Publications : Opinion Pieces  

The New Global Anti-Semitism Studies

Kenneth Marcus, The Brandeis Brief

August 2013

Reviewing Alvin H. Rosenfeld, ed., Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives (Indiana University Press: 2013)

Since the turn of the new millennium, academia has responded to the global resurgence of anti-Semitism with several notable scholarly efforts, but the sum of this work has thus far not been sufficient to the task at hand.  Some fine scholars are now focused on the issue, a handful of research centers have been established, some conferences are held, and a scholarly journal now exists.  As important as these efforts have been, they pale in comparison to the academic industries that have emerged in response to far lesser challenges.  The sluggish development of Anti-Semitism Studies as a scholarly field has created several problems.  Manifestations of anti-Semitism remain difficult to address, because they are not fully understood.  The extent of the problem has been too easy to deny, because it is not sufficiently documented.  And solutions are hard to implement, because no consensus exists.  The Louis D. Brandeis Center is working to strengthen the academic response, largely through its research initiative, and several other institutions are now also doing excellent work along this line. Professor Alvin H. Rosenfeld, a legend at Indiana University and a member of LDB’s Board of Academic Advisors, continues his leadership with a new edited volume on Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives .  More than an excellent survey, Resurgent Antisemitism heralds the emergence of an international study of anti-Semitism, replete with both grand established figures and emerging young stars. 

The first wave of academic research on anti-Semitism began in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust. Inaugurated by Max Horkheimer and Theordor Adorno’s hallmark Studies on Prejudice series, the key publication was Adorno’s volume on The Authoritarian Personality.  During these early post-War years, scholars pursued a wide range of sociological, psychological, and historical studies, largely informed by a single pressing question:  How could a civilized, enlightened people commit the barbarities which Nazi Germans visited brought upon the Jews?  Over time, however, this research petered out, as researchers turned to other forms of prejudice.  During the second half of the twentieth century, as anti-Semitism declined in the Western world, scholars drifted to studies of racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc.  Meanwhile, the academic study of anti-Semitism virtually disappeared, except perhaps along the peripheries of Holocaust-related historical research.

Since the turn of the new millennium, however, the dramatic global surge in anti-Semitic incidents has called for new research.  Today the unifying questions have less to do with etiology than with definition, to wit: What is this new Jew-hatred, how is it related to earlier manifestations, where does it come from, and how is it connected with the kinds of Israel-hatred with which it is so often interwoven?  Several institutions have risen to the challenge of examining these questions, including not only the Louis D. Brandeis Center in Washington, D.C., but also research centers in Berlin, Bloomington, Jerusalem, London, New Haven, New York, Tel Aviv, and Winnipeg.  Yale famously established a major center; then infamously shuttered it; then set up another one.  The field now has one scholarly journal, The Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, and occasional scholarly conferences and workshops.

But the field is still very much understudied.  There are, for example, no academic chairs to be found.  One cannot pursue a Ph.D. in this study as one could, for example, if one’s interest were in Holocaust studies.  Even post-doctoral fellowships are hard find.  The result is that we know much less than we should about the current global outbreak of anti-Semitism.  The relative paucity of academic attention is ironic, given that some of the worst manifestations of anti-Semitism in twenty-first century North American have occurred on university campuses.  And the absence of scholarship makes it all too easy for bureaucrats to deny its scope or dangerousness, to conflate it with a harmless form of political activism, or to insist that the only proper response to anti-Semitism is to insist on its protection as free speech.

Alvin Rosenfeld has done more than just about anyone to encourage the development of a new interdisciplinary field of anti-Semitism.  Rosenfeld has long been known as a key figure in the field of Jewish studies, having built Indiana University’s program into a world-class operation.  As an influential advisor to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, he guided that institution’s cautious but critical examinations of anti-Semitism in the post-Holocaust world.  As a writer, he has penned key texts in the study of both Holocaust studies  and the new anti-Semitism. Now, as founding director of Indiana University’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, Rosenfeld is actively working to forge a new international, inter-disciplinary study of contemporary global anti-Semitism.

The first fruits of Rosenfeld’s new venture can be seen in his splendid new edited volume, Resurgent Antisemitism.  Collecting the best papers from Rosenfeld’s April 2011 IU conference in Bloomington
Resurgent Antisemitism features the work of nineteen scholars from a dozen countries, each addressing a different facet from the alarming recent surge of anti-Semitism around the world.

Among its grandees, Resurgent Antisemitism includes not only Rosenfeld himself but also leading historians Robert Wistrich and Dina Porat  and philosophers Bernard Harrison and Elhanan Yakira.  Porat’s contribution is particularly notable for its elucidation of the relationship between Holocaust denial and chimerical images of the “Jew” throughout history.  Other prominent figures include Matthias Küntzel, Emmanuele Ottolenghi, and Bruno Chaouat.  Among the younger generation of scholars, Gunther Jikeli contributes a fascinating and important study of anti-Semitism among young European Muslims.  Scholars of particular regions or nations give the volume welcome breadth with country-specific studies of Hungary and Romania (Szilvia Peremiczky), England (Paul Bogdanor), Poland (Anna Sommer Schneider), Turkey (Rifat N. Bali), Spain (Alejandro Baer), and Iran (Jamsheed Choksy).  LDB Academic Advisor Tammi Rossman-Benjamin contributes a provocative essay on “Identity Politics, the Pursuit of Social Justice, and the Rise of Campus Antisemitism.”

This notable volume highlights the emergence of an international cadre of first-rate scholars to examine the problem of contemporary global anti-Semitism.  But far more is needed than an occasional conference or volume.  The key question now is whether sufficient resources will be provided to support the research that is now needed.  If contemporary anti-Semitism is to be fought effectively, it must be studied thoroughly, and this requires much more research on the sociology, psychology, politics, philosophy and legal dimensions of this ancient, resurgent evil.

If you are concerned about anti-Semitism on your campus, or if you seek advice about best practices, contact us.

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Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
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Advisory Board Spotlight

Alvin H. Rosenfeld
Alvin Rosenfeld is Director of The Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, the Irving M. Glazer Chair in Jewish Studies and Professor of Jewish Studies and English at Indiana University in Bloomington.
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