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Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism opens with lecture on French anti-Semitism

By Scott Tibbs, March 4, 2010

Note: I am taking a journalism class this semester. This is my second article for that class. Any articles I publish on ConservaTibbs will not be timely, as I will not post them until after I turn them in and get my grade.

Anti-Semitism in France is not a new phenomenon, according to author Robert Wistrich, despite concern over an increased number of incidents targeting Jews in France in the last year. The current wave of anti-Semitism in France is an extension of persecution of Jews that has been a staple of French politics for centuries, he said.

Wistrich spoke in the Frangipani Room of the Indiana Memorial Union on Jan. 14, 2010 to open Indiana University's Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism. The Frangipani Room was filled to capacity and staff had to set up several additional rows of chairs to accommodate the crowd.

Bennett Bertenthal, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that IU's center was the second such center in the United States. The other center is at Yale. IU's institute will focus on high-level scholarly research on the intellectual and ideological roots of contemporary anti-Semitism, Bertenthal said. Anti-Semitism offers a lens to study racism throughout the world, he said.

Wistrich opened his speech with a story about Jacques Attali, who became irate when asked a question about anti-Semitism in France. Attali denied there is anti-Semitism in France and claimed it was Israeli propaganda, Wistrich said, noting that there are many in the French Jewish intelligence who hold similar opinions.

This is not a new phenomenon.

Anti-Semitism has a long history in France, Wistrich said. France was the first European country to emancipate its Jews, but that did not eliminate anti-Semitism, he said. The nationalist movement in the 1880's that called for an exclusive nationalism of "France for the French" was the most significant moment in the history of modern French anti-Semitism prior to World War I, Wistrich said.

The classic form of French anti-Semitism was an ultrapatriotic, xenophobic rejection of the "other" with the Jew as the quintessential "other," Wistrich told the assembled crowd in the Frangipani Room.

After the speech, Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the institute, said that we are living in a time of resurgent anti-Semitism that requires a serious study of the issue. His interest in founding the institute was based on his awareness of these issues, he said.

Anti-Semitism is a national problem, a fact demonstrated by hate crime statistics.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's report on hate crimes reports that of "1,606 hate crime offenses motivated by religious bias" in 2008, "65.7 percent were anti-Jewish." This was the largest category of anti-religious hate crimes by a wide margin, according to the FBI report.

There are local efforts to combat anti-Semitism and hate incidents generally, and city government's Human Rights Commission compiles an annual report of hate incidents based on qualities such as sexual orientation, race, religion and gender.

The 2009 Hate Incidents Report on the city of Bloomington's Web site included a report from a business in August of 2008 that "someone had painted a Star of David with a pitchfork on the building owned by the business."

When contacted by e-mail about the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and how the institute would affect the Bloomington Human Rights Commission's work, BHRC director and assistant city attorney Barbara McKinney said via e-mail that "the BHRC has no connection to the center at this point. We work with a fair number of groups in the community on shared concerns, and would of course be open to working with them if that seems appropriate in the future, but at this point, we have no relationship with them. I am not terribly familiar with the center, its programs and goals, etc."

Robert Wistrich, who was invited to speak at the institute's opening lecture because of his extensive work on the subject, is the author of several books on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. Some of the books listed on Amazon.com are Who's Who in Nazi Germany (1984), Hitler's Apocalypse: Jews and the Nazi Legacy (1986), Hitler and the Holocaust (2001) and A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad (2010).