A Symposium on Anti-Semitism: Where does it come from and why does it persist?

By | Mar 21, 2014

A symposium with: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Michael Barkun, David Berger, Bent Blüdnikow, Robert Chazan, Phyllis Chesler, Jeremy Cohen, Irwin Cotler, Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi, Hasia Diner, Leonard Dinnerstein, Stuart Eizenstat, Avner Falk, Eva Fogelman, Ira Forman, Zvi Gitelman, Michael Goldfarb, Michel Gurfinkiel, Jonathan Judaken, David Kertzer, Brian Klug, David Mamet, David Nirenberg, Emanuele Ottolenghi, Cynthia Ozick, Dina Porat, Alvin Rosenfeld, Ari Roth, Shlomo Sand, Maxim Shrayer, Charles Asher Small, Eli Valley, Hans-Joachim Voth, Sergio Widder, Xu Xin.

From Nadine Epstein:
I’ve been very lucky in the anti-Semitism department. All four of my grandparents fled pogroms, conscription and discrimination in Eastern Europe, but I grew up in New Jersey, able to participate fully in all aspects of American life. During travels to far-flung corners of the world, I never felt in danger because I was a Jew. And certainly today, I live in a city (Washington, DC) and country where Jewish culture is appreciated, even celebrated by many.

Rarely have I seen anti-Semitism close up. I really have to stretch my memory to come up with possible examples. Unlike anti-Semitism, prejudice based on gender has been a defining part of my life: I have experienced it too many times to delineate—even in running this magazine.

My experience is hardly unique among Americans born after World War II. Nevertheless, it is clear that anti-Semitism, like all deeply ingrained prejudices, continually manifests itself in new forms. As part of Moment’s mission to work toward the eradication of prejudice, we have spent many months preparing the special issue on anti-Semistism. Our symposium question is: Where does anti-Semitism come from and why does it persist? We do not pose this to ring alarm bells or rekindle deep-seated anxieties accumulated over generations. We ask it in the hopes of providing perspectives that make it possible to have a calm, informed and thorough conversation on the topic.

As usual, our goal is to present a whole greater than its individual parts, and we’ve gone out of our way to find people with whom you will both agree and disagree. The scope is ambitious, far more ambitious than anything Moment—or any other publication I can think of—has done before: We have interviewed men and women, scholars and others, voices from the United States, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Europe and farther afield. The wide net we have cast has elicited some surprising responses that together form a nuanced portrait of current thinking on anti-Semitism today.

We hope you find this symposium helpful and will add your voice in the comments below.
Nadine Epstein

“I was born in Somalia but raised as a young child in Saudi Arabia, where rabid expressions of anti-Semitism were everyday occurrences.”… “Today Muslim countries are dictatorships, and the leaders use Israel to try and deflect criticism from themselves. The populations want democracy, and women want equality. They compare life in Israel with their lives, and the only defense their leaders have is to tell their populations Jewish evil has got into you!.”

“…although the decline of Christianity as the central phenomenon of European society and the rise of the Enlightenment should arguably have led to the elimination of anti-Semitism, that is not what happened (even though anti-Semitism did decline).

“When the late medieval Church eventually awakened to the realities of Talmudic Judaism, it had the Talmud confiscated, tried and burned, because it deviated from the Christian construction of who the Jews needed to be: fossils of an Old Testament that had long ago lost its validity and vitality.”

“Anti-Semitism is a disease, one that is not caused by the Jews who are the targets of such irrational hatred. Anti-Semitism is racism, pure and simple. Today, anti-Zionism equals racism. The irony is that the State of Israel, which was supposed to be a safe haven for Jews, has now, diabolically, become the reason for scapegoating Jews globally.”

“This ideological anti-Semitism is much more sophisticated and arguably a more pernicious expression of the new anti-Semitism because it is not expressed in any genocidal incitement against Jews and Israel, which is overt and public and clear.”

“In the beginning, anti-Semitism was based on religion.”

2 thoughts on “A Symposium on Anti-Semitism: Where does it come from and why does it persist?

  1. Jo Drew says:

    Sadly, people parrot behavior they’ve witnessed to separate individuals.

    Recently, I experienced a backhanded comment about my ‘Jewishness’ from a coworker. I happen to live and work in New York, specifically Manhattan. A city that is thought of as one of the most sophisticated cosmopolitan areas on the planet.

    The individual making the comment is a 15 year immigrant from Ghana, West Africa. Her statement was addressed via the human resources department, but it got me wondering what is sparking the recent upsurge in incidents. Will there ever come a time where anti-Semitism becomes a ‘thing of the past.’

  2. henry gottlieb says:

    It is always some one else’s fault ….. most of the anti semitic comments are made by folks who have no idea about Judaism

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