On the final day of Passover this year, a gunman walked into a synagogue outside of San Diego, killing one and injuring three more. Exactly six months earlier, a man entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, shouted anti-Semitic slurs and opened fire, killing 11 of those gathered.
These acts of violence are part of a marked rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes unfolding across the nation in recent years. Historian Deborah Lipstadt examines these most recent manifestations of anti-Semitism and connects them to their earliest iterations centuries ago.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I often compare anti-Semitism to a herpes virus and I know herpes virus is a terrible thing to have. Thank god I don’t but I know people who do. It’s a terrible thing and the truth of the matter is that, from what I understand medically, once you have it you can never be quite free of it. Under pressure, at difficult time, you know the day before your wedding you could suddenly have an outbreak. You’re under pressure. And I think that anti-Semitism is like that. It sits in the society and at pressure times it can be unleashed.
CHRIS HAYES: Hello and welcome to "Why Is This Happening?" with me, your host Chris Hayes.
Well, on the day that I am recording this intro WITHpod listeners, the president of United States is hosting a foreign dignitary at the White House. Now, an invitation to the White House is not extended to every foreign leader. It's not like they're just like a spreadsheet and like you start in the "A's" and you like work your way down the list alphabetically. Like it is a big deal. It confers respect and legitimacy.
If there's a fraught relation with the state like for instance, the president has met with Vladimir Putin a bunch, but he has not invited him to the White House. It would be an enormous, enormous deal and a huge controversy, right? If given the occupation of Crimea and given what happened in 2016, Donald Trump was to have Vladimir Putin come to the White House. By the time this reaches your ears, who the hell knows what's happened? Maybe Vlad is camping out for a week in the White House given the way things have gone, but that would be a big deal because inviting someone in the White House is a big deal.
The person who's at the White House today is that the prime minister of Hungary, a man by the name of Viktor Orbán. He is an extremely controversial figure because he is at the forefront of a kind of resurgent right-wing, reactionary, illiberal, ultra-nationalist populist revival in Europe, particularly in eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary and in Poland.
And he's done a whole bunch of things that are extremely controversial that have eaten into the sort of foundations of liberal democracy there. He's consolidated the media under his control, he has recently shut down a university, he has changed the constitution so that he has more power. There's a real fear that Hungary is slipping backwards towards something that looks less and less like liberal democracy and more and more like something like you would see in, say, Turkey. Ostensibly a democracy, but one that's run by illiberal forces.
He is also been criticized for anti-Semitism, for cultivating and stoking anti-Semitism. He has targeted George Soros, who of course is Hungarian by birth and also Jewish in this really vile, nasty way, and I want to read you a section. This is journalist Shaun Walker, a translation of the Viktor Orbán inauguration address when he was reelected in 2018. And this is what he's talking about, the enemy that he is fighting, and this will serve pretty good if you were going to say like, "Siri, show me a list of anti-Semitic tropes;" you basically would get this. This is a passage from the inaugural address:
“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward, but crafty; not honest, but base; does not believe in working, but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland, but feels it owns the whole world."
That is basically every vile anti-Semitic trope about the nefarious, insidious nature of the greedy, crafty Jew who is rootless and infiltrates society that has existed for thousands of years in Europe.
I mean all right there like that is literally a list of them. And that guy, Viktor Orbán was welcomed into the White House with open arms and the President said they had a lot in common. He called him a little controversial like tongue-in-cheek like, "They give you a hard time, the way they give me a hard time." What makes this particularly a sort of perfect microcosm of this political moment is it happened on the same day that the President was attacking a member of Congress for being an anti-Semite, for saying comments which were he wrenched radically out of context; Rep. Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, the first Palestinian woman elected congress and one of two Muslim women in Congress.
Took comments she made about her Palestinian ancestry and the founding of the state of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust wrenched them wildly, wildly, wildly out of context in bad faith to accuse her of anti-Semitism. And on the same day he's doing that with a bunch of Republicans jumping on board with that critique, he is inviting Viktor Orbán, who's talking about the enemy they face, who has no homeland and loves money and loves to speculate infiltrating the Hungarian people. A guy who has said that he needs to revive Hungary and make sure that the enemy is vanquished to preserve Christian culture.
That's the guy in the White House, while the president's throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism, and it brings up two of the main kind of themes that we're going to get into in the show. One is the worrying rise of a kind of politics that is, if not explicitly anti-Semitic, extremely historically adjacent to anti-Semitism and bigotry, and that is an ethno-nationalist reaction. Blood and soil conservatism of a type that says, "Our people belong here and our people excludes the outsider, the interloper, the rootless Jew," or other kinds of interlopers. There's a connection between that kind of anti-immigration politics and anti-Semitism. We'll get into that.
And then the other part of the conversation is about the way that anti-Semitism functions as a rhetorical topic in American politics. There are accusations of Democrats against Republicans for being anti-Semitic, accusations of Republicans against Democrats for being anti-Semitic. There's a very thorny and sticky question about whether questions around Israel, the Israeli government's policies and U.S. policy towards Israel when it trips over into anti-Semitism and when anti-Semitism is being deployed in bad faith to shield the government from rightful criticism.
And then against that backdrop, there's the fact that as far as we can tell empirically there is a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes. I know that's something that is happening here in New York City in Brooklyn where I live. We have had two murderers, a violent spree shooting, murderous pogroms committed in American synagogues in just six months and one in Pittsburgh and the other outside San Diego. All of these things are happening at the same time and all of that has sort of put the question of anti-Semitism right directly in front of all of us.
And so I thought now it'd be a great time to talk to someone who has literally devoted the entirety of her adult life and her career to studying anti-Semitism and its history. Her name is Deborah Lipstadt. She's a professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University. Her most recent book is called "Anti-Semitism: Here and Now," but she's also written about the Holocaust and Holocaust denial. She wrote a book called "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory." She wrote a book called "Holocaust and American Understanding" and she's extremely outspoken about anti-Semitism and its history and roots. And we talk about its history and roots, it's previous manifestations and how it manifests today.
Now, you'll hear there are parts of this conversation where I don't necessarily agree with what Professor Lipstadt says. There are things that she says or people she accuses of sort of trafficking in anti-Semitism. I don't necessarily co-sign onto everything she says. Here's how I think about it. In some ways, it's like it's the original sin of bigotry in the West, right? Like it's the core. When you think about the seeds of the worst kind of politics, the politics that select some other for punishment, some other for scapegoating, some other to be put into camps, to be denied visas, to be denied "special privileges," that formula of politics, the ur-example of that other in western politics are Jewish people.
And so that form of politics that we see on the rise in so many places is rooted in this sort of fundamental historical sense in anti-Semitism, and understanding what anti-Semitism is and how it functions in politics to me is the key at getting towards the root of the kinds of politics that we are seeing flower worryingly in many places across the globe, including here in the United States, in places like Hungary and all over. And so for all of those reasons, I wanted to have a kind of joint excavation with Deborah Lipstadt.
CHRIS HAYES: This has been essentially your life's work, as I understand it.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Yes, yes, just about. All my books have to do with it and I've been studying and teaching about the Holocaust and antisemitism for about four decades. People often ask if I'm a child of survivors, which I'm not. But I spent time in Israel in the '60s as a student when I was beginning to study Jewish history and there were survivors all around. They were relatively young people then. I came back to the United States, was doing my Ph.D., and in 1972, in fact two days after the massacre at the Munich Olympics, I landed in Moscow with the objective of visiting what were then called refuseniks — Jews who wanted to go to Israel, wanted to leave the Soviet Union and wanted to reunite with families — which according to Soviet law should have been allowed, and were refused permission to do so. So I was there and I saw what it was like not to live in freedom. And I don't know, it all came together that this was something I really wanted to look at and really wanted to try to understand.
I think there's a third factor as well. I'm a child of the '60s, I'm a Baby Boomer. And you know, Vietnam, protests against the Vietnam War, the feeling that somehow our government had gone wrong, Watergate, watching all these smart, young men break the law in the name of following a leader, it just sort of coalesced that this was something that led me back to looking at the Holocaust and looking at Nazi Germany.
CHRIS HAYES: I want to start, if at all possible, at the beginning. And I know that with the Jewish people, that's a while ago. So here's my sort of first question, because I kind of want to look at this in a long sweep of the experience of the Jewish diaspora, which basically it's a stateless people from the destruction of the second temple to the founding of the state of Israel, right?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Mm-hmm.
CHRIS HAYES: And so for those roughly, whatever, 1,900 years, they exist as minority populations, embedded in various states, cultures of majority, where they are the other, they are the outsider and they're integrated or not integrated in different ways. Where would you say anti-Semitism as a coherent concept begins historically?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: That's a great question. Not only are they embedded as the other, but for much of that history, they're embedded in Christian society, where not only are they the other, but they are the anachronism, they're the mother religion but the religion had been superseded by Christianity, which Christianity saw itself as replacing. So it was sort of like a finger in the eye; we're still here. I see the roots of anti-Semitism in the way in which the story of the crucifixion of Jesus and then as told in the New Testament was taught, was preached about, was depicted in art beginning already in the early Middle Ages, late antiquity, early Middle Ages, and certainly through the Middle Ages. And you think about the story as told in the New Testament. And of course Jesus was a Jew, but that's irrelevant.
Everybody in the story is Jewish except for the Romans who actually kill him, but that's a fact and we're not dealing with facts. The Jews wanted Jesus killed, wanted him crucified because he wanted to chase the money changers out of the temple. And they went to the Romans and asked the Romans to do this and at first the Romans refused. And the Romans, of course, had all the power. But they managed to convince Rome to do it. And then of course he was crucified, even though they knew that he was telling the truth, he was the son of God, he was a divine figure, et cetera, et cetera.
CHRIS HAYES: So wait, I was raised in the Catholic church and have a fair amount of scriptural study. So you're saying that the beginning the Middle Ages, the preaching of the story of the crucifixion takes on that specific tenor?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Well, it takes on that tenor and there you have the template. It takes on the tenor of one, the blindness of the Jew. You know, one of the sculptures outside of Notre Dame is the synagogue blinded, that the Jews were blind to the teaching of Jesus, they were blind to what he had to offer the world. And more than that, they had a financial interest in not letting him regain or return the temple to its holiness by letting the money changers stay there because the leadership of the temple had a financial interest in it. And the third element, this money, power, the power to get Rome to listen to them. And intellect, not good intellect, but nefarious intellect, devious intellect. And if you were raised in the Catholic setting, you also know the power of the demon. So you put all these things together and of course the demon is the only one who can harm God. And the demon can't be recognized. The demon moves in mysterious ways and you don't know that you've encountered the demon till damage has been done.
CHRIS HAYES: So in this Middle Age, as this sort of preaching the crucifixion which you sort of peg as the Middle Ages, this sort of anti-Semitic version of it... which I should just say, scripturally this is not really true.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: No, no.
CHRIS HAYES: It's very clear that the Romans come down on him. This is not the story-
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Exactly.
CHRIS HAYES: In the actual text.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I was very careful to say the way the story was told.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, yes. So these three elements are interesting. So the sort of connection to money and the money changers and kind of monied interest, the ability of a small marginal group to get larger groups to do their bidding, like a kind of unseen power and when a kind of wily, devilish intelligence. Those three factors appear in that story and those to you are pretty essential to what would become the kind of cannon of anti-Semitism in the past.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: That's right, that's right. And the cannon of anti-Semitism, as it moves out of the church, as it moves… you know, Voltaire. Here you have Voltaire in the 17th century, who is a terrific enemy of the church, he's contentious of the church. But when he writes about the Jews, he writes in the most demeaning, ugly fashion. Or even go further, go to Karl Marx, who's contemptuous of all religion, but when he writes about the Jews, it could be like he was a Christian preacher or a father of the church from the Middle Ages. So it's ancient, it's got these ancient roots, and it's ubiquitous. It moves outside the realm of religion and it reinvents itself.
CHRIS HAYES: Is there a sociocultural or historical context for the Middle Ages and this story kind of coming together? What's going on there?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Well, it starts quite early. When I say Middle Ages, really we're talking about a very, very long period, a late antiquity. It start with really when Rome adopts Christianity as-
CHRIS HAYES: Oh wow, so that early?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: That early because at that point the Jews should disappear. I mean, someone recently asked me, and maybe it's strange to say this at the beginning, but how can I be optimistic after having studied anti-Semitism for all these decades and written this new book about it, et cetera? And I said "I'll tell you why. Because by every right, by every historically precedent, Jews shouldn't be here. They should have disappeared." As you put it, they were a minority population, the stateless people, living as a minority, often living as a despised minority, and yet they're still here. So it's quite amazing.
But I would take it back to the beginnings, or to the fourth century, Rome adopts Christianity as the dominant, or as the official religion. Jews by then are seen as anachronism. The church is very anxious to make sure that people don't confuse Judaism and Christianity. I'm busy today so I'll go to the church tomorrow, or I'll go to the synagogue. It's sort of overlapping. And I think they served as a convenient scapegoat. There's no better word to use, again, building on the way those stories are interpreted, building on the way those stories are manipulated.
CHRIS HAYES: There's sort of two things, and this is reading that I've just done as an amateur here and there, but I've always been really interested in Jewish history and two sort of recurring themes throughout Jewish history. One is sort of waxing and waning and internal divisions about secularism verse religious observants that go all the way back to the Jews in ancient Greece, who were essentially assimilated cosmopolitans in the way that we think of secular Jews in, say, the Upper West Side in the New York City I grew up in. And then the waxing and waning of sort of pogrom, oppression, violence. There's always the kind of bigotry, there's always the prejudice, there's always the other, but there are really vast fluctuations in how the state or the majority population sort of effectualizes that and how vicious they are. Maybe talk a little bit about what the sort of diasporic populations experienced during that long stretch of the Middle Ages, particularly in Europe.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I think it's absolutely a given that maybe not every minority, but most minorities want to be accepted, want to fit in, even as they maintain their individual practices, their individual beliefs. And I think that's what happened with the Jews. If you go back to the Book of Jeremiah, he says during the first exile after the destruction of the first temple, during the destruction of the first, "Pray for the welfare of the country in which you're going to live." So Jews want to be loyal, they want to be accepted, but they also want to maintain their distinctive identity. But certainly over the centuries, Jews wanted to live in peace, wanted to be and to maintain their customs, even as they took advantage of and contributed to the culture around them.
But so much was rooted in the church. If you were a shoemaker, you went to the church and you were part of the guild and the guild was essentially a religious entity. If you were a butcher, you were a part of the butcher's guild. It was a religious entity. So they really were left on the margins, but they were very, very resourceful and often were successful — and often were not successful. You know, this myth of all the Jews were rich and all that, I'm waiting for it to come true for me, you know? But they managed to be resourceful, to live as this minority and often they lived in fairly secure circumstances and they built internal institutions, they built courts, they built social welfare, institutions taking care of the poor in all sort of ways. But there always was that Sword of Damocles hanging over their head, the potential for oppression, the potential for expulsion, the potential for persecution.
CHRIS HAYES: One thing that is striking about the anti-Semitism is the endurance of these tropes over time. I mean, over time and over geography, right? There's obviously cultural affinity between say 18th-century Russia and 18th-century England. They're both in Europe and Russia particularly at that moment is looking towards Europe. But they're also very distinct cultures, very far away from each other, and yet somehow they share the same anti-Semitic tropes. How do you explain that, the way in which these sort of core ideas of the wily, nefarious, money-grubbing Jew manages to be so consistent across space and time?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Money-grubbing Jew who's not loyal to anyone except the other Jews.
CHRIS HAYES: Yes, right.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I trace it back in its origins, as I said earlier, to the New Testament and the way that story was taught.
CHRIS HAYES: So to you it's the church that is the fundamental vector of infection here?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Or the foundation, the cornerstone. And then it migrates out of the church. You know, you can go as far as the Vatican too in the '60s and the Catholic church rejecting many of those ideas, but they remain, they're there. God forbid. You know, whatever you want to say, however you want to express it, I'm not saying that all Christians harbor this hatred.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, no.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Absolutely not. But it was built into the culture. You know, if you grow up in the United States or in many other Western countries, you grow up with a certain racist attitude. eYou may think "I'm not a racist and I could never be a racist," but if someone says to you "My husband, my son, my daughter was on the street and she was mugged last night," many people automatically imagine that the mugger is an African American. It's a terrible thing, but it's there. I think in the same way, the stereotype about the Jews is so embedded that people automatically go there.
There was a joke that was supposedly told by German Jews during the 1930s of a Nazi ideologue, a Nazi official who comes to a meeting and he's going on about how "the Jews are our misfortune," and "the Jews did this and the Jews did that." And someone yells out from the side of the room: "And the bicycle riders." And the official looks at him and says, "Why the bicycle riders?" And the other person says "Well, why the Jews?" In other words, you pick someone about whom this can be believed. So if you want to blame the refugee crisis on someone, if your Viktor Orbán, prime minister of Hungary and you want to blame the refugee crisis on someone and say "Hungary is being invaded by Muslim refugees," et cetera, it's very easy and very convenient to go to a George Soros. First of all, he's Hungarian in his origins, but Soros, the financial manipulator, Soros the hedge fund man, Soros the man behind things whom you can't fully identify. You can't fully put your fingers on him, but his evil touch is there. Soros, the demon.
CHRIS HAYES: What you just described is a very modern incarnation, or contemporary incarnation of all these stories that have been told for a very long time.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Right, you can replace Soros with Rothschild. Someone recently said "Soros is the 21st-century Rothschild." But it's part of that. It's embedded.
CHRIS HAYES: There does seem to be this connection between conspiracy and anti-Semitism. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which is a czarist intelligence service forgery of the 19th century, I think if I'm not mistaken.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: That's correct.
CHRIS HAYES: The idea behind it is secret control, pulling the strings, secret puppet maters. Is that sort of there from the beginning, or is that something that ...
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Yes, it's there. It's there in the fact that Rome was the power in the universe. Go think back to your high school history when they had the maps and they showed Rome was red or blue. It seemed like half the world was covered in blue, you know? So that the Jews were able to convince Rome to do this, these small, beleaguered Jews living in Jerusalem were able to get the Romans to listen to them and do something they don't want to do is already that manipulator behind the scenes. If you fast-forward about 1,900 years or even 2,000 years to an area with which I'm quite familiar, and that of course is Holocaust denial, it's the same structure. Holocaust denial is not a mistaken form of history. Holocaust denial is a form of anti-Semitism.
Because if you were to sit down next to a denier on an airplane... I know you probably spend a lot of time on planes. The person would tell you, "Oh, it never happened." The natural question you would ask, other than "Can I change my seat?" is "Why? What's in it for the Jews to have made up this story?" And the person, the denier, will say to you "Well, what did the Jews, quote unquote, get out of the Holocaust?" And the natural answer often is the state of Israel, but that's a more complicated response, but that's how people respond. And the second thing is reparations, which is a fancy word for money. They were able to manipulate the Allies to plant this evidence.
They were able to manipulate the allies, not just the British and the Americans, but the French and the Soviets to hold Nuremberg trials, to hold the Germans responsible for crimes against humanity, even though the Allies knew this never happened. But they were forced to do it by the Jews. They were forced to give the Jews land displacing another people, as the denier would say. And they forced the Germans to pay them all this money. Otherwise, they said, Germany will never be readmitted into the family of nations. So you have the same structure that you have with lots of other things, of this manipulating behind the scenes.
And as you rightly say, anti-Semitism is a prejudice and shares many of the characteristics of racism, homophobia, whatever prejudice you want to put in there. But unlike it, it's a conspiracy theory which sees Jews as manipulative, as powerful, as behind the scenes. The racist punches down. The racist looks at the black person, at the person of color and says that person is lesser than me, that person is going to bring me down. How could we possibly have had a black man as the president of the United States, a black family living in the White House? It's a degradation of white culture. The anti-Semite, who's generally the same person, punches up. If I don't protect myself, those Jews will manipulate.
If you go back to Charlottesville, I guess now a little less than two years ago, and those demonstrators, those not-fine people were marching across the campus of the University of Virginia. What were they chanting? They were chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Well, that chant has a double meaning.
First of all, going back to Christian theology, replacement theory, that essentially Christianity came to replace, to supersede Judaism, and of course the Jews were too blind to recognize this. But in contemporary terms for white supremacists, and at the heart of white supremacy as a conflation of racism and anti-Semitism, is the notion that there is a white genocide going on. There is a destruction of white culture. And we see black people, brown people taking our place, but they're not smart enough to do it themselves. They're not capable of doing it themselves.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, it's this...
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Someone must be manipulating them.
CHRIS HAYES: And this is the explicit, I mean that was the explicit view of the person who murdered worshipers in the synagogue in Pittsburgh.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: That's right.
CHRIS HAYES: Explicitly, that it was, and piggybacking off of a theory that the president floated, although not with the specific anti-Semitic cast, but essentially there was a large plot to bring in refugees and immigrants.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Swarms and swarms, all those kinds of words. And even, the guy in Pittsburgh was being brought down by the SWAT team, he was yelling something akin to you will not destroy the white race.
CHRIS HAYES: You mentioned something that I was going to get to later, but I'm going to get to now because you transitioned to it because I think it actually gets to kind of an elemental part of the current cultural discussion about any anti-Semitism in the modern context and I think is the kind of, to me the kind of moral philosophical bedrock, which is is anti-Semitism a type of prejudice that's connected fundamentally to other kinds of bigotry and prejudice that is experienced by different minority groups throughout the world in different periods of history? Or is there something distinct and sui generous about it?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I think the answer to both questions is yes. It is very similar to other prejudices. I have a colleague who likes to say you meet the stereotype right in front of you when the person themselves is two blocks away. So if it's an African American, you say to me "oh, there's an African American." You see them on your college campus, you assume "oh, they couldn't be here by right. They must have gotten here through affirmative action or they're hanging around here. They don't belong here. They're shiftless, they are lazy, all the disgusting stereotypes of racism."
Similarly with Jews, you see how they must be rich, "oh, they must be powerful," et cetera. So in that sense it's a prejudice like all the others. It's a prejudice that Muslims have felt in many parts of the world in recent years as well. So in that sense it is a prejudice.
Look, the guy in San Diego County who but for not knowing how to use his weapon...
CHRIS HAYES: Thank God.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I mean, he just bought it the day before, there were 50 bullets in there and the synagogue was crowded because it was the last day of Passover and you say memorial prayers and all sorts of things. It was the same kind of way of looking at these people, that these people are danger to us. So in that sense, and what had he done actually the couple of days work a week or so before coming to the synagogue, he had tried to burn down a mosque. So in that sense it's a prejudice like the others. It does have distinct developments. And as I said earlier, it's the punching up, the seeing the Jew as a danger from above. And also seeing the Jew that is not white in the eyes of the white supremacist; he can't be identified. The person of color can be identified and you have the conspiracy theory. So it shares many of the same things with distinctive elements.
CHRIS HAYES: So this is where I think the kind of modern valence of the politics of it gets so tricky because of two factors. One is the creation of the state of Israel and people's feelings about the creation of the state, the state's actions and the state's current government sort of all get run together. But more deeply this question has different schools of thought among particularly diaspora Jews and Israelis about the lessons of history, vis a vis, the distinctness of anti-Semitism. I mean, I think there's a school of thought, which is generally the way that I think you see American Jews think because they tend to be very liberal, pluralistic, cosmopolitan in many ways if you look at polling data. Which is that the lesson of Jewish history anti-Semitism is a lesson about hatred of minorities, hatred of others, the marginalization of others and how dangerous that can be and how those hatreds tend to work together and how we have to sort of defend against that in a sort of broad sense.
Then if you look at this idea that essentially there's a kind of essential hatred and violence towards the Jew that will always be present, will always be there and that it is the duty in the wake of the Holocaust to essentially never, ever, ever let your guard down, never be caught unawares, to arm and defend yourself because there's an implacable specific-ness that is distinct from all of their hatreds and bigotries directed towards the Jew always and forever.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I think you're right, there are these two strands. And once again, who was it who said foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds and politicians? I'm going to be inconsistent and say the many people harbor both those feelings. Certainly American Jews, but not only Americans. I was sitting yesterday with a cousin of mine who just was deselected from the Knesset from the Israeli parliament and an Orthodox guy with his Tzitzis hanging out who was saying the only way to fight anti-Semitism is by fighting all other hatreds. I don't know if that's a common view in members of the Knesset or former members of the Knesset, but I think it's true.
Many Jews, many American Jews, many Western Jews, share those two sentiments. And if anything, are beginning to feel them in the past couple of years in a way they hadn't felt them before. I think there are many American Jews who felt for many, many years just fight prejudice, just fight hate, and that's enough. And of course you've got to fight prejudice and of course you've got a fight hate, whether it's against you or anybody else, there's no question about it.
But I think that more and more after Pittsburgh and after San Diego and after so many different things, Charlottesville. This used to be said about Europe and now it's said about America: How do you find the synagogue when you're on the block? Look for the police car in front of it. I attend a synagogue, which we've had a police car for a long time, long before Pittsburgh, and an armed guard standing at the door and locked doors and we have greeters, people at the door ostensibly welcoming you as you come in, sort of like, you're going into Walmart “welcome, welcome, Can we help you?” But they're also looking you up and down and seeing are these people to be trusted.
Surviving Rabbi: 'terrorism like this will not take us down'April 28, 201904:28
CHRIS HAYES: And beyond these incidents in the U.S., there's a broader resurgence of anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe. I want to talk about that next.
I think the conversation to me about sort of resurgent anti-Semitism kind of started in 2016. We've had these two atrocities that were committed at Jewish places of worship over the past year. But the discussion is broader than that. I mean, you talked about Viktor Orbán in Hungary who I think is pretty explicitly anti-Semitic, or at least traffics in the anti-Semitism. What do you see happening when people talk about a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the West particularly? What do you see happening?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I know it may be a cliché to say it's a perfect storm, but what makes this different, I'm giving a talk in a couple of weeks and they asked me what the title was. I said "Old Wine In New Bottles." It's a perfect storm of anti-Semitism. It's one of the few times that we see it coming from the right and from the left in different ways. But you want to talk about anti-Semitism? Look at Jeremy Corbyn and those around him who not only refused to take charges of anti-Semitism seriously, but flip them around and say "oh, you Jews are just using those charges to win sympathy for Israel, to attack the Labor party, et cetera." When there's no question about it, that they're talking about it, that it's an anti-Semitic incident or an anti-Semitic event.
So you have it from the right, you have it, as we talked about white supremacy, et cetera. You have it from the left. And I'm not talking about critics of Israel. There is nothing wrong with criticizing a government's policies. God knows we do it all the time. You do it on your show all the time and no one would say, "oh, you're anti-American." If they do, I think any reasonable person would ignore them. But a sort of myopic concern, myopic fascination, hatred, I don't know what word you want to call it, contempt towards Israel.
CHRIS HAYES: Can we talk about that? Because this to me is a really tricky thing to navigate. So when I criticize the Israeli government on the show, I do get emails calling me and anti-Semite.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Well, ignore them because they're coming from idiots.
CHRIS HAYES: But it's a real, and again, I think it's a genuinely felt thing by the people sending it out. They're not faking it.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: No, I think they believe. They believe it.
CHRIS HAYES: But here's the tricky thing. I hear this sometimes, like people sort of fixation or fascination with Israel as the sort of the worst state that exists, or specifically obsessed with it. And I hear people legitimately say "well, look, China has a million people in concentration camps and there's nowhere near the international outrage there is about that compared to say occupation of the West Bank and whatever is happening in the news in Gaza."
Again, that's true so far as it goes, but it's also the case that when the Saudis try to defend themselves, they say why are you so upset about what we did with Khashoggi, when X, Y and Z? That's just a thing that people use all the time to excuse bad behavior. It seems like a very tricky and slippery slope because I think there is something there, that there are certain ways in which anti-Semites are obsessively fixated on Israel, but it's also the case that doesn't seem to me like a sufficient moral response to say other people are doing other stuff.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: No, no, it's not. I don't think any self-respecting Israeli would say well, it's okay what we're doing. Some might but...
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah. I mean, a majority might actually.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Well, yeah. But it's okay to mistreat people in Judea and Sumeria, the West Bank, the other side of the Green Line, call it whatever you want. The occupied territories, I don't care. It's all the same territory. It's okay to do it because China does it. But I think when people raise that issue, it's that myopic fixation with Israel. By people, and I work on a college campus, I'm on college campuses all the time. Sometimes I'll go and embed myself with the critics to just hear them, talk to them, they don't know who I am, et cetera.
I often want to say can you find Israel on a map? It's hard, it's little. You've got to really look for it. But they can't. I mean, in other words, there's a myopic fascination, a myopic opposition. So much so that in many of the anti-Israel, and I'm not saying now critical of Israeli policies, but anti-existence of Israel groups on campuses, including with LGBT groups. I just am always amazed because I say name for me one Muslim-dominated country, even a relatively liberal country like Jordan, where an LGBTQ person would be fairly secure. A couple of years ago I happened to be in Tel Aviv during the gay pride parade and it was amazing. I'm not saying that whitewashes, or pink washes as some people call, it the wrongs. Not at all. But there is something crazy when you sort of see this coalition being built and ignoring a certain reality.
CHRIS HAYES: But isn't the coalition there just to sort of give the argument on their side since the conjured person isn't here. I mean, I guess the argument there is this sort of solidarity of marginalized groups.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: That's right.
CHRIS HAYES: I don't think anyone says like "yes, it's awesome to be gay in Egypt or Jordan." I mean, that seems pretty clear that you certainly would rather be an out gay person in Israel, as an Israeli citizen with full Israeli rights than in a lot of other places in the region. But it seems to me that the argument they're making is about a kind of solidarity of interest across different marginalized groups.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Absolutely. I think that's correct. I think that is correct. But again, I think it's a failure to see nuance, a failure to see the grays. A depiction that extends beyond any sense of reality.
CHRIS HAYES: Here's my question. I think about South Africa a lot and obviously the apartheid-Israeli comparison gets made. It's extremely polarizing, controversial for obvious reasons. So I'm not making a substantive comparison, but it is the case that there was a period of time in the 1980s particularly when there was a real focus on South Africa and South African apartheid as a kind of cause celeb on American campuses. And I think more than other places, like more than other... And it was also the case then that there was a lot of probably worst places in the world than apartheid South Africa.
I guess my point is people focus on things sometimes in ways that are disproportionate because focus necessarily is.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I think you're right. I also think there's another element here, that most Israelis don't think of themselves on the same ethical level as China or Myanmar or in North Korea or Saudi Arabia or whatever. But I guess when you have university programs, departments saying “we're not going to recognize our students going to study in Israel, but it's okay for them to go and study in China, we're not going to recognize as students going to study in Israel, but it's okay for them to study in Saudi Arabia,” you have to wonder and say, wait a minute, there's something out of whack here. So I think that that's part of it.
Now, I wouldn't say that all the people who have fallen into that camp start out as anti-Semites and suddenly jumped in there because this is a way, a respectable way of being an anti-Semite. I do think what happens, however, is some people when they begin these activities or become part of these activities, they find it very convenient and almost automatic and maybe unconscious, I'm not sure, to use anti-Semitic tropes, to use anti-Semitic memes to make their point. So that you get cartoons that are critical of Israel, fine because that's what cartoonists do. They're satirists with their pens, with their drawings. But then you get cartoons that really play on anti-Semitic tropes.
CHRIS HAYES: Here's the grand irony at this moment. You've got a document arise sort of empirically in terms of incidents of anti-Semitism, particularly I think hate crimes that we've seen. Jews are still the most common victim of hate crimes according to FBI data. It has been the case here in Brooklyn that there had been numerous ones. At the same time, you've got this really strange situation in which the current Israeli government has been kind of engaged in this outreach with people like Viktor Orbán.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Victor Orbán, the Poles, the Austrians.
CHRIS HAYES: Yes, these very right-wing nationalist governments that seem to really traffic in some really nasty stuff, particularly when you look at the historical antecedents. How do you think about that?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Oh, I think about it a lot and I wrote about it in my book. Someone recently said to me, regarding the book, "You know, Deborah, you take on the left and then I turn a page and you're taking on the right. You're taking on the critics of Israel and then I turn the page, you're taking on Benjamin Netanyahu for making nice with Victor Orbán and the Poles." I say, "I'm an equal opportunity critic." But it's very disturbing, it's very disturbing. Look, I understand realpolitik.
CHRIS HAYES: Sure.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I'm sitting now in a recording booth. I'm not responsible for anyone. I don't have to worry about the safety of anyone. And Netanyahu, whatever you think of him, he's the head of the government and he's head of the country and he's responsible and he looks for allies and he knows that France and most of the western democracies, European democracies, are not to his mind reliable allies. But Victor Orbán is. The Poles and the heads of the current government are and he's going to make nice with them. But I find it very disturbing and, again I wrote about this already a year ago or a little less than a year ago, the book's been out just a few months, but it was one of the last things I added to the book, and that was that you can't claim, you cannot claim, to be the main defender of Jews worldwide against anti-Semitism and make common cause with someone who plays on anti-Semitic motifs.
And I find that in regard to Victor Orbán and Hungary and his relationship with the current Israeli government, I find that with the current government in Poland, with their law on the Holocaust there, which was really very close to a rewriting, it wasn't denying the existence of the Holocaust but it was denying the fact that there were lots and lots of Poles who were complicit. And making it a crime, first a criminal act and then a civil infraction to say that. The Poles only want to be thought of themselves as victims. Well, there were lots of Poles who were victims but there were lots of Poles who turned Jews in, who were very happy to collect.
CHRIS HAYES: And it's called the Justice Party, I think is the ruling party there.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Right, exactly.
CHRIS HAYES: One of the things they've done in this sort of general kind of ethno-nationalist, right-wing agenda that has to do with encouraging people to have a lot of kids is one of things which they've also done in Hungary, but they have this law that basically it's criminal to basically ...
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Well, they changed it. See, here's what happened. The first iteration of the law, they made it criminal to say that the Polish nation, the Polish state, was complicit in any way. Now, that's a very thin kind of thing because there was no Polish state.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, there's no Polish state.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: There was no Polish state. It was occupied by the Germans but another context they love to talk about the Polish state during World War II, and you can only talk about the Polish people as victims. Well, there were many Poles who did rescue Jews and if you go to Yad Vashem they have a very moving area of the righteous non-Jews of the world, people who saved Jews for no compensation and no particular way of aggrandizing themselves, but did it just out of the goodness of their heart. And the greatest number of people are Poles. Now, of course, the greatest number of victims were Jews from Poland or Jews in Poland. But, still I think there's 6,700, 6,800 people commemorated and honored at Yad Vashem — 6,800 Poles.
But there also were lots and lots of Poles, we see it in the memoir literature, we see it in the history books, we see it all over the place, of Polish non-Jews who turned Jews over for a couple of zloty, who did it just because they wanted whatever the Jews might have had, or for no reason at all. And this became illegal. So, it became an act. if you said this you could be prosecuted.
CHRIS HAYES: Wow.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Well, here's an interesting thing, so this came out and the people who were amongst the leaders in criticizing it were the Israelis, the Israeli government, Israeli historians. And then suddenly, I'd say about five months later it was last May or June, something like that, the Poles agreed with the Israelis to modify the law. So, it no longer was a criminal act but it was a something, a civil offense for which you could be punished. And they took away protections. There used to be protections for scholars and artists and they took that away. And suddenly Netanyahu was saying, "We've reached a great compromise and everything is fine now." Most Israeli historians, including the historians at Yad Vashem, the national memorial to the Holocaust in Israel, which is a government funded institution, blasted Netanyahu, and correctly so, for doing this, for equating anti-Polandism with anti-Semitism.
And the Poles, you know, there is a sense in Poland of wanting to be thought of during World War II as, "we were victims, we were victims." Well, they were victims but many amongst them were collaborators and many amongst them took the lead in anti-Semitic actions before the Germans got there. But once again, I think that Netanyahu saw that the Poles could be his allies, his comrades, his supporters in the EU and other things. I find it very disturbing, very, very disturbing. I find it disturbing as a historian and I find it disturbing as someone who's written about anti-Semitism and on a personal level, I find it disturbing as a Jew.
CHRIS HAYES: You know, I was at a memorial service for a friend's mother this past weekend and someone quoted Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning," which is a book that I've sort of always meant to read and finally was inspired by this quotation to read it. I'm halfway through. And one of the things that I have been contemplating in reading it is just something I think about a lot, which is that basically the generation of people that not only just survived the camps but also watched the rise of fascism, which is a much broader population of people than just those who were able to survive the camps. That generation is dying and will soon be gone completely from the earth and that there's a historical memory about what it looks like to watch racist, fascist, anti-Semitic fascism rise that we're losing. And I wonder how much you think about that?
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: I think about it a lot. My mother came from a large family. She was next to the youngest and her older sister was, I don't know, 12, 14 years older than she was, and married quite young. My mother married a little later. So, I have cousins who are about 12, 14, 15 years older than I am. They grew up in Cincinnati, which even though it's in Ohio, is essentially a southern city. And there were people they remember from their years of growing up who lived in their neighborhood, who used to do work for their father. He had a junkyard, I guess now it would be called a metal reclamations plant but then it was just a junkyard, and some of his employees were born slaves on plantations. And they learned songs from them. One of them who worked around their house would take them to visit his friend, an older woman who remembered all the slave songs. So, here are people who are cousins who were not that much older than I am, 15, 14 years, 15 years, for whom the story of slavery is associated with people they clearly remember. They still will tell you stories about them.
And that's what it's going to be with survivors of the Holocaust. I grew up surrounded by survivors of the Holocaust. Of course, I grew up on the Upper West Side before we moved out to Queens. And my father was a German Jew who came before the Nazis, he came during Weimar. But then they were called refugees. They were not called survivors. Or they were called DPs, displaced persons. It took until the '70s, when suddenly they became the honored survivors. But I know these people.
I've been teaching courses on the Holocaust and I'm a good teacher, I'm a good lecturer. And I know that no matter how good or intellectually stimulating and challenging my lectures will be when, towards the end of the semester, I bring a survivor into the classroom to talk in the first person singular, to say, "this is my story — this is what happened to me," that that's what they'll remember. And they come up, the men and the women come up to these people with tears in their eyes, to thank them, to hug them. They have no words. They come up and you watch these machismo guys and put-together women and all sorts of really secure folks and they just come up and they're just overwhelmed.
It used to be, when I first started teaching about the Holocaust, I would decide did I want a survivor who was in the camps or someone who was in hiding, a child survivor? Maybe I would bring in all three for different lectures. Now I'm happy to get someone who is well enough to come and speak.
CHRIS HAYES: Your father left Germany as a German Jew in Weimar.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: With the Depression. He was a young man, his parents had both died. There was no economic future. He could get into the United States and he came.
CHRIS HAYES: God. I think about these decisions that you make in your life. I mean, that's the thing also to me, that the lesson of the endurance of anti-Semitism, but also anti-Semitism as a eliminationist, murderous, violent ideology, is just that the line between peaceful coexistence and pogrom is a thin one.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: It's a very thin one and it can be displaced, it can be erased. The line can be erased by circumstances, by economic pressure. I often compare anti-Semitism to a herpes virus. And I know herpes virus is a horrible thing to have. Thank God I don't but I know people who do, but it's a terrible thing and the truth of the matter is that, from what I understand medically, once you have it you're never quite free of it. And under pressure, at difficult times, you know, the day before your wedding, you could suddenly have an outbreak, whenever it might be you're under pressure. And I think that anti-Semitism is like that. It sits in the society and at pressured times it can be unleashed. But it's not just pressured times. It's also if there are people in authority, leaders, who enable it, who don't condemn it, who themselves may not be anti-Semites.
I have a chapter in my book. It's written as letters, so I have one letter about Jeremy Corbyn who at that point I said I wasn't sure if he was an anti-Semite. Now I'm a little less dubious about it. And Donald Trump is at the other end of the spectrum. I don't think Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, not at all. But I do think he has shown, at times, a distinct failure to criticize the people on the far right who are engaging in these kind of actions, even if they're just engaging in the rhetoric. Because we know the rhetoric leads to violence. No genocide ever began with action, whether you're talking about Rwanda, whether you're talking about Armenia, the Turks in Armenia, whether you're talking about the Holocaust and lots of others. They begin with words. And if you're not condemning the words, if you're not condemning the statements, if you're using words that those on the right think are a dog whistle, a wink wink, nod nod, you're enabling them, you're emboldening them.
And I think that's one of the other things we're seeing now, both on the right and the left. And we see it again, using the Labor Party in England as an example. But certainly it's not the only example, and you see it in the United States as well, a feeling that it's okay to do these things. Or you just mentioned this in Brooklyn, it's okay to drive my car into a group of Hasidim or ultra-Orthodox Jews because who really cares about them anyway?
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, it's funny. I think it brings out latent anti-Semitism in people.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Yes, yes, yes.
CHRIS HAYES: People will say things about the ultra-Orthodox as a group in a way, and partly that's because it's just an extremely distinct group. If you live in Brooklyn, it's like there's a group of people that dress differently than everyone and live differently than everyone and have different language and different customs and are identifiable as such. But, of course, that's the constituent features of an other in the society that I just listed.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: You're right, exactly.
CHRIS HAYES: But it's true that there's something about the sort of visibility of that that brings out views in people that I'm always sort of unnerved or shocked to hear what people will say about the ultra-Orthodox.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: And I have to tell you sometimes-
CHRIS HAYES: Even Jews by the way.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Exactly. That's exactly what I was about to say.
CHRIS HAYES: Lots of Jews.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: You know, on some level, what happened in San Diego on the final day of Passover was horrific but, on some level, I don't know what word to use, not lucky or ... but it was good that it happened in a synagogue with a Chabad Rabbi because he stood there and he said, "I'm an American. And you're not going to do this to me. You're not going to make me afraid. I'm going to walk down the street with my Tzitzis hanging out and my black hat and my visible ... " I have cousins who are partially in that community, they call them penguin suits or the Oreos. "I'm going to walk down the street looking like that and none shall make them afraid.” It was a very, very powerful moment.
CHRIS HAYES: Well, I think if I drive down Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn and I ride my bike around and I think to myself... I actually have come to think this recently, in the context of 2016 and the sort of global rise of ethno-nationalism, that I have a kind of new appreciation that this is what this country is about, that the best of it is that people could come here and make their life and be free from persecution and oppression.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: That's right.
CHRIS HAYES: And be different, be distinctly different in a way that is beautiful and the best of what I want for the country to be.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: What Lin-Manuel Miranda said with "Hamilton."
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Mirand said: “Immigrants, we get the jobs done.” I'm the child of two immigrants. My mother came from Canada but her parents came from Poland. And they produced two Ph.D.s and an MBA and people making contributions to this country in all different ways. And we feel distinctly, distinctly American to our core. But also, distinctly Jewish and, most importantly, we don't see any conflict.
The thing that worries me the most, and this is going to sound very strange, is not what the anti-Semite might do to Jews. And it could be terrible, as we know from San Diego and from Pittsburgh and other places. But what the fear of anti-Semitism might allow Jews to do to themselves, that they'll see that the glue, or they'll feel that the glue that holds them together is Jew as object, what is done to Jews, and not Jew as subject, what Jews do. The defensive. "We're not going to let this happen to us." And that's important. But rather than, "This is what we do, this is what we believe," and when I say that I don't meant just in terms of religion but in terms of culture and arts and building community and social welfare. There's so many good things and valuable things about Jewish tradition in all its manifestations. They shouldn't be lost or they shouldn't be made secondary to the hostility that people feel and now feel freer to express towards Jews.
CHRIS HAYES: Deborah Lipstadt is the author of "Anti-Semitism Here and Now." She's a professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University. Deborah, thank you so much.
DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Thank you Chris. It's been ... I don't know if I can say it's a pleasure but it's certainly been a good hour. Thank you very much.
CHRIS HAYES: Thank you very much.
Once again, my great thanks, Deborah Lipstadt, professor of modern Jewish history at Emory University for that conversation. I learned a lot. I've been thinking about it a lot. I'm still thinking about it. I'm processing it. Finally, I was at a memorial service for a friend's mother and someone quoted Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning." Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychologist neurologist who was in Auschwitz and survived the camps and wrote this incredible book that I've been reading.
And so I've been reading it every night before bed, which has I think been not great for the dreams, but the book is really an incredible meditation. And I think reading it has sort of re-centered me to think about these sort of elemental questions and it was just great to have that conversation with Professor Lipstadt. Great thanks to her and thank you for listening.
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It turns out as I sit here with Matt Toder and Tiffany Champion that this is the one year anniversary of "Why Is This Happening?" The podcast. We have been doing this for a year. I cannot believe that. I feel the way I feel about that about the fact that like when I like look at my seven-year-old daughter and I imagine like taking her to college and then like giving the toast at her wedding and it's just like, "Oh my God, time is going too fast. What's happening? How have we been doing this podcast for a year?"
Sorry, I don't want to turn this into a therapy session about my weird obsession with how time goes fast. Maybe we should do a whole episode without a guest, it's just me talking about how much I think about my own mortality. That would be good. I think that'd be good content. Tweet us #withpod if you want a solo podcast just me stressing out about mortality. Anyway, so it is our one year anniversary. We'd love to hear from you if you are new to the show, if you've listened to a year, what your favorite episodes are, what you hope we do in the next year. We are very listener driven in what we do here or the topics we tackle. And we've gotten great feedback from new people who are just discovering the show, which has been a real treat.
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