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Deborah Lipstadt: Trump enables anti-Semites
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Deborah Lipstadt: Trump enables anti-Semites

Historian says hatred knows no party lines, ‘we need to confront our own’

Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, seated, said elected officials must be held accountable for rhetoric that fuels anti-Semitism. Photo by Debra Rubin
Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, seated, said elected officials must be held accountable for rhetoric that fuels anti-Semitism. Photo by Debra Rubin

Dr. Deborah E. Lipstadt decided to add one last paragraph to her latest book on anti-Semitism as she was about to send it to the publisher.

“I’m a historian and generally don’t engage in predictions,” said the author of “AntiSemitism: Here and Now,” published by Penguin Random House in January.

Even so, in that paragraph Lipstadt wrote that by the time the book came out there will have been “new examples of antiSemitism that should have been part of the narrative.” 

“Five weeks later, Pittsburgh happened and many other events since,” Lipstadt said about the Oct. 27 massacre of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue.

Speaking March 31 before a sellout crowd of almost 600 people at Rutgers Hillel in New Brunswick, she gave an at-times chilling account of the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad, which can come from politicians, white supremacists, Muslim extremists, college students, one’s colleagues, and others.

Lipstadt pointed out that some elected officials use the issue of anti-Semitism “to score political points,” and drew a loud round of applause when she said, “We need to hold our elected officials to account.” 

She reminded attendees that the fight against anti-Semitism crosses party lines. She said Jews must be willing to call out politicians on the left and the right because, “We are quick to identify anti-Semitism on the other side of the political transom, but to confront anti-Semitism we need to confront our own,” she said. “We need to take a stand with the people standing next to us.”     

Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, seated, said elected officials must be held accountable for rhetoric that fuels anti-Semitism. (Photo by Debra Rubin)

Lipstadt, the Dorot professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta who has devoted decades to studying the Holocaust and famously won a libel case against a Holocaust denier, said she is most disturbed by the effects of the rising tide of anti-Semitism on the Jewish community. She said she fears that four to five decades of being comfortable, openly observant, and accepted will be endangered if American Jews “go back in the closet,” especially on campus. Students won’t want to spend “four years fighting” anti-Semitism.

The attacks on Jews often come from conspiracy theorists who need someone to blame for their irrational hate, said Lipstadt. Conspirators claim “to know who people are by the color of their skin, sexual orientation, or peoplehood in the case of anti-Semitism.”

Lipstadt said the classic tropes used to stir hate against Jews — they are “money-grabbers,” diabolically gain inordinate power, and are maliciously smart, have spurred anti-Semitism since the time Jews were accused of being responsible for the murder of Jesus. Throughout the ages, this portrayal of the Jew as the demon-in-disguise challenging God has been pinned on prominent Jews from the Rothschilds, the wealthy 18th-century German banking family, to George Soros, the liberal billionaire, noted Lipstadt.

Today’s white supremacists perceive Jews as master manipulators. In their minds, no African-American is capable of being elected president or senator, unless someone is manipulating them.

“And who is that person?” she asked. Their answer is, “the Jew.”

Anti-Semites on the left and the right have different frameworks for their hatred. The left portrays Jews as being the beneficiaries of white privilege, while the right doesn’t consider Jews white and believes they are, in fact, a threat to white people, particularly Christian males, said Lipstadt.

In Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, neo-Nazis at a rally shouted, “Jews will not replace us,” meaning, said Lipstadt, there is a genocide taking place as Jews seek to destroy white culture.    

Another category of anti-Semite is the “philo-Semite” which Lipstadt defined as “an anti-Semite who likes Jews.” The example she used is someone who might say, “We hired a new associate at my firm. He’s Jewish, but he’s really honest.” 

Others are anti-Semitic enablers who may not hate Jews but whose rhetoric acts as a “dog whistle” for those who do. These include, according to Lipstadt, Jeremy Corbyn of Britain’s left-leaning Labour Party and President Donald Trump, whose initial refusal to condemn white supremacist David Duke, and his statement about “very fine people on both sides” at the Charlottesville rally emboldened hate groups.

“I hate to say it, but an enabler on the right is our own president,” she said. 

One manifestation of anti-Semitism is virulent anti-Israel sentiment, the kind which goes beyond criticizing Israeli policies. 

Anti-Zionists and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement often mask their dislike of Jews by asserting they are standing up for Palestinian rights. While acknowledging Palestinians were displaced during Israel’s creation and that criticism of Israeli policy is not anti-Semitism, Lipstadt pointed out, “There is no country that is free from sin.”

The real purpose of the BDS movement, she said, is “the toxification” of Israel.

Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, center, with Rutgers Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer, holding her latest book, and senior associate director Rabbi Esther Reed. Photo Courtesy Rutgers Hillel

The Rutgers campus has not been immune to anti-Semitism. The university has been criticized in recent years for not sanctioning faculty members who express anti-Semitic viewpoints in published books or on social media posts. In addition, the Department of Education reopened in 2018 a civil rights case alleging that Rutgers permitted a hostile environment for Jewish students at a university program in 2011. 

“Obviously every public university has its challenges, especially ones as diverse as Rutgers,” said Jewish Faculty, Administration, and Staff Association (J-FAS) co-chair Jenny Mandelbaum, whose organization was one of the sponsors of the Lipstadt program. “We saw [Lipstadt’s talk] as an opportunity for the university to show how committed it is to fostering civil engagement and constructive discourse … Rutgers provided the vast majority of financial backing as well as an incredible amount of practical support in its planning. The university really showed its support of civil engagement and the Jewish community in a tangible way.” 

Prior to the start of Lipstadt’s talk, the Anti-Defamation League conducted a three-hour workshop on combatting discrimination for 60 students, faculty, administrators, and staff.

Mia Boccher, a Rutgers freshman from Plainfield who is not Jewish, attended the workshop and the talk. During the question and answer session, she told the audience she came to learn how to become a better ally to Jewish students on campus who may be victimized. While she did not know anyone subject to anti-Semitism, she had heard stories of others who had been targets, and told NJJN, “I wanted to learn more about the Jewish experience.”

In addition to J-FAS, Lipstadt’s appearance was supported by Rutgers University’s President’s Initiative on Diversity and Inclusion, the Hann Foundation, Harriet and George Blank, Rutgers Hillel, and the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey.

drubin@njjewishnews.com

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