SICSA Annual Report 1996

Study of Antisemitism—Still Relevant

by Dalia Ofer

The scholarly interest in antisemitism, one of the oldest expressions of the hatred of the "Other" that has persisted since antiquity, is relatively recent. The impetus for its study in our era has derived from the horrifying events of World War II. After the Holocaust, antisemitism was revealed as a threat to the very essence of Western civilization and of humanity. When the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism was established in 1982, books on antisemitism could already fill many library shelves. Despite the vast amount of research done in the three decades after the end of World War II, it was clear that both basic research concerning the origins and continuation of Jew-hatred, as well as its new forms in the modern era, called for further studies. The study of relationships between Jews and non-Jews in different historical periods took on a new perspective in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel, and in light of the complex relations between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab countries. In addition, cyclical eruptions of antisemitic propaganda and activities in Europe since the 1950s, the new manifestations of antisemitism as anti-Zionism, and the denial of the Holocaust that increased in the 1970s challenge scholars to study contemporary and past upsurges of antisemitism.

With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, new nationalist and social trends have developed in the former communist countries. Signs of both old and new animosity towards Jews have appeared. Thus, scholars are reexamining accepted interpretations of the origins and development of modern and contemporary antisemitism in a comparative perspective. This was the raison d'etre of the establishment of the Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Basic research and the call for an integrative analysis must remain the primary goal of its research agenda.

Bibliographic Project, A valuable tool for researchers

The Felix Posen Bibliographic Project was established to provide researchers with a cumulative annotated listing of books and articles about antisemitism. Three volumes of Antisemitism: An Annotated Bibliography, edited by Susan S. Cohen, have been published to date, and a further three volumes will appear in 1997. In addition, a bibliography of The "Jewish Question" in German-Speaking Countries, 1848-1914, edited by Rena R. Auerbach, appeared in 1994. The data base is available online as part of the Hebrew University's ALEPH system, making it easily accessible to researchers using internet worldwide.

Grants for research, publications, and conferences

Grants for research both by experienced academics and by post-graduate students have been awarded by the Center. A number of monographs produced as a result of their studies have been published under the Center's auspices.

Twelve titles have appeared in English as part of the Studies in Antisemitism series, and four titles have appeared in Hebrew, published in conjunction with the Zalman Shazar Center and the Historical Society of Israel.

In the past few years the research agenda of the Center emphasized social and local history, psychology, sociology, and folklore. Scholars from these fields were invited to an international conference on The "Other" as Threat: Demonization and Antisemitism, that took place at the Hebrew University in June 1995. The dialogue between the various disciplines, and the discussion between historians of the ancient, medieval, and modern eras demonstrated the importance of such colloquia. The conference brought to the fore the methods of each discipline in relation to demonization of others and placed antisemitism in comparative perspective to various phenomena of animosity in Europe, Japan, and the Muslim world. It came about as a result of discussions with Mr. Felix Posen, who suggested the topic, and was representative of the approach followed under the academic leadership of Prof. Yehuda Bauer and Prof. Shmuel Almog.

The Center has accepted a number of new research proposals, focusing on additional areas, such as the spread of Western anti-Jewish stereotypes in the arts.

In the quest to appraise antisemitism in the broadest context, the Center supports research proposals to study it in non-European cultures without a direct connection to Judaism, yet which are open to Western influence, such as those of Asia, Africa, and the Pacific region. This raises the questions: has antisemitism become an export of the West to the Third World, and how strong is its influence in countries where there are few Jews?

ACTA series of occasional papers analyzes contemporary concerns

The ACTA (Analysis of Contemporary Trends in Antisemitism) series of occasional papers emerged as a response to the political and social changes in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 1990s and to the new phenomenon of violence against foreign workers, immigrants, and refugees in Central and Western Europe, many of them Muslims. Similarities between the Jewish situation in the past, and the dissimilarities with the position of the Jews in these countries at present pointed to the need to examine connections between the hate-mongers and the social and political forces they represent with those who deny the Holocaust, and antisemites. An analysis of the eruption of antisemitic incidents after World War II revealed wave cycles that cannot be completely explained by combined economic, political, and social factors. Dr. Simcha Epstein's monograph on Cyclical Patterns in Antisemitism: The Dynamics of Anti-Jewish Violence in Western Countries since the 1950s proposed that antisemitic eruptions have their own, almost autonomous development.

ACTA's occasional papers aim to contribute to the understanding of these contemporary phenomena through a factual and analytical description. Scholars from different countries are encouraged to contribute to this series.

Workshop on radicalization and antisemitism

At this time, the Center wishes to add another dimension to its academic work. The goal is to integrate knowledge on radicalization in political, social, and cultural contexts, and the "Jewish Question" in Europe during the twentieth century. Both movements of activists for human rights, and those that abolished basic rights and subsumed the needs of the individual to the supposed good of the nation arose from the same ground. Although it is common knowledge that antisemitism flourishes in the radical Right, the radical Left is also contaminated with it. A rather interesting finding is that some philosemites of the 1920s, for example, became ardent antisemites after joining radical political movements. The particular connection between modernity, radical movements, and antisemitism will be the focus of an ongoing workshop. The Center welcomes research proposals from scholars interested in this area.

Since the Center's inception, we have learned the importance of listening. Many good ideas were expressed by both scholars and lay people interested in the Center's work and willing to support it. Since antisemitism is both a subject for academic research and a current political and social issue, no one is indifferent to it. Many are searching for ways to fight it, and cherish the vision of a world in which this aspect of human relations would be eliminated. For an academic center situated in an active world, the convergence between one's political and ideological tenets and one's academic integrity is a source of constant tension. The awareness that this tension is inevitable is crucial for the academic integrity of the Center. Yet we also support the vision that future generations may establish a world in which antisemitism will be studied only as a historical phenomenon. With both hopes and a realistic understanding of our stance as scholars and citizens of particular societies and members of the human civilization, we devote our efforts to broaden the knowledge and deepen the understanding of antisemitism.

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