Recently, students heard a lecture by Professor Alvin Rosenfeld, of Indiana University and Director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism.
Professor Rosenfeld spoke about “new” antisemitism, which he believes is a departure from the antisemitism of the Nazi era. Rosenfeld referenced historian Robert Wistrich, whose book The Longest Hatred details the history of antisemitism. The “old” antisemitism is one historians and sociologists have known for centuries. This “new” antisemitism has two roots, one of which is anti-Zionism. He said that anti-Zionism, or opposition to the existence of the Jewish state, is merely a mask, hiding the ever-present face of antisemitism. Many people in our world today know that antisemitism is not acceptable, so instead some who are antisemitic use denouncements of Israel as a way to attack Jews. Both Pope Francis and former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, have said that anti-Zionism is a path to antisemitism. Student discussion with Professor Rosenfeld on this led to questions about legitimate versus illegitimate criticism of Israel. What marks the difference? Professor Rosenfeld stated that standard of reason was the dividing line between the two. Being critical of certain Israeli policies and politicians but supportive of the existence of the State is not anti-Zionist. Yet questioning Israel’s right to exist in peace is. Public calls for the end of Israel are, according to Rosenfeld, are sparking waves of violence against Jews in Europe. He said anti-Israel sentiment is leading to attacks against Jews; in some places, someone wearing a kippah or Star of David can be accused of Zionist propaganda, regardless of their affiliation with Israel, and attacked.
Professor Rosenfeld also discussed antisemitism coming from some Muslim countries, where some leaders are publicly antisemitic. He praised Muslim leaders, such as Irshad Manji and Bassem Eid, for being outspoken about their work to connect Jewish and Muslim communities and call Muslim antisemitism “corrosive”. He stressed that antisemitism, whether it be violent or verbal, within Muslim communities in the Western World is coming from a radical minority. Students in the class asked about Rosenfeld’s thoughts on the future of antisemitism. At what point do both scholars and community leaders need to be concerned? Rosenfeld believes that when there are consistent patterns of similar attacks that the world needs to take action. What can be done to correct it? Rosenfeld offered the case of Germany as a country taking the issue seriously and making strides to combat this hatred. In March 2016, a conference on fighting antisemitism was held at the Bundestag, the German Parliament. It was led by Chancellor Angela Merkel and attended by representatives from over 30 countries. He said it is also the duty of religious, cultural and communal leaders to create change on a grassroots level first, which then ideally will spread to the masses. Overall, it was a thought provoking lecture and discussion, and touched upon topics that helped students bridge the gap between the history of the past and current day.
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