Deborah Lipstadt is an Award-Winning Author & a Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.
Originally part I of a special series on confronting antisemitism, please join us as we revisit this timely episode of On All-Inclusive with Jay Ruderman. And, we’ll be back in two weeks with a brand new episode.
For decades, Deborah Lipstadt has been a leading figure in writing about and combating antisemitism. She is most well-known for defeating Holocaust denier David Irving when he sued her for defamation. However, Deborah’s accomplishments span far beyond the trial that made her infamous. She is currently the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and recently received a nomination by President Biden as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism.
In conversation with Jay, they discuss the history of antisemitism, why there has been an uprise in hate recently, and what we can do to combat it.
VO: All Inclusive, a podcast on inclusion, innovation and social justice with Jay Ruderman.
Jay Ruderman: Hi, I’m Jay Ruderman and this is All Inclusive, a podcast focused on inclusion, innovation and social justice. For decades, Deborah Lipstadt has been a leading figure in writing about and combating [00:00:30] anti-Semitism. She’s probably most well known for having been sued for libel by David Irving after calling him out as one of the most dangerous spokespersons for Holocaust denial in her 1993 book, Denying the Holocaust. Irving lost the case and was publicly denounced as a Holocaust denier. Lipstadt later wrote about the trial, which was made into the 2016 film Denial, starring Rachel [00:01:00] Weisz. However, Deborah’s accomplishments spent far beyond the trial that made her infamous. She’s currently the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, and has written eight books on the topic of anti-Semitism. She spent the past 20 years in roles like historical consultant to the Holocaust Museum in DC and served two terms on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council as a [00:01:30] nomination for President Clinton. Her most recent achievement, a nomination by President Biden as US envoy to combat and monitor anti-Semitism. Deborah, welcome to All Inclusive.
Deborah Lipstad: Thank you, Jay. It’s a pleasure being with you.
Jay Ruderman: So let me just jump right in and ask you the pertinent question of why is anti-Semitism different from other types of hate?
Deborah Lipstat: It’s a great question and I could go on [00:02:00] about that for an hour but let me give you a short answer. It’s similar in many respects, it’s a prejudice and prejudice, think about the etymology of the word prejudice, pre-judge. Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve made up my mind. I know what this person is when I see them coming down two blocks away, and it assumes everybody in the group is the same. So in that sense, it’s a prejudice and other characteristics of prejudice [00:02:30] as well, but it’s different. I always find that the best contrast can be done between, most direct though it applies to other prejudices too between racism and anti-Semitism. The racist does what I like to call punching down. The racist looks at the person of color black person, brown person, Asian person, Asian origin person and says if that [00:03:00] person if they, and I put they, if we were on camera I would put they with very big air quotes.
If they move into air quotes, again, our neighborhood. If their kids go to our kids school, there goes the neighborhood, there goes the school. They’re going to drag us down. They’re lesser than us, they’re not as smart, they’re not as talented et cetera, et cetera. The anti-Semite looks at the Jew and sees someone, [00:03:30] they’re smarter than us but not smart in a good way. Smart in a malicious, a conniving way. They’re crafty. They’re small, but they’re all powerful. They’re rich, they’re all rich. In other words, the anti-Semite punches up, but at the same time punches down. In my very nice neighborhood in Atlanta, at the height of the pandemic, there’s a Catholic family, lovely family, terrific family who was in the neighborhood, [00:04:00] but their young kids were playing outside and some Jewish kids were [inaudible 00:04:04] with yarmulkes.
I think it was Shabbat so maybe they had Shabbat clothes on or whatever and the young kids said, there are those who do stay away from them, they carry the pandemic. When the parents who were standing there, the Jewish parents heard this, they spoke to the Catholic parents. The Catholic parents were appalled, but somehow the kids had picked this up, and if you look at some of the untrue stuff about the [00:04:30] pandemic, it’s often infused with anti-Semitism. So the anti-Semite punches up, the Jew is more powerful and punches down, the Jew is disgusting, but that punching up is the main difference in that the Jew is not just to be loathed but for the anti-Semite, the Jew is to be feared for what they might do.
Jay Ruderman: So do you think that Jews are seen in some sectors by anti-Semites as the white elite?
Deborah Lipstat: [00:05:00] It’s a great question. Some see them as the white elite. Some see them as non whites, it depends who the anti-Semite is. You have anti-Semites on the left. You have anti-Semites on the right. You have anti-Semites who don’t know where they stand politically. So I think it would really depend on the person who was the source of the anti-Semitism. Let me contrast anti-Semitism on right and left because I think I [00:05:30] know that’s of interest to you with all the other work you’ve done in this arena. For the person on the right, on the far right, for the murderer in Pittsburgh, or the murderer in San Diego, or the murderer in Halle, Germany, three of the recent incidents that we’ve had in Halle, but for a lock on the door, a door that had been reinforced with funds given to that community by the joint distribution [00:06:00] committee. There would have been the biggest massacre of Jews on German soil since World War II.
For all those people, those were all far right wing extremists. For all those people the Jew was other, the Jew is not white. The Jew is other and not only is the Jew other, but the Jew is the one conspiring behind the scenes to hurt white people. That’s what you heard in Charlottesville, [00:06:30] in Charlottesville when they were chanting on Friday night with the tiki torches, Jews will not replace us. What did they mean by that? They meant that the white supremacist, and this goes back to a theory propounded already in the late 60s or early 70s as civil rights was began to change, as there seemed to be in a sensible change and there was a change not far enough as we well know, in the status and in the position of black people in the United States.
[00:07:00] White supremacist looked around and said, remember my punching up punching down thing. These people they’re not smart enough. They’re not talented enough to be achieving this on their own. There’s got to be someone behind them, someone smarter than them and smarter than us, someone wealthier than them and possibly wealthier than us, who is conniving, who is making this happen. Who is the piper the puppets? Who [00:07:30] the puppeteer? The Jew is the puppeteer. So the Jew for those people are clearly not white people. I believe the murderer in Pittsburgh, as he was being brought down by the SWAT team was screaming at the people in the synagogue, many of whom he had just murder, you will not destroy the white race. In other words, you’re not white. You’re something other, you’re mud people, whatever. If you go to the left, and I’m not talking about everybody on the left, nor am I talking [00:08:00] about being on the right but I’m talking about the extremes. But if you go to the anti-Semite on the left the Jew is white.
The Jew is white, the Jew is privileged. Now there are many Jews who can pass as white, who are white, however you to define it, and I’m one of them, which is one of the reasons why if we were on camera, you would see I’m wearing a Jewish star. I started to wear a Jewish star just about a year and a half, two years ago as anti-Semitism began to skyrocket and I didn’t want to a pass but for them, [00:08:30] the Jew is white. The Jew was wealthy. Remember my template of anti-Semitic charges. The Jew is powerful, and the Jew can’t be a victim because they’re white privilege powerful. So it really depends if you’re looking on how the Jew is seen you have to ask who is doing the seeing.
Jay Ruderman: So let me ask you something about the left. Where does anti-Zionism fit into this? I mean, obviously, you [00:09:00] can be critical of Israel but sometimes those lines are blurred and anti-Zionism being against Israel, blurs the line and becomes anti-Semitic. Where do you see that happening?
Deborah Lipstat: It’s a great question and it’s a very, it’s a difficult question because there is so much nuance embedded in both the question and the answer and you asked it in a very nuanced fashion, I’m not surprised but more power to you for that. As [00:09:30] you say, you can criticize Israel, you can criticize Israel’s policies. Read Haaretz. Certainly before the current Israeli administration, Haaretz was a bedrock of criticism of Israeli policies and it still is to a certain extent, go to the Knesset, you sat in the Knesset and I’m sure you’ve been in there and they yell and scream at each other. They’re debating and criticizing Israeli policies. Go to the coffee shops of Tel Aviv of Jerusalem [inaudible 00:09:59] you’ll hear criticism. [00:10:00] That’s not anti-Semitism. I say that we have to be we, particularly we in the Jewish community, have to be very careful because if we call any criticism anti-Semitism, then when we confront real anti-Semitism, nobody’s going to pay attention to us. So it’s not criticism of Israeli policies.
I would argue that someone who says I don’t believe in the right [00:10:30] of a Jewish state to exist that I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure there is no Jewish state. I would say to them, excuse me, there’s six million Jews living in, that strange number, but yes, that’s the approximate number. There’s six million Jews living in United States, many of them of course, people of color, or they would be considered people of color or non Ashkenazi at the very least, where should they go? What should happen to them? Now if they tell me they should live happily in a by national [00:11:00] state, I would say, give me an example of one Muslim state with possibly the exception of Morocco, where Jews and other religions live and prosper as minorities. A, you want to say the Jews as a people don’t have the right to a national identity in the national homeland and b, you’re glibly willing to do away with the State of Israel without thinking of the personal consequences. [00:11:30] I would say that’s not anti-Semitism, it’s pretty darn close to it.
Jay Ruderman: So it seems to me in my 55 years that I’ve experienced more anti-Semitism in the past few years than I have in the rest of my life. Do you think that over the past few years, let’s say three to four years, that there’s been an uptick in violence both in America and Europe and why do you think that is because anti-Semitism has been with us for thousands of years?
Deborah Lipstad: Right. It’s rightfully [00:12:00] called the oldest or the longest patron. I’m not sure if the late Professor Robert Wood speech was the one who coined that term, but he wrote a book, calling it that. You’re absolutely right. It’s been around. I describe it as a herpes like disease. Someone who regrettably has a herpes like disease can be mild, it can be more severe but they know that at moments of stress, it often will surface. At moments [00:12:30] of stress it will often come out and there are certain kinds though, medicine has advanced now at certain times can be eradicated, can be gotten rid of. Some lay dormant in the body and I think in that respect, there’s a similarity to a virus that lies dormant in your body and can’t be gotten rid of.
Why more in recent years? I certainly think that we’ve just had an administration here in the United States, with a president [00:13:00] who did some good things, the Abraham accords and things like that, but who also, his political strategy seem to be based in dividing amongst groups rather than uniting groups, and being what might be called in new edition, certain German [foreign language 00:13:20], a cooking spoon stirring up the pot. I’m not saying at all that he created it, not at all. It was there. It was there [00:13:30] long before, but it was given a certain legitimacy, open expressions of prejudice, open expressions of racism, of hatred, the anti-Asian sentiments were made okay by that. Conversely, as we began to get in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and even before George Floyd other murders and other tragic incidents like that, there began to be those [00:14:00] in the African American community, in the anti racist community, who as I said earlier, began to look at Jews and say, what are you talking about anti-Semitism? Anti-Semitism isn’t real anti-Semitism is made up. You’re just using anti-Semitism because you want to be thought of as victims.
I have a friend who just experienced it in the high level conversation group in their major metropolitan city where a group of prominent people and [00:14:30] emerging leaders have been brought together to talk about practice of racism and in the course of talking about problems of race and someone engaged in pure anti-Semitic stereotypes and no one in the group of about 20 people there no one in the group said a word. She tried to intervene but by then the moment had passed. So that anti-Semitism, in part because Jews, we recovered quickly, it’s sometimes hard for people to remember. I know you have no trouble remembering it, that about [00:15:00] 70 years ago, one out of every three Jews on the face of the earth was murdered and we never replace those, that third of our population. But on the surface to the general population it looks like well, they had a tragedy and they pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, or they got others to pull them up by the bootstraps, and they’ve recovered.
So people when we say, wait a minute, it’s still there, [00:15:30] there’s a failure to understand. I know of your interest on the campus and that’s one of the issues we see on the campus, that the administration’s, of different campuses and there’s a wide variety amongst them, fail to understand that though the Jewish student who comes into the Office of the Dean of Diversity or the provost for diversity, inclusion, and whenever the title might be, and [00:16:00] says I was a victim of anti-Semitism, they look at this student, this articulate nicely dressed students, not on scholarship comes from a solid home, et cetera, et cetera and they say, this is not the victim of discrimination that I see most of the time in my office. What is he, what is she complaining about? They don’t get it or the other thing that we see happening is when [00:16:30] students go into complain about this, they’re referred to the Office of Religious Life.
Every campus has some Chaplains office or something because they say we don’t deal with religion. Go talk to them. This is a religious thing and the failure to understand that a kid, an adult, a person, a Jew, to be an atheist can be antagonistic to any form of religious belief but has a very strong Jewish identity. So it’s immediately boxed into the box of religion of [00:17:00] anti-religious sentiment. On top of that, we’ve gone through a period of upheavals, the pandemic, the massive migrations from Africa, from Middle East, from South America. If you remember my comparison of a few moments ago of anti-Semitism to a virus that is always present, when there is that tension in society. [00:17:30] When you have a proliferation of conspiracy theories it often ends up in anti-Semitism. I just mentioned a term which I probably should have mentioned earlier, when we’re talking about anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism is the only prejudice that’s a conspiracy theory. That’s what makes it different going back to your very first question.
The conspiracy theorist, I think it was [inaudible 00:17:56] who wrote a very insightful little article or blog post, [00:18:00] I don’t remember what it was, and he was very correct. I’ve talked about this. I’ve written about this, but he really nailed it in his comment. He said the conspiracy theorist may not start out looking at or for Jews, but they’re going to end up looking at or for Jews. Many conspiracy theories start right away, who is conspiring? Who has evil in the society? Who’s poisoning the wells? Who’s bringing down the German mark, Reichsmark [00:18:30] in the interwar period? Who’s doing this? Who said this in the back of a Jew? But there are conspiracy theorists who don’t start there. But if you’re a conspiracy theorist, you’re looking for someone who is manipulating things, someone who works behind the scenes, someone who does the devil’s work, their evil handiwork inCognito. Someone who is crafty, who is powerful, [00:19:00] who is well connected, who knows how to manipulate the sources of power, and what am I describing to you? I’m describing to you the anti-Semitic template.
If you go back to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which of course is a forgery produced in the late 19th century by the Czarist police, based on an earlier work that had nothing to do with Jews, was totally unconnected to anything Jewish but taken [00:19:30] by the Czarist police and the evil characters that the antagonist in it were made Jews and it’s supposedly the protocols of these groups of Jews, Sydney, I believe in Basel, if I remember correctly, I try not to read it too often, figuring out how to control the world. So if you’re looking for who is controlling, who is creating this pandemic, who is profiting from this pandemic. Maybe the Chinese created it, says the conspiracy [00:20:00] theorist, but who’s profiting? Who’s behind Big Pharma? Who’s doing this? They will often end up at the Jew.
Jay Ruderman: So let me ask you, following on this discussion about conspiracy theories, and you’ve written about this, but let’s look at the insurrection the attack on the Capitol on January 6th. All sorts of people up there, they come, they attack the Capitol, they’re trying to stop the election. [00:20:30] A lot of anti-Semitic shirts, flags, so forth. What does that have to do, the issue at hand which was trying to de legitimize the election?
Deborah Lipstad: For the first time in our conversation, I’m going to critique your question.
Jay Ruderman: Okay.
Deborah Lipstad: You make the same mistake that hordes of people make, lots of people make. You are looking for a rational explanation. [00:21:00] You’re a rational man, I know that. You’re looking for a rational explanation for an irrational sentiment. It goes back again to what I was saying earlier about prejudice. A prejudice, to pre-judge, to decide when I see a black person, when I see an Asian person, when I see a Jewish person, when I see someone who is ostensibly gay and I assume I know what they are. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know what their personal behavior and personal beliefs [00:21:30] and personal ethics are any more than I would know from a white, blond, blue eyed person. So prejudice is inherently irrational, and to try to find a rational explanation as to why these people might have turned to anti-Semitism is almost to legitimize it.
I’m not saying that you’re legitimizing it but it’s the conundrum we [00:22:00] who study and I have spent my entire academic career, over 40 years, well over 40 years, studying anti-Semitism, teaching about anti-Semitism, pondering about anti-Semitism. It’s such a conundrum because you are trying to fight and expose an irrational sentiments and you’re trying to explain something that’s irrational using rational means. So going back to the insurrection on January [00:22:30] 6th, there’s no way of rationally explaining it. There were Nazi symbols all over that place and there were also Nazi symbols in Charlottesville, as you probably well know, there is a civil suit that’s beginning in less than three weeks against the organizers of Unite the Right. I looked at all the flags and all the paraphernalia, and listen to tapes, and read transcripts and emails of the organizers of the [00:23:00] Charlottesville, Unite the Right.
It was the first rally that the Right tried to come together as a coalition, and the anti-Semitic Nazi ideology symbolism rhetoric was just overwhelmed. These are people who believe in a conspiracy, a conspiracy against white people, of which Jews are not in their view. Those people storming Capitol Hill believe there was a conspiracy and even though there was some Jews amongst them, [00:23:30] they were looking for someone who was manipulating this, who was controlling this, someone behind the scenes, and for many of them that was the Jew.
Jay Ruderman: So let me jump to the left and the criticism of Israel that we touched on. There are so many conflicts around the world where people are being treated unjustly, being killed, being forced into camps. What is the fascination with Israel and why is Israel gets so much more attention on the left than other [00:24:00] injustices around the world? Not to say that you can’t criticize Israel, but it seems to me that there is an undue focus on what’s happening in a very small slice of the world.
Deborah Lipstad: Right, You’re absolutely correct. I won’t critic that question because that’s a spot on question. There is a disproportionate attention. If you look at the UN Human Rights Council Commission, the number of combinations [00:24:30] they pass of Israel and none of China for the Uyghurs or Rohingyas in Myanmar, or other places in which they’ve been genocides. It’s just striking. That’s not to say, I’m not arguing that everybody does it therefore a prejudice or oppression or mistreatment is right. I’m not saying that at all, and I’m not saying that everything Israel has done is right. It hasn’t, no entity of people can claim [00:25:00] that they are as I said, in traditional Hebrew, in biblical [foreign language 00:25:05], free from sin. We’ve all done wrong. We’re human beings, and if any religious identity recognizes that certainly is Judaism. But this proportionate attention you just have to ask, why? What is it about?
That doesn’t mean that someone who fights against what they consider mistreatment [00:25:30] of the Palestinians has to be also equally devoted to mistreatment of the Uyghurs in China or the Rohingya in Myanmar, or wherever other countries, whatever it might be. People have their particular niche. People are concerned about a certain disease that doesn’t mean they don’t think other diseases are dangerous, but do have your focus. But the disproportionate as I think you put it, the attention to this one issue, you got to wonder why. [00:26:00] I was once in a town, giving a lecture and I was free in the evening, and the big university in that town was having a lecture, something to do with the Middle East, with whatever. So I just picked myself up by myself. Nobody knew who I was and went and sat at the back and listened. Then it was, some things bothered me, some things I agreed with. Afterwards, people were standing around chatting and I was just listening because I really wasn’t there with anyone but one group had welcomed me in or whatever, and I [00:26:30] was just listening.
One guy said, Israel doesn’t have a right to exist because it displaced some other people. Now, I thought about this and I wasn’t going to get into a debate, whether it displaced some other people, how many people were there, et cetera, et cetera but there were certainly were people who were displaced you know that and Israel acknowledges that. But I said that, you said because Israel misplaced, or in the process of the creation of the state people were displaced by [00:27:00] Israelis, that delegitimize it’s right to exist. The guy said, absolutely. I said, okay, I’m a historian. Let me put that in historical context and let’s think of all the countries that have displaced people in the course of their creation. Let’s start with the United States of America and certainly, Native Americans, some Native Americans prefer to be called Indians, whatever term you want to use, or even slaves. America being built on slaves, they weren’t displaced they were taken, [00:27:30] stolen from Africa.
Or go to Canada and the First Nation as the indigenous tribes in Canada are called, and the terrible schools in which these were [inaudible 00:27:42], go to Australia and look at the Aborigines and New Zealand and the Maoris. In other words, I didn’t talk about China and I didn’t talk about me, I talked about countries that are held up as shining examples of Western democratic countries. Again, I said, [00:28:00] I wasn’t saying because it happened to United States, Canada, Australia, the British Empire, no better example than that, that makes it all right. I wasn’t saying that. He beats his wife but so does he so that makes it all right, of course not. But I was saying, you may say America mistreated its native population, which it did. No question about it and still does but you don’t say that that [00:28:30] questions its right to exist.
Australia mistreated the Aborigines and many cases they still are suffering terrible, terrible, disproportionate status in society, but you don’t question the right to exist. So I’m just saying when you pick out, when you make the Israel the singular focus, I have to ask why, what’s behind it? What’s underlying it? Maybe not in all cases but I would say in many cases it’s [00:29:00] anti-Semitism, maybe unconscious anti-Semitism, but it’s anti-Semitism.
Jay Ruderman: Right. It’s a great point. Let me ask you, you’ve written eight books on the topic of anti-Semitism. what initially drew you to this topic?
Deborah Lipstad: That’s such a good question. A couple of things. I was a undergraduate in Israel in, I went over the year 1966, 67 and that makes me very old, [00:29:30] not so old. I was there during the Six Day War and I remember that fear. I remember that concern. I remember those graves being dug in the public parks in Tel Aviv, expecting deaths of hundreds and that was very, very telling for me and a powerful experience. I’d even had a powerful experience before the war in April of 1967 when no one knew a war was coming, including the [00:30:00] IDF and security services. I was in Greece, we had a break in school and I went to Greece and to Turkey and then from Turkey, from Istanbul instead of flying back to Tel Aviv I flew to Beirut and went by car.
Beirut, Damascus, Amman across the Allenby Bridge into East Jerusalem and then through what was called the Mandelbaum, which was the way tourists crossed from one side of Jerusalem into the other. I had to hide my identity as a Jew and I heard people say horrible [00:30:30] things about Jews and that was also a striking moment.
The third piece, it wasn’t one thing, the third piece of the puzzle so to speak, was a trip I took to the Soviet Union in 1972. I arrived there the day after the massacre at the Munich Olympics and that was already unsettling thing. I spent time meeting with people who were called as you well know, Refuseniks. [00:31:00] Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet Union but who couldn’t get visas to leave even though the Soviet said we allow reunification of family and we allow people to freely emigrate, but of course, that was all a lot of hooey. I met people who were suffering directly and experiencing direct anti-Semitism from the Soviet regime and then on the day, we were supposed to continue midway through our trip I was with one other person. Midway through our trip we were detained by the KGB, [00:31:30] separated, held for a day, questioned. We didn’t know what was going to happen and finally released and allowed to go to Romania.
So I saw that, it was momentary. I’m not comparing it in any manner, shape or form to what a Refusenik experienced but I saw that hatred up close and personal and it was very, very striking to me. So I think when I put all those things together I began to think about the Holocaust. I [00:32:00] hadn’t really experienced or I thought I hadn’t experienced anti-Semitism in my life. I’ll tell you a funny not funny haha, but strange story. I was sitting around with a group of Israelis. It was after the Six Day War because I stayed on in Israel for another 12, 13 months. They were talking about, early on immigrating to Israel and anti-Semitism and things. I said, “Well, I’ve never really experienced anti-Semitism.” Now shortly before in the conversation I [00:32:30] had mentioned something about a Jewish kid, a kid from, certainly if they came from a major metropolitan area where there was a large Jewish population, but if they were Jewish, they had to be better than the non Jewish kid to get into the best schools, that it was clear that they had a quota.
This is in the late 60s, it [inaudible 00:32:54] still was there. It was there, sometimes they’d make it a geographic quota. [00:33:00] We want to limit the number of kids from New York and from Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami or something like that and Los Angeles. Then I had said, but Jewish kids to get in has to do better on their exams and better in their grades, et cetera. So someone sitting there looked at me and said, “You just said you’ve never experienced anti-Semitism. What’s that?” I was taken aback, and I said,” Oh, my God, they’re absolutely right.” So all those things put together formed the puzzle [00:33:30] that shaped my professional life and intrigued me by this topic. Then as I began to study it, and to write about it and write about the [inaudible 00:33:42] and then the Holocaust Denial of course, I then had the unlucky experience of being sued by a Holocaust denier. In that courtroom, I saw anti-Semitism up close and personal sitting 10 feet away from me, sitting in the gallery with his supporters, being accosted [00:34:00] in the street by people who were his acolytes, his trainees, so to speak.
I heard sneering remarks in a British courtroom about Jews and even little things like Elie Weisel. He would always say Elie Wiesel, or a description of Simon Wiesenthal at one point hook nose, beady eyes, it could have come out of the most classic anti-Semitic, work it could have been description of Shylock. [00:34:30] All those things together reminded me that though I have lived a very good life, blessed life and had many fabulous experiences and the chance to teach and to write, that it’s out there. That it’s out there and that, you see ultimately I also became convinced and I’m more convinced now than ever that certainly anti-Semitism is a threat to the Jew and to [00:35:00] the jewel whose ox is gored, they’re the ones who are directly going to experience it. But it’s not just a threat to the Jews. It’s a threat to the democratic society which we still treasure and which Jews and many others have so prospered in so many ways, and I don’t mean only financially but in terms of achievements and contributions.
Other groups have not had that same experience but [00:35:30] let’s hope that that improves as well. But hatred, you see anti-Semitism, this goes back to my earlier comments about conspiracy theories. Anti-Semitism creates doubts about the government, who’s controlling the government? Who’s lobbying? Who’s behind it? The banks, who controls the banks? The media, who controls the media? Who’s controlling the judges? Who’s controlling even the protest movements of people [00:36:00] of color? Ex cetera. But it creates doubts about the fairness of society and once you’d succumb to, well we saw it going back to your question of January 6th. Once you succumb to this notion of a conspiracy, once you feel that the democratic society in which you live is being controlled by others, and things are being done unfairly. You either have reached that point [00:36:30] from a root of anti-Semitism, or you’re going to come back anti-Semitism. So if you value this democratic society, this fragile democratic society in which we live, you’ve got to fight against all forms of prejudice but anti-Semitism goes to the roots of the democratic society which we treasure.
Jay Ruderman: Deborah, it’s an excellent point that I think more people need to internalize because most of us are against [00:37:00] different forms of discrimination, but as an academic, as someone who’s been a professor for a long time, why do you think it seems like younger generations of Jews have a very different view of Israel than their parents? I want to follow that up by asking about the growing BDS movement and what it’s about, which is boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, and has that contributed [00:37:30] to anti-Semitism?
Deborah Lipstad: I think first of all, for the parents of many of the young people, they still remember an Israel at threat, an Israel in ’67 with people saying send us the children, why are you going to survive, the young people or war, [inaudible 00:37:48], words that are code words for so many Jews about a much more vulnerable Israel. Even those, many people today who say yes, Israel is stronger, [00:38:00] Israel is better are equipped to fight but they also know that there’s a certain vulnerability and the younger people don’t see that. They see a strong prosperous nation and in a very black and white, no nuance view of the situation. They see a wealthy prosperous nation to them and [00:38:30] borrowing from subjugating another people. Would I want to be a Palestinian living in the West Bank today? It’s [inaudible 00:38:39] occupied territory, it’s wherever you want to call this place, it’s the same geography, same place, Google Maps will lead you to the same place. No. But is it a genocide? Of course not and you hear that very much.
So you hear these kinds of things and universities are inherently liberal places [00:39:00] and they challenge the status quo and that leads me to the BDS movement. I think that the BDS movement when it was founded, and those who founded it. If you go back to its originating documents, which are available online, you see a movement whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the State of Israel. There’s no question about it. Free unfreeable refugees and by the way, the only refugee problem in the world when you talk about Palestinian refugee and they’re [00:39:30] many refugee groups of refugees, where it goes from generation to grand generation is in this particular conflict, this particular area.
So essentially called for, all intensive purposes in the destruction of the State of Israel. But that doesn’t mean that every young person or even adults who signs onto the BDS movement is an ipso facto to an anti-Semite and we do ourselves a disservice by immediately deciding, no, [00:40:00] you’re from BDS, you must be an anti-Semite. For some people and again, I’m differentiating between the originators and some of the adherence. It’s a way of trying to change a policy just like in previous generation tried to change and successfully helped change, they of course didn’t do it alone, the discriminatory apartheid policy in South Africa. we’re going to boycott you and this will force Israel. We’re going to divest [00:40:30] from you and this will force Israel to change its policies visa ve the Palestinians.
So it becomes a code word and there is students as smart as they may be in and are in some of the best campuses, they also sometimes could be like Lemmings. I don’t know if you watch the Netflix series, The Chair but you see that there where a enact, white [00:41:00] professor does something silly in class, imitated a scene from the movie which he’s doing the Heil Hitler and immediately the students label him as a fascist. There’s a tendency, nuance gets lost. Nuance gets lost, and as you know, I’ve had the privilege of being nominated by the President for a special envoy in the State Department and should I be confirmed one of the things I hope to do is [00:41:30] to bring back an attention to nuance, to an understanding of the terrible practices and try to inject some nuance into understanding not only the threat that it is, but how we might fight it.
Jay Ruderman: Deborah, you mentioned quickly in passing, which I think is very important that you were sued by a Holocaust denier, David Irving, and went on trial. I’m sure that was a very difficult part of your life. I would encourage [00:42:00] our listeners to watch the film Denial with Rachel Weisz, because I think it’s a very moving film and she portrays you in that film. I’m wondering what you would say to people if they want to take an active role in combating anti-Semitism. What can people do? What can your average person do?
Deborah Lipstad: Yes, it’s a great question Jay. First of all, we have to become the unwelcome [00:42:30] guests at the dinner party. I often depict, you’ve come for Thanksgiving dinner, we’ve gotten through the Jewish holidays. The next thing on the calendar is Thanksgiving or Hanukkah, who knows what comes first anymore. But you arrive to Thanksgiving dinner and your host or hostess or whomever meet you at the door and says, listen, uncle XYZ is here and you know he’s a play mean homophobic, racist, anti-Semite, whatever it is. Please don’t get into a fight with him. We’ve worked so hard. We want it to be a really nice [00:43:00] afternoon and evening. You can’t do that anymore. You can’t sit silently by. You can’t sit silently by a because it’s wrong. What the person is saying is full of hate and venom and b, because you’re telegraphing a message to the other people around the table, particularly the young people that it’s okay to talk like that.
I think the thing to remember and if anything, my studies of the Holocaust has taught [00:43:30] me this. It all begins with words. Now being the unwelcome guest at the dinner party won’t stop this pernicious hatred. We need action on state government levels, state levels, educational levels, we need our educators to recognize its pernicious nature, as I’ve said a number of times through our time together, but the little things, when you hear something, say something. [00:44:00] Now, that means you got to know what to say, and you got to educate yourself. So maybe start by educating yourself what it is. What’s wrong with it, why it’s dangerous. That’s why I wrote my book as you mentioned on anti-Semitism, my most recent book on anti-Semitism.
I write it as a series of letters to a student then a colleague, because I wanted it to be accessible. I wanted to give people some of the tools for trying to fight it. It’s not easy. Too often you will think of the perfect thing to say at one [00:44:30] o’clock in the morning when you’ve had the incident the previous evening you’ll stay, woke up right in bed and said that’s what I should have said and the moment is past but one day you’ll get it right and we need that. We can’t, we won’t eradicate it with all this hatred, but we can try to control it and to make people sensitive to it’s dangerous.
Jay Ruderman: I do want to encourage my listeners to read your latest book called Anti-Semitism Here and Now because I think it’s [00:45:00] a very powerful book and it is an important conversation to have, both with an imaginary colleague and student and I think it’s very powerful. Let me end by asking you, some European countries have considered Holocaust denial hate speech, and have made that illegal. Do you think the United States should be going in the same direction as these countries?
Deborah Lipstad: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play a lawyer on TV [00:45:30] but I don’t think we can because there’s freedom of speech and freedom of speech makes that very difficult but what I like to say is, people first of all have the right to their own, to say things. Holocaust denial is not an opinion, it’s a lie. I have a TED talk on that. Go look at my 15 minute TED Talk, where I explore exactly that. They have a right to speak, but we don’t have to give them a microphone. They have a right to speak but we don’t have to [00:46:00] provide a platform. I don’t debate deniers because they are haters and they are liars. I will talk to someone who has been influenced by denial and who I think I can show the lies, but I wouldn’t get into a debate. They’re not on either side and that’s something we have to recognize
Jay Ruderman: Deborah it’s been a pleasure having you as my guest on All Inclusive. You’ve made such an impact on many of our lives and I know you’re going to [00:46:30] go on and continue to have a tremendous impact on our world and our country. So thank you so much. I wish you much luck and success going forward.
Deborah Lipstad: Thank you, Jay and I appreciate this chance and you do a great job on this program. In preparation I listened to a lot of the podcasts and you’re good.
Jay Ruderman: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Deborah Lipstad: Take care. Bye, bye.
Jay Ruderman: Take care. Bye
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