As one of the world’s foremost authorities on anti-Semitism, Robert Wistrich appeared at the recent daylong conference on the subject hosted by the United Nations General Assembly — a first in that body’s history. That came on the heels of his participation at a Berlin meeting hosted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Wistrich is chairman of Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism and author of numerous books on the subject including “Anti-Semitism: The Longest Hatred” and “From Ambivalence to Betrayal: The Left, the Jews, and Israel.” Wistrich spoke to The Jewish Week during a recent visit to New York and by phone from his home in Jerusalem. This is an edited transcript.
Q: The New York Times described the U.N.’s conference on anti-Semitism as a victory for Israel. Did the conference satisfy you?
A: It was the first time in the U.N.’s history that it devoted an entire session to the history of anti-Semitism. It never happened before, and well over 60 nations made statements to the General Assembly. I sat there from the early morning to the end of the session, at about 6 p.m., and no one even mentioned the word “Islamism.” At least I didn’t hear it.
I participated in a brief panel discussion in the afternoon, and I think it’s fair to say that my comments were quite different from what anybody else had to say. I began by pointing out what everyone omitted, which is that much of the mainstream media talks about extremism and condemns it, but minimizes the fact that these are self-declared crimes in the name of Allah or Islam. … It’s the leaders who are really to blame, whether it’s President Obama, who is a serial offender in this regard, or [British] Prime Minister [David] Cameron.
One of my other points — and this is what really ruffled a lot of feathers — is that not a single person during the day mentioned that the U.N. itself has been a major purveyor of anti-Semitism. … No one made a mea culpa about the organization’s responsibility.
Following the terror attack in Copenhagen, Denmark’s chief rabbi rejected Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for aliyah, saying terrorism “is not a reason to move to Israel.” Do you believe Jews have a home in Europe?
Ultimately, that’s a decision that every European Jew has to make. But my feeling is that particularly in the smaller Jewish communities like Denmark, that question has already been answered. The community has declined by 25 percent in recent years, and this is the trend we’re likely to see in other countries, like Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and France. Regarding the chief rabbi, I was struck by a hidden desperation in his remarks. He’s saying, “The prime minister of Israel is undermining us, and we were all fine before he made his comments.” But for years the Jewish community of Denmark was asking for additional protection [of its buildings], and they were being ignored.
What’s your response to the recent interview of President Obama, in which he failed to point out the anti-Semitic nature of the attack on the Parisian kosher market?
It was a shockingly inappropriate comment to talk about it as random, and I’m glad a number of reporters called him on it. … I think it’s evidence of severe denial syndrome, which leads to people tying themselves up in knots. But I give Obama credit for being an intelligent man, and he must be aware of how ridiculous he sounded..
Groups of European Muslims are now expressing solidarity with their Jewish compatriots, with some forming a “Ring of Peace” around the Oslo Synagogue. Do you derive any hope from that news?
If we saw a lot more of that, we’d be in a different situation altogether. … Another thing is to see forthright condemnations from Muslim community and religious leaders of violence toward Jews and of the use of Islamic texts to promulgate anti-Semitism. I think there’s a chance that maybe these events will finally bring that about.