Although historian Deborah Lipstadt has spent much of her career in high-profile cases combating Holocaust deniers, of late the Emory University professor is working to convince the world that Jews are not on the brink of a second Shoah.
To clarify: surging anti-Semitism in Europe is indeed serious, with violent physical attacks as well as hate speech, anti-Jewish bias and graffiti, Lipstadt believes. But it’s not a new Holocaust.
“Each event made me think something strange is happening here and we should take notice,” she said in a phone interview from Atlanta. “But it’s a whole different world.”
“We have condemnation by leaders of countries, prosecution by police, we have history, we know what happened — we have the State of Israel,” she said.
Calling warnings of a new Holocaust “Chicken Little talk,” as a historian of the deliberate genocide it is important to Lipstadt that the term not be devalued.
“It is beneath us and counterproductive” for Israeli and Jewish leaders and politicians to use it as a scare tactic to validate their own agendas, she said.
Among others, Vladimir Sloutzker, head of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, said at a July Knesset meeting, “Never before since the Holocaust have we seen such a situation as today. We are potentially looking at the beginning of another Holocaust now.”
Lipstadt asked rhetorically what a “new Holocaust” means. “Are Jews being taken off to a camp, deported?”
“They’re wrong historically. They prey on people’s fears and the worse thing you should do is make people frightened. It is ethically wrong, Jewishly wrong and strategically wrong” — because if or when there really would be a Holocaust, no one would pay attention, she said.
In an op-ed last week for The New York Times called “Why Jews Are Worried,” Lipstadt discussed the serious rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. Citing examples of anti-Semitic attacks — including murders — from the past few years, Lipstadt rebuts the notion that the anti-Semitism is “just rhetoric” and that the current Hamas-Israel conflict is the impetus.
“Nor am I comforted by the explanation that these actions are being taken by ‘disgruntled Muslim youth.’ (By one estimate, 95 percent of anti-Semitic actions in France are committed by youths of Arab or African descent.) Many of these Muslims were born in Europe, and many of those who weren’t are the parents of a new generation of Europeans,” she wrote in the much-shared op-ed.
Lipstadt said she chose The New York Times — as opposed to a Jewish media outlet — to reach the most diverse readership possible.
“The point I really wanted to address is that all the members of the European elite seemed to not be disturbed by this [rise in anti-Semitism] and seemed to be saying, ‘Israel has done terrible things, so this is ok,’” said Lipstadt.
Scholar of anti-Semitism Prof. Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University has also spoken of the importance of “elite opinion,” including academia and the media.
Particularly in Britain, “elite opinion is the most disconnected from reality,” said Wistrich in a July interview with The Times of Israel.
In the UK there is an elite opinion that is “truly poisonous and has a great deal of responsibility for this very deliberately one-sided and massively partisan pro-Palestinian and hypocritical response [to Operation Protective Edge],” he said.
“British media are in fact for several decades now, especially the last 14 years, injecting the population with arsenic in small doses… I don’t think they give a damn for the Palestinians,” said Wistrich.
Addressing the paucity of pro-Israel advocacy among Europe’s elite, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi wrote an oped for eJewishPhilanthropy.com Monday called “An ‘Iron Dome’ Needed to Protect Jews in Europe.”
Mizrahi is a founder of The Israel Project (TIP), which was formed to change US and European perceptions of Israel. In her op-ed, a call to action, she writes, “Serious philanthropists and the government of Israel should get together to support focus groups of opinion elite men, opinion elite women, moderate Muslims and Jews in Europe.
“Scientific strategic communications plans need to be put in place and implemented – along with strong partnerships with European security organizations,” wrote Mizrahi. (TIP’s European advocacy efforts halted in 2012 when Mizrahi left the presidency.)
In the meantime, saying the Holocaust should not be compared “to any other event in human history,” Finance Minister Yair Lapid addressed Europe last week in a speech at Berlin’s Holocaust Memorial in defense of Operation Protective Edge and in condemnation of surging anti-Semitism.
“Some of the criticism stems from anti-Semitism. It has raised its ugly head once more. To those people we say: we will fight you everywhere. The days when Jews ran away from you are over. We will not be silent in the face of anti-Semitism and we expect every government, in every country, to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and fight this evil with us.”