Robert S. Wistrich, one of the world’s foremost scholars of anti-Semitism, died late Tuesday evening after suffering a heart attack in Rome, where he was due to address the Italian Senate about rising anti-Semitism in Europe.
Wistrich, 70, was the Neuburger Professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the head of the University’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism.
Over the course of his career, Wistrich edited and published dozens of books about the fate of Jews and their treatment by other nations.
Among his notable works was the 1989 book “The Jews of Vienna in the age of Franz Joseph,” which won the Austrian State Prize in History. Two years later he published “Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred,” which later served as the basis for a three-hour British-American television documentary on anti-Semitism.
His book “A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism — From Antiquity to the Global Jihad,” published in 2010, was awarded the Best Book of the Year Prize by the New-York based Journal for the Study of Antisemitism.
In 2014, Wistrich authored an exhibition titled “The 3,500 year relationship of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel,” which was scheduled for display at UNESCO headquarters in Paris but was canceled amid pressure from Arab nations.
At the time, Wistrich said that the cancellation “completely destroyed any claim that UNESCO could possibly have to be representing the universal values of toleration, mutual understanding, respect for the other and narratives that are different, engaging with civil society organizations and the importance of education. Because there’s one standard for Jews, and there’s another standard for non-Jews, especially if they’re Arabs, but not only.”
The exhibit eventually reopened six months later after the phrase “Land of Israel” in the title was replaced with “Holy Land.”
In July 2014 Wistrich was invited to address an emergency Knesset meeting on rising violent anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activities in Europe, during which he warned that “we have entered a new, very difficult era in all of Europe.”
Wistrich was born in Lenger, in the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, on April 7, 1945. His parents had fled anti-Semitism in Poland a few years early but were met with similar animosity in the Soviet Union, where his father was twice arrested by the secret police.
After World War II ended, the family returned to Poland but found the lingering hatred of Jews unbearable and so relocated to France and from there to England. At the age of 17 Wistrich won an open scholarship in history to Queens’ College, Cambridge, eventually earning his masters degree in 1969, followed by a doctorate at the University of London in 1974. During his university years he founded a literary and arts magazine.
Between 1974 and 1980, he worked as director of research at the Institute of Contemporary History and the Wiener Library and was then appointed a research fellow of the British Academy. In 1982 he was given tenure at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.