Fiamma Nirenstein

Farewell to professor Wistrich

Professor Robert Wistrich is dead, and it looks too sad to be true. You often hear people talking about unbridgeable losses but this time it is more than true and it happened all of a sudden, yesterday at one p.m. just here in Rome. A light of deep wisdom, fearless new thinking, sympathy has gone away with him, and nobody will ever replace it.

Robert, who was 70, was sometimes pale and tied. I think that it was because of the suffering that his field of though and studies, antisemitism. He often looked thoughtful, even if his family, Daniela, his children, his grandchildren, brought always to his face a smile. We often spoke about the similar leftist and east European origin of our families and about our mothers, and laugh a little about them.

But now, his Europe had completely distanced itself from his Jerusalem, were he lived and headed the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism. Antisemtims was growing everywhere, beyond any expectation. Robert, who was the major historian on this topic, dared to detach himself from any known parameter linking anti-Semitism only to the right wing.

Indeed, he was the first to examine how the new anti-Semitism originated in the tradition of the left and, hence, spread its routes among the radical contemporary left, finding an alliance with the jihadist Islam.

The style of his writing in his books donates the reader the beauty of his British English, so clear and sharp in accusing the real culprits of the abomination he had to witness: “the longest hatred” was becoming a main phenomena of our times fed with a wild israelophobia.

In a recent essay, he even describes with melancholic and poetic words the attack at the Don Abravanel synagogue in Rue de la Roquette in Paris: a siege with an overwhelming Islamic connotation, a raid launched with the intention to kill praying Jews in the very heart of Paris.

With grace and horror, Robert denounces here the fact that the sophisticated and cultured parisienne elite turned its face away, showing a secret hatred against Israel and the Jews. He dared to denounce the embarrassing mix in contemporary anti-Semitism of the Islamic, the leftist and Nazi-fascist one.

In Rome, I was not aware of what was happening to this very admired and beloved friend of mine. I knew what happened later, just after the terrible event. I had the honor to go this morning in the hospital chapel where they guested his body, cry alone and put there some red flowers with a blue and white ribbon, like the flag of his beloved country.


This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (May 20, 2015)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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