Like early 1930s: US envoy warns antisemitism ‘a threat to democracy,’ global security

Noting spike in Jew hatred since Oct. 7, Lipstadt says situation for Diaspora Jews is not like 1938 but rather ‘early 1930s, maybe late 1920s,’ laments denial of Hamas atrocities

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt speaks at a virtual event on May 24, 2024. (Screen capture/State Department)
US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt speaks at a virtual event on May 24, 2024. (Screen capture/State Department)

US Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt on Friday called antisemitism a “threat to democracy,” amid sharp rises in instances of Jew hatred in the United States and elsewhere since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught against Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza.

“Anybody who buys into the conspiracy myth — which is the cornerstone of antisemitism — that Jews control the media, banks, government elections, anybody who believes that has given up on democracy,” she said during a virtual event put on by her office.

“The objects of this prejudice [Jewish people]… has cause to wonder whether the authorities protect [them],” she continued, pointing to the anti-Israel protests that have swept college campuses across the country, which have sometimes left Jewish students feeling vulnerable to harassment.

Lipstadt said antisemitism is also a threat to international security because malign actors use it to try sew disunity, particularly in democratic societies.

Despite the spike in antisemitism since October 7, she rejected comparisons between the current situation for Diaspora Jewry and the plight of European Jews in 1938.

“I’m often asked as a historian, is this 1938? I say no, that’s a bit of an extreme position,” Lipstadt said.

“I think it’s more like the early 1930s, maybe the late 1920s,” she continued, referencing the destabilization of society that was taking place then and likening it to what has happened in many countries since October 7.

Hate graffiti on posters at Harvard University of Hamas-held hostages including 1-year-old Kfir Bibas, January 22, 2024. (Screenshots via X; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

But Lipstadt noted two differences between then and now.

The “delivery system” for the spread of antisemitism is much more dangerous today because of social media.

But the other difference is that today, there are governments — including in the US — that have appointed senior officials to combat antisemitism, she said.

‘MeToo, except for the Jew’

Lipstadt, a renowned Holocaust scholar, said Friday she was “shocked” by the speed at which so many began denying the atrocities committed by Hamas-led terrorists on October 7.

“I was shocked by the speed with which people were complaining about Israel’s response on October 8, 9th, 10th — before there was a response. It was truly truly disturbing,” Lipstadt says during a virtual event organized by her office.

The rape and sexual mutilation was “celebrated” by some and questioned by others.

“The silence… was the most disconcerting — silence of precisely those groups from whom one would expect to have been outraged — women’s groups, progressive groups, groups that fight sexual violence, human rights groups,” she said, highlighting how those same groups were quick to speak out when the perpetrators were Boko Haram or ISIS.

“What’s the difference between that and October 7? There’s only one difference, and that difference is the perception that these victims were all Jews,” she stated, lamenting that too many people either question that the crimes occurred because of this perception or suggest that the victims somehow deserved it.

“Some leading scholars who study this [claim the October 7 sexual violence was] an act of resistance. I’m sorry, rape is never resistance,” Lipstadt said.

“It’s rooted in antisemitism,” she added.

“MeToo, except for the Jew,” Lipstadt’s deputy Aaron Keyak chimed in.

Protesters sit blindfolded at a demonstration outside of the United Nations in New York City on behalf of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas terrorists, November 7, 2023. (Sarah Rosen)

During the event, Lipstadt also called out those weaponizing antisemitism for political gain on both sides of the aisle.

She noted that many on the left have no problem condemning antisemitism on the right and visa versa.

“What sometimes is the problem is that some of those folks fail to see it right next to them. You can’t use antisemitism as a political weapon to score points against your opponents.

“Call it out on the other side, but also call it out next to you,” Lipstadt said.

“You’re in fact most impactful when you call out antisemitism among people with whom you agree on everything else… Those who weaponize the charge of antisemitism for partisan or political gain are undermining the overall fight against antisemitism, which puts Jews at greater risk all over the world,” Keyak added.

Times of Israel contributed to this report.

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