What is antisemitism? How do we define it? What does it look like? These questions were answered on Thursday, October 3 when author and historian Deborah Lipstadt spoke on her most recent book, Antisemitism: Here and Now. For Lipstadt, antisemitism is easy to identify. Countless examples throughout history and even today are testaments to its continuity. Yet, despite being surrounded by it almost every day, I realized during this talk that I have failed to notice its nagging existence.
There is a long background of antisemitism throughout history, but Lipstadt argues that its template is consistent in the way it characterizes Jewish people. In almost every case, Jewish antisemitism “punches up.” People tend to look at Jews and see white, wealth, and power. Because of this, people argue that antisemitism cannot exist because Jewish people cannot be victims. This is one of many forms of antisemitism that Lipstadt defines, but she also acknowledges that antisemitism does not make someone a bad person. The “clueless antisemite,” for example, simply does not know that his/her beliefs or actions are wrong, yet still participates in the antisemitic rhetoric. Lipstadt expresses that this is one of the most dangerous types because it shows how deeply entrenched antisemitism is in American culture.
Although Lipstadt does not touch on the consequences of antisemitism, I have noticed a few outcomes in my own life that are directly affected by this. Internal oppression is one product of antisemitism that I see clearly occurring in a large portion of the Jewish population at the University of Richmond. I do not see antisemitism as a major problem, but the “clueless antisemite” is so engraved in people’s minds that certain comments, actions, and sentiments are enough to prevent people from acting as they normally would out of fear or embarrassment. If it took someone else to show me the dangers of seemingly harmless actions, I wonder what else I and many other students on campus are missing in the way we treat others. Creating a more open and inclusive culture seems more important now than ever.