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New Books in Jewish Studies: Interview with Kenneth L. Marcus

Michelle Yabes, Brandeis Blog

November 18, 2015

Recently, LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus gave an enlightening interview to Jason Shulman for the New Books in Jewish Studies podcast series. The interview focused not only on Marcus’ new book, The Definition of Anti-Semitism, but also on the troubling resurgence of anti-Semitism in American higher education.

In his interview, Marcus explains his motivation for writing this book, and describes the importance of defining anti-Semitism and the importance of being active against anti-Semitism as well as having a basis in fact and theory about the subject. Marcus explains how the lack of comprehensive scholarship on anti-Semitism prompted him to write a book exploring this topic. Marcus emphasized that while university and government officials say they are committed to protecting the civil rights of their students, they often do not understand how contemporary anti-Semitism can manifest itself within anti-Israel rhetoric and confuse it as being purely political. This confusion, Marcus states, often “stands in the way of effective action.”

Marcus goes on to discuss many of the topics and themes dealt with in his book, such as the origin of the word ‘anti-Semitism’ and its use, as well as the development of the International Working Definition of anti-Semitism, the correlation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and the approaches and limitations of different models of the definition of anti-Semitism. He also explains how the BDS movement as a whole fits the “definition of anti-Semitism” based on several factors including its impact on Jewish identity.

Although the levels of anti-Semitism are lower in the United States than in other parts of the world, Marcus notes that in some cases college and university campuses are the exceptions. Marcus attributes these recurrent instances not to university administration or the school systems themselves, but rather on small groups of individuals with negative attitudes about Jews and Israel who create hostile environment for Jewish students on many campuses nationwide. As a joint report between the Brandeis Center and Trinity College revealed, 54% of Jewish college students reported having personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on campus during the prior year.

Marcus states that there is serious concern that progress is not being made against these incidents of anti-Semitism. Without progress, there is also concern that this development may continue to move into the wrong direction. This book, Marcus hopes, will help give administrators, scholars, and general readers a better understanding of anti-Semitism and provide a basis for those grappling with the question of what anti-Semitism is, and what is not.

To listen to the full interview, please click here.

New Books in Jewish Studies features discussions with scholars and authors about their new books in the field. They are a part of the New Books Network, a consortium of podcasts dedicated to raising the level of public discourse by introducing serious authors to serious audiences.

Proceeds from the sale of The Definition of Anti-Semitism will benefit the campaign against campus anti-Semitism led by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.

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

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Research Articles
and Reports
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

Karen Eltis
Professor Karen Eltis is a tenured faculty member at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa, Canada (Section de droit civil) and a Visiting Scholar and Associate Adjunct Professor at Columbia Law School.
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