Antisemitism around the globe did not collapse with the defeat of Nazi Germany. Antisemitic propaganda, attacks, and violence continued to surface and explode in the years following the war—and they continue today. Even as Munich (1972), Entebbe (1976), and the Achille Lauro (1985) were metonyms for antisemitic acts in their day, Charlottesville (2017), Pittsburgh (2018), and Poway (2019) have recently become metonyms for antisemitism in contemporary America.
To bring much-needed perspective and context to these events (and many others), American University will bring together distinguished scholars of Israeli, American, and European history this fall to reflect broadly on antisemitism over the past seventy-five years.
The series, “Antisemitism Since the Holocaust: America, Israel, and Europe,” is hosted by American University’s Center for Israel Studies (CIS) and Jewish Studies Program and made possible thanks to the generosity of the Knapp Family Foundation. The first event, “The Deep Roots of Modern Anti-Judaism” will be held on September 10. The events are free and require registration.
Understanding History, Understanding the Present
The conversations will coincide with several AU classes, including a new class on The History of Antisemitism, taught by Michael Brenner, American University’s Seymour and Lillian Abensohn Chair in Israel Studies and Director of AU’s Center for Israel Studies. The format will be a fifty-minute moderated discussion with eminent scholars of antisemitism and AU professors, followed by a twenty-minute question-and-answer session. Each event will be recorded as a webinar for later viewing.
The series is critically important during these difficult times. “Each week, sometimes each day, brings news of antisemitism at home and abroad. It takes many forms—violence, vandalism, and speech,” says Pamela Nadell, who is the director of AU’s Jewish Studies Program, as well as AU’s Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women's and Gender History. “Understanding antisemitism today requires examining this hatred in the years since the Holocaust.”
Brenner continues. "More than seven decades after its existence Israel's right to exist is still questioned by many people around the world,” he says. “This series will also address the delicate question where legitimate criticism of Israel ends and where antisemitism begins."
Speakers and Dates
The Deep Roots of Modern Anti-Judaism
Thursday, September 10, 4:00-5:20 p.m.
University of Chicago Professor of History David Nirenberg, author of the much-acclaimed Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition joins Paola Tartakoff, chair of Rutgers University’s Jewish Studies Department, and author of Conversion, Circumcision, and Ritual Murder in Medieval Europe, to discuss the continuities and ruptures between medieval anti-Judaism and modern antisemitism. They will confront the provocative question: Is antisemitism not just part of our historical tradition but also of contemporary Western culture after the Holocaust? Moderator Lisa Leff is an AU professor of history and director of the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Was America ever the exception?
Thursday, September 17, 12:55-2:10 p.m.
Americans have long made claims of exceptionalism, contending that this country, purportedly built on foundations of equality, freedom, and democracy, was and remains a powerful departure from other lands. At one time, American Jewish historians argued that this exceptionalism included a very limited history of antisemitism on American soil, which was quite different from the experience of antisemitism elsewhere. In this conversation, Annie Polland, executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society and co-author of Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920, and University of Wisconsin Professor Tony Michels, author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York, ask: Was antisemitism in America ever the exception? Professor Pamela Nadell, director of the Jewish Studies Program, will moderate.
Antisemitism in Postwar America
Thursday, October 1, 12:55-2:10 p.m.
After World War II, surveys of the American public revealed more favorable attitudes towards Jews and significant declines in antisemitism. Nevertheless, antisemitism did not disappear. When Jews faced it, they employed personal and private strategies to counter invective. Others banded together in organizations to defend their people, and founded alternative institutions to counter those that excluded them. In this conversation, Michigan State University Professor Kirsten Fermaglich, author of A Rosenberg by Any Other Name: Jewish Name Changing in America, and University of Minnesota Professor Emerita Riv-Ellen Prell, author of Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender, and the Anxiety of Assimilation, explore the strategies American Jews invented to respond to antisemitism and it consequences. American University Scholar-in-Residence Lauren Strauss (Jewish Studies) will moderate.
Antisemitism and Racism
Thursday, October 15, 9:45-11:00 a.m.
This conversation brings together two leading scholars on the intersecting histories of African-Americans and American Jews. Trinity College Professor Cheryl Greenberg, author of Troubling the Waters: Black-Jewish Relations in the American Century, and San Francisco State University Professor Marc Dollinger, author of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s, discuss the intersections of antisemitism and racism, Jews in the Civil Rights struggle, Jewish ‘whiteness,’ and progressive politics. Amanda Taylor, American University assistant vice president for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, will moderate.
The Holocaust, Antisemitism and the Memory of the Jewish Past in the Arab World
Thursday, October 29, 2020 11:20 a.m.-12:35 p.m.
Over the past 75 years, since World War II, the Arab world has been transformed by a massive demographic un-mixing, as their Jewish communities largely left for Israel or elsewhere. What place do the few remaining Jews have in Arab societies? What memories do Arabs have of the Jews who used to live among them? What legacy remains of centuries of coexistence among Muslims, Christians, and Jews? How have the cataclysmic events of the mid-20th century, namely the Holocaust and the establishment of Israel, transformed historical attitudes?
These are some of the questions which three experts in the field will discuss: Aomar Boum is a socio-cultural anthropologist at UCLA, whose work has focused on the anthropology and history of Jewish-Muslim relations from the 19th century to the present. His books include Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco. Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has written extensively on Jewish-Muslim and Arab-Israeli relations. His books include Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust's Long Reach into Arab Lands. Mehnaz Afridi, author of Shoah through Muslim Eyes, is Director of the Holocaust, Genocide & Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College, where she teaches Contemporary Islam and the Holocaust. The moderator is Elizabeth Thompson, Mohamed S. Farsi Chair in Islamic Peace at American University.
Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism
Thursday, November 12, 11:20 a.m.-12:35 p.m.
Where does criticism of Israel end and antisemitism begin? Two scholars of high reputation in Jewish history and the history of antisemitism bring their expertise to this topic which has been loaded with polemics in recent years. Dina Porat is professor emerita of modern Jewish history at Tel Aviv University and the chief historian of Yad Vashem. The author of many books on the Holocaust and the Zionist leadership, she was crucial in formulating an extended definition of antisemitism accepted by many governments today. David Myers is professor of Jewish History at UCLA, where he directs the Luskin Center for History and Policy. He also serves as the president of the New Israel Fund. His latest book is The Stakes of History: On the Use and Abuse of Jewish History for Life. The discussion will be moderated by AU history professor and director of the Center for Israel Studies, Michael Brenner.
The Center For Israel Studies
American University’s Center For Israel Studies is the organizer of “Antisemitism Since the Holocaust: America, Israel and Europe” series. The Center is one of the nation’s premier centers for educating about today’s Israel—its achievements and its challenges.
Its approach is multidisciplinary, going beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict to study modern Israel’s history, vibrant society, culture, multiethnic democracy, and complex geopolitical issues. The center’s goal is to enhance scholarship and knowledge in the university and the wider community about a multifaceted Israel. Using AU’s expertise in global education, and its central location in Washington, DC, CIS seeks to connect Israel to the next generation of young leaders and to serve as a national and international hub for nurturing and catalyzing Israel studies.