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IU conference addresses global antisemitism: 'once again, a troubling fact of contemporary life'

An Indiana University conference wrapped up last week after three long days of intensive, scholarly examination of one of the most troubling phenomena of contemporary public life: the resurgence of antisemitism.

"Insights that emerged over the course of this conference demonstrated that, although antisemitism in its traditional modes has long been discredited, it nonetheless survives and, together with newer strains of anti-Jewish animus, is once again a disturbing presence in countries throughout the world," said IU Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld, director of the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, which sponsored the conference.

Antisemitism Dinner

Alvin Rosenfeld greets Alice and Ted Cohn of New York at a pre-conference reception.

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"In diverse ways, it shows up in places as different from one another as Norway and Turkey, Great Britain and Iran," he said. "It is part of the discourse of intellectuals, journalists, political figures, and artists on both the political left and the political right and is no longer restrained by the social taboos that seemed to keep it in place following revelations of the Nazi genocide of the Jews during World War II."

The conference involved 35 scholars from 12 countries in round-the-clock discussions of both older and newer forms of hostility to Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel. Rosenfeld, the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies at IU, convened the conference and plans to edit and publish the proceedings in a book.

IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Karen Hanson welcomed participants at a pre-conference dinner. Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, briefed guests on the global nature of antisemitism and described the activities of her office.

Rosenthal was introduced by IU President Michael A. McRobbie, who reflected on recent incidents of antisemitism on the Bloomington campus.

"We must, all of us, bend our efforts -- every day, and not just in the wake of a crime -- to assure that our community regards tolerance and tolerant diversity as among its cardinal virtues," McRobbie said. "And beyond that, we must respect and learn from the clear lessons that history teaches us: that we cannot and we must not hide from our responsibility as a community to confront and to condemn such acts of antisemitism and all forms of hatred whenever and wherever we find them."

Hannah Rosenthal

Hannah Rosenthal, the U.S. State Department's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, speaks at the pre-conference dinner.

Print-Quality Photo

Conference participants received a message of support from Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl, who was killed by terrorists while reporting from Pakistan in early 2002.

They wrote that "if we want to be true to our mission of rolling back the hatred that took Danny's life and the tsunami of dehumanization currently sweeping our planet, we must first map its undercurrents, analyze its anatomy, and understand its circuitry in scientific details. We are extremely grateful therefore that you, distinguished scholars from across the globe, have come together to channel your talents and expertise towards this crucial endeavor."

Presentations examined antisemitism in Europe, Turkey, Iran, Israel, some of the Arab countries of the Middle East, and the United States; identified its sources on both the political left and the political right; recognized its central place in radical forms of Islamist ideology; and analyzed the nature of the threats it poses. Particular attention was drawn to the connections between anti-Zionism and antisemitism and to the ways in which the history and memory of the Holocaust are being relativized, diminished, distorted and denied.

"Every denial of the Holocaust contains an appeal to repeat it," said German author and political scientist Matthias Küntzel, a conference presenter.

Rosenfeld elaborated in one of two public Simona and Hart Hasten Lectures that were part of the conference. The resurgence of antisemitism suggests that the post-Holocaust era is drawing to a close, and we may now be looking at "the end of the Holocaust" in public consciousness, he said.

"Fueled over centuries by religious, social, political and cultural forces within Christendom," Rosenfeld said, "antisemitism today finds a prominent place within populations under the sway of radical Islamist ideologies. A pervasive, potent force, it is always and everywhere a negative one and, when it proceeds unchecked, can be hugely destructive."

IU's Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (ISCA) is one of only two campus-based research centers in the United States that devotes serious, ongoing attention to antisemitism. It is positioned to do important work in gathering scholars from around the world to address one of the critical issues of our time. For more information see