A Tribute to Robert Wistrich

Monday, May 25, 2015 |  Tsvi Sadan

Robert Solomon Wistrich, a professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a world-renowned scholar on the topic of anti-Semitism, died of a heart attack last Tuesday. His sudden and untimely death will negatively impact all who are dedicated to combatting this ugly phenomenon.

Wistrich, who served as head of the Hebrew University's Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of anti-Semitism, was a prolific writer. His many published works included The Left Against Zion (1979) and A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism – From Antiquity to the Global Jihad (2010). 

Two days before his death, Wistrich sent his last column to the editor of the Jerusalem Post. Following is an excerpt from this column published by on May 20:

"There are few topics of more pressing concern today to Jewish communities around the world than the current resurgence of anti-Semitism. I emphasized the need to free ourselves from certain outdated myths. My first point is that even today, Jews in Israel and the Diaspora are fixated on the dangers of far-right traditional anti-Semitism. While neo-fascism has not altogether disappeared, it is in most cases a secondary threat. 

"Second, there is an illusory belief that more Holocaust education and memorialization can serve as an effective antidote to contemporary anti-Semitism. This notion is quite unfounded. On the contrary, today 'Holocaust inversion' (the perverse transformation of Jews into Nazis and Muslims into victimized 'Jews') all-too-often becomes a weapon with which to pillory Israel and denigrate the Jewish people.

"Third, we must recognize much more clearly than before that since 1975 (with the passing of the scandalous UN resolution condemning Zionism as racism) hatred of Israel has increasingly mutated into the chief vector for the 'new' anti-Semitism. By libeling the Jewish state as 'racist,' 'Nazi,' 'apartheid' its enemies have turned Zionism into a synonym for criminality and a term of pure opprobrium. Hence, every Jew (or non-Jew) who supports the totally 'illegitimate' or immoral 'Zionist entity' is thereby complicit in a cosmic evil.

"Fourth, today’s anti-Semitism is a product of a new civic religion that could be termed 'Palestinianism.' The official Palestinian narrative seeks to supplant Israel with a judenrein Palestine from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. 

"Fifth, since the turn of the 21st century, anti-Semitism has undergone a process of growing 'Islamicization,' linked to the terrorist holy war against Jews and other non-Muslims with its truly lethal consequences. 

"My sixth observation relates to the need for Israelis and Diaspora Jews to rediscover, redefine and reassess their Jewish identity, core Jewish values and the depth of their own connection to the Land of Israel as well as to their historic heritage.

"My final reflection flows from it. I believe that in an age of Jewish empowerment, living in a sovereign and democratic Israeli state, we can and must first clarify for ourselves our vocation, raison d’être, moral priorities, and the deeper meaning of our near-miraculous return to the historic homeland. This is the other side of the coin in our essential and relentless fight against anti-Semitism. 

"As we celebrate Jerusalem Day let us be worthy of the scriptural promise that 'the Torah will come forth from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.' We must be true to the national and universal vision of our biblical prophets. Anti-Semitism is neither 'eternal' nor must it prevent Jews from fulfilling their ultimate destiny to one day become a 'light unto the nations'." 

May Prof. Wistrich's memory be blessed.

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