Noa Levanon is a GTJ staff member.
During Passover, a popular theoretical exercise aims to examine the way the concept of liberation applies to the world today. As I attempted to modernize this concept vis-à-vis the Jewish people, I considered a form of oppression that is, unfortunately, all too topical for Jews today. It is an experience from which the Jewish people, after emerging brutalized from the Holocaust over 60 years ago, had hoped finally to be liberated – they had hoped that, in the dawn of international awakening about the dangers of rampant racism that followed the genocide against their people, they would finally be able to shake off the fetters of anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism remains pervasive today.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of witnessing an endeavor to combat the oppressive weight of this ongoing prejudice. From April 2 to 5, I attended the inaugural conference of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism, at Indiana University. Here, scholars from across the United States, Europe, and Israel gathered to discuss and analyze incidents and patterns of modern (post-Holocaust) anti-Semitism. Both the conference and the institute itself were conceived by Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a renowned Holocaust scholar and former head of IU’s Borns Jewish Studies Department. He discovered that, although the Holocaust itself and pre-Holocaust anti-Semitism had been widely studied, there was no systematic or academic analysis of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in recent decades. The formation of the institute was his answer to this academic gap.
The inaugural event, held at Indiana University, was kicked off with a DC twist: Hannah Rosenthal, the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, gave a keynote address. In it, she talked about her various activities to prevent anti-Jewish rhetoric and behavior by increasing awareness of its presence and potential danger. In this capacity, she described one of her chief projects to date: a trip of several imams, some of them previously Holocaust deniers, to visit Auschwitz in August, 2010.
The lecture sequence of the conference was launched the next morning. Dr. Rosenfeld, in his opening remarks, cited a message from Judea Pearl, whose journalist son, Daniel, was forced to confess to being a Jew before being beheaded, argued that the murder “has come to symbolize the horrors and inescapable reality of resurgent Anti-Semitism.” He urged conference participants to channel their expertise and passion to try and “[roll] back the hatred that took [his son’s] life and the tsunami of dehumanization currently sweeping our planet.” His call to “map its undercurrents, analyze its anatomy, and understand its circuitry in scientific details” evokes the institute’s academic approach.
Pearl’s exhortation was complimented with a wide range of presentations, studying trends in various regions and among different ideological groups. Scholars discussed topics from government-sanctioned anti-Semitism in the Arab world to growing anti-Jewish rhetoric in Europe, among international and non-governmental organizations, and even on American campuses (for a full conference program, click here). One ubiquitous discussion was the link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Scholars were quick to note that criticism of Israel did not necessarily connote anti-Semitism, but also noted that anti-Zionism frequently served as a mask for more insidious prejudice. As such, they sought to highlight specific and unfair double standards against Jews and Israel, and define the conditions under which such criticism crossed the line into anti-Semitism. Frequently, scholars found that modern anti-Semitism manifested itself in the creation of jarring political coalitions between progressive and fundamentalist groups whose only ideological connection appeared to be the desire for a one-sided focus on Jewish groups or the Jewish State. More disturbingly, scholars found that such coalitions, by appropriating the language of human rights and liberal democracy, lent the imprimatur of legitimacy and righteousness to biased campaigns that focused – often without substantiation – only on Israel while ignoring or even enabling egregious abuses around the globe.
Hoping to build off of the momentum from the conference, Dr. Rosenfeld intends to publish a collection of essays based on the conference presentations in an edited volume.
As we eat the ‘bread of affliction’ this week, let us remember that oppression and brutalization of Jews – whether through openly and tacitly sanctioned violence or whether through pernicious and discriminatory political rhetoric – unfortunately continues. May a heightened awareness of the increasing Jewish challenges in the post-Holocaust era lead us to confront the troubling trends with courage and wit, and perhaps, finally, succeed in liberating ourselves from anti-Semitism.
For general information about the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism, click here.