I recently hosted a panel discussion in Manhattan on the alarming rise of antisemitism in America. The gathering comprised Jews and Christians – an interfaith dialogue on how both communities can work together to combat the troubling trend of hate.
With celebrities such as Kanye West (who now goes by the name Ye) and fashion models such as Gigi Hadid openly spewing their hatred toward the Jewish community and Israel, I said that there must be a book that can educate future generations to fight antisemitism, especially on college campuses.
Later that month, coincidentally, I befriended Israel B. Bitton, author of A Brief and Visual History of Antisemitism. The book is a comprehensive, historical and visual guide spanning from the beginning of antisemitism to the most recent antisemitic tweets. Starting with the definition of antisemitism, the book covers its proliferation, secularization, apex and Easternization, and concludes with the current landscape and how we can best combat it today.
Bitton is executive director of Americans Against Antisemitism, a nonprofit that counters social hatred through data, media, and education. I spoke to him about his book, for which President Isaac Herzog penned the foreword, writing: “This book has the potential to be a powerful instrument of memory for a generation for whom it is urgent.”
“This book has the potential to be a powerful instrument of memory for a generation for whom it is urgent.”Isaac Herzog
What inspired you to be a vociferous advocate for the Jewish community and make it your life’s mission to combat antisemitism and fight for Israel on a daily basis?
My interest in the field of Israel advocacy and combating antisemitism no doubt stems from my own unfortunate experiences and encounters with Jew-hatred. Most notable and memorable were the 1991 Crown Heights Riots during which my father and brother were nearly killed and severely injured simply for being Jewish at the wrong place and wrong time. As a child, I was never able to understand where so much unwarranted hatred was coming from and why it would be directed toward me or my family. No one sat me down to explain that the issue was not in me, or us Jews, but in those hearts and minds corrupted by a rather ancient virus of social hatred. Such experiences as the riots were undoubtedly traumatizing and scarring, but they also left me with a profound sense of mission to counteract such vile behavior in all its manifestations. My first opportunity came in 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada when my brother and I went to Israel to join the IDF, become combatants, and do our small part to contribute to the protection of the Jewish people.
Tell me more about your background and how it brought you to where you are today.
When I completed my army service in Israel and returned to the States, I went to work in design, marketing, branding, and content creation and made a career of it. But several years back, I started getting the sense that the pursuit of profit for clients was not my raison d’etre, leaving me feeling very unfulfilled. Despite the material sacrifice it would entail, I resolved to take the first opportunity to leap into the nonprofit work that had long been calling me: Israel and Jewish advocacy. When that opportunity came, I jumped in head first and haven’t looked back since.
What is the history behind the organization Americans Against Antisemitism, and how did you get involved?
In 2019, Dov Hikind established Americans Against Antisemitism, a nonprofit with the explicit purpose of studying the landscape to determine what we as a start-up organization with very limited resources could possibly do to make a dent of a difference. To our surprise, we discovered that not only were non-Jews woefully ill informed about antisemitism, but Jews too! Even young Jews who were receiving quality Jewish and secular education, we found, were entirely unprepared for the onslaught most Jewish youth are bound to face when attending university campuses. That was a eureka moment, as I quickly realized that one of the main issues was the fact that antisemitism had hitherto never really been treated as its own curricular subject, since it naturally figured into courses on the Holocaust, Jewish history, or Zionism. That left a major gap in Jewish education, and it was clearly an opportunity for our organization to contribute to the cause effectively. As soon as I brought Dov a general plan of what this educational initiative might look like, he approved it without hesitation and is the sole reason this project was able to get off the ground and be completed within two years, despite the immense investment it required.
Your book has a lot of powerful images. Tell me more about using this creative strategy to better educate the next generation.
In working on this book, I realized that my career in design and marketing had, in fact, not been a diversion that kept me away from advocacy but was an asset I could combine with other skills and my passion for defending the Jewish people to produce a work that would be comprehensive, timely, and engaging, especially to younger readers. ■
The writer is a financial adviser who resides in New York and is involved in Israel-based and Jewish advocacy organizations.
A Brief and Visual History of AntisemitismIsrael B. BittonGefen Publishing House, 2022Pages: 508, $42.00