I recently returned to the United States after attending the ISGAP-Oxford Summer Institute for the Development of Curriculum in Critical Contemporary Antisemitism Studies at Pembroke College, Oxford, United Kingdom. The two-week summer program was developed and led by ISGAP – Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy based at the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, U.K. ISGAP’s Execute director is Dr. Charles Asher Small, and its Chairman is Natan Sharansky. The Founding Honorary President was the late Elie Wiesel.
I was honored, along with my colleague, Dr. Dyanne Martin from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, to make a presentation at the ISGAP summer institute about the dark and violent history of Christian antisemitism and its present mutation on Evangelical college campuses in America. Though I was invited as a presenter, I was more a student than a teacher. After ten days of intense engagement with the issues surrounding the exponential rise of global antisemitism, I am overwhelmed with the vast, complex, and expanding matrix of the world’s oldest hatred – antisemitism.
Somehow, miraculously I think Dr. Charles Small, Managing Director Haras Rafiq, and ISGAP’s team of scholars are connecting the dots that link the many antisemitic networks together and reveal the intersectionality between nation states, social media sites, university administrations, and faculty, radical Islamists groups, and non-profit anti-Zionist organizations – many of which are working in cooperation to delegitimize Israel and demonize world Jewry.
Topics at ISGAP’s 2022 summer institute included: Globalization, Antisemitism, Race, and Israel-Bashing; Antisemitism and the Muslim Brotherhood; Strategies for Countering Digital Media Antisemitism; Soft Power in Education: The War against the Jewish People; Impact of the Muslim Brotherhood on Western Education; Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism on the American Campus and in the Academy. Based on these and other brilliant presentations at ISGAP’s summer institute, I have a multitude of takeaways. Here are three:
1. The Struggle Against Antisemitism is a War of Ideas
Ideas are the passion of Dr. Charles Small and the courageous leaders of ISGAP. In communicating the present global threat of antisemitism, an advocate can be tempted to focus on a story to win over an audience using emotional snapshots of the horrors promulgated against Jews for millennia – thereby inspiring empathy toward Israel and the Jews. But suppose an audience can be led into Jewish advocacy by emotion. In that case, they can also be led away from supporting Israel and the Jewish people by antisemites who use fabricated, emotionally compelling stories to inspire sympathy for those who desire Israel’s destruction. The story is valuable, but the ideas are priceless. In the end, the power of ideas based on fact will prevail. Yes, the historical and factual story of Jewish survival against all odds must be told but never to the exclusion of the intellectual debate of ideas.
In one of his presentations at this summer’s institute, Dr. Charles Small stated: “Anti-intellectualism does not debate. The greatest form of scholarship is the debating of ideas.” Those demonizing Israel and the Jews are building a narrative based on emotional stories rather than historical facts. This emotionally driven narrative is prominent in universities, and ISGAP’s goal is to “make inroads into creating ‘space’ within academia for the study of critical contemporary antisemitism as a new academic discipline – ensuring that more professors teach courses in contemporary critical antisemitism studies and that students will engage this subject matter.”
2. Tolerance is Condescending
One of the core principles I learned at ISGAP’s summer institute is that we must see ourselves in the face of the other. To merely tolerate another’s existence is condescending. To be truly human, we must come to the place where we realize we need the other. Professor David Patterson, Hillel Feinberg Distinguished Chair in Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas, read a quote in his presentation from the novel, The Book Thief, in which a character raises the question, “Why do they hate Jews?” And the answer comes, “Because we (Jews) remind them of their humanity.” Dr. Patterson then stated, “To be reminded of humanity is to be reminded of an infinite responsibility to humanity.” Contempt toward Jews is a rejection of one’s infinite responsibility to humanity. Regarding Christianity’s historical intolerance of Jews – the unwillingness to see itself in the face of the other – Dr. Small stated, rightfully, I believe, “Until Christians can accept the Jews, they cannot be authentically Christian.”
3. The Rise of Antisemitism is an Early Warning Sign – A Canary in a Coal Mine
Early coal miners did not have the technology to help detect life-threatening toxic gases in new coal seams. To save lives, they brought a caged canary into the mine to provide a sign of imminent catastrophe. The canaries are ultra-sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide gases. If the canary was singing, the miners were safe. But should the canary stop singing or become faint, the miners would have a small window of time to escape. Antisemitism is like the canary in the coal mine, and according to Dr. Charles Small, because it is now “encouraged to demonize Jews in the intellectual sector” and because “it is open season on Jews once again,” we are witnessing “an early warning sign of the fragmentation of American culture.”
ISGAP is harnessing the power of ideas and building a team of brilliant scholars to confront the global rise of antisemitism. I was impressed with the unwavering courage of ISGAP’s leadership, and I am convinced that making “space” within academia for the study of contemporary critical antisemitism as a new academic discipline is a crucial and viable strategy to confront the growing anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish narrative taught in universities across the globe. I am confident that ISGAP’s courageous determination will make the world a safer place for Jews.