is it when they lose their jobs and have to blame somebody — like Jewish bankers? Or is it because something bad happened in their lives, and very frequently they decide that we are to blame?

So, we need to understand that it’s out there, it’s latent, and we don’t know what the flashpoint, that moment of personal crisis, will be. Sometimes it’s the economy, sometimes it’s illness, sometimes it’s a disappointment. The Arab man who attacked the Jewish Federation in Seattle, something set him off — maybe the 2006 Lebanon War. His views were latent, and he went out to get Jews. The shooter who went to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., to kill Jews, however, his views were more than latent, since he was a known white supremacist who maintained a Website filled with anti-Semitic invective.

So, we need to understand that most anti-Semitism is latent, and we don’t know exactly what triggers it.

The United States is different from the rest of the world. We’re not immune from bigotry or anti-Semitism, but in this country, unlike others, bigotry has consequences. Our Constitution guarantees someone the right to be a bigot — including an anti-Semite — but here there are consequences. If you’re in politics, you most likely won’t get re-elected. Our system rejects public bigoted behavior. If you’re in commerce, chances are you will not succeed. Mel Gibson — before he made his film “The Passion of the Christ,” before he was exposed as an anti-Semite — he was a hero in Hollywood. He was the most popular actor and the People’s Choice until he revealed himself as an anti-Semite. And then the American people basically rejected him. And that’s part of the consequences. In this country, it’s not politically expedient to be an anti-Semite. In many places in Europe, it is; in Latin America it is; and certainly it’s true in the Middle East. That’s a major, major difference between these countries and the United States. Not that we’re immune. But our whole dynamic system is against it.

My third book is called “Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype.” The reasons for anti-Semitism, I’ve always felt, consist of three interrelated pillars.

The first pillar is deicide; the Jews were accused of killing Jesus — the mother of all anti-Semitism. The second pillar, a corollary, is that the Jews are greedy. It comes from the deicide — Judas sold out Jesus not for theology but for money, for 30 pieces of silver. The link between Jews and money has almost become part of the subculture of Western civilization. It’s all over the place. Kids throw pennies in the schoolyard, to see who’s Jewish.

The third pillar is that they don’t trust us. They think we’re not loyal citizens. Even in this country, 30 percent of Americans believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to the United States. That’s part of the old stereotype that you can’t trust Jews, they only care for themselves.

But you asked, What we can do to combat anti-Semitism? The answer is that our leaders should speak out, and make it un-American, un-Christian, and immoral — and condemn it and punish it — as with hate-crime legislation.

J.S. Thank you for an excellent interview.

Anti-semitism: the disease that won’t go away

An enduring mystery: Why is America somewhat immune?

One of the mysteries about anti-Semitism is: Why has the United States of America been relatively immune? Despite occasional anti-Semitic episodes here (think of Henry Ford and Mel Gibson), Jews have thrived in America as in no other country — excepting Israel itself.

An authority on anti-Semitism, Alvin H. Rosenfeld answers that intriguing question, as well as others — such as whether there is a fundamental anti-Semitic personality. He is professor of English and holds the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington, where he has taught since 1968. He is also the director of the university’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.

Alvin H. Rosenfeld is the director of Indiana University’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism.

The founder of the university’s Borns Jewish Studies Program, he served as its director for 30 years and is the author of numerous articles on American poetry, Jewish writers, and the literature of the Holocaust. His most recent study, “The End of the Holocaust,” is to be published in 2011.

Below are excerpts from a recent telephone interview.

Jewish Standard: Why has the United States of America been relatively immune to the disease of anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: America seems to be an exceptional country, in many respects. What makes it so?

One, we are genuinely diverse. Unlike many European countries, which have had a hard time absorbing mixed populations, America by and large has succeeded. We’re not free of problems, but by and large our record is good in that respect. The Jews have been integrated in America in ways that were not possible over the longest stretch of history in Europe.

Another reason is that Jews are well-known in this country. Lots of people have Jewish friends, colleagues, and business partners. Some have Jewish family members by now. So we’re not as strange as we used to be.

Also, Jews are in many respects an accomplished people, and while some may envy and resent us, a lot of other people admire and respect Jews.

Then there is the question of Christianity. This can cut both ways, but in contrast to most European countries, and, certainly most west European countries today (which have entered a kind of post-Christian phase), Christianity in America is a part of social reality. Many Christians in America have an appreciation of Judaism. They find the roots of their own faith in Jewish scripture, and they respect Jews, especially Jews who are faithful to their own religion.

Add one more thing: America doesn’t have a medieval past — we’re too new a country for that — so we don’t have the legacy of medieval Christian anti-Semitism that Europe has had.

J.S.: Like the “blood libel” — the medieval myth that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood to make matzoh?

Rosenfeld: That’s part of it, yes. American Jews have not had to contend with such myths in any chronic way here.

In addition, America has no history of respectable political anti-Semitism. Sometimes political figures arise, usually on the margin, who are openly anti-Semitic — David Duke [of the Ku Klux Klan], for instance, is such a figure. But some European countries have a history of politics that has included parties with explicitly anti-Semitic planks in their platforms. We’ve never had that in this country. On the evidence to date, we could expect people to speak out immediately and harshly against political anti-Semitism — and that is something that we as Americans can be proud of.

At the same time, it makes sense for Jews to continue to be watchful. At is most extreme, anti-Semitism is a tenacious and obsessive passion. It is less an idea than an ideology fed by an array of strongly negative feelings, such as envy, resentment, hostility, hatred, and fear, which people in this country, as in every other country, are vulnerable to.

America has done a much better job of keeping the lid on outbreaks of anti-Semitic hostility than other countries. But if we think back, say, to the time of Father Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh, we can easily recall that there have been prominent figures in America who have been outspoken anti-Semites.

J.S.: Are there puzzles, mysteries, that scholarly research into anti-Semitism could solve? For example, whether there’s a typical anti-Semitic personality?

Rosenfeld: The biggest puzzle has to do with the persistence of anti-Semitism. Racial hatreds and social prejudices appear in many cultures, but they wax and wane. Anti-Semitism does, too, but its presence is more constant, and it dates back millennia. Why? What accounts for its persistence? There are no certain answers.

Scholars also struggle to clarify the forms that anti-Semitism takes — it doesn’t always look the same.

Over the longest run, in the Western world, for instance, the origins of anti-Semitism are located within the church. Hostility to Jews and Judaism has been deeply rooted in church teachings that have conveyed a whole set of prejudiced messages directed against Jews and Judaism. This inherited complex of anti-Jewish biases, sometimes held in check, at other times activated, persisted within Christendom for a long time. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, some major church reforms have helped to ameliorate the destructive power of Christian biases against Judaism and the Jews, but it is too soon to say that church-based anti-Semitism is altogether a thing of the past. It is not.

At the same time, scholars of anti-Semitism recognize that in the latter decades of the 19th century, Christian anti-Semitism, while not gone, was eclipsed or augmented by a relatively new kind of anti-Semitism, rooted in notions that Jews were both a racially inferior and racially threatening presence. Thus, while some might still accuse the Jews of being Christ-killers and condemn them for rejecting the religious claims in the Christian gospel, others embraced newer forms of anti-Jewish prejudice that were race-based. To these Europeans, it was not the religion of the Jews that was faulty and menacing but Jewish blood. Racial stereotyping took hold. But by and large, race-based anti-Semitism was not as prevalent a factor over the centuries as was religious, specifically Christian, anti-Semitism.

When, as happened in Europe in the 19th century, religious anti-Semitism was joined by racial anti-Semitism, what the Jews faced was profoundly lethal. It culminated in Nazi Germany’s determination to institute a “final solution to the Jewish problem”: genocide.

While there’s still some residual Christian prejudice against Jews and Judaism today, it’s not nearly as potent as it was before. And in post-Holocaust Europe, race-based anti-Semitism is considered to be not just out of fashion but beyond the pale. Most anti-Semites in today’s Europe are not going to accuse the Jews of being a racially inferior people — for Europeans know where such views lead: to Auschwitz. Nevertheless, Europe’s long and shameful history of Jew-hatred is hardly over. Rather, it has changed shape. We are seeing today the emergence of powerful strains of ideological and political anti-Semitism, which target not so much the individual Jew as the Jewish state. That’s a story unto itself, and very troubling.

J.S.: Is anti-Semitism increasing today? And if so, why?

Rosenfeld: Compared with 10 years ago, yes indeed, it is. Explanations vary, but some recent books by first-rate scholars are helpful. I strongly recommend “The Resurgence of Anti-Semitism” by a British scholar, Bernard Harrison.

As for the reasons, some intense and important debates are now under way. And it’s high time that they are, for anti-Semitism has been picking up force over the past 10 or 11 years and requires serious attention if it is to be understood and combated. Before 2000 it was not so robust. What happened? A number of milestone events. They probably began with the breakdown of peace talks at Camp David, and on the heels of that diplomatic failure, the unleashing of the so-called second intifada, which unleashed angry, murderous passions against the Israelis and Jews elsewhere.

Shortly afterwards, 9/11 brought the ferocious attacks on this country by al Qaeda terrorists. Weirdly, and in no time at all, throughout the Muslim world and also in parts of the West, that aggression was blamed on the Mossad. Some also blamed elements within America itself. Both charges are ridiculous; nonetheless, these notions caught on, and large numbers of people evidently believe them to be true.

Because anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism often go hand in hand, the attack on America almost immediately had anti-Semitic ramifications. People who think in these distorted terms believe either that Jews control America, and therefore hitting America is hitting the Jews, or — vice versa — that America uses Israel to suppress freedoms elsewhere. Both notions are preposterous, but they evidently have appeal and persist.

Shortly after these events, America went to war in Iraq. We are also fighting in Afghanistan. The result of all these things — the intifada, coming on the breakdown of the Camp David talks, the 9/11 attacks and terrorist attacks in Spain, London, and elsewhere, America’s entry by force into two major Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan — all of this helped to increase angry and aggressive passions already present within the Muslim world, much of which focused hostility against America, the Jews, and Israel.

J.S.: Have recent economic troubles — the stock market’s bloodbath, persistent joblessness — contributed to anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: It used to be thought — with good reason — that whenever the economy turns down, anti-Semitism turns up. And at the time of the Madoff affair, there was a good deal of concern in the Jewish community, given the prominence of Madoff’s crimes, that there might be a backlash against Jews, numbers of whom work in the financial industry. But in fact no such reaction emerged to any appreciable degree in this country.

J.S.: Is there any correlation between the rise and fall of anti-Semitism and war, economic crises, or widespread unemployment?

Rosenfeld: Whenever society becomes destabilized, in all the ways you’ve mentioned — socially, economically, as a result of wars — people look around to blame somebody. Who’s responsible for all these troubles? Jews traditionally have been a favorite scapegoat. Are such accusations observable today? Yes. There are weird conspiracy theories rising again, so we are seeing some scapegoating. It becomes troubling, for instance, to witness prominent voices in Washington, D.C., implying that the lives of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan may be at risk because of the impasse in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, an impasse largely attributed to Israeli intransigence or bad faith. That’s a serious charge, and also a mistaken one. If it persists, it has the potential to bring forth trouble. But most Americans are fair-minded people, admire and support Israel, and are unlikely to follow the lead of erroneous charges, I believe. Depending on developments in Iraq and Afghanistan, these more benign reactions could change, but to date it has been our good fortune not to be broadly scapegoated.

J.S.: What can we do to lessen anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: A few things. One is legal. Countries need good laws against the public display of hatred, especially hatred that leads to violence, including anti-Semitic violence.

Effective education also is a must. Lots of people just don’t know very much about Jew-hatred. They’re not familiar with the history of anti-Semitism. It’s incumbent upon us to help them learn.

In the public sphere, whenever anti-Semitic voices speak in an ugly and threatening fashion against Jews, Judaism, or the Jewish state, they need to be called to task and, if warranted, to be decisively rebuked. One should never be quiet in the face of openly expressed anti-Semitism. Once Jew-hatred is allowed to become an acceptable part of normative speech, no end of troubles are likely to follow.

J.S.: Anti-Semites seem to have disappeared from the earth. But the number of anti-Semites who have vanished seems roughly equal to the number of people in the world who are ferociously, close-mindedly, and unalterably opposed to the State of Israel.

Rosenfeld: I don’t think they’ve vanished so much as that they’ve taken on a certain camouflage — that’s probably what you meant. What passes today as anti-Zionism often has nothing to do with Zionism as such and is just openly expressed hatred of Israel, and you can usually detect that by listening not just to the words of the arguments against Israel but to the tone of the arguments. People get worked up — they get angry, belligerent, intemperate, sometimes enraged. At that point, what you’re encountering is not a reasonable argument that might be critical (and maybe even properly critical) of a particular Israeli policy or action but outright defamation or vilification of Israel as such. The resort to hyperbole is often the tip-off. When people begin making arguments about Israel that liken it to apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany, when they accuse Israel of crimes of ethnic cleansing and even genocide, then you know what you’re dealing with are not people who may have good reason to object to a particular Israeli policy or a particular Israeli action. They just don’t like Israel, period; some of them would like to see it gone. Their quarrel is with the existence of the Jewish state as a Jewish state. They believe it has no legitimacy and should cease to be. The passions that fuel such death-wish fantasies are unambiguously anti-Semitic.

J.S.: Why are certain Jews anti-Israel?

Rosenfeld: I wish I could give you an answer to that question. Do you know such people yourself?

J.S.: Yes. My theory is they’re desperate for attention.

Rosenfeld: Some of it is exactly what you said — the need for attention reflects a kind of narcissism. I, I, I — the personal pronoun gets endlessly repeated, indicating a penchant for self-aggrandizement. Politics, in other words, becomes a form of self-indulgence, even self-love. Might we, in some instances, also be looking at Jewish self-hatred? You have to consider each case person-by-person. In some strongly pathological cases, Jewish self-hatred could be on exhibit. In other cases, the extreme behavior may be a function of a particular political stance. The further left or right you go, the more likely you are to find attitudes towards Israel that may begin as legitimate criticism but quickly escalate to angry and unreasonable accusations — and before you know it, end up in these analogies to Nazi Germany and South Africa. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it’s often the case that Jews are involved, and sometimes even in the forefront, of extreme anti-Israel movements. What drives these people? Probably a number of things. You pointed to one, the narcissistic need for attention. Self-hatred can also sometimes be involved. Political allegiances of an extreme leftist nature are often tied in. How so? Just as someone on the hard left is supposed to be anti-capitalist and anti-American and anti-globalization, he or she is also supposed to be anti-Zionist or anti-Israel. So it’s part of the whole political/cultural package, a perverse form of identity affirmation: one becomes a “good” Jew by stridently opposing the Jewish state.

Some of what I have been describing calls out for analysis by mental health specialists. I am not one. I can recommend an interesting book on this subject by a psychiatrist who is also a historian, Kenneth Levin. It’s called “The Oslo Syndrome.”

These are complicated matters and are being hotly, even bitterly, debated. What we know for sure is this: Israel’s enemies, including hardcore anti-Semites who are not Jewish, often showcase the words of Jews like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and any of a number of Israeli Israel-defamers and say, “See, it’s not just I who think Israel is an abomination, but I can quote lots of Jews who are saying exactly the same thing.” Sadly, they can.

J.S.: Is there a fundamental anti-Semitic personality?

Rosenfeld: We know a good deal about anti-Semitism and those who are drawn to it. But it’s hard to go from what we know to definitive analysis of anything like anti-Semitic personalities, let alone the implementation of programs that will lead to prevention. You can figure out time and again what angers and unnerves some people about the Jews, but it’s difficult to know what you can do to prevent them from being troubled in these ways and becoming anti-Semitic. And once the animus spreads beyond individuals and infects the culture as such, it becomes still harder to deal with. Even if one cannot fully understand what animates Jew-hatred, it’s critical to keep it in check, so it doesn’t become ultimately damaging on a large scale. We know it has the potential to do just that.

J.S.: Most anti-Semites, it seems to me, are closed-minded and simple-minded. They don’t engage in complex thinking; the word “nuance” is not in their vocabulary. And if Jews and if Israel are responsible for all or much of the evil in the world, life is easier for them to understand.

Rosenfeld: What you have just described is accurate and points to stereotyping and scapegoating. People who revert to such thinking have actually stopped thinking; they concoct and then remain within the closed bubble of their simple-minded explanations. Bogus though these arguments may be, such people will usually hold onto them passionately. “Jews are guilty as such and that’s why we’re in the mess we’re in” — so says the anti-Semite.

J.S.: Have you ever even a victim of anti-Semitism?

Rosenfeld: Not in any serious way. Every once in a while I receive hate mail, but at least to date I have not run up against serious anti-Semitic hostility directed at me personally. I’ve been occasionally insulted and defamed by some cranky people, but episodically, not chronically. God willing, I’ll continue to be spared.

J.S.: Maybe your being spared is a result of your growing up in America?

Rosenfeld: No doubt, and I regard it as a blessing. My parents were both from Podolia, in the Ukraine, and knew anti-Semitism from their earliest years until they immigrated to this country. It was my mazel that my parents got out in time. I grew up in south Philadelphia — at a time when that part of the city was a bit like the lower east side of New York. There were lots of immigrant Jews, Italians, Irish, and others. It was a relatively poor, working-class end of town, but by no means a bad place, and, at least in my experience, it was not polluted by anti-Semitism.

Things have changed. We’re living now in an overheated time, a sour, divisive time. The economic turndown is far from over, American forces are engaged in two wars, terror threatens, and the hostility to Israel continues to intensify. The year 2009 saw a dramatic spike in anti-Semitic incidents on a global scale. In these circumstances, it is prudent to be vigilant.

Indiana University’s new Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and the institute at Yale can be helpful in alerting people to what’s afoot. Of course I acknowledge the important work being done elsewhere, especially at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, and, in this country, by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In a time of resurgent anti-Semitism, even more attention is needed. If, as a result of our academic work, we can help educate people about anti-Semitism, open their eyes to its character, longevity, gravity, and threats, we will be doing something both needful and positive.

It’s also important that we let people know that while anti-Semitism initially targets the Jews, the hostility it unleashes doesn’t stop with the Jews. If this hatred goes unchecked, a large number of other people will end up being hurt, if not directly by anti-Semitism, then because of the damage to society that anti-Semitism inevitably brings with it. It’s always a toxic force and has the potential to spread widely and be hugely harmful. We probably cannot eradicate it, but we need to do what we can to lessen its destructive force.

J.S.: Thank you for an enlightening interview.


Reaction to tragedy showcases changes in Polish-Jewish relations

Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, were buried after funeral services at St. John’s Cathedral in Warsaw on Sunday. Andrzej Rybczynski/AFP/Getty Images</td>

ROME – The Jewish reaction to the death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other senior Polish officials in an air tragedy highlights a remarkable change in how the Jewish world views Poland.

The prayers, public statements, and personal tributes, including a special remembrance during the March of the Living, were normal expressions of grief and solidarity for a close friend and ally — in short, heartfelt sentiments that probably could not have been made 20 or even 15 years ago.

First Person

Poland looms large in the collective Jewish consciousness. Huge numbers of North American Jews trace their ancestry to Poland, and before World War II Poland was Europe’s Jewish heartland. Some 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

Until fairly recently, however, much of the Jewish world regarded Poland as little more than a vast, anti-Semitic Jewish graveyard. These attitudes were exemplified in 1989 by Israel’s then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who famously declared that Poles “suck in” anti-Semitism “with their mother’s milk.”

Today, however, Poland is one of Israel’s best friends, and Jewish leaders hailed Kaczynski and others on the doomed plane for their dedication in helping write a new chapter in Polish-Jewish relations. Kaczynski was buried on Sunday.

This change in Jewish attitudes by no means came overnight. It was the fruit of a deliberate, sometime rocky post-communism Polish policy aimed at convincing the Jewish world that Poland — and Poles — could be trusted partners.

This included organized outreach, Poland’s emergence as an ally of Israel, and extensive Polish interaction with international Jewish organizations on both a formal and informal basis. In 1995, the Polish government even established the unprecedented post of roving ambassador to the Jewish diaspora to foster contacts and provide a conduit for communications.

Meanwhile, lacerating public debates in Poland over anti-Semitism and the Polish role in the Holocaust, sparked by several books and films, also demonstrated to the Jewish world a willingness in Poland to tackle these troubling issues.

“Jewish attitudes became more positive as the world began to recognize Poland as a modern democratic nation rather than the apocryphal place of our ancient sufferings,” says Michael Traison, a Jewish American lawyer who has maintained an office in Poland since the mid-1990s. “And attitudes were impacted by the growth of information flowing out of Poland to the Jewish world as people learn that ‘Am Yisrael chai’ [the Jewish people lives], even in Poland.”

Jewish figures themselves played key roles by demonstrating their own openness to Poland and highlighting the revival of contemporary Jewish life in the country.

Shevach Weiss, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor and former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, became a popular and even beloved figure among locals as the Israeli ambassador to Poland from 2000 to 2004.

I’ll never forget seeing him plunge into a crowd of 10,000 frenzied fans, most of them Catholic Poles, who crammed into the main square of Krakow’s old Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, for the final concert of the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in 2002.

The Krakow Festival and the new Museum of the History of Polish Jewry under construction in Warsaw also have won enthusiastic American supporters. Poland’s American-born chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, has been tireless in spreading the word that a small but living Jewish community exists in Poland.

Organizations such as the San Francisco-based Taube Foundation and the American Jewish Committee make it a point to bring Jewish groups to Poland not just to commemorate the Holocaust but to take part in Jewish cultural events and meet local Jews and Catholic Poles.

“The story of Judaism in Poland did not end with the Holocaust,” promotional material for Taube-led tours says.

What all this means is that after decades of looking at Poland through a lens tinged darkly with tragedy and distrust, Jewish leaders increasingly are willing to demonstrate belief that Poland has changed. Or at least is changing.

To be sure, this does not mean that Polish anti-Semitism has vanished; on the contrary. It does recognize, however, that other forces are in play, too.

To someone like me, whose relationship with the Jewish experience in post-Holocaust Poland goes back nearly 30 years, this change of attitude is as dramatic as it is welcome. It remains to be seen, though, how far it has trickled down.

An American Jewish friend here in Italy, who first told me the news about Kaczynski’s death in the plane crash, was surprised when I expressed dismay.

“I don’t know anything about him except that he’s an anti-Semite,” my friend said.

An Israeli Facebook friend wrote: “I wish that Poles — who indeed suffered a grievous loss in the plane crash that killed its leadership — felt the same sense of loss over the 3 million Polish Jews murdered in their country, often at the hands of the Polish people.”

Still, I was moved and encouraged by the homage paid to Kaczynski by the 10,000 participants of this year’s March of the Living, the annual youth gathering that commemorates Holocaust Remembrance Day with a ceremony at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Back in 1994, when I was the cultural guide for a March of the Living group, the youngsters I was with spent their last evening in Poland acting out anti-Polish skits. Their handbook took for granted that the youngsters would feel nothing positive toward local Poles.

“We will hate them for having participated in atrocities, but we will also pity them for their woeful living conditions today,” it read.

But at this year’s March of the Living, young participants wore black armbands to honor Kaczynski and the other crash victims.

“We join our Polish brothers and sisters in their time of sorrow, and express our deepest sympathies for their loss,” a statement from the March of the Living said. “Our thoughts, hopes, and prayers are with them during this difficult time.”



Committee remembers the Rosenbergs, launches new initiative

When Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were brought to trial in the federal courthouse at Manhattan’s Foley Square in March 1951, at least one local resident was watching closely.

“Mine was the generation of the Rosenbergs,” said 94-year-old Miriam Moskowitz, who has long been active in the National Committee to Reopen the Rosenberg Case. The group will hold its 57th annual memorial meeting on June 17.

“The trial was a mockery,” said Moskowitz, author of the forthcoming “Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice” and a resident of Washington Township.

It was also an ordeal for American Jews, who feared the case would exacerbate already blatant displays of anti-Semitism.

Moskowitz pointed out that while the Rosenbergs were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage, “they were really tried and convicted even before they set foot in the courtroom because of the prosecution’s powerful publicity machine,” she said. “And while the charge was conspiracy to commit espionage, in effect, they were tried for treason.” The couple were executed in 1953.

Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, executed in 1953, were charged with conspiracy to commit espionage but, “in effect, were tried for treason.”

This year’s memorial meeting will unveil a new initiative, said Moskowitz, noting that the eight-member committee will formally launch a campaign to exonerate the Rosenbergs “of the false charge of atomic spying.”

Among other accusations, the Rosenbergs were accused of passing to the Soviet Union information that could be used to build an atomic bomb. Two years ago, their co-defendant, Morton Sobell — released in 1969 after serving more that 18 years in prison, five of them in Alcatraz — admitted that he and Julius Rosenberg had passed information to the former Soviet Union in the 1940s but said it had nothing to do with the atom bomb.

“Julius gave defensive weaponry information to Russia because he felt they were bearing the brunt of the war,” said Moskowitz.

“They were leftists and they believed in the war effort against Nazis,” she said, pointing to strident anti-Semitic voices in the United States such as Father Coughlin, who was lauding Hitler on the radio.

“They were young and unsophisticated,” she said of Julius Rosenberg and Sobell. “They knew they were wrong but they did not intend and did not think to harm their own country. They never thought it would be regarded with such antagonism.”

She likened the case to that of Jonathan Pollard, “who gave unauthorized information to Israel because [then Defense Secretary] Caspar Weinberger refused to give Israel” classified information. Pollard was sentenced to life in prison.

In both cases, she said, the sentences were “way out of proportion.” (Ironically, Tibby Brooks, executive director of NCRRC, pointed out that “the Rosenbergs were executed … just before sundown [since] the authorities didn’t want to desecrate the Sabbath.”)

Moskowitz further noted that in both cases — and in many of the trials that took place during the 1950s — “being Jewish was an important factor.”

“It’s not an accident that the judge and prosecutor were Jewish,” she said. “That was to make sure that they would not be accused of anti-Semitism; but there’s no question that it lay behind these prosecutions.”

Judge Irving Kaufman’s pronouncement at the end of the trial demonstrated the hostility directed toward the defendants, said Moskowitz: “I consider your crime worse than murder,” he said. “I believe your conduct in putting into the hands of the Russians the A-bomb years before our best scientists predicted Russia would perfect the bomb has already caused, in my opinion, the Communist aggression in Korea, with the resultant casualties exceeding 50,000 and who knows but that millions more of innocent people may pay the price of your treason?”

Moskowitz recalled, “You don’t remember the picket lines against the Rosenbergs organized by anti-Semites. They used signs reading ‘Fry them and send the remains to Stalin.’”

Moskowitz had been involved in a similar trial just four months before the Rosenberg hearings, charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

“It was the same judge, same prosecution team, and same two witnesses” as those in the Rosenberg trial, she said, adding that she was found guilty in a “kangaroo court.”
She and her co-defendant, Abraham Brothman, were accused of influencing Harry Gold — a laboratory chemist who was convicted of being the courier for Soviet spy rings — to lie under oath to the grand jury.

Tried in the southern district of New York at age 34, Moskowitz was found guilty and sent to prison for two years. In her new book, due out in October from Bunim & Bannigan, she chronicles her experiences during this time.

“The book is about how my trial was run and my experiences as a political prisoner and a Jew,” she said, noting that the prosecution had referred to her trial as a kind of dress rehearsal for the Rosenberg trial, testing the believability of the witnesses and the strength of popular prejudice.

Moskowitz said her initial incarceration was in a New York jail — where many of those held “knew almost instinctively that not everything the press printed was believable. They knew also that truth and justice and the law were frequently unrelated.” Still, she said, “there were a few who muttered ugly threats and it was only through the protection of some of the other women that I escaped harm.”

Moskowitz finished doing her time at the Federal Reformatory for Women in West Virginia, “and the hostility there was more pronounced. Some of the women refused to pass the food to me at mealtime so I pretended I wasn’t hungry,” she said. “When anyone ‘accidentally’ jostled me or took a swipe at me (out of sight of the warders), I pretended not to notice. When some called me ‘Jew bitch’ or ‘spy,’ I pretended not to hear.”

Even after her release, she said, she was “harassed” by the FBI.

“They wanted me to give information against my co-defendant, but there was nothing to tell. He was a legitimate chemical engineer conducting a legitimate business.”

At the June 17 meeting, Michael and Robert Meeropol — the sons of the Rosenbergs, young children when their parents were executed — will be featured in videotaped excerpts from a recent symposium on Sobell’s recent admissions. In addition, Dave Alman, president of the committee and co-author with the late Emily Alman of “Exoneration,” will read excerpts from his book, as will Moskowitz from hers. Dr. Jolie Pataki will read from letters Ethel Rosenberg wrote while in prison. There will also be a musical interlude.

The free program is open to the public and will take place at Musicians Local 802, 322 West 48 St. in Manhattan at 7 p.m. For information, call (212) 533-1015.

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