Emory University professor Dr. Deborah Lipstadt says criticism of Israel is often anti-Semitism in disguise.
Photo courtesy Kent Stater
The professor speaks
Who: Dr. Deborah Lipstadt
What: Talk on “Holocaust Denial as a Form of Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger?”
Where: Congregation B’nai Israel, Basking Ridge
When: Sunday, Sept. 28, 7 p.m.
Cost: free, open to the public
September 25, 2008
Deborah Lipstadt describes herself as basically an optimistic person. That might account for her saying that in some ways there is less anti-Semitism than in the past.
“Universities that once had quotas now have Jewish presidents, law firms that once would not hire Jews now have Torah study sessions at lunch, people who would not socialize with Jews now have grandchildren who are marrying Jews (I am not sure if that is a better or a worse),” the Emory University professor wrote in an e-mail.
At the same time, she continued, “and this is more so in Europe than in the USA, there is a greater freedom for people to make overtly anti-Semitic statements, often in the guise of making anti-Israel statements.”
Lipstadt will expand on those views in a talk at Congregation B’nai Israel in Basking Ridge on Sunday, Sept. 28. Her topic will be “Holocaust Denial as a Form of Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger?” The talk, free and open to the public, is being cosponsored by the temple and by Emory University in Atlanta, where she serves as director of the Rabbi Donald A. Tam Institute for Jewish Studies and Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies.
Her interest in the Holocaust and attitudes toward it grew out of two key experiences: time spent in Israel from 1966 to 1968 and visiting refuseniks in the Soviet Union in 1972, where she had “a run-in with the KGB [and was] detained, questioned, ejected from the country.”
That led to a career that has won her acclaim from academia, the public, officialdom, and the media. Lipstadt is probably best known for her book History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving. It tells the story of her libel trial in London against the notorious Holocaust denier, who sued her for calling him just that as well as a right-wing extremist. She won.
Asked how she steels herself to deal with characters like Irving and other profoundly antagonistic people, she said, “I realized that if I let them drag me down, I lose even if I win. I think the most important thing is to remember that essentially these are mendacious people who are anti-Semites. Fighting them is not the focus of my life. It is what needs to be done but it is not what makes me tick.”
Lipstadt sees a link between anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment. “Let me be clear,” she said. “I am not saying that criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic. Just read [the Israeli daily] Ha’aretz, and you will see extensive criticism of Israel. But sometimes that criticism is really anti-Semitism in the guise of criticism. Also, in certain European countries, Jews feel more vulnerable — France for example — than they ever did before.”
As to how you can differentiate between the two, she wrote: “Hmm…. Here are some of the ways of telling: Is the person or group only concerned with criticism of Israel? Do they focus on the fact that the only country in the Middle East where one can be openly gay is Israel or openly be a feminist is Israel? Are they critical of Egypt’s terrible treatment of homosexuals? Are they obsessed only with Israel’s wrongdoings (and there are many of these) but do they also focus on where the Palestinians have gone wrong? Do they make absurd comparisons to Nazis or talk about Israeli ‘genocide.’(The Israelis have done many wrong things but genocide is NOT one of them), etc., etc.?”
There was one last question, about how anti-Jewish feeling compares with anti-Muslim feeling. Lipstadt answered: “This is too broad a question to answer easily. It depends where — what country — and what situation. I think there is more overt anti-Muslim feeling in the U.S. today and a far greater fear of Muslims than of Jews. I think the situation in France or the United Kingdom is quite different.”