Lipstadt: Jewish conspiracy myths are an attack on the very nature of democracy

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Lipstadt: Jewish conspiracy myths are an attack on the very nature of democracy

President Biden’s special envoy on antisemitism was speaking at an event for The London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (LCSCA) at the University of Westminster.

Renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt
Renowned historian Deborah Lipstadt

Antisemitism doesn’t just make Jews feel alone but is a ‘threat to democracy’, Deborah Lipstadt, President Biden’s special envoy on antisemitism told a London conference on Sunday.

The academic, whose real story about the libel case against her by Holocaust revisionist historian David Irving was made into the film Denial, was speaking at an event for The London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism (LCSCA) at the University of Westminster.

Speaking about her work as an antisemitism envoy she joked: ‘Business is booming, I work in a growth industry but I must be one of the only people praying for a recession.’

But then she got serious. Calling antisemitism ‘a conspiracy myth’ rather than theory ‘as sometimes theories turn out to be true’ she said that she had spent the last few weeks speaking to world leaders – including UK politicians – to warn them to open their eyes to the danger not just to Jewish communities but to the fabric of society.

‘We are dealing with a multi-layered hatred with a multi layered impact,’ she said. ‘It is a threat to democracy; anyone who accepts the conspiracy myths that Jews control the media and the government has essentially given up on democracy.

‘And then there are the bad actors who use antisemitism as a means of making democracies look like failed states. In the beginning of 1960, in West Germany, newly rebuilt synagogues had swastikas painted on the outside and Jewish cemeteries were desecrated; people were sure it was done by Nazis and there was a valid question raised in the West – are the Nazis back? It made some question whether Germany could be a reliable partner for peace.

‘We found out many years later that this was engineered by the KGB and it was because they wanted to make Germany look liked a failed state. Antisemitism is a way of stirring up the pot. Of course, no one can create something that isn’t there but it can be built up so that it becomes a threat to democracy. And from there it becomes a threat to national stability.

‘There is so much active disinformation and it doesn’t have to work for it to be successful. In mid-October Hamas declared a ‘day of rage’ and many schools were closed and parents kept their children home from school – and I am not being critical of them for this – but although nothing happened it was a complete success for them because we were threatened.’

She said her message to politicians had been simple: ‘If you care about democracy, if you care about national stability, you need to care about this phenomenon too.’

Lipstadt was joined at the event on Sunday by organiser and LCSCA founder Dr David Hirsh, law experts Professor Rosa Freedman and Ulf Haussler, Holocaust and Genocide expert Philip Spencer and extremism researcher Yehudis Fletcher.

During the conference she also decried people who apologised for incidents of antisemitism by bringing in other forms of racism. ‘I don’t understand why scholars of antisemitism only want to study it in the context of Islamaphobia. Now I am not privileging one over the other – there is much to compare and contrast. But if you are only seeing antisemitism in the context of other things you are saying it is not quite worthy to be studied.’

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