An in-depth interview by Lenny Giteck, publisher and editor
Dr. Alvin H. Rosenfeld, Professor of English and Jewish Studies at Indiana University, is a recognized expert on the subjects of antisemitism and the Holocaust. Among other things, he is Director of the university’s Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism.
Over the past decades, Dr. Rosenfeld has penned many scholarly articles about antisemitism — including the Holocaust — and has authored, edited, or co-edited numerous books on the subject.
Three of the book titles are: The End of the Holocaust (2001, author), Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives (2013, editor); and Deciphering the New Antisemitism (2015, editor).
We spoke with Dr. Rosenfeld to gain his insights into the phenomenon of antisemitism in general, and into the recent upsurge of Jew-hatred in particular.
Part One of the interview appeared on AntisemitismExposed.org last month. To read it, click here.
The following is the second and concluding part:
Professor Rosenfeld, we’ve talked about traditional Christianity being a major force underlying antisemtism. But antisemitism has also stemmed from certain Muslim religious sources and beliefs. Furthermore, there is the same reason from Muslims as from Christians: Jews refused to follow Muhammad just as they refused to follow Jesus.
You raise an important issue. Now, I have to say I’m not a scholar of Islam. I’ve read some things, but to be a real scholar of Islam one needs to know Arabic, which I don’t, and one needs to have studied all the Islamic texts.
Having said that, evidently there are textual sources within both the Quran and the Hadith [the collective body of traditions relating to Muhammad and his companions] that say very negative things about Jews. I’ve even been told, and I can’t quote chapter and verse on this, that there are accusations that Jews tried to poison Muhammad. From time to time, that allegation is brought up as well.
It’s impossible to understand today’s antisemitism if you leave out Muslim antisemitism. Obviously, not every Muslim hates Jews, but much hostility against Jews today, particularly in Europe, comes from Muslims.
The British scholar Rusi Jaspal, who has studied the views on Israel and Jews of Pakistani Muslims living in London, quotes some of the people he interviewed to this effect: “Zionism is evil. It’s no different from Nazism…. Zionism is an attempt to kill us all and to remove the Islamic truth and to replace this truth with their lies.”
These Muslims tend to make little differentiation between Zionists and Jews and believe that Jews are bent on a mission to annihilate Islam. It’s a toxic view and also a commonly held one.
I’ll again emphasize this: Just as there are Christians and Christians, there are Muslims and Muslims. It’s encouraging that we’re living in a time when some Muslim thinkers are stepping forward to oppose antisemitism, although not nearly as many as we would like to see.
Can you give an example?
Ayaan Hirsi Ali [Somali-born writer, politician, and activist] is one such person. She’s written brilliantly about it. But wherever she goes, she has three or four bodyguards with her because of the position she’s taken. There are some other brave Muslims like her as well.
In recent months we’ve seen news items from time to time about an encouraging development — I won’t yet call it a rapprochement, not in a public way — between some Muslim countries and the State of Israel. Because of a common enemy in Iran, Saudi Arabia and certain Gulf states, have been pulling closer to Israel for their own reasons of national self-interest.
One way this change has been expressed is the appearance of articles in the Saudi press, which is government-controlled, that are against antisemitism. That’s somewhat heartening. Of course, we’re talking about a very new development, a minority development, so we’ll have to see if it will ripen and grow.
The problem with the development you refer to is that after the Muslim masses have been fed antisemitic hate for decades, it’s hard to turn the ship around.
That’s right. If it’s only at the leadership level and doesn’t get down to where the masses are, it’s far less possible to be hopeful. Something like this came up with the Catholic church. In 1965, the Second Vatican Council passed the Nostra aetate statement, which after many centuries of blaming the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, absolved the Jewish people.
The question then became, did the statement filter down to Catholics in the pews? If it did not, then it existed on paper but couldn’t accomplish what needed to get done. It’s the same with Muslims. For decades, preaching against Jews and Israelis of the worst kind has emanated from political and religious leaders in Muslim countries. It became part of cultural thinking at large: Jews are an abomination. That needs to be cleaned up.
I remember watching a documentary about antisemites in America today, in which a man was ranting and raving about the Jews. One of the things he shouted was, “People say to me, ‘Why do you hate the Jews so much? What did they ever do to you?’ I tell them I don’t have to have a reason to hate; it feels good to hate.” That sent a chill up my spine. I don’t know how you deal with that.
I don’t know how you deal with it either. Even though I’ve studied these things for ages — and I’m still teaching about the Holocaust and antisemitism, lecturing about them, writing about them — I don’t really understand what hatred is, largely because I’ve never felt it. But that’s not to deny its existence.
A lot of people do feel it; they feel empowered by it, stimulated by it, energized by it. Sometimes it’s enough for them just to spit out ugly words, but occasionally those words are accompanied by violent acts. Then we get into trouble.
We’re about to celebrate Pesach [Passover], which recalls the exodus from Egypt. We know the Jews were enslaved, treated horribly, during much of the 400 years they were in Egypt. At the end of his life Moses turned to the people and told them not to hate the Egyptians, because Jews also were once “strangers in a strange land.” It’s an amazing statement from Moses: After everything that happened, don’t hate them.
My own life as a Jew and my vast experiences among Jews indicate that, for the most part, Jews are not people filled with hatred or motivated by it. We’re not people who act out of hatred.
That might be because Jews have been the target of so much hatred over the centuries.
Yes, although our history easily could have had the opposite effect — it could have made Jews more hateful.
I concur that in general Jews are not motivated by hatred. I do think we’re often influenced by a deep-seated insecurity because of past persecution. A leeriness, a mistrust of gentiles. You never know when you’ll find out your friends and neighbors harbor some antisemitic views.
I agree. Most of the people I intermix with day by day are gentiles and show no signs of prejudice against Jews. They strike me as good, kind, decent people. But from time to time, something will be said that’s ignorant or insensitive and reveals some still lingering animosity. This is rarely encountered, I should add, but it adds point to what you just said.
The hater in the documentary I saw also shouted “You think you’re so smart.” The issue about the so-called “Jewish brain” seems to stick in the craw of antisemites. Yet there is some scientific evidence, at least among Ashkenazi Jews, that Jews do have an advantage in intelligence. That, too, is used against the Jews. The antisemite sees it as further proof of why we’re such a threat, so dangerous.
I wish we were as consistently smart as some of our adversaries make us out to be. We are not. But the perception that Jewish intelligence puts others at a disadvantage is out there and works against us.
Then there’s Jewish success, which is extraordinary.
Obviously, not each and every Jew is a big success – which for better or worse often is measured in terms of money. Nonetheless, as a small people we’ve accomplished enormous things. From time to time there are articles about Jewish Nobel Prize winners, for instance. We’re a miniscule percentage of the world’s population, but we can claim a staggeringly high percentage of Nobel laureates.
Whenever Jews have lived in societies that have been open to them, where Jews could become educated, work hard, apply themselves — and America has been such a country – we’ve often been successful. That should be to our credit.
At the same time, however, it makes us stand out as a small people whose attainments are considerable. That appears to create envy and suspicion on the part of some people, who say we’ve stacked the deck in our favor, and the like.
Aspects of anti-Jewish hostility do include suspicion, distrust, and envy. Some of it is fear. A people this small who can accomplish so much, be so successful — from that you begin to spin out conspiracy theories about Jewish control of the media, Jewish control of political power, Jewish control of global finance.
How should the Jewish people deal with that?
We should never say we ought to stop attaining. We should never say we’ll be satisfied to be mediocre and not strive for excellence. That would be crazy. We just need to mix and mingle with other people in normal ways and hope most of them see that we’re a decent bunch — and if need be, come to our aid whenever things turn ugly.
There is evidence this can happen. But if things turn brutally ugly and people begin suffering in large numbers, can we count on our friends to remain friends? It’s an open question. Some will remain loyal and will be helpful. Others may run scared and back away, as was the case in Nazi Germany.
Yet there were gentiles who did stand up against Nazism and helped Jews. Israel has honored them as “Righteous Among the Nations.”
We owe them our great and eternal gratitude.
White nationalism, white supremacy, white identitarianism — they all seem to be the modern-day spawn of Nazism.
And they’re a growing factor right now. As I’ve said, one thing that’s given them a much more prominent voice is the Internet. The guy who shot up the Pittsburgh synagogue, the guy who shot up the Chabad synagogue near San Diego — they both were ardent followers of chatrooms on far-right-wing, white nationalist, white supremacist, neo-Nazi websites.
Nobody knows for sure how many people connect to those websites, but anybody can get on them and find others of the same ilk. The result is a growing prominence of this kind of hate-filled thinking. It’s dreadful stuff. And these people — especially in a country like America, which has a pervasive gun culture — have no trouble getting arms and using them. So that’s a big problem.
This concludes our in-depth, two-part interview with Dr. Alvin H. Rosenfeld. We welcome your comments. Click here.
An in-depth interview by Lenny Giteck, publisher and editor