Professor Robert Wistrich: “The Guardian is second to none when it comes to the delegitimization of Israel”

“When it comes to the delegitimization of Israel in the UK, the Guardian is second to none.” – Professor Robert Wistrich, June 16, 2011

For those not familiar with professor Robert Wistrich, he is perhaps the most prominent academic on the subject of anti-Semitism, is Head of the  Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, and the author of the book, “A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to Global Jihad”

His talk last night at Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus Campus was titled, From Blood Libel to Boycott: Changing Faces of British Anti-Semitism.

Wistrich’s analysis, and historical overview, of British Jew-hatred was enlightening, and he made a point to note that nearly 20% of the more than 1100 pages of his book, A Lethal Obsession (which covers the entire history of anti-Semitism around the globe) is devoted merely to British anti-Semitism – a testament, he believes, to how central British society has been, and continues to be, to the spread of this historical hatred.

While Wistrich recounted in remarkable historical detail the British origins of the blood libel (in which the Jews of Norwich were accused of ritual murder after a boy, William of Norwich, was killed in 1144), the York Pogram of 1190, and other events leading eventually to the Jews’ expulsion in 1290 (as well as the literary history of characters within the traditional British literary canon inspired by anti-Semitic stereotypes – Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens, TS Eliot, and D.H. Lawrence, etc.) it was his commentary about modern expressions of British anti-Semitism which I was most curious about, given the focus of this blog.

Though I can’t do justice to his analysis of contemporary British anti-Semitism at his talk last night (his anecdote about meeting an up and coming Trotskyite named Ken Livingstone in 1979 is worth a future post) and, quite obviously, his lecture only touched the surface of the expansiveness allowed in his book, it was particularly interesting to hear Wistrich contextualize efforts to boycott and delegitimize Israel (the Jewish collective) as a form of exclusion from the community of nations not dissimilar from historical efforts to exclude the individual Jew from the communities where they resided.  

And, while it was not surprising to hear Professor Wistrich refer, in passing last night during the Q&A, to the Guardian as an institution “second to none” in sanctioning such delegitimization efforts in the UK, his unparalleled erudition on the subject clearly provides succor for those of us engaged in monitoring, exposing, and contextualizing the unambiguous enmity towards Israel present at the Guardian and Comment is Free.

While, of course, not all virulent criticism of Israel crosses the line into outright bigotry, and there are certainly many politically gray areas, it is important that we stand on solid intellectual ground as we continue to engage in the arduous and morally urgent task of noting where precisely that line is.

8 replies »

  1. what an event to “die” for and they don’t do podcasts …

    does Hebrew University really enjoy being outperformed by London School of Economics?

    I’m serious that I’d love to hear Prof. Wistrich in person not to mention the other two and the symposium will be held in English


    • Silke, they video taped the event and I’ll try to post it at CW when its up at their site.

      • thanks that will be great
        though I prefer Audio because the iPodShuffle takes only audio and it is the ideal one to wear for strolls in the park but you guys probably all do it on your phones these days anyway.

        sigh! 😉

  2. Well done Adam.

    I am going to get this book; it sounds like a “must-read”

    I hope that CiF editors, Alan Rusbridger and the Scott Trust are going to be sent the link to this article.

  3. Take heart then as in today’s (Saturday) Daily Telegraph, the demise of the Guardian in print form is predicted within 5 years, and the free publication of the internet guardian will have to cease soon as well.

    I suspect that when that happens, the vile people who both write and respond to the poison on CiF will disappear too – the haters won’t want to stump up cash to vent their spleens in the same numbers as they do now. Only while it’s free will comment be so popular.