Anti-Semitic Incidents In The U.S. Appear To Be On The Rise NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Emory University religion Professor Deborah Lipstadt about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the broader rise in anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitic Incidents In The U.S. Appear To Be On The Rise

Anti-Semitic Incidents In The U.S. Appear To Be On The Rise

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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Emory University religion Professor Deborah Lipstadt about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the broader rise in anti-Semitism.


The shooting in Pittsburgh is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in American history, and it falls at a moment when anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. appear to be on the rise. For some perspective on this, we turn now to Deborah Lipstadt. She teaches modern Jewish and Holocaust history at Emory University. Professor Lipstadt, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Are anti-Semitic incidents increasing in frequency in the U.S.?

LIPSTADT: Yes. The Anti-Defamation League, the ADL, has come out with a study arguing that in the past, I think, two years, they've gone up over 50 percent. So I think part of the - this rise in these anti-Semitic acts, particularly from white supremacists, white nationalist groups, begins probably during the Obama administration with hostility towards Barack Obama and his being of African-American heritage. I never say that President Trump and those around him created this. They didn't. But they lit a fire under it.

KELLY: So walk me through the range of incidents that you have seen emerge over the last several years.

LIPSTADT: Well, during the presidential campaign, a number of reporters who posted slightly critical things of Donald Trump or even of Melania Trump were bombarded with anti-Semitic comments on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, et cetera, et cetera.

KELLY: So online harassment.

LIPSTADT: Online harassment - but now we're seeing that the online harassment can move further over to real danger. And that's, I think - has left even people who have been somewhat worried about this feeling much, much more concerned about it.

KELLY: Anti-Semitism also appears to be on the rise in other countries, if you look at incidents being reported in the U.K. and France, for example, which have nothing to do with the political climate...


KELLY: ...Here in the U.S.

LIPSTADT: Well, I think what we're seeing certainly in certain countries - we see it in Hungary; we see it to a certain degree in Poland; we've seen it with the AfD, the Alternative for Deutschland party in Germany, in Austria - is a certain populism - anti-democratic, illiberal democratic, as one leader called it, populism which paints Jews in traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes. They control the media; they control the finances; they are foreign to our country, et cetera.

KELLY: Some Jewish families are drawing parallels in light of this past weekend's event - parallels to Germany in the 1930s. And I want to put that to you for some historical perspective on this. I mentioned you're a professor of Holocaust studies. Do you see parallels, or are we nowhere near that point yet?

LIPSTADT: I see certain parallels, and I see certain ways in which the analogy does not apply at all. In Nazi Germany, this was the government doing this. What we're seeing in this country in terms of anti-Semitism is maybe a willingness or part of certain segments of the government and certain people in government to look the other way. But this is not government sponsored.

However, there are parallels. There are parallels in the attacks on democratic institutions or institutions which are at the bedrock of our democracy - the judiciary, elected members of Congress. You can disagree with them. But when you begin to engage in ad hominem attacks, attacks on the media, people respond to that, especially your followers who are looking for an easy explanation. And that I find very disturbing. And there, there is a parallel.

KELLY: If you see parallels, do you also see lessons, ways for civilization to advance and do things in a very different way than the way they...


KELLY: ...Unfolded in the 20th century?

LIPSTADT: I think so. I think first of all - not to see it just on one side. What we're talking about today is anti-Semitism coming from the right. But there certainly is anti-Semitism on the left. Number two not to tolerate anti-Semitic comments. You know, Thanksgiving is coming up, and we all have a curmudgeon uncle who may make some comment. And people around the table, you know, say, oh, that's Uncle John, and they let it pass. We can't do that. We may not get, you know, Uncle John to change his views, but silence in the face of bigotry is acquiescence. There's no neutrality when someone expresses bigotry, whether they're just saying it or whether they're going into a synagogue and shooting up 11 people.

KELLY: Professor Lipstadt, thank you.

LIPSTADT: Thank you very much, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Deborah Lipstadt - she's a professor of modern Jewish and Holocaust history at Emory University in Atlanta.

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