The Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism

Schlagwort: Robert S. Wistrich

The End of an Era: in memory of my Friend, the Historian of Antisemitism and Zionist Intellectual Prof. Robert S. Wistrich

By Dr. Clemens Heni*


Robert S. Wistrich was the world’s most renowned scholar on anti-Semitism of our time. He was one of the most famous Israeli researchers in all of the humanities. The son of Polish-Jewish parents, Wistrich was born on April 7, 1945, in Kazakhstan. He was the Neuburger Professor for Modern European and Jewish History at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and since 2002 served as Director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA), founded there in 1982, which established a reputation as a unique research institution under his leadership. Robert Solomon Wistrich died of a heart attack in Rome on May 19, 2015, during a lecture tour.

His death is unfathomable to his family and friends, but also to the global community of Zionists and critical researchers on anti-Semitism. Truly a shock.

In retrospect, it might seem like a miracle that Wistrich lived to be 70, as his son said at the funeral in Jerusalem on May 21, 2015—when he was 27, he was diagnosed with a type of cancer whose survival rate the Encyclopaedia Britannica puts at 2%.

Prof. Dr. Robert Solomon Wistrich, Berlin, 16. September 2014

Prof. Dr. Robert Solomon Wistrich, Berlin, September 16, 2014

On May 14, 2015, the last time we met, Robert at first seemed tired and lacking vim and vigor. Yet even in such moments, he was able to be as brilliant as no other public intellectual. He delivered a lunchtime speech at the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, the world’s largest conference against anti-Semitism. Dan Shapiro, a young and rising diplomat, the US ambassador to Israel, had just spoken, singing hymns of praise about Obama’s battle against anti-Semitism. Whereupon Wistrich began his remarks with a „classic Jewish question“: „If things are so good, (…) why are things so bad?“ His last great lecture, before an audience of 600 at the Jerusalem Convention Center, was the intellectual highlight of the Global Forum.

Robert Wistrich Clemens Heni Perry Trotter May 14, 2015, Jerusalem

(right to left:) Robert Wistrich, Clemens Heni, and Perry Trotter, Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, May 14, 2015, Jerusalem

Later, Robert attended one of the working groups (on Holocaust trivialization), after which we spoke for a very long time and were the very last people to leave the Global Forum. He told me that he had to make a decision about his successor as the Director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) as of October, 2015. The Hebrew University had given him a list of names, and oddly enough, all of them were faculty members. Finally, Robert told me with a shrug that he had selected the person who was presumably least problematic…

Robert S. Wistrich’s death marks the end of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA), even if it will continue to exist in formal terms for a time. Yet he is irreplaceable as the leading Zionist intellectual, as the most important scholar on anti-Semitism and historian of Jewish history. SICSA was Robert Wistrich and vice versa.

Perhaps we would meet again on Sunday at Ben Gurion International Airport, he said, since he would be flying back to Rome, and my partner Susanne and I would be returning to Berlin. And so it happened that on Wednesday morning, I received an e-mail from Anat Varon, Robert’s last doctoral candidate, with the terrible news. There were many signs of his truly poor health, but he was apparently a stranger to caution, taking things slowly, or concern for himself. Anat showed me Robert’s favorite places at The Hebrew University, his second office (besides the one at SICSA), which hardly anyone knew about, and she talked about him delighting in chocolate while they spoke about her dissertation on Franz Werfel, Austria, and Jewish history.


Door of Prof. Dr. Robert S. Wistrich's working room at Hebrew University

Door of Prof. Dr. Robert S. Wistrich’s working room at Hebrew University


Door of working room

In his talk at the Global Forum, Robert sketched out the link from combating anti-Semitism to Jewish empowerment to active advocacy for Israel as the land of the Jews, as it emerges with phenomenal clarity in a groundbreaking exhibition by the Simon Wiesenthal Center that Wistrich prepared and that was shown even at UNESCO and the UN headquarters in New York—after protests by Arab states alleging that it could endanger the „peace process“ had resulted in the exhibition being renamed and its opening postponed „People, Book, Land: The 3500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land.“

It was Robert Wistrich who invited me to visit Israel for the first time, which I did in December 2002, in the middle of the second Intifada. My lecture—on media, anti-Zionism, and political culture in the Federal Republic of Germany—at his first major conference as head of SICSA caused the cultural attaché of the German Embassy in Israel, who had helped finance my trip, to go bright red in the face and the German Embassy to lodge an official complaint with the President of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem about me (as well as my colleague Martin Ulmer of the University of Tübingen). The embassy called on The Hebrew University to discontinue (or lessen) its support of the center. At this time, Robert Wistrich was by no means established as the Director of SICSA, even though he had been a prominent researcher on anti-Semitism for a long time.

It was an honor for me to be perceived in this way by official quarters, as I had only recently been granted a scholarship for my doctorate by the Hans Böckler Foundation. The outcome: the President of The Hebrew University approved of our lectures as scientifically unobjectionable; since then, there has been no contact at all between SICSA and the German Embassy. In 2003 and 2004, I received a Felix Posen Fellowship from SICSA. Robert himself mentioned this conflict with the German Embassy when we met at SICSA on May 12, 2015.

Wistrich’s succinct and by now internationally established characterization Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred was the title of one of his books as well as a three-part 1991 television series based on it.

In his 1985 book, Hitler’s Apocalypse (published in German in 1987), Wistrich described how he had detected a new form of anti-Semitism as early as ten years before in England: anti-Zionist anti-Semitism, which today is a significant part of what is called „new anti-Semitism“ today. At first, it originated mainly from Leftists, often well-educated people at universities.

What took place at the margins of society at the time has long become mainstream. Islamic anti-Semitism vitally requires the anti-Semitism of the Left and the mainstream in Western countries. In the absence of sympathetic Leftists, liberals, and naive multiculturalists who downplay the topic of Muslim anti-Semitism and seek to banish it from the universities, the Islamists would not have such an easy time of it.

Robert S. Wistrich’s academic career began at the renowned Wiener Library in London in the 1970s following his studies in the late 1960s at Stanford and elsewhere. In 1982, Wistrich was named professor at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. His research can be divided into five categories, whereby only his books will be mentioned in the following. In addition, he edited a number of volumes and wrote hundreds of articles, introductions to volumes, brochures, and other texts, almost all of which also fall into these categories:

1) The Left and anti-Semitism. This category includes the following monographs: Revolutionary Jews from Marx to Trotsky (1976); Trotsky: Fate of a Revolutionary (1979); Socialism and the Jews: The Dilemmas of Assimilation in Germany and Austria-Hungary (1982); From Ambivalence to Betrayal. The Left, the Jews and Israel (2012).

2) The history of the Jews with a focus on German-language Jewry in Europe from the mid-19th century until 1933. This includes his award-winning 700-page work The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph, completed in 1987 and published in English in 1989 (in German in 1999: Die Juden Wiens im Zeitalter Kaiser Franz Josephs); Between Redemption and Perdition. Antisemitism and Jewish Identity (1990); Austrians and the Jews in the Twentieth Century: From Franz Joseph to Waldheim (1992); Austrian Legacies: Jews and National Identity (2004); Maabada le-heres ha-olam. Germanim ve-yehudim be mercaz-europa (2006); Laboratory for World Destruction. Germans and Jews in Central Europe (2007).

3) Hitler, Nazism, and the Holocaust. Who is Who in Nazi Germany (1982; 1983 and in further editions in German, titled Wer war wer im Dritten Reich?); Hitlers Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy (1985; German 1987 Der antisemitische Wahn: von Hitler bis zum Heiligen Krieg gegen Israel); Weekend in Munich: Art, Propaganda and Terror in the Third Reich (1995; German 1996 Ein Wochenende in München: Kunst, Propaganda und Terror im Dritten Reich); Hitler and the Holocaust (2001; in German Hitler und der Holocaust).

4) Theories and analyses of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred (1991); also Hitler and the Holocaust and A Lethal Obsession. Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (2010).

5) Muslim anti-Semitism. Wistrich first studied this topic inHitler’s Apocalypse (see [3]), then in the brochure Muslim Antisemitism. A Clear and Present Danger (2002,) as well as in broad sections of A Lethal Obsession (2010), which covers the other analytical categories in addition to (4) and (5).

Anyone reading Wistrich’s books, articles, and brochures or listening to interviews with him, talking to him, or experiencing his lectures in person immediately realized: In the midst of a loquacious world of research full of scholars pleased to contemplate their own egos and quote one another, this was a person who had something to say, who wanted his analyses debated publicly, and who did not hide in the ivory tower. His books have a history.

Wistrich did not research and publish with an attitude not infrequent today, namely to be able to show off a long list of publications with little care about one’s subject. His prefaces to many of his studies bear witness to a personal relationship to the research at hand. His work on The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph, the history of the Jews in the Hapsburg empire (the oldest European ruling dynasty lasting from the late 13th century until 1918), had a lot to do with his own descent. He dedicated the book to his four grandparents (Salomon and Anna Wistreich as well as Simon and Helena Silbinger), who were citizens of Cracow, which at the time belonged to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. As early as 1969/70, as a student at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he began to work on Vienna and the fin de siècle—a project that resulted in the above-mentioned study almost 20 years later. Wistrich tied much to individuals, for example Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, Karl Kraus, and the rabbi, politician, and author Joseph Bloch.

Around 1900, Friedrich Nietzsche was to many Zionists an inspiration for a Jewish awakening, a zestful, aesthetic, powerful critique of the prevailing intellectual standstill of Christian Europe with its growing anti-Semitism, particularly in Austria-Hungary and Germany, but also in France. To German chauvinists, Christians, and anti-Semites, Nietzsche was a provocation. Wistrich demonstrated how Nietzsche battled against anti-Semitism in the 19th century and turned away from his sister and from Richard Wagner in nothing less than disgust. In Laboratory for World Destruction, Wistrich also analyzed how it was possible for the Right and Nazism to re-interpret some of Nietzsche’s texts or phrases, such as „Übermensch,“ in their own völkisch direction, which of course amounted to a complete reversal. In fact, Nietzsche had a Jewish „superman“ (according to Wistrich) in mind and above all „de-Germanization“ instead of a Teutonic monster, which also explains the fascination of the Zionists and other intellectuals, outsiders, and social critics around 1900 and later. Wistrich goes into the analysis of the Bible penned by the more pro-Jewish philosopher. Nietzsche made fun of Christians and celebrated Judaism without being a clumsy „philo-Semite“—too strong were his sarcasm, his criticism, and his re-evaluation of the all-too-German values, „dynamite“ incarnate, with Heinrich Heine’s venom as an example. In Die Genealogie der Moral, Nietzsche makes a distinction between the Old and the New Testament: „The Old Testament—now that is a completely different matter: all honour to the Old Testament! There I find great men, a heroic landscape, and something of that rarest quality on earth, the incomprarable naiveté of the strong heart.“

Robert Solomon Wistrich was not only a historian of European history. Important elements of his research included in particular the intellectual developments from the 19th century onward, often in connection with outstanding protagonists. It is interesting how he drew out a political-philosophical connection between historical events and current-day politics and contextualized modern-day phenomena, for example in Lethal Obsession, where he mentioned Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian principle of wali al-faqih, which places the supreme ruler above the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, and declared this principle to be a dynamic, Shiite version of Plato’s philosopher-king.

As a historian, he was as familiar with the works of Franz Mehring, Karl Marx, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Theodor Herzl, and Victor Adler as he was with contemporary Islamist literature and journalism from Iran, Egypt, the Gulf States, Syria, and Iraq as well as the Palestinian Authority. He was a proponent of the Enlightenment, yet aware of the dialectics of the Enlightenment. Voltaire was not only an important Enlightenment figure in the 18th century, he was also a „rabid enemy of the Jews“ with a major impact not only on French anti-Semitism (e.g., the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon). Wistrich was aware of the importance of education in this day and age, yet against the background of the history of Western anti-Semitism and the contribution of the educated and the elites to it from the Middle Ages up to our modern and postmodern times, he was also aware that „it is not sufficient,“ as he said in a lecture in Canada in 2009. Anyone studying the research tendencies at universities and recognizing that it is especially the supposedly highest-educated circles who trivialize and obscure, if not massively support anti-Semitism and Islamism, realizes how naive appeals such as „more education for all“ or „migrants in Germany need more education“ can be.

Wistrich’s doctoral dissertation, mentioned above, was the more than 700-page work Socialism and the Jews; alongside all his other works, it was displayed at his house during the shiva, like a single common thread running through his life: the history of the Left and that of the Jews.

His father, Jacob Wistreich, was a member of the Leftist Zionist group Hashomer Hatzair for a short time, but forced resettlement under Stalin in 1940 robbed him of his dreams of a „socialist paradise,“ as Wistrich wrote. Yet more importantly: this was how his father survived the Holocaust; the same is true of Sabina, Robert Wistrich’s mother, to whom he dedicated several of his books. Almost half of Wistrich’s family was lost in the Shoah, so the history of the Jews in Europe was of outstanding interest to Robert S. Wistrich both in the biographical and the scientific sense. He grew up in England, but his first languages were Polish and French. He also learned English, German, and Hebrew; in addition, he spoke Yiddish, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Dutch, and Arabic.

Wistrich was familiar with a tremendous number of documents, published and unpublished, and conducted research in many important historical archives from Paris to New York, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Washington, DC, London, Rome, and Vienna, to name just a few cities. He had the talent to delve into the details while not losing sight of the whole of society and to get to the heart of the matter. For example, he quoted from an April, 1923, letter from Viennese composer Arnold Schönberg to painter Wassily Kandinsky in which Schönberg mentioned increasing anti-Semitism using the example of the Bauhaus Architecture School in Germany and stated resignedly that as a Jew, he felt almost excluded from humanity—so aggressive had the anti-Semitic climate become at the time. Wistrich placed this in the context of anti-Semitism up to the Holocaust, beginning with the Hapsburg Empire, multiethnicity, and modernity through to Germanity, nationalism, Karl Lueger, and Hitler.

Prof. Dr. Robert S. Wistrich's room as head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA), Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Prof. Dr. Robert S. Wistrich’s room as head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA), Hebrew University of Jerusalem

In 2010, Wistrich published the currently most comprehensive and important monograph on the history and the current manifestation of anti-Semitism: A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad. In this 25-chapter work of more than 1,100 pages and chock-full of sources, he presents a comprehensive history of anti-Semitism—with a clear focus on the 20th and especially the 21st centuries. It is a scientific standard reference for research on anti-Semitism and at the same time an eminently political book, an intervention, by no means an assemblage of esoteric details for careerists hoping for a professorship.

One could tell by his outer appearance: a jacket and turtleneck sweater have been the insignia not only of critical philosophical circles since the 1960s. Anyone who appears in public in this garb, like Wistrich, including his last major appearance on May 14, 2015, in Jerusalem, is also making a statement. It is tempting to say: Etiquette is for wannabees, intellectuals are above it. Or in simpler words (with Hegel in mind): substance trumps form. His calm and matter-of-fact, but personal and deeply committed tone as well as his historical and philosophical allusions were extraordinarily inspiring. From time to time, Wistrich would point out who had animated him to his diverse studies, for instance Simon Wiesenthal, who asked him in the mid-1980s to examine the relationship between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. This topic became one of the focal areas of Wistrich’s research and resulted in the above-mentioned analysis in book form and the TV series Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred.

Right at the beginning of this book Lethal Obsession 20 years later, Wistrich emphasized that the current heyday of anti-Semitism in the Middle East surpassed anything seen since the end of the Nazi period. Anti-Semitism has migrated from Germany to the Middle East, and was not merely exported. Nobody in their right mind can ignore the outrageous quantity or the dangerous new quality of Muslim anti-Semitism.

Wistrich was also a critic of some explanations of the Holocaust (in his book Hitler and the Holocaust) and of the thesis that modernity, population policy, or an „economy of the Final Solution“ were responsible for the Shoah, and not ideological hatred and anti-Semitism. Hitler and Nazism in its entirety had a millenarist, apocalyptic ideology of annihilation, with anti-Semitism at the center, as Wistrich underlined. As in his most current analyses of Islamist anti-Semitism, in his analysis of the Holocaust, he opposed rationalizations and attempts to understand anti-Semitic agitation and actions, after all, irrational hatred were beyond reason or economic logic. As he wrote, there is no logic of modernization in the fact that the Germans deported 2,200 Jews from the Greek island of Rhodes to Auschwitz.

Conventional research has ignored and failed to take up the international discussions about anti-Semitism in the last ten years. It is not interested in Israeli researcher and Holocaust survivor Manfred Gerstenfeld’s writing about the resignation of the Jews in the Netherlands, where many Jews no longer see a future for themselves in a country increasingly dominated by aggressive Muslims or Islamists. The situation is similar in Sweden. In Germany, Jews hardly dare to walk around in public openly wearing a Star of David, and heavily armed police officers guard every synagogue and every Jewish kindergarten to protect Jews from anti-Semitic attacks. Even a glance at the Internet reveals anti-Semitism that is in part inconceivably brutal and vulgar. In recent years, Robert Wistrich too was increasingly pessimistic about the future of the Jews in Europe.

The realities in the virtual space in Europe and Germany, but also in editorial offices, on the streets, at research colloquia, when shopping, at demonstrations, etc., have been determined by enormous anti-Semitism, especially since the year 2000 and then following 9/11. Most researchers fail to recognize it because it usually is not neo-Nazi-style anti-Semitism, but is cloaked as „criticism of Israel“ and has its roots in mainstream society. The unanimous decision of the German Bundestag on July 1, 2010, concerning the so-called Gaza Flotilla is evidence of the increasing enmity toward Israel even in a country that projects an image of being a friend of the Jewish state. And then came the anti-Semitic summer of 2014 with the most brutal, massive, and large anti-Jewish rallies across Europe in decades.

In November, 2011, the first report on anti-Semitism by the German federal government was published („Antisemitismus in Deutschland. Erscheinungsformen, Bedingungen, Präventionsansätze,“ „Anti-Semitism in Germany. Manifestations, conditions, approaches to prevention“). It was prepared by an „independent circle of experts on anti-Semitism“ consisting of ten researchers, of whom some could draw on extensive experience. Not only does the report fail to address German-Iranian relations and refuse to analyze and criticize Islamofascism (in its historical as well as its current-day version). It also intentionally ignores most of the internationally important researchers on Muslim anti-Semitism. Although some researchers (on anti-Semitism) authoring English-language texts are indeed taken up, the report ignores, for example, all of Robert S. Wistrich’s books and articles, despite the fact that they are even available in German. Such ignorance would be commensurate to a study on The history of physics from 1900 to 1925 that failed even to mention Albert Einstein.

If most German researchers (on anti-Semitism) were familiar with the debates in the Jewish communities, e.g. in Europe, Israel, and the US, then they would be informed about the anxieties present there in the past ten years and would not publish texts that claimed in earnest, referring to surveys, that although 47 % of Leftists were „anti-Israel,“ only 3 % of them were anti-Semitic. As if rejection of the Jewish state of Israel did not constitute a core of present-day anti-Semitism. Anyone opposing (a Jewish state of) Israel is of course an anti-Semite today, since Israel is the state of the Jews.

The situation in Europe and Germany is dramatic, and research is failing to a large extent. Anti-Semitism is not difficult to detect if only one examines it clearly and does not only surf along the surface. A media analysis is very important.

A joke that Robert S. Wistrich told at the official launch of this masterpiece A Lethal Obsession on January 5, 2010, at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, in the presence of renowned historian Jeffrey Herf may illustrate how anti-Semitism often works in Europe today. The joke goes like this: A pit bull attacks a little girl standing all alone in the terminal of the Paris airport. A man who happens to be nearby immediately shoots the dog, saving the girl’s life. Of course, throngs of journalists descend on him, take photos, praise the hero, and say, „Tomorrow, Paris newspaper headlines will read: ‚Parisian saves girl from dog attack.'“ The man replies, „But I’m not from Paris.“ „Okay, then we’ll write, ‚Frenchman saves girl from dog attack.'“ „But I’m not French.“ „Well then, we’ll write, ‚European saves girl.'“ „But I’m not European, either. I’m from Israel.“ The journalists agree, „Oh, okay. Then the headline will read: ‚Israeli kills little girl’s dog.'“

Since the mid-1980s, Wistrich pointed out (as in his 1985 book Hitler’s Apocalypse) that Muslim anti-Semitism is a great danger. This can be demonstrated empirically, and it shows that this matter was recognized much earlier in Israel and the US, while in Germany, the overwhelming majority of university researchers and mainstream politicians, journalists, and political activists refuse even to make it a topic of discussion. Wistrich was in the Federal Republic of Germany as a researcher and fellowship holder even in the early 1970s and since then studied the discussions around anti-Semitism in Germany intensively and continuously. In Lethal Obsession, he refers both to Henryk M. Broder’s criticism of Leftist anti-Zionism in 1970s and 1980s West Germany and to the criticism of Islamism, looking away, moral cowardice, and pleas for unquestioning dialogue that Broder formulated in his 2006 book Hurra, wir kapitulieren.

In the autumn of 2014, Robert asked me if I saw an opportunity to republish his 1987 book Hitler’s Apocalypse; its German title was Der antisemitische Wahn. He saw many aspects of current-day anti-Semitism anticipated in the book and wanted to publish it with an up-to-date preface in 2015. Of course I agreed to publish the book. When I met him at SICSA a week before his death in Rome, Robert gave me a hard copy of his newly written foreword. It is a review of his research as well as of the political developments of anti-Semitism over the past 30 years. The text will be published in German in the summer of 2015 as a part of the new edition of Der antisemitische Wahn. Now, Robert S. Wistrich’s foreword can be read as nothing less than a kind of scholarly and political testament, as it is one of the last longer texts he wrote directly prior to his death, and since it summarizes very fundamentally what he considered research on anti-Semitism to be.


Announcement of the passing of Prof. Dr. Robert S. Wistrich, z“l, at his home in Jerusalem

It was always so enjoyable to talk with him—with whom else?— about the strange research conducted by many of our colleagues. For many years, his agreement as well as his criticism were an inspiration and were characterized by a motivation beyond description. He had many problems with mainstream research that in the past and the present has preferred ramblings and esoteric details to criticism and lucid analysis. Robert knew that, and it pained him. He once told me that he accepted invitations to speak from people whom he felt (or learned to feel) very problematic scientifically speaking.

The core of his numerous public appearances was the following: Like no other, he was capable of stepping back and viewing the big picture, for example at the large farewell conference as a professor at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the early summer of 2014. He had an overview, and he drew out the broad lines. Seldom was the postmodern chatter about the end of the great ideas and Foucaultianism so strongly accused of being untrue as in lectures and texts by Robert Wistrich. The history of the Jews in the age of Franz Joseph, one of Wistrich’s greatest studies, is a chapter of Jewish history in Europe, a central one. At the same time, it is a history of rising anti-Semitism as well as the emergence of Zionism.

If the city of Jerusalem means „Body and Soul,“ as in the title of a film by Gloria Greenfield in which Robert Wistrich played a central role, and thus is the urban embodiment of the connection of Jews to the land of Israel, then Robert Wistrich was the intellectual embodiment of Jewish history and Zionism.

It is this history of Jewish empowerment that was so central to the oeuvre of Robert S. Wistrich. The calm manner in which he spoke, his way of peering at his audience to see whether the horrific, terrible thing he was analyzing was even recognized as such, was so fascinating and captivating, even intellectually inspiring. As Robert’s widow Danielle mentioned in her remarks, Robert became more religious in his last years, which nonetheless was in contrast, or in a dialectical relationship to his quasi youthful delight in having an entirely unkosher sausage with French fries with us in the autumn of 2014 in Berlin and enjoying it in the sunshine. His irony was hilarious when he photoshopped himself into pictures as the fifth Beatle.

It was moving when Danielle showed a few visitors at Robert’s shiva his study and also private photos from his, and for many years also their shared life. The word „loss“ cannot capture it.

Robert occasionally spoke about himself as „marathon man,“ which is understandable in light of discussions like the ones in Berlin or New Haven that lasted five or six hours He became sharper and sharper over the course of a day or a long discussion, and now and again, it was past midnight when he had flashes of genius. Robert had legendary powers of recollection from episodes from Hannah Arendt’s life—whom he did not really appreciate highly—to the Zionist Ben Halpern—who had once been his neighbor.

As a historian of how the Left deals with Jews, or Leftist anti-Semitism and the history of the Jews in Europe, Wistrich encountered the topic of Islamism and anti-Jewish and anti-Western jihad as early as the mid-1980s. The eminent significance of this analysis particularly of Muslim anti-Semitism is to be seen against the background of the prevailing defenses within the disciplines of history, sociology, political science, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, literature, American and Arabic Studies, Iran Studies, and research on anti-Semitism. There, numerous researchers prefer to indulge in postcolonial and post-Orientalist theory and foment anti-Western resentment instead of addressing and criticizing the reality of the murderous jihad and Islamic anti-Semitism operating worldwide

In the German edition of Muslim Anti-Semitism, which he encouraged me and Edition Critic to publish in 2011 after the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Berlin had refused years before to have the brochure, which had originally been published in English by the US AJC, translated, Robert S. Wistrich examined the entire history of Islamic anti-Semitism since the days of Mohammed. Of course, numerous aspects are merely touched upon, since a brief text cannot deal in depth with more than 1,400 years. The focus is on the analysis of Islamic anti-Semitism since the early 20th century. Written a few months after the mass murder of September 11, 2001, with its Islamist motivation, the study was up-to-date at the time and is still enormously current today.

Countering activists and publishers proud to be German, who reject Islam, but sing the praises of the „shared values of Christianity and Judaism,“ Wistrich takes care to emphasize that in the Middle Ages, life was better for the Jews (as Dhimmi) under Islam than under Christianity. Without Christian anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism, German anti-Semitism would not have developed and the Holocaust would not have occurred. Those who now agitate against Muslims prefer to disregard this. In contrast, Wistrich analyzes and criticizes the close relationship between Christian and Islamic anti-Semitism; current-day Arabic and/or Muslim leaders like to flatter Christians by pointing this relationship out to them. Wistrich studied the historical relationship of the Grand Mufti to the Germans, and also the relationship between Nazism and Islamism, as well as exposing the current danger of „Islamic fascism.“

In Lethal Obsession, Wistrich studied a particular feature of the Islamism coming from Tehran: Khomeini, from 1979 to 1989, his successor Khamenei, and then President Ahmadinejad saw themselves as the advocates of the world’s oppressed and poor. The Shiite Islamist Regime in Iran continues to seek to forge global alliances with „anti-imperialist forces“ against America, the West, and Israel. It is also hardly surprising that some Iranian thinkers and philosophers are turning to the anti-Western Nazi intellectual pioneer Martin Heidegger, as Wistrich notes in Lethal Obsession.

In that book, Wistrich quoted many anti-Semitic speeches and utterances by Ahmadinejad, who stood for the regime whose „president“ he was, calling for the annihilation of Israel and the expulsion of the Jews from the Holy Land. Just as Hitler’s threat of January 30, 1939, that an impending world war would bring about the „annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe“ was not an empty threat, the Iranian leadership’s threats are no „empty threats,“ either, as Wistrich emphasized.

German and European anti-Semitism influence(d) anti-Semitism in the Middle East and vice versa, not least thanks to modern communications technology and migration. In his 1985 book, Hitler’s Apocalypse, Wistrich examined the relationship between old Nazis and Arabic anti-Semites. Many Germans went to Egypt and were warmly welcomed there, after all, they were „experts“ in anti-Semitism, for example the notorious anti-Semite Johann von Leers, the former SS officer Leopold Gleim, or another ex-Nazi, Louis Heiden.

To Wistrich, anti-Semitism research was of enormous significance above and beyond scientific and societal trends. The continuity with which he studied the most varied facets of anti-Semitism scientifically is remarkable. While for some time, research areas such as „comparative genocide research,“ „research into racism and prejudice,“ or even „Islamophobia“ have been en vogue and nonetheless only relativize current-day anti-Semitism and the unprecedented Holocaust, Wistrich’s research on anti-Semitism—as I read it—is concerned with studying the specific features of anti-Semitism, this „longest hatred.“

In his last lecture on May 14, 2015, Robert Wistrich also underlined the enormous danger lying in the fact that it has become nothing less than an ideology of salvation to see the solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a symbol of peace for the entire Middle East or even the whole world. He called this „Palestinianism,“ i.e., the focus on this one particular conflict. His analysis of the lethal obsession that anti-Semitism has been for thousands of years makes clear how important it is to first of all analyze anti-Semitism and then to reject the naive (and anti-Zionist) notion of a world without anti-Semitism. To be sure, there is no harm in dreaming, but Jews have had the unspeakably painful experience called reality. According to Wistrich, it is not about the legitimate rights of the Palestinians, but about nothing less than the hope for salvation that many, all too many people around the world conflate with the term „Palestine“—and what is more, many mean a country from the Jordan to the Mediterranean and not a peaceful and perhaps even democratic state of Palestine side by side the Jewish state of Israel.

Research on anti-Semitism will change following the death of Robert S. Wistrich; his passing is an epochal rupture. This was emphasized not only by Martina Weisz, his longstanding colleague at the Vidal Sassoon Center, on the day of his funeral in a private conversation at The Hebrew University.

Anti-Semitism research and public intellectuals supporting Israel have lost a unique source of inspiration and ideas. There will be no more of the inspiring moments that characterized Robert Solomon Wistrich’s public and private appearances. Perhaps it will be the looks and the smiles that we will miss the most, since they expressed as much reflection and criticism as intellectual charm.

As Manfred Gerstenfeld stressed in an obituary, Robert’s legacy will live on; great intellectuals have enormous effects over time. In Robert’s case, it is the persistent inspiration for those who have been part of the struggle against anti-Semitism and for Zion, even if not with his energy and unspeakable dynamism, and who will continue the struggle in his spirit, or will at least try.

May your memory be a blessing, dear Robert Solomon Wistrich, z“l.



* This article was first published in German, May 27, 2015. Translated from the German by Sandra H. Lustig. The author, Clemens Heni, PhD, is a political scientist, he has published five books so far (on the New Right in Germany 1970-2005, the history of German antisemitism, Islamic Studies and Antisemitism in Germany after 9/11, Antisemitism: A Specific Phenomenon (original in English), and Critical Theory and Israel), and is the director of the Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism ( As of July 2015, he will be working at the Centre of Garden Art and Landscape Architecture (CGL) of Leibniz University Hannover (Germany) in a joint project with Technion, Haifa, about “Jewish horticultural and agricultural schools / training centers in Germany and their impact on horticulture, agriculture and landscape architecture in Palestine / Israel.”

Vortrag Islamwissenschaft und Jüdische Studien – Wie stehen sie zu Israel? TU Darmstadt, 11.6.2014

Vortrag von Dr. phil. Clemens Heni, Direktor des Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA) an der Technischen Universität Darmstadt, Ringvorlesung Wissenschaftskritik:

Islamwissenschaft und Jüdische Studien in Deutschland – »wie stehen sie zu Israel?«

Mittwoch, 11. Juni 2014 – 18:30 bis 20:30, Ort: Schlosskeller

Der Vortrag kann hier oder hier angehört werden:


Intro: FAZ und das Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Teil 1

Teil 1: Islamwissenschaft


1:00 Schadenfreude an 9/11

2:45 Gudrun Krämer, Professor für Islamwissenschaft, FU Berlin; in ihrer Dissertation (1982) diffamiert sie Kritik am ägyptischem (nazistischen) Antisemitismus der 1950er Jahre

5:03 Wochenzeitung jungle world promotet etwas vorschnell die Islamforscher Peter Wien und René Wildangel

9:00 „Mythos pro-faschistischer Araber“ und der „dämonisierte Großmufti“

11:09 Bettina Gräf: Yusuf al-Qaradawi

14:40 Barbara Freyer-Stowasser: Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Frauen, Gleichberechtigung und suicide bombing ohne Zustimmung von Vater/Ehemann und gar ohne Kopftuch

20.:08 Kritik an einer direkten Linie vom Koran zu Hitler/Eine Werbekampagne in USA

22:58 FAZ und das Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Teil 2: Bernd M. Scherer und das Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin promoten ein Buch über al-Qaradawi: der »Global Mufti«

23:45 Der Islamwissenschaftler Peter Heine, Humboldt-Universität (HU) Berlin, und der „Kinderarzt“ und PFLP-Terrorist George Habash

28:16 Rüdiger Lohlker (Wien) und die Medien zu Israel als „Kindermörder“

33:40 Kritik an Götz Nordbruch – gibt es „Teilzeit-Nazis“?


Teil 2: Jüdische Studien


36:45 Professor Alvin Rosenfeld: progressive Juden und der neue Antisemitismus

38:50 Stefanie Schüler-Springorum und Jüdische Studien in Berlin und Brandenburg

40:20 Brian Klug im Jüdischen Museum Berlin

41:13 Deutscher Historikertag 2010 und Binationalismus für Israel/Palästina

42:30 Gershom Scholem: von der Hoffnung der Gruppe Brit Schalom auf ein binationales Zusammenleben mit den Arabern hin zum politischen, bewaffneten Zionisten auf den Dächern von Jerusalem 1936ff.

44:44 Teilungspläne für das Mandatsgebiet Palästina 1937/47

45:55 Bedeutung der Archäologie für Israel

46:30 Abbas und die PA leugnen historische Existenz der Juden im Land Israel

47:10 Dan Diner und die binationale Ideologie, 1980

48:17 „zionistische Gesetze abschaffen“ (Diner, 1980)

49:49 „Gesamtpalästina“

51:00 Prof. Christian Wiese im Leo Baeck Institute Yearbook und sein Bezug auf Jacqueline Rose

53:38 Jacqueline Roses antisemitische Fantasien: Hitler sei spätestens im Mai 1895 während eines Konzerts mit Richard Wagner-Musik in Paris dazu „inspiriert worden, Mein Kampf zu schreiben“ und Herzl dazu, „Der Judenstaat“ zu schreiben

56:40 Raphael Gross publiziert Christian Wiese

57:16 Robert S. Wistrich und die internationale Kritik an Jacqueline Rose





Huge event at Mount Scopus honors leading researcher on antisemitism

By Dr. Clemens Heni, Director, The Berlin International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (BICSA)


25–28 May, 2014, Israel’s biggest and one of the biggest conferences world-wide ever on the topic of antisemitism was held at the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, on the occasion of the retirement of historian Robert Solomon Wistrich. The International Conference was entitled “Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism, Delegitimizing Israel.”


(View from the Maiersdorf Faculty Club over Jerusalem*)

The location was beautifully chosen. From the terrace of the Maiersdorf Faculty Club, where the event was held, one has a stunning view over Jerusalem. On the other side of Mount Scopus, just a five minute walk away at the gorgeous Amphitheatre, one looks out over the Judean Mountains and desert up to the Dead Sea and Jordan.


(Hebrew University, Campus, Mount Scopus, Jerusalem*)

Robert Wistrich is the author of 17 books and the editor of 12. His work has been translated in many languages. He published over 350 articles between 1973 and 2011 – you find a complete list of his writings from 1973 through 2011 in the German edition of his Muslim Antisemitism, published in 2011 by Berlin based publishing house Edition Critic.

(Prof. Robert S. Wistrich’s German edition of his bestseller brochure from 2002 with the American Jewish Committee on Muslim Antisemitism, published in December 2011 with Berlin based publishing house Edition Critic)

I know of no other scholar who has such a record and continued reflection on antisemitism, the “longest hatred” and “lethal obsession,” as Robert frames it very precisely. His first article was published in 1973 about “Karl Marx, German Socialists and the Jewish Question.”

(Amphitheatre, Hebrew University, Mount Scopus)

Wistrich is known for “stepping back” and looking at the big picture, as he emphasized during his long talk at the conference. He focused on Jewish anti-Zionism, starting with famous Austrian literary critic Karl Kraus. The outstanding nature of Robert’s scholarship became again obvious during his presentation: like almost no one else he is able to jump from 19th century Jewish anti-Zionism and Reform Judaism to Judith Butler and Noam Chomsky’s 21st century Jewish anti-Zionism. He is not drawing direct lines and is very well aware of the differences between Hannah Arendt and Judith Butler, for example. The latter needs the German-Jewish thinker to bolster her own anti-Zionism. Arendt’s criticism of the nation-state, though, is indeed dangerous when it comes to the Jewish state. Still, this might differ from the very outspoken hatred of Zionism known from many Jewish-Austrian thinkers through the 1930s and that of the Butlers, Chomskys or even Finkelsteins of our time.



(Prof. Robert S. Wistrich during his presentation at the SICSA conference, Tuesday, 27 May, 2014)

Robert Wistrich dedicated several of his books to his mother Sabina. She made aliyah age 100 in 2010. When asked at Ben-Gurion Airport if she was so fascinated about Zionism to make aliyah at that age, she said: “No, I just want to see the book of my son. That is the reason I came to Israel.” She was thinking of her son’s comprehensive history of antisemitism, A Lethal Obsession. Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, a 1184-page volume, published that year.

Robert Wistrich’s research can be put in five categories:

1)       The Left and Antisemitism

2)       Jewish History

3)       Hitler, National Socialism and the Holocaust/Shoah

4)       Theories and the analysis of antisemitism and anti-Zionism

5)       Muslim antisemitism

Contrary to many, Robert sees Friedrich Nietzsche in the most positive sense of the word as the most anti-German philosopher ever. Nietzsche was not a forerunner of fascism and Nazism. Instead, he embraced the Old Testament and the Jewish “naiveté of the strong heart.” One of the best talks at the huge conference was given by Margaret Brearley (not only because of her wonderful British accent). She dealt with German anti-Jewish esoteric and occult or paganist thinking from Friedrich Schiller through German romanticism and Schopenhauer.

Robert Wistrich was born in April 1945 in Kazakhstan. His father, Jacob Wistreich, a former member of Hashomer Hatzair, was displaced by Stalin (I do intentionally not use the word „deported“ as this means in German to be deported to a Holocaust site). This displacement by Stalin saved his life. Robert Wistrich lost half of his family in the Shoah.

Robert grew up in England, learning Polish, French, then English, German and Hebrew. He also knows or can read and listen to several other languages, including Yiddish, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Dutch, and Arabic. His focus on Jewish history in Habsburg Austria is of tremendous importance. For example, he analyzed in his 1985 study Hitler’s Apocalypse the antisemitism of Hitler, including the time before 1914. Hitler lived in Vienna from 1907 until 1913. I mentioned this during my presentation at the conference, as we are increasingly facing scholars and authors who distort Hitler’s antisemitism. Take Brendan Simms from Cambridge, England, as an example. He argued in 2014 in an article for International Affairs that the First World War made Hitler an anti-English soldier. Only later did he become antisemitic, according to Simms. The same holds for American journalist Jonah Goldberg (National Review Online) who claims that Hitler was a leftist and “socialist” as he writes in his truly troubling and barely scholarly book Liberal Fascism. I emphasized that the notion that Hitler was left is utterly wrong. For example, “German Socialism,” as we call it, was based on private property and capitalism. The core of this “German Socialism” was hatred of Jews and the creation of the “people’s community” or Volksgemeinschaft in German. Hitler was an antisemite and the most far right politician ever. He was not an anticapitalist and not a “man of the left.”

At least in passing I could mention that there were Marxist (and later post-Marxist) pro-Israel scholars. Take Leo Löwenthal, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno and Critical Theory as an example. Most pro-Israel scholars and authors in America, the UK, South Africa, Australia and Israel think a priori that Critical Theory is anti-Zionist. That is not the case. But one has to be able to read German to discover the truth behind the origins of Critical Theory, founded in 1937 by Max Horkheimer. He had to struggle with Zionism, but supported Israel. He was aware of the Nasserist and Egyptian threat in the 1950s, for example. I have just published a comprehensive study on the topic of Critical Theory and Israel.

Gershom Scholem, one of the most famous Israeli and Hebrew University professors ever, became a political Zionist by the mid 1930s, turning his back on the “Brit Shalom” period of 1925–1933, based on binationalism and rather cultural Zionism. In my talk, I focused on scholars like Christian Wiese from Frankfurt University who embraces the binational ideology of Hans Kohn. In 2006, Wiese went so far as to quote from one of the most absurd anti-Zionist books so far, Jacqueline Rose’s Question of Zion from 2005. In that book, Rose wrote that Hitler was perhaps inspired to write Mein Kampf and Theodor Herzl to write Der Judenstaat at the very same concert of Wagner music. The problem is that Herzl finished his manuscript in May 1895. Hitler was born in 1889 and was never in France until 1940 when he conquered the country with the German Wehrmacht. Wiese quoted from the very chapter (pages 58–107) in Rose’s book where this antisemitic fantasy of the Hitler/Herzl association by the same taste in music appeared. Finally, I analyzed the scholarly shortcomings of Yale historian Timothy Snyder in his study Bloodlands, which distorts Auschwitz and the Shoah. I also emphasized his close relationship with anti-Zionist Tony Judt. Likewise I criticized Yale’s Seyla Benhabib and her defamation of Israel in 2010. Then, I mentioned troubling tropes in contemporary scholarship in postcolonial studies that distort the history of the Shoah.

At the conference at SICSA there were almost 40 speakers and presentations from four continents (America, Europe, Africa, Asia). Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles analyzed the shocking new wave of anti-circumcision and anti-kosher-slaughtering discourse all over Europe, including Germany. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin dealt with the BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) movement in California at the huge University of California (state sponsored) educational system. New York’s Ben Cohen with his deep “Alabama” English accent (that remark was funny, as his accent obviously is British) focused on some core features of today’s antisemitism. He distinguishes between historical German “bierkeller” antisemitism and today’s “bistro” antisemitism. Rude agitation and the defamation of Jews as Jews were replaced in many western societies by the more sophisticated version of 21st century anti-Zionist antisemitism. Stephen Norwood showed the overlapping of left-wing and right-wing antisemitism in the United States. He also emphasized that there was significant support in the American Catholic mainstream and the Church during the 1930s and World War II for far-right Jew-hatred like that of Catholic priest Charles Coughlin.

A very few presentations, though, gave several people pause. One speaker said that there is “no Palestinian people” – who, then, should acknowledge the Jewish state, one must ask. Another speaker went so far as to say that the “West Bank is temporarily occupied by the Palestinians.” This was portrayed as supposedly pro-Israel. In fact, it is damaging the Israeli society from within the pro-Israel camp. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year said that a future Palestinian state in the territories should think about including Jewish citizens. In fact, since 1948, Israel has some 20% Arab and Muslim citizens as well. Why is everybody a priori thinking of a Palestinian state with no Jews? Today, some 20% Jews are living in parts of the disputed territories. Daniel Pipes wrote about Netanyahu’s “master stroke.” Although I was not able to attend all presentations I did not hear people discussing that idea. This master stroke by Netanyahu includes the acceptance of Jews living in Judea and Samaria and in an Arab state. That would be a signal to the entire Arab and Muslim worlds that Jews are accepted as citizens and are not the “sons of pigs and apes” as the antisemitic discourse in parts of the Arab world always suggests.

Another speaker at the conference said that Norwegian killer Breivik is a criminal, “but” he killed “socialist anti-Zionists and possible future anti-Zionists.” This was shocking not just to me and I left the room soon after.





Another speaker stressed that EUrope is already “Islamized” which was a rather racist comment and had nothing to do with a specific criticism of Islamism, Jihad and Muslim antisemitism. One speaker said that Islam as such is the reason for antisemitism and every single (believing) Muslim will become an antisemite sooner or later. Jihadists and Islamists are antisemites today, other Muslims will become antisemitic later. This is of course not the case. Take groups like British Muslims for Israel as an example, among many other pro-Israel Muslims. They are a tiny and oppressed minority in the Muslim community, but they exist. Or look at people like Irshad Manji, known for her modern translation of the Quran. She is pro-Western, pro-Israel and anti-Islamist. The ontologization of Muslims as “the enemy” sooner or later has of course to be rejected.

In addition, I would state: In May 2014, American anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller and her allies started an ad campaign in New York City. They show the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, talking to Hitler in November 1941. It is tremendously important to focus on that alliance, indeed. But what does the ad say? On the right side of that big picture one can read “Islamic Jew-hatred: It’s in the Quran”:


This reminds me, sarcastically, of leading Sunni Islamist Yusuf al-Qaradawi. He said in January 2009 on TV that Allah installed Hitler to “punish the Jews.” This Holocaust affirmation is unbelievable. Geller, who is of course pro-Israel and against antisemitism and Jihad, now insinuates that not just the Mufti but also Hitler was inspired by the Quran. The Quran and Islamic Jew-hatred was first and then came Hitler. This is also distorting the history of Islamism as a modern phenomenon in the Muslim world. To claim that today’s Islamist antisemitism is in the Quran – and promoting this ideology with a picture of Hitler – denies or obfuscates the very history of Islamism.

In addition, it also obfuscates the history of Austrian and German modern antisemitism that lead to the Shoah. Islamism is a very modern ideology, as historian and Islamic studies scholar, president of the Middle East Forum (MEF) in Philadelphia, Daniel Pipes, tirelessly emphasizes. Take Hassan al-Banna’s founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt as a kind of starting point for 20th century modern Islamism as a mass movement. Old Islamic Jew-hatred rather resembled Christian Jew-hatred, and is distinct from German eliminationist antisemitism during Nazi Germany and the Shoah. Pipes is also always emphasizing the historical and political difference between Islam and Islamism, take 1798 as a starting point for the demise of the Muslim world and the emergence of Islamist ideology.

Holocaust remembrance is used as a tool to fight the Jewish state. This was a core message of one the most fascinating greeting remarks at the gala dinner at the first evening of the conference by Canadian scholar in law and politician, Irvin Cotler. He is known worldwide for his fight against antisemitism and he is using law to fight Jew-hatred like the incitement to genocide by Iran. Cotler focused on the supposedly well-meaning and for sure more sophisticated anti-Zionist activists of today. They say that the Holocaust was a horrible crime, like South-African apartheid. At this point I ignore the Holocaust distorting aspects of that very comparison or equation, by the way. For liberals in particular Israel has become in some respects the new “Apartheid State” or even “Nazi State.” And here is what Irvin Cotler emphasized: IF Israel is an apartheid state or even a Nazi state people have to fight it. The terms apartheid state and Nazi state are not just meant to defame the entire project of a Jewish state. It calls liberals, leftists and all other people of “good will” to arms, according to Cotler. Anti-Zionist antisemitism is seen by those activists as a form of “anti-fascism.” There is a moral “necessity” to be anti-fascist and therefore today “anti-Israel,” as those people insinuate. Cotler’s vibrant and impressive remarks were a model for the entire conference. People truly feel good to fight Israel as this is seen in their delusional worldview as an act of “anti-fascism.” Cotler grasped and criticized that ideology splendidly.

British legal scholar Lesley Klaff showed the mainstreaming of “Holocaust inversion” in the UK, using the example of the Liberal Democratic Party’s MP David Ward. Since 2010, the Liberal Democratic Party is a coalition partner of the British government under the Conservative Party’s leadership of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Political scientist Matthias Küntzel from Hamburg analyzed the failure of the international community to deal with the antisemitism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian regime. Meir Litvak from Tel Aviv University also dealt with Iranian anti-Zionist antisemitism. However, Litvak also said that Iran is much more a rational country and not driven by Islamist messianism, as some might think. Esther Webman focused on aspects of the Arab antisemitic discourse, including Holocaust denial. Milton Shain from Cape Town, South Africa, focused on left-wing and Muslim anti-Zionist activism in the former apartheid state.

Historian Laurence Weinbaum from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in Jerusalem spoke about Polish antisemitism in recent decades and the failure of Poland to deal with its involvement in the Shoah and with its own Jew-hatred before and after 1945. At the end of the day, though, the glass of water is rather “half full” and not “half empty,” Weinbaum said, given the fact that Poland is the first country of the former East Bloc that tries to deal emphatically with antisemitism and its own history, thanks in particular to the scholarship of Jan Tomasz Gross. Sarah Fainberg and Samuel Barnai dealt with Russian antisemitism and anti-Zionism, like far-right groups that embrace Nazi antisemitism and the “8. SS Division Florian Geyer” which has supporters among hardcore antisemitic (and anti-Western) groups in today’s Russia, as Barnai showed in his vibrant talk. Fainberg underlined that it is very difficult to take sides in the current crisis in Ukraine. For sure Russia has to be criticized for its policies, but Ukraine is not just a victim: the conflict is much more troubling. Particularly when it comes to antisemitism, this becomes obvious. In addition one could say: take Stepan Bandera statues and pro-OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists) propaganda during the uprising this year at the Maidan and in many parts of Ukraine as examples. Russian antisemitism and anti-Western ideology is also very troubling and not every Russian criticism of “fascist” tendencies and antisemitism in Ukraine is necessarily honest in nature, given similar tendencies in Russia which are not condemned by the Kremlin.

French philosopher Shmuel Trigano gave yet another proof of his deep insights in contemporary antisemitic tropes in philosophy, including post-modernism. Trigano frames contemporary antisemitism as disguised as “philosemitism,” which is in fact true. Remember Cotler’s focus on Holocaust remembrance and its abuse by anti-Zionists. Historian Dina Porat underlined the importance of the EUMC working definition of antisemitism. She knows that this was never a legal document. However, it is important, according to Porat, to have a document that states, for example, that comparisons of Israel to Nazi Germany are not criticism of Israel but antisemitism.

One of the highlights of the conference was for sure the talk by Indiana Professor emeritus in Jewish Studies, Alvin Rosenfeld. He dealt with the reactions – today we would say “shitstorm” – on his world-famous brochure “Progressive” Jewish Thought and the new antisemitism from 2006, published by the American Jewish Committee (AJC). In his monograph Rosenfeld analyzed Jewish anti-Zionist thought, including Jacqueline Rose, Michael Neumann and Tony Judt. The New York Times set the pace for the denunciation of Rosenfeld’s masterpiece. Several authors criticized terms and events that Rosenfeld did not even mention in his piece, like the “Iraq War” or terms like “liberals” or “the liberals.”

Finally, there was a small concert for the conference participants at the Botanical Garden at Hebrew University. The four Israeli Irish folk musicians, among them a kind of young Jerusalem version of Paul Simon, gave the participants a wonderful rest. The place was other-worldly, typical Jerusalem stones surrounded by trees and flowers. At some point, a bird joined the concert. Before, the visit of the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis I, in the Middle East, could not overshadow the fantastic experience at Mount Scopus.

The entire conference was just possible thanks to the support by the Knapp Foundation, New York, and Charles Knapp, who also gave a powerful greeting address at the very beginning of the event and thanked all participants at the very end of the gathering with an exceptional statement: we, the speakers, shall keep on doing our research the way we do it and the way he witnessed it. This would be like a “thank you” to him…

In addition, Felix and Daniel Posen were supporters of SICSA and the event. I was a happy Felix Posen Fellow of SICSA in 2003 and 2004, after having been a speaker at Robert’s first international conference as new head of SICSA in December 2002.

Many conference participants said that they are looking forward to the future work of the honoree. His focus on the “longest hatred” paved the way for many scholars in recent decades. People who know the current situation among research centers on antisemitism world-wide are aware of the fact that this is an exception from the rule. It was a privilege for all speakers and participants to share their views on antisemitism, anti-Judaism and the delegitimization of Israel with the historian of antisemitism of our time.

However, we have to be realistic. Future generations of scholars even in Israel are not necessarily very much involved in the study of antisemitism. Nor are they known for a vibrant Zionist approach… Time will tell what research in antisemitism will look like in the years to come. Perhaps this conference was the peak of an entire generation or even several generations of scholars in antisemitism, headed by Robert Solomon Wistrich.

(Backcover of the German edition of Robert S. Wistrich’s Muslim Antisemitism, Dec. 2011)


* Many thanks to Lesley for sharing these pics with me and for her encouragement; as ever, I would like to equally thank Leslie for her editing; finally and in addition, the support and encouragement in recent days by friends and colleagues from around the world was wonderful, thanks so much to Simon, Steffi, Elena, Peter, Thomas, Milton, Jonathan and Neil.

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