The following interactive study guide is designed to help you maximize your understanding of Deborah Lipstadt’s book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, and to personalize your reading experience. It can also be used by facilitators and educators to structure conversations on antisemitism today. The guide contains a chapter-by-chapter review in the form of a salient quote and a set of three questions for each letter in a series. The questions are there to alert readers to the central themes of each letter grouping, to invite reflection on one’s own experiences, and to engage in a mental debate and discussion with the author. There are no answers given; the questions are either designed to draw out the opinion of individual readers or involve a basic comprehension of the content.
This section is followed by a brief interview with the author to get to know a little bit more about Deborah Lipstadt and what inspired her to devote a book to this topic. The guide also includes seven case studies that a teacher, Hillel leader, board president, or book club moderator may wish to dissect with a group and analyze. The case studies are all composites of real-life situations. Walking through them carefully can provide participants an opportunity to think about how to respond when encountering parallel situations in their own lives. Lastly, the guide contains several group exercises to provoke conversations about antisemitism, identity, and diversity, as well as an online resource section with links to other books and to organizations fighting antisemitism. Each section of the guide begins with a quote from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) to put these critical conversations within the context of human relationships.
A Chapter-by-Chapter Study Guide
“The real struggle is not between East and West, or capitalism and communism, but between education and propaganda.”
Martin Buber, I and Thou
A Note to the Reader:
“ …the existence of prejudice in any of its forms is a threat to all those who value an inclusive, democratic, and multicultural society…Antisemitism flourishes in a society that is intolerant of others, be they immigrants or racial and religious minorities. When expressions of contempt for one group become normative, it is virtually inevitable that similar hatred will be directed at other groups.” [page xi]
“ I feel comfortable as a Jew, except maybe when Israel is the topic of discussion.” [page 4]
“ It is hard, if not impossible, to explain something that is essentially irrational, delusional, and absurd.” [page 7]
“ If you cannot define something, you cannot address it or fight it.” [page 15]
“A certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” [emphasis added] [page 15]
International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance
“A persisting latent structure of hostile belief towards Jews as a collectivity manifested in individuals as attitudes, and in culture as myth, ideology, folklore, and imagery, and in actions – social or legal discrimination, political mobilization against Jews, and collective or state violence – which results in and/or is designed to distance, displace, or destroy Jews as Jews.” [emphasis in original] [pages 15-16]
“Rarely has so much meaning been vested in a hyphen and an uppercase letter.” [page 22]
What does Hayes mean by “not a mere prejudice” but something bigger than that?
Did it work? Can you think of other linguistic examples where a euphemism not only described or manipulated a condition but actually was responsible for perpetuating a falsehood?
“ …easy ahistorical analogies to the Holocaust and Nazism cheapen the genocidal actions of the Germans and often create an unwarranted angst among people today.” [page 30]
“There are many antisemites who would never dream of even using offensive rhetoric.” [page 43]
“ On some level, I find the utilitarian antisemite – the pot-stirrer who enables haters – to be more reprehensible than the ideologue who openly acknowledges his antisemitism. Because he is not affiliated with any extremist group, the utilitarian stands a better chance of both plausibly denying his antisemitism and influencing an audience that would never listen to an extremist. The unapologetic hater is, at least, honest about his feelings. With him, we know what we are up against.” [page 55]
“ Someone who feels the need to boast that he has Jewish (or African-American) friends is more often than not someone who has problems with Jews (or blacks) who aren’t his friends.” [page 70]
“The clueless antisemite is an otherwise nice and well-meaning person who is completely unaware that she has internalized antisemitic stereotypes and is perpetuating them.” [pages 77-78]
“…is there any way of educating the haters?” [page 83]
“ The fact that you have a Jewish heritage does not automatically equip you - or anyone else, for that matter – to know what to say when challenged by someone who minimizes the significance of antisemitism today.” [page 90]
“ As the victims of prejudice ourselves, we know from personal experience how important it is to have the support of other communities when we fight prejudice against us.” [page 99]
“People who speak of the campus as a ‘hotbed’ of antisemitism overstate the case and are positing something that is at odds with most students’ reality.” [page 110]
“ Jews, together with other religious and ethnic minorities, have always thrived in societies where freedom of speech and religion have been highly valued. They have blossomed in societies that welcome an array of cultures and beliefs.” [page 117]
“ …liberal friends are very happy to criticize Catholicism, Christianity, and Judaism, but when it comes to Islam, it feels as though all their open-minded principles are disregarded.” [pages 123-124] - Lloyd Newsom
“ In the end, there is only one acceptable response when freedom of expression is met with terrorism and murder: a plain and unequivocal declaration that this is wrong. Nothing – not poverty, anger, disenfranchisement, religious belief, or anything else – can justify it.” [page 127]
“ …when I first heard of Holocaust deniers…I, too, dismissed them as not worthy of serious analysis. Then I looked more closely, and I changed my mind.” [page 140]
“ I often hear Israelis described as the equivalent of Nazis.” [page 146]
“ Critics…who claim there was a collaboration between Nazis and Zionists do so for one repugnant reason only: to imply that the Jews themselves were complicit in the Nazis’ horrendous crimes.” [pages 154-155]
“ I worry not just about the rewriting of history but also about the attack on democracy that seems to come with it.” [page 156]
“ BDS-inspired academic and cultural boycotts can be inconsistent and capricious.” [page 172]
“ I often hear the argument that the BDS movement can’t be considered antisemitic because many of its members are Jews…It is sadly true that one of the most pernicious results of prejudice is when members of a persecuted group accept the ugly stereotypes used to characterize them.” [page 183]
“ Students on American college campuses seem to have taken notions of political correctness, as well as ideas about ‘inclusivity,’ ‘exclusivity,’ and ‘safe space,’ to a point where they trump freedom of speech.” [page 185]
“ Many Jews involved with progressive causes are increasingly feeling this tug, if not outright war, between their Jewish and political identities.” [page 195]
“ …we must carefully differentiate between campaigns that disagree with Israeli policy and those that essentially call for the elimination of the Jewish state. There is a vast difference between being opposed to the policies of the Israeli government and being an antisemite.” [pages 205-206]
“ Those on the left see Jew-hatred only on the right. Those on the right see it only on the left. Both are correct in what they see. But they are blind or rather willfully blind themselves to the antisemitism in their midst.” [page 211]
“ And what exactly is a small act of antisemitism? Shouldn’t there be a zero-tolerance policy for any act of antisemitism? [page 227]
“ …if antisemitism becomes the sole focus of our concerns, we run the risk of seeing the entire Jewish experience through the eyes of the people who hate us.” [page 236]
“ Although I have devoted most of my professional life to the study of the persecution of the Jews, that has never been what has driven me personally as a Jew.” [page 241]
“ We can be redeemed only to the extent to which we see ourselves.”
Martin Buber, I and Thou
DEL: I have long been one of those who felt that Jews, particularly but not only in the United States, have overemphasized the threat of antisemitism. They were more inclined to see the glass as half empty than more than half full. Fundraising campaigns for both domestic and overseas Jewish causes seem to emphasize the negative. While what they were saying was factual, it bothered me that they seemed to ignore the fact that, in many respects, Jewish life has never been better. That doesn’t mean that the antisemitism was not real. It was. But we seemed to be losing sight of the good as we emphasized the bad.
Yet about five years ago, I noted increased expressions and acts of antisemitism, first on the political left and then on the political right. Something was changing. It also seemed to me that many observers and analysts were not taking the problem seriously. Maybe I was wrong. I did not know. So, I did what academics do when they see a problem that perplexes them: write a book.
DEL: My first teaching job after graduate school was at the University of Washington. I was the first Jewish studies professor on the faculty. A few months after my arrival, I was having coffee with a colleague from the history department. He offered me what he thought was a sincere compliment. “When we heard that a Jewish woman from New York was applying for the job, we were all very wary. But we were wrong. You are a terrific colleague.” I smiled, thanked him, and thought “You have no idea what a bigoted statement that was.” Today I probably would not have kept silent. I hope I could have dredged up some witty — but piercing — comeback.
The most profound and direct form of antisemitism that I encountered occurred when I was on trial in London after Holocaust denier David Irving accused me of libel. As I entered and left the courtroom, his supporters would whisper antisemitic cracks or send me anonymous – their bravery never fails to underwhelm — notes: “Jewish bitch. Die.” Seething, I had to sit in court listening to his snide antisemitic comments.
Truth be told, I find the first example more disturbing than the second. That may sound strange. But it is very true. And I hope that readers of this book will understand why.
DEL: As I argue in the book, it goes back to the way the story of the death of Jesus has been taught by many church leaders for millennia. It has shown a remarkable ability to mutate and adapt to new situations. Irrespective of whether it is expressed by religious leaders (Christians, Muslims), political leaders (socialists, communists, liberals, Nazis, right wing conservatives, and others), or “societal” groups (country clubs, schools, universities, residential neighborhoods, and others), it always contains the same elements: Jews seek power. They will use their “smarts” for their own benefit even if it harms millions of others. And their “god is money.”
DEL: I think it really depends on what university a student attends. Large public universities, those with large graduate schools, tend to demonstrate stronger and harsher expression of anti-Israel and anti-Zionism. Often these attitudes morph into purebred antisemitism. But at the same time, it is crucial to remember that in many respects Jewish life on campus is thriving. Every major university has a Hillel and, often, a Chabad house. Every major university or college has a Jewish studies program, programs that are vibrant and attract both Jewish and non-Jewish students. This was not the case when I was in school.
DEL: These days, I tend to sign most emails and personal letters DEL. Using that moniker also resolved the problem of signing my letters to Joe with “Deborah” and my letters to Abigail with “Professor Lipstadt” or “Deborah Lipstadt.” (I don’t think students and teachers should be on a first-name basis. I may be old-fashioned in that regard, but so be it.) So DEL it was!
DEL: I think it would be a bit egotistical to claim to channel Esther, or Deborah for that matter. But, in Jewish tradition, we give children names to link them to previous generations and previous figures in Jewish life. We do that in order to honor those who are no longer alive and to inspire the child to emulate the characteristics of the person after whom they are named. I sort of feel that way.
On the day the verdict in my trial was handed down, I returned to my hotel late at night to find hundreds of emails. One of them simply said: Book of Esther 4:14. This is the point in the story where Esther tells Mordechai that she cannot go see the king without being summoned. Otherwise, she might be killed. Mordechai, impatient with her concern about her own fate rather than the fate of her people, admonished her: “Who knows if not for this reason you became Queen?” Sometimes, when I reflect on what has happened to me, most particularly the trial, the movie “Denial,” and now this book, which appears at such a crucial and difficult moment for Jews, I think back on that verse.
Who knows??? If not for this….. I hope it does not sound too egotistical to say, it gives a certain purpose to my life.
DEL: Many years ago, Yehuda Bauer told me the following story. He had started his academic career as a historian of the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community in Palestine. One day Abba Kovner, the leader of the Vilna ghetto resistance and one of Israel’s most beloved poets, said to him, “What is the most significant thing to happen to the Jewish people in the 20th century?” Bauer said, “The establishment of the state of Israel and the Shoah, which took the life of one out of every three Jews alive.” Kovner admonished him: “There are many who are studying the history of Israel. There are virtually none who are studying the Shoah. That must be your topic.”
DEL: Hate, prejudice, and persecution are the great equalizers.
You need not be an educated or identifying Jew to be the subject of oppression. The Germans did not distinguish between highly identifying Jews and totally assimilated ones when they gathered their prey. (In fact, they thought of assimilated Jews, i.e. those Jews who could not be easily identified as Jews, as more dangerous than Jews who could be easily identified. Assimilated Jews could, the Nazis argued, more easily do their evil deeds without being noticed.) One does not have to know anything about Jewish tradition to know that I or my family can be the objects of hatred.
DEL: This is a big challenge. How do you fight discrimination and hatred without making the purveyor of that hatred seem to be more important than they are? In the book I mention what my lawyer Anthony Julius told me shortly before my trial. “Think of fighting David Irving as you would of cleaning the shit in which you stepped off your shoes. The dirt has no intrinsic importance but you must get it off your feet and not drag it into the house. If you do the latter and get it into the carpet and on the floors, you will be in real trouble.” Antisemites, racists, homophobes, and the like are low lifes. We must fight them – clean them off our feet — without making them seem very important.
Having said that, I acknowledge how difficult it is. During my trial, my legal team made David Irving look absurd in the courtroom. He was repeatedly caught in lies, prevarications, and misquotations. Simply put, he looked silly.
In truth, it wasn’t anything we did to him. It was what he did to himself. Even when the evidence showed that his argument was completely false, he refused to retreat. We boxed him in with the truth. His so-called evidence never proved his claims. In fact, at one point the judge admonished Irving that the document he had in front of him and was questioning one of our experts about did not say what he said it said. He ended up, in my opinion, looking like the court jester, sort of pathetic.
Currently many Jews and non-Jews are appalled by the likes of the Reverend Louis Farrakhan, who regularly demeans Jews and LGBTQ people. In many respects, he is a “has-been,” someone of no real importance. We must find a way of fighting him without building him up in significance.
DEL: I don’t have an all-encompassing checklist for readers, i.e. do precisely this, that, or the other. I wish I did. But I do think there are certain steps that anyone who wants to fight prejudice, in this case antisemitism, can do.
“ Love is responsibility of an I for a You…”
Martin Buber, I and Thou
You always saw your social activism as an expression of your Jewish values. With every protest, you hear the echoes of the Exodus story. Because you were a stranger, you cannot let anyone else be marginalized. You understood that others feel the same and were taken by Frederick Douglass’ own advocacy for women: “When I ran away from slavery, it was for myself; when I advocated emancipation, it was for my people; but when I stood up for the rights of women, self was out of the question, and I found nobility in the act.” Inspired by Douglass, you found nobility in advocating for those without a voice. In that spirit, you committed yourself to a social activist march as one of its central organizers. In addition to significant personal donations you’ve made to support this cause, you have put dozens of hours into marketing, recruiting, and setting up the march’s logistics as a member of its leadership team. A few days before the march, a number of other leaders invited you to a private meeting and told you they needed you to take your name off the organization’s literature because you are Jewish. Your participation would detract from support for the cause. Intersectionality – a conceptual framework in which oppressive institutions are connected and cannot be separated – is standing in the way of your activism. You are deeply alarmed.
How do you respond?
What do you do?
Whom can you go to for support?
For decades, you have been a big fan of a particular author, following his career trajectory from his first novel to his essay collections. He first awoke within you an awareness of the plight of his people through his fictional adaptation of a particular era. He recently made disparaging comments about Israel. Researching this further, you discovered that he not only criticized Israel widely, but he was also quoted in an interview supporting the work of a known Holocaust denier. As a minority writer of acclaim, he has used his fiction to create empathic characters. You initially dismissed his remarks, thinking that if you stopped reading the literary works of antisemites, you would deny yourself exposure to some of the world’s great poets, novelists, and playwrights. But something about this writer is different, perhaps because he is a contemporary or maybe simply because he opened your eyes to the suffering of others. His new book just came out.
Will you buy this author’s new book? Justify your answer.
Tweeting regularly as part of your work responsibilities within a corporate social media team, you check your company’s Twitter feed often and were disturbed to see a surge in antisemitic tweets. They seemed random and illogical, but the harsher the language, the faster the tweets traveled. You did some quick research. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) claims that “Racism, sexism, homophobia, religious extremism and conspiracy theories have deep roots in social media, and perpetrators have recognized and capitalized on the near-universal reach of popular platforms.” In one of their latest reports – an analysis that tracked a calendar year of tweets – they contend that 4.2 million antisemitic tweets were posted and reposted on Twitter by three million unique handles. Sadly, you noticed that a middle manager who supervises you has one such unique handle and is responsible for posting and reposting tweets immersed in the subculture of white supremacy. You are not sure he knows you are Jewish and are unsure it would make a difference. Your great-grandparents were Holocaust survivors and a great uncle was a partisan fighter in the Warsaw Ghetto. Even though he is your boss, you are not prepared to stand idly by, wondering if his supervisor knows about his cyber activity, even if it’s not on work time.
Discuss your course of action.
A large synagogue in your area was recently vandalized. Worshippers who turned up for a Shabbat service were dismayed to find large black swastikas spray-painted on the doors and several of the Hebrew letters of the synagogue’s name ripped off the building’s exterior. A few days later, many tombstones in the Jewish section of the local cemetery were knocked over. The town has been regularly praised for its inclusivity and was regarded by its residents as a safe and happy place to live. The president of the synagogue board is outraged because the mayor of the town refuses to see any connection between the incidents. He is trying to minimize the damage by isolating the incidents and downplaying their impact. As mayor, he is trying to hold the center and lean on the town’s long history of peaceful relations among all community members. The mayor is Muslim. Some members of the synagogue are attacking him as an antisemite. You feel that the charges against the mayor are unproven and know the damage that such labels can have on an individual’s political career, but you are struggling to understand why he has not taken a more forceful stand. You decide to write him a letter.
Share the contents of your letter.
You are a junior at a small liberal arts university in the Midwest. You went on a Birthright trip in the winter of your freshman year. When the trip was over, you became actively involved in your college Hillel. You wanted to stay connected to the Jewish people. You suffered two terrible years of Hebrew school in sixth and seventh grade, mostly bored and sore at your parents because you could not try out for the school’s soccer team. Birthright exposed you to a whole other Jewish universe. You had a wonderful, immersive, and positive experience of Judaism for the first time in your life. In the first semester of your sophomore year, already a board member at Hillel, you watched Students for Justice in Palestine gain momentum on campus. They held several rallies on the quad, and posters emblazoned with “Israel is an Apartheid State” were plastered all over the student center. You and some other members of the Hillel leadership rushed to remove them and put up posters in support of Israel, but SJP ripped them down. The poster war ended, unsurprisingly, in a student senate vote on whether to support BDS on campus in the late spring. You barely studied for finals, trying to galvanize Jewish and non-Jewish students to support the anti-BDS movement and vote the initiative down. The night of the vote, you stayed up until 2am, when the results were announced. Your side won by only one point. It was a pyrrhic victory – and only the beginning of the fight. Your team was exhausted, and you did poorly on finals, which were only a week after the vote. Now, in the fall semester of your junior year, you are watching a replay. The posters have gone up again. The fury is brewing, but you are mentally spent. Your parents were upset about the drop in your GPA and could not see why you prioritized a cause over your own academic success. You were upset that so few students joined you last spring and feel it’s time for other students to do their share; the problem is that so few are willing. The leader in you says to continue the fight. The student in you says to focus on your studies.
What do you do at this juncture?
Leaving a retail store and wishing the clerk a nice holiday, you stopped in your tracks when the sour clerk whispered loudly, “If only the Jews wouldn’t work us so hard.” You left the store with your friend, puzzled and upset. You were in a large store; the chain was founded and run by a man with no Jewish ties, and the store was located in a rural area without a noticeable Jewish population. The two of you check in with each other. “Did he say what I thought he said?” you ask your friend. “He did. What should we do?” she responds. “Nothing,” you reply. She was unsatisfied with your passivity and marched back into the store to tell the clerk she was Jewish and offended by his comment. The clerk looked at her stone-faced and said, “You don’t look Jewish.”
What should your friend say or do next?
A friend in your neighborhood has a daughter in 2nd grade who frequently comes over to play with your 7-year-old daughter. They have developed a lovely friendship, similar to the one you have with her parents. One afternoon in your kitchen, as the girls were having a snack, the neighbor’s child asked your daughter for the name of her priest.
“We don’t have a priest. We have a rabbi.”
“Why don’t you have a priest?”
“Because we’re Jewish.”
“I hate Jews. My dad says that Jews don’t go to heaven.”
You overhear this and are not sure where this rather demure girl picked up this kind of language. When you walk her back to her house, you make a point of speaking to her father privately when he answers the door. You share the dialogue. Shockingly, he is not surprised. He and his wife are very religious. The father simply says, “Jews who do not believe in Jesus will go to hell,” as if it were as evident as a simple math problem.
How do you respond?
Antisemitism: Here and Now Exercises in Diversity
“All real living is meeting.”
Martin Buber, I and Thou
Antisemitism does not grow in a vacuum. It thrives in echo chambers and environments that are closed to the voices, background, and dispositions of the Other. The following exercises are designed to prompt both discomfort and deep thinking about identity in relation to self and others, with the ultimate goal to consider the forces that help antisemitism thrive and those that combat it. The authentic work begins inside.
“Yes, stereotypes are a real time-saver!,” joked Wallace Rickard in an article of that same title in The Onion. You don’t have to think with sophistication and nuance because stereotypes slot people neatly into boxes for you. But, as research published in Stanford University’s Stanford Business attests, stereotypes can negatively influence both perception and action.
Stereotypes come in more than one flavor and can be perpetuated by members of the very group that is victimized by them. People are often willing to internalize and act based on negative stereotypes of their own group, while ignoring positive stereotypes often associated with their group. Rate how you responded to the following five-task challenge:
Questions to process this exercise:
(Adapted from website Trainingforchange.org)
This exercise begins with a group of people standing in the center of a room. It is to be led by one moderator who does not move and asks the questions of the group. The exercise is to be done in silence. At the end, the exercise should be processed while all participants are still standing in place, having looked around the room and seen where each is in relation to the other.
Processing the exercise: While the group is still standing, the moderator should ask the person who has taken the most steps backward how he or she feels and what it was like to do this exercise. The moderator should then do the same for the person who has taken the most steps forward. The moderator can then ask this of anyone else in the group and discuss areas of discomfort or discovery. Groups tend to think of themselves as fair and equal in the moment, not always understanding the challenges or privileges of individual members of the group.
Exercise #3: Seven Categories of “Otherness”
(Based on research from Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Alone in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum)
The moderator should hand out a piece of paper with the following identity categories to each participant and ask them to fill out the first category in each pair quietly. Once completed, participants should reflect on the experiences they had when a particular aspect of their identity has been called into question related to the second category and write that down. For example: a woman may write down female as a gender category and then share an incident of misogyny under the sexism category. Upon completion, ask participants to partner with the person he or she knows least well in the group and give each participant in the pair two uninterrupted minutes to share their categories. After the four minutes are up, invite the group to come together again and ask participants to share what they learned from listening to a partner.
Religion: Religious Oppression:
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexism:
Socioeconomic Status: Classism:
Physical/Mental Abilities: Ableism:
The moderator hands out an index card and pen to each participant in a group. Participants are given one timed minute to write an environment or activity in which they feel completely comfortable and natural expressing Jewish identity. The moderator then invites participants to share their personal comfort zones with others and freely ask questions of others in the room. The moderator then asks participants to turn the index card over and, in one timed minute, write about an environment or activity where one feels very uncomfortable as a Jew. The moderator then invites participants to discuss answers and share observations.
The moderator then invites the group to reflect on patterns that surfaced among the answers about comfort and discomfort and may wish to list them on a board. Looking at the list, the moderator may conclude the exercise with one or all of the following questions:
Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (New York: Bantam, 2016).
Edward Flannery, The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Anti-Semitism (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2004).
Phyllis Goldstein, A Convenient Hatred: The History of Anti-Semitism (Boston: Facing History and Ourselves: 2011).
Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: Eight Hundred Years of Anti-Semitism in England (London: Oxford University Press, 2012).
Walter Laquer, The Changing Face of Antisemitism: From Ancient Times to the Present Day (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Marvin Perry and Frederick M Schweitzer, Antisemitic Myths: A Historical and Contemporary Anthology (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008).
Eunice C. Pollack, Anti-Semitism on the Campus: Past and Present (Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2018).
Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushin, Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, the Most Accurate Predictor of Human Evil (New York: Touchstone, 2003).