Antisemitism: The Interconnected Hatred
SPECIAL ENVOY LIPSTADT: It is my great pleasure to be with you all today. Before I get started, I want to express my appreciation to Dianne Lob, William Daroff, Malcolm Hoenlein, and your new Chair-Elect Harriet Schleifer for your leadership and efforts on behalf of the Conference’s member organizations and for giving voice to so many important issues.
We are reminded, almost daily, by the news we read and watch, in the conversations we have with each other, and through our work, that antisemitism is on the rise – and tragically it is on the rise here at home in America, not just overseas where I am tasked to tackle the problem.
But you know that. Today I want to drill down a bit deeper, and speak to you of the interconnectedness of antisemitism,
- of the various ways in which antisemitism is linked to other hatreds and the way in which other hatreds rely on antisemitism as their foundation stone;
- of how there is a nexus between the antisemitism we are seeing worldwide and what we are seeing here in the United States
- and of how groups who disagree on everything are linked by their antisemitism.
I do so, not as an intellectual effort, but as a strategic one. We must recognize and identify this interconnectedness because, unless we fully understand this aspect of the malicious poisonous nature of antisemitism, we cannot see it for what it truly is. And unless we see it for what it really is, we cannot fight it.
Unlike many other prejudices, antisemitism can manifest as a conspiracy theory. Conspiracy serves as the prism through which the antisemite’s view of the Jew is refracted. The antisemites, convinced that Jews use their wealth, power, and smarts to wreak havoc on the non-Jewish world, find the Jewish hand in any deleterious event in history. They, the antisemite posits, are maneuvering behind the scenes.
The Great Replacement Theory (GRT), also known as White Genocide Replacement Theory, though hardly new, is the most recent iteration of this conspiracy. It claims that Jews are using people of color as puppets in order to destroy white Christian culture. Here, we see the first kind of interconnectedness that I mentioned, specifically that between racism and antisemitism.
Many people were shown the horrific impact of Great Replacement Theory in the Buffalo shooting and, specifically, in the so-called “manifesto” prepared by the Buffalo killer. His words constitute an optimum example, if one can use the term optimum when speaking of such a terrible tragedy, of the way in which racial hatred and antisemitism are intimately linked. The killer came to kill Black people, people shopping for groceries, buying snacks and taking their children for ice cream. He sought out a locale where he would be guaranteed to find the greatest number of Black victims.
But in his so-called manifesto he made it very clear that Black people were not his only intended target. Describing Jews as “demons” and the “biggest problem the Western world has ever had” he called for them to be “killed” and, “if they are lucky, to be exiled.” He instructed his followers “not [to] show them any sympathy….” They had to “go back to hell where [they] came from.” They had to be “removed from out Western civilization in any way possible.” His first objective was to kill Blacks, but “the Jews would be dealt with in time.”
He did not just hate both groups but he saw one group – Jews – as using the other – Blacks – to destroy his culture.
For those in this room, this was not something new. We have seen that interconnection between racial animus and antisemitism before, most memorably, at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August 2017, when protestors chanted, to the bewilderment of many people, Jews included, “Jews will not replace us.” It was this event that President Biden points to as prompting him to run for president.
I was an expert witness in the civil suit that was brought late last year against the organizers of Unite the Right. The suit was brought by individuals who had been physically attacked and by the family of Heather Heyer, the young woman who was murdered when a participant in the rally ran her down with his car. The legal team asked me to convey to the court and the jury why, in a rally ostensibly about a Civil War statue, the organizers mentioned Jews so often, relied on Nazi symbols and rhetoric and engaged in overt, gutter-level antisemitism.
I prepared a report for the court in which I argued that antisemitism was a foundation stone for this rally. I found the march, the rally and the gigabytes of social media postings and email exchanges before the gathering to stunningly illustrate how for these kinds of haters antisemitism and racism — hatred of Black Americans and hatred of Jews — are inexorably intertwined.
I outlined for the court and the jury the preposterous accusations made by the Charlottesville organizers that Jews were attempting to destroy white America by replacing White Christian majorities with people of color. I also demonstrated how these claims have been adopted and adapted by racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists in other countries in Europe and beyond.
The connection between racism and antisemitism was seen in Pittsburgh, where the killer was inspired to commit his evil deed by the fact that the synagogue had declared the Shabbat in question to be HIAS shabbat, a shabbat to celebrate efforts to ease the path of immigrants to this country. He believed that Jews were “committing genocide” against “his” people and he wanted them all to die, as he told officers at the scene. Six months later, the murderer in Poway, California claimed he was inspired by the Pittsburgh killer.
Buffalo, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, Poway demonstrate more than just the interconnectedness between racial hatred and antisemitism.
Here is the second example of interconnectedness. They are also graphic demonstrations of the nexus between domestic and international antisemitism.
The murderer in Buffalo “borrowed” or plagiarized his rantings from those of the killer in Christchurch, New Zealand who brutally murdered 51 Muslims, and injured 40 more in two different mosques. And he acknowledged being inspired to try to live stream his vile action by the murderer in Halle, Germany who in 2019 on Yom Kippur, tried to break into the synagogue to murder the worshipers inside. When he could not, thanks to a door that had been reinforced as a protection against precisely these kinds of attacks, he turned his weapon on random people passing by.
In, yet another example of how domestic haters rely on antisemitic imagery that originated abroad, the Buffalo murderer, using antisemitic charges that first surfaced in Hungary, described George Soros, as the man “majorly responsible for the destruction of White culture.” For this killer and so many like him, Soros has become “the 21st century Rothschild.” There are many people, including some in this audience, who may vehemently disagree with Soros’ political philosophy and ideological leanings. That, however, is irrelevant when we are talking about antisemitism. For the antisemite he epitomizes “THE” Jew, the character wealthy enough, malicious enough, powerful enough, well connected enough to wreak havoc on White civilization from behind the scenes. He is the puppet master, instructing the other puppeteers.
For the antisemite, Soros serves as more than just the puppet master. They claim he was a Nazi collaborator. His resourceful father, sensing the coming danger, arranged for hiding places for his family. He bribed a city official to hide George in plain sight. Soros lived with the official’s family. One day the official was instructed to confiscate the property of a Jew who had been deported. He took Soros with him. Soros recalls being afraid to urinate, lest someone see that he was circumcised. Antisemites, Holocaust distorters and other haters use this story to rather ludicrously claim that Soros collaborated with the Nazis for his own gain.
This depiction of Soros as a Jew profiting from the destruction of his fellow Jews is part of the wider nexus of charges that “the Zionists” collaborated with Nazis. This charge uses the Haavarah agreement – the 1933 agreement between German Zionists and the German government that allowed Jews immigrating to Palestine to get some credit for their blocked funds. It is, of course, a way of attacking the legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish state.
When I first began my work on Holocaust denial, it quickly become obvious to me that deniers engaged in what has been described as a “merry-go-round” of quoting one another to prove their audacious claims. We see something similar here. These killers, even if they have never communicated directly with one another, are part of an interlocking nexus of haters. They inspire one another and their followers. Their followers may not be great in number but they have a multiplier and copycat effect.
My third and final example of the interconnectedness of antisemitism is to be found in its ubiquity. Jew-hatred is, as I told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during my confirmation hearings, ubiquitous, free flowing, moving in and coming from all directions. We must never delude ourselves that antisemitism comes from only one political, social, ethnic or religious direction. One of the striking features about this ubiquitous nature of antisemitism is that, irrespective of where it is coming from, it relies on the same template of charges. People who agree on nothing else or, better put, disagree on everything else agree on the evils of the Jew. The fact that some extremists on both ends of the political spectrum share a diabolical view of the Jew strengthens antisemitism. The casual observer might wonder: “If these groups, who disagree – vehemently so – on so much, agree on the evil character of the Jew, how can it be incorrect?”
I want to strongly emphasize that I am certainly not suggesting that all threats are always of equal severity simultaneously. Sometimes, the threat from one place on the spectrum or from one group is more severe – very much so – than from the other. But that does not mean we should ignore the threat’s manifestations when it comes from another place.
Our fight against antisemitism is made more difficult by the fact that many people, organizations and institutions, including those who valiantly fight other prejudices with all their hearts and might, fail to see antisemitism as a serious danger. They do not include it in their litany of prejudicial hatreds to be condemned and combated. To put it crudely, they wonder “just what the Jews are complaining about?”
And because they fail to see antisemitism as a serious threat, when there is an act of antisemitism, they cannot bring themselves to focus specifically on this particular prejudice. They will condemn antisemitism, but only if it is included with all other acts of prejudice. It is as if antisemitism does not belong to the true category of outrages and cannot, therefore, stand alone as something of real concern.
Sadly, some not only fail to see it as something serious, but they see it as “in competition” with other hatreds. They not only deny that Jews can be marginalized and threatened, but believe that attention to antisemitism means less attention to the hates they are combatting. I would argue the opposite – hence my stress on the interconnectedness of this hatred to other hatreds – that to fight one, while ignoring or diminishing and demeaning the severity of the other, is to fight a losing battle.
Finally, we cannot ignore the connection between antisemitism and the attacks on Israel. Some antisemites use Israel as a foil for their antisemitism. They couch or camouflage their antisemitism in attacks on Israel. “We are not attacking Jews; we are criticizing a sovereign state,” they assure you.
Let me state something, which should be a given and which the United States government has repeatedly affirmed: criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is NOT antisemitism per se. In fact, Israel as a vibrant democracy, prides itself on the ability of its citizens to freely criticize and contest government policies.
But, as we also well know, reflexively labeling any criticism of Israel as antisemitism is not only wrong, but can be counterproductive in the fight against antisemitism. If we repeatedly call out, “the sky is falling” even when it’s not, we are not listened to when we call it out and it really is falling.
At the same time, we cannot fail to acknowledge that some of the criticism of Israel – particularly of its legitimacy to exist — is naught but a foil for antisemitism.
When there is an imbalance in the criticism, a failure to see the wrongs of others, an attributing of blame to only one party and double standards, one is compelled to ask: what is the basis for this imbalance? When a Jewish state is denied the same treatment that is accorded to every other state, one is compelled to ask: what is the basis for this imbalance? The answer is often self-evident.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not call attention to yet another example of the way antisemitism is connected to other hateful efforts, in this case the attempt to stir up nationalist sentiment.
Sadly, what we are currently hearing from Russia’s leaders constitutes ongoing, egregious Holocaust distortion and antisemitism. The Kremlin’s blatant fabrications and lies about the Ukrainian leadership constituting “Nazi filth,” the fanciful – but dangerous – claims about Hitler’s origins, the exploitation of the Holocaust and the suffering of World War II to justify a war of aggression are disgraceful.
It is a form of Holocaust denial, not “hardcore” denial, the denial of the facts themselves, but “softcore” denial, the rewriting and distortion of the facts to serve other ends, the twisting of the facts for political purposes, the turning of victim into victimizer or perpetrator into victim. Putin’s obscene manipulation of history to justify his unconscionable war of choice against Ukraine has connected antisemitism to his global aggressions.
Never has it been more vital to ensure that the history of the Holocaust is taught, and its lessons learned, so that we recognize the early warning signs and indicators of potential crimes against humanity or genocide. The Claims Conference’s most recent survey found that nearly one-third of all Americans and more than 4-in-10 Millennials believe that substantially less than six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. The survey also found that 45 percent of Americans cannot name a single one of the over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos in Europe during the Holocaust.
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to ensuring that the international community recognizes the many manifestations of antisemitism, Holocaust denial and distortion being only one. That is why the Biden-Harris Administration enthusiastically embraces the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) legally non-binding Working Definition of Antisemitism. More than three dozen countries and hundreds of other entities have endorsed and put the IHRA working definition to use. It helps identify and underscore the unique challenges experienced by Jewish communities worldwide. We continue to actively encourage countries around the world to embrace and apply the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, inclusive of its examples.
In June 2021 Secretary Blinked and German Foreign Minister Maas announced in Berlin a new Joint American German dialogue on Holocaust issues to produce strategies to improve Holocaust education, counter Holocaust distortion, and combat antisemitism. We yearn for the day when positions, such as the one I am honored to occupy and the many others like it, become moribund and these programs are legislated out of existence because the problem they have been delegated with monitoring and combatting has been resolved.
I am too much of both a historian and a realist to even imagine that day will come in my lifetime. But I resolve to fight this plague every day with every fiber of my being. I am so deeply encouraged by the support my office has received from the President and Vice President of the United States, the leadership of the State Department and a remarkable bipartisan affirmation by the United States Congress.
Though that support fills me with gratitude and resolve, I am even more strengthened and encouraged by the knowledge that a multitude of people – many represented by the institutions and organizations present here today – are hoping and, dare I say it, praying for me to succeed. I am entirely humbled by the fact that on Shabbat in many a synagogue a prayer is recited for the President, Vice President and all who serve with them. The fact that my success is being prayed for humbles me beyond words and strengthens me beyond measure.
Two days ago, I was officially sworn into office by Vice President Harris. I took the oath on two books, a Talmud published by the United States Army for use by those in the DP camps in the German zone. In 1946 a group of rabbis approached the Army leadership and made the case that the DPs need spiritual as well as physical rehabilitation. The Army agreed and arranged for the entire Talmud to be published in a special edition.
I added to that (as if the Tractate Sanhedrin was not heavy enough already), a worn taped together book of Psalms that belonged to my mother.
I enter this office bolstered by the knowledge that the leaders of the US Army recognized the spiritual needs of the DPs and were willing to break precedent and publish a 19 volume religious text. I enter the office as a child of two immigrants who implanted within their children an abiding faith in their religious identity and an equally abiding faith and gratitude to the United States of America.
When the Vice President administered my oath of office, I ended with the words “so help me God.” I requested that it be included – some people choose otherwise – but with the job facing me, I told White House officials, I need every bit of support I can muster.
I know I can count on you to be my earthly allies in this fight. I can only pray that I shall have such allies in the heavens above. God knows, I need them, and I need you.
Thank you very much.