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Conversation with Dr. Charles Asher Small

“The discourse in the American Jewish community is that there is no anti-Semitism here.” Big mistake, says a noted scholar on racism.

By Cindy Mindell

Dr. Charles Small web

Dr. Charles Small

Dr. Charles Asher Small is the director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) and the Koret Distinguished Scholar at Stanford University. The non-partisan ISGAP encourages and publishes scholarly research on the origins, processes, and manifestations associated with antisemitism and other forms of racism. The organization sponsors seminar series at Columbia Law School, Fordham University, Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Miami, McGill University, and Sapienza University of Rome. A summer program at Oxford University is planned for 2015.

Small’s scholarly and professional work focuses on social and cultural theory, globalization and national identity, socio-cultural policy, and racism, including anti-Semitism. He was the founding director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism in 2006, the first research center with a focus on anti-Semitism based at a North American university. The program was shuttered by the university in 2011.

Last month, as part of the public protests in response to the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of The Death of Klinghoffer, Small facilitated an ISGAP-sponsored “teach-in” in New York, joined by fellow scholars and human rights activists.

Small will present “The Dimensions of Global Antisemitism: Will It Spread to the U.S.?,” a public lecture sponsored by the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at UConn Storrs on Wednesday, Nov. 19.

He spoke with the Ledger about the current contours of anti-Semitism.


Q: Compared to reports from much of Europe, the U.S. seems pretty uneventful in terms of anti-Semitic incidents. What should we be paying better attention to in that regard?

A: Americans should be very concerned about what’s happening at universities. The attack on Jewish notions of peoplehood has become an open sport in the curricula of the finest universities in this country. The emerging canon in the academy is not just critical of Israeli society but, I would argue, in many instances is demonizing Israel and whitewashing the Jewish notion of peoplehood and the Jewish people’s connection to Israel. This is generating a warped, critical view of Jews and Israel and it’s alarming.

President Barack Obama can go to the UN General Assembly and endorse Sheikh Khalid Bin Khalifa Al Thani, second in command of the Qatar Foundation, a Muslim Brotherhood-linked organization. Al Thani is part of a social reactionary movement that is not only anti-Semitic and not only dedicated to the elimination of the State of Israel, but literally calls for the extermination of Jews and the continuation of the work of Hitler.

For nobody of significance in the Jewish community to really raise this issue and raise concerns, and for the human rights community and women’s organizations and people who care about religious pluralism and democratic society to say nothing, shows that the American intellectual community, the Jewish community, and the international community seem to be sleeping through a reactionary revolution that is using antisemitism as a lightning rod.

The centrifuges in Iran are spinning and there are all sorts of rumors that there will be a bad deal, as well as talk of ways in which the Obama Administration may circumvent Congressional sanctions – and there’s silence from those same communities. The elephant in the room is the global genocidal anti-Semitism expressed openly by Iran and yet, in the U.S. particularly, there’s a real deafening silence.

We can pretend we’re in a bubble but, with globalization, there aren’t many bubbles left.


Q: How do you understand the anti-Semitism in Europe today?

A: Anti-Semitism in Europe, as Robert Wistrich said, is “the longest hatred,” part of the culture of European civilization that has deep roots in its theology and in the ideology and symbols of society. An ancient hatred doesn’t go away overnight: the Holocaust happened seven decades ago and a contemporary version of anti-Semitism is beginning to flourish. This is a moment of crisis for the Jewish communities in several countries in Europe and people are discussing the viability of Jewish life in Europe.

In the French and British Jewish communities, there are a lot of positive things going on: schools, synagogues, yeshivot, new books being published, cultural events, kosher restaurants, Jewish institutions – all sorts of aspects that make for a vibrant community.

Still, they’re really feeling threatened. I have several colleagues, serious scholars, who believe that the struggle to protect the Jewish community is no longer in the academy – the universities have been taken over by anti-Israel rhetoric and curricula – so they are no longer teaching sociology courses, but are now dedicated to studying and monitoring the community to safeguard it from physical attacks.

The French government in particular is working substantially with the Jewish community and the British police is working with that community to safeguard it. As we know, in 2014, if you go to any major European city and look for Jewish institutions, you can spot them because of barricades and a police car nearby.


Q: How active is the conversation about anti-Semitism in the U.S.?

A: American Jews ought to ponder the fact that, if you have an address in New York, you’ve really arrived, but the Jewish organizations in New York have no signs on their buildings and there is very tight security. Why is that, if there is no anti-Semitism in America? And yet, I find it amazing that the discourse in the American Jewish community is that there’s no anti-Semitism here. When the Secretary of State blames Israel for the conflict over the summer or warns the Jews that they have no business praying at the Temple Mount or cautions that Israel may become an apartheid state, what does that mean? If a Russian or French foreign minister said that, we would be outraged. We don’t have to agree on these issues, but there should be vigorous debate about them.


Q: What are your concerns regarding U.S. government policy and attitudes in this regard?

A: This administration pays no attention to the notion of ideology and that is a very important element in this war. The ISIS ideology is the same as that of the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was the foundational root or father of radical political Islam. I’m not talking about Islam or Muslims, but about radical political Islam. We have to acknowledge that we have to confront and fight that ideology, which includes a political takeover of society and the creation of a caliphate. The Muslim Brotherhood is critical of ISIS because of that movement’s horrific violence and brutality, but the two are the same.

The Obama Administration has been supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and this policy is a catastrophe. The U.S. should be supporting moderate people who want democratic societies; want women to go to school and learn to read; want women to be able to leave their houses unaccompanied by a male family member. Democratic principles have currency not just for Americans, but should be allowed to people of all countries, according to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Q: What are the ‘dimensions’ of the problem, as you reference in the title to your upcoming talk?

A: “Dimensions” refers to the impact of demonizing the notions of Jewish peoplehood as the mainstream curriculum in our finest universities. The media of record are incapable of really engaging and exploring issues of contemporary anti-Semitism in a serious and meaningful way; they’re still in denial. The fact is that U.S. foreign policy is engaged with and supporting reactionary religious movements that are diametrically opposed to human rights and that use anti-Semitism to take away rights from gays, women, and moderate Muslims. Capitulating to revolutionary movements can have horrific consequences and is already happening.

There is no serious debate on these issues, and there needs to be discussion in this country because we are courting catastrophe. As we delay this important discussion, we see anti-Semitism on the march. There are more than 300,000 dead in Syria and millions of refugees – the result of people gaining power by using a twisted version of their religion and anti-Semitic rhetoric.

The connection between an extremist Iranian regime and anti-Semitism is not engaged. What does it mean that the U.S. government doesn’t want to engage that regime? What does it mean in terms of anti-Semitism and Israel and Jews and moderate Muslims? We know from history that anti-Semitism begins with Jews but never ends with Jews.

“The Dimensions of Global Antisemitism: Will It Spread to the U.S.?” with Dr. Charles Asher Small: Wednesday, Nov. 19, 5 p.m., UConn Library. For reservations and/or information email judaicstudies@uconn.edu or call (860) 486-2271. FREE and open to the public.

Comments? email cindym@jewishledger.com.

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