IU establishes Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism
A new wave of anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions points up the need for better understanding of the causes and ideological underpinnings of modern-day antisemitism, says Alvin Rosenfeld, the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and professor of English at Indiana University.
IU has responded to the need by establishing the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, a new research and teaching center in the College of Arts and Sciences and under the auspices of the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program. Rosenfeld, a leading scholar of Holocaust studies, founded and directs the institute.
"Nazism was defeated in Europe almost 65 years ago. Antisemitism was not," he said. "Resurgent over the past decade, it is once again a disturbing presence on the European continent and elsewhere. A phenomenon of this scope and consequence demands sustained scrutiny at the highest scholarly levels."
The Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism was launched in January with a lecture by Robert Wistrich, a leading scholar of the history of anti-Semitism and the Neuberger Chair for Modern European and Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, published last month.
Speaking on "Liberté, Égalité, Antisemitism: The French Connection" to an audience of about 200 people at the Indiana Memorial Union, Wistrich traced the history on antisemitism in one country -- France -- and its links to anti-Israel foreign policies from the time of Charles De Gaullle until recently. While anti-Semitism was discredited after World War II, he said, "It never went away."
Wistrich said recent acts of violence in France, including the 2007 abduction, torture and murder in Paris of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man, show that antisemitism remains a deadly hatred. "It represents a real threat, not only to the Jewish minority but to social cohesion, to the very fabric of democratic society," he said.
Also in January, the institute and the Ottoman and Modern Turkish Studies Chair at IU sponsored two lectures by Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. In the spring of 2011, the institute will sponsor a major international conference to explore the intellectual and ideological sources of present-day antisemitism.
The institute's agenda includes research by faculty members and students; lectures, colloquia, symposia and conferences; a campus reading and discussion group on classic antisemitic texts; the publication and dissemination of articles; and summer workshops for teachers. It also will provide opportunities for IU students to learn about antisemitism and partner with other institutions to make a difference in classroom instruction on antisemitism at a national level.
"Because it dates back millennia, antisemitism has been called the 'longest hatred,'" Rosenfeld said. "The passions that fuel it -- among them, fear, envy, jealousy, resentment, suspicion, anger, xenophobic wariness and distrust -- remain constant, but the forms this hatred takes change over time."
The topic is studied at three major research institutes abroad: the Stephen Roth Institute in Tel Aviv, the Vidal Sassoon International Center (directed by Robert Wistrich) in Jerusalem, and the Center for the Study of Antisemitism at the Technical University, Berlin. In the U.S., there is the Yale Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism.
Rosenfeld sees three primary sources involved in the upsurge in antisemitism: the Islamist jihad movement along with leaders of some Muslim nations who call for the destruction of Israel; continued activity by racist and neo-Nazi groups on the extreme right; and some elements of the extreme left in which anti-Zionism crosses the line to antisemitism.
"We have our work cut out for us," Rosenfeld said. "I would love nothing better than for the institute to go out of business in a few years, but given present developments, I don't think it will happen."