Several highly regarded experts on anti-Semitism and the state of the Jewish world sounded strong warnings about the escalation in global anti-Semitism at a Manhattan gathering last week that attracted a large group of Jewish community leaders. David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; Bernard Lewis, a top historical expert on Islam and the Middle East; and Charles Asher Small, founding director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), offered their professional insights at the ISGAP luncheon, held at the offices of Bernstein Global Wealth Management and hosted by Bernstein Principal Jeffrey Wiesenfeld.
Describing his own personal encounter with forces hostile to Jewish interests, Small told the audience about the pressure exerted in 2011 by Middle East Arab entities that was unfortunately successful in terminating his Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, the first research center with a focus on anti-Semitism based at a North American university. Small’s institute had been disseminating valuable information about trends in anti-Semitic activity over a five-year period of in-depth conferences and lectures.
A Koret Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Charles Asher Small has a doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University. In addition to teaching at the University of London, Ben Gurion University and Hebrew University, he served as the Director/Associate Professor of Urban Studies at Southern Connecticut State University; and has been a Visiting Professor at University College London; McGill University, Montreal; the University of Vilnius, Lithuania, and Cape Town University, South Africa. Small has spoken as an expert on anti-Semitism at a number of prestigious worldwide venues, including the Australian, British and Canadian Parliaments, the German Bundestag, and the United Nations, Geneva. The Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy runs academic seminar series at McGill University, Montreal; Harvard Law School; Fordham University and Stanford. In August 2010 in New Haven, Small was elected President of the newly formed International Association for the Study of Anti-Semitism (IASA).
In a path-breaking article entitled “Anti-Israel Sentiment Predicts Anti-Semitism in Europe,” in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Small and Yale Professor Edward Kaplan analyzed populations in 10 European countries, wherein the two surveyed 5,000 respondents and asked them about Israeli actions and classical anti-Semitic stereotypes. “There were questions about whether the IDF purposely targets children, whether Israel poisons the Palestinians’ water supply – these sorts of extreme mythologies,” Small says. They demonstrated that Europeans whose opinions are extremely anti-Israel, are highly likely to also be anti-Semitic. The study demonstrated that an Israel-hating European is 56% more likely to be anti-Semitic than the average European. “This is extraordinary. It’s off the charts,” says Small. “If a food or a drug was 56% more likely to cause cancer, it would be taken off the shelf.”
During the ISGAP luncheon, the AJC’s Harris characterized the current waves of anti-Semitism as emanating from three distinct sources – the far right of the political spectrum, which includes such groups as the Golden Dawn party in Greece and right-wing extremists in Hungary; the far left, epitomized by the persistent efforts of leaders and members of the academic world to delegitimize the state of Israel as an “oppressor” of the Palestinians; and the Islamic world, which has a tendency to view Jews as lesser human beings and which often denies the historical veracity of the Holocaust.
“They are killing people only because they are Jews,” Harris asserted at the ISGAP luncheon. “We have to recognize them and name names. Anti-Semitism is a disease that ultimately destroys a democratic society. The challenge we face is to wake up and smell the coffee.”
Analyzing the classic roots of anti-Semitism, Bernard Lewis stated that other nations in the ancient world were angered by the refusal of the Jewish people to recognize any other deity besides the G-d who revealed Himself at Mount Sinai. Lewis said that this hostility became greatly exacerbated during the Spanish Inquisition when the Christians of Spain demanded that the Jews either convert to the dominant religion or become exiled from the country. Lewis noted that while Muslims during that historical period were willing to “tolerate” Jews and Christians living under their rule because they were viewed as fellow believers in revelation, the two non-Muslim religious groups were legally required to pay a poll tax. According to Lewis, Jews who were expelled from Christian Spain were taken in by some Muslim countries. “Anti-Semitism is fairly new in the Middle East,” Lewis contended. “This was introduced from Christian Europe.”
The ISGAP gathering drew a standing-room only crowd to Bernstein Global Wealth, with such notables in attendance as Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy; Matthew Goldstein, the outgoing chancellor of the City University of New York; Bernice Manocherian, former president of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); Helen Freedman, executive director of Americans for a Safe Israel; Dr. Paul Brody, vice president of the International Committee for the Land of Israel; and former judge Milton Mollen.
During Lewis’ address, one member of the audience asked him if it was possible that the West could endure the reality of a nuclear Iran, in the same manner that the United States and the Soviet Union maintained a relatively peaceful co-existence based on the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which postulated that neither country would launch a nuclear attack on the other lest both sides suffer the decimation of mutual reprisals. “When Ahmadinejad makes threats, we should take notice,” Lewis responded. “To the Muslim world, Mutually Assured Destruction is not a deterrent. It is an inducement.”
Despite his professed concerns over the rising threat to Western and Jewish interests from the Muslim world, Lewis appeared to down play the growing Muslim population in Europe. “The answer is simple,” he said. “Marry young and have children.”
The Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, Lewis specializes in the interaction between Islam and the West, and he is especially famous in academic circles for his works on the history of the Ottoman Empire. The renowned historian has served as the chair of Near and Middle Eastern History at the University of London. He additionally held a joint position at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, and served at Cornell University from 1986 to 1990. In 1990 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Lewis for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities.
Lewis is a widely read expert on the Middle East, and is regarded as one of the West’s leading scholars of that region. His advice has been frequently sought by policymakers, including the George W. Bush administration. In the Encyclopedia of Historians and Historical Writing, Martin Kramer considered that, over a 60-year career, Lewis has emerged as “the most influential postwar historian of Islam and the Middle East.
In the wake of Soviet and Arab attempts to delegitimize Israel as a racist country, Lewis wrote a study of anti-Semitism, Semites and Anti-Semites (1986). In other works he argued that Arab rage against Israel was disproportionate to other tragedies or injustices in the Muslim world: the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and control of Muslim-majority land in Central Asia, the bloody and destructive fighting during the Hama uprising in Syria (1982), the Algerian civil war (1992–98), and the Iran-Iraq War (1980–88).
Lewis was awarded the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush in November 2006.
In the mid-1960s, Lewis emerged as a commentator on the issues of the modern Middle East, and his analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the rise of militant Islam brought him much publicity. American historian Joel Beinin has called him “perhaps the most articulate and learned Zionist advocate in the North American Middle East academic community”. Lewis’s policy advice has particular weight thanks to this scholarly authority. Vice President Dick Cheney remarked that, “in this new century, his wisdom is sought daily by policymakers, diplomats, fellow academics, and the news media.
Written by Boruch Shubert
Originally published on May 1, 2013 at The Jewish Voice