Holocaust historian comes to Rutgers, confronts anti-Semitism in today's society
Last Sunday, best-selling author Deborah Lipstadt came to Rutgers to speak about her newest publication “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” in order to address and combat anti-Semitism as well as racism.
Lipstadt is well-known due to the famous 1996 case in London, where British author David Irving charged her with libel in her book “Denying the Holocaust.” At the time, Irving was also claimed to be the world’s leading Holocaust denier.
Eventually in 2000, Lipstadt won the case, when the court ruled that Irving’s claim of libel was not valid because he had distorted evidence. Irving was also found to be a "neo-Nazi polemicist" by the judge because he exhibited racism and anti-Semitism.
This case was the topic of Lipstadt’s book, which was recently reissued with the title “Denial.” A film with the same name was also released in 2016 on her case, starring the actress Rachel Weisz.
Lipstadt continued the conversation through a TED Talk where she discussed the trial, which has received nearly 1.2 million views online. She also worked as a historical consultant for the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum located in Washington, D.C., helping to design the section of the museum dedicated to how America responded to the Holocaust.
She has even worked alongside former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.
During her lecture, she was first introduced by Jenny Mandelbaum, a professor in the Department of Communication and Barbara A. Lee, a professor in the Department of Human Resource Management and senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
Lipstadt began by saying the book was difficult for her to write, due to all her prior books being on historical issues and her newest one discussing contemporary issues.
“I’m a historian. And as a historian, I generally don’t engage in predictions. But, I’m willing to predict that now and when this book is published, something will have happened that should have been concluded,” Lipstadt said. “And five weeks later came Pittsburgh.”
This was a reference to the shootings in a Pittsburgh synagogue last October, which left 11 people dead and six others injured, according to The New York Times. Along with this attack, Lipstadt also touched on the recent New Zealand terrorist attack and riots in Charlottesville last summer by explaining their ties to anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism, Lipstadt said, is a form of prejudice because it “pre-judges” a person based on skin color, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion with a refusal to change this perception. Lipstadt believed negative perceptions against Jewish people began with certain church officials presenting the Bible a certain way.
The building blocks of anti-Semitism were in the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion in the New Testament, which Lipstadt said has been shared to pass off Jews as “nefarious, malicious, (with) diabolical purposes,” especially when it came to power and money, which was something the majority of Romans were concerned about.
“Because think about it, the Jews were able to convince the Romans — and the Romans weren’t just anybody, any entity — Rome was the most powerful entity in the world at that time,” she said.
Anti-Semitism is not simply spread by the Christian church, though, Lipstadt said. She discussed how German professor of theology Martin Luther, French Enlightenment writer Voltaire and German philosopher Karl Marx all exhibited anti-Semitism, regardless of whether they practiced a religion.
Demonizing Jews, Lipstadt said, was easier because demons were not easily recognizable and identified until after they completed their evil actions. After their role in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, Jews were considered demons because they were unable to be easily identified by skin color, only by stereotypical names.
Lipstadt also argued that though some Jewish people have white skin, they are not necessarily “white.” She said that during the Pittsburgh attack, the shooter had yelled at the SWAT team that Jews would not defeat the “white race.”
There was also the perception that Jews were set out to destroy white culture and white supremacy, which some people consider a “white genocide” occurring, she said. To white supremacists, Jews were responsible for supporting people of color who were in positions of power, such as in politics and athletics, Lipstadt said.
Lipstadt concluded the lecture by stating that the “little things” help in fighting anti-Semitism.
“Through holding politicians accountable and educating others, anti-Semitism can be treated,” Lipstadt said.