'Anti-Semitism is worse in 2010 than 1910'
LAST UPDATED: 08/10/2010 12:01
An interview with Prof. Wistrich at Hebrew U.
Graffiti at London synagogue Photo: Courtesy
Times are dire,
anti-Semitism is on the rise and the world is becoming a more perilous
place for the Jews to live in by the day, if you ask Prof. Robert S.
Wistrich, the head of the Hebrew University's Vidal Sassoon
International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and the author of a
recently published book on the subject called A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism - From Antiquity to the
The evidence to support his claim is all around
us, he said in an interview with The
Jerusalem Post on Monday.
UK anti-Semitism at record high
Anti-Semitic incidents in US down by 10 percent in 2009
"Anti-Semitism is continually
morphing all the time, which is its strength," he explained. "There's no
sign of diminution and it will probably get worse. We see it in every
indicator possible showing a clear and steady rise in the number of
attacks recorded on Jews."
Why are things as bad as he believes
they are? Wistrich says the last decade has seen a several strands of
hatred towards Jews intertwine forming an unholy alliance between the
extreme left and right together with fundamental Islam.
think that really struck me about the last decade that I don't think was
new but has become more intense is that we've seen the coming together
of classical anti-Semitism with a number of other strands like
anti-Americanism, Islamic fundamentalism and international
delegitimization of Israel. Their convergence has become much starker."
not everyone agrees with Wistrich's opinion. As one reviewer of his
tome pointed out, as prevalent and intolerable as anti-Semitism may be
nowadays it couldn't possibly be any worse than it was, say, back in
1910, could it?
However, according to Wistrich, it is.
year 1910 in comparison with what we've been living through in the past
decade is a paradise," he said unhesitatingly. "There was a nasty and
ugly potential for anti-Semitism in 1910 but relatively speaking Jews
lived in a stable environment and as one Jewish writer Stefan Zweig
wrote it was an age of golden security."
The one big exception to
that rule is Czarist Russia, that great bastion of anti-Semitism where
Jews were confined to live under institutional discrimination within the
confines of the Pale of Settlement and were victims of periodic
pogroms. Anti-Semitism in Russia in 1910 was worse than it is today, he
admits – but not the West.
"Today, even in the most advanced and
democratic societies, Jews are uncomfortable," he claims. "The real
difference between 1910 and today is not that anti-Semitism is less
common but that Israel provides a powerful shield and deterrent. Not a
perfect deterrent and also a cause of anti-Semitism in itself."
one agrees or disagrees with Wistrich no one can doubt the depth of his
knowledge or his commitment to research.
includes 150 pages of footnotes. In conducting his research he read
sources in 12 different languages: English and Hebrew, as you'd expect
from an academic who was raised in Britain and teaches in Israel; his
mother's native Polish and its cousins Russian and Ukrainian; tongues of
Germanic origin including German, Dutch and Yiddish; the Latin lingos
of Western Europe, French, Italian and Spanish, and, finally, even
In one important language of particular importance to the
study of anti-Semitism in our time, however, he said he had to rely on
translations: Farsi. Iran and the fundamental Islam it espouses are a
key component in the surge of hatred towards Jews around the world.
a common resentment of Israel and American often linked with
anti-Semitic thinking. Clearly, this has been round 70-80 years but it
picked up steam with the Islamic Revolution. What we see is an assault
on the West in which Israel and the Jews have become a surrogate for an
Wistrich's prose has won praise by reviewers but his
thick brick of a book isn't light reading. In case you've ever wondered
what kind of a person walks into a bookstore and picks up a 1,000 page
history of anti-Semitism Wistrich's answer might surprise you –it's not
just Jews, he says.
"By far the most insightful comments have
been from non-Jews," he says. "In the US I appear on nationwide radio
As one might expect those readers are mostly Mormons,
Catholics and evangelicals, who tend to be supportive of Israel and Jews
in general. But he said he has many secular non-Jewish readers in the
US In any case, he commended his non-Jewish readership's "genuine horror
of reading and grasping the scale of the phenomenon."
the end of the interview one might be tempted to label Wistrich a
pessimist. But he denies that he is one.
Instead, he says he is a "guarded optimist." Ironically, the elites are
the great hope in the struggle against anti-Semitism. Once, they
despised and feared uppity Jews. Now, they realize the error of their
"This is a sign of belated awakening of some of the political elites to
anti-Semitism," he said. "There are some minority voices in the Arab
world, they are inconsequential now but will not be forever. Doesn't
mean we're going to turn things round. That would require a long and
concerted effort. But it has to begin somewhere."
To Wistrich's mind the Jews in 2010 –as in 1910- have no one but
themselves to rely on, and he ends the interview paraphrasing Rabbi
Hillel's famous saying.
"If Jews don't mobilize," he asks, "then why should we expect others?"