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It Can’t Happen Here? Rethinking Antisemitism and Americanism

Mon, December 17, 5:00 to 6:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cambridge 1

Session Submission Type: Roundtable


This roundtable seeks to stimulate discussion about the place of antisemitism in ideologies of Americanism and Jewishness. Starting in the scholarship of midcentury historians and continuing to the present, antisemitism has tended to be written out of American history, whether treated only as an episodic anomaly or its absence mounted as evidence of the exceptional nature of the United States and Jews' ability to flourish in it. In reassessing this common narrative, we ask: How must the parameters of antisemitism be re-envisioned? What might a new understanding of antisemitism teach us about the nature of American liberalism and nationalism? And how might we need to rethink modern Jewish politics in the process? Lila Corwin Berman (Temple University) will discuss the “present absence” of antisemitism in histories of American liberal democracy and offer some explanations of the instrumentality of this depiction of antisemitism to the trajectory of scholarship in US history and American Jewish history. Victoria Saker Woeste (American Bar Foundation) will discuss how American Jews laid claim to American legal liberalism during the 20th century and how that claim was challenged and parried by legal conservatives driven by antisemitism. Matthew Berkman (University of Pennsylvania) will examine the variations between anti-Zionist and non-Zionist analyses of antisemitism in the 1940s and 1950s and reflect on how “New Antisemitism” draws upon and diverges from these earlier frames of analysis. Jacob Ari Labendz (Youngstown State University) will consider the recent “structural turn” in popular discussions of antisemitism on the American-Jewish left by addressing its late Cold War origins and ongoing significance and will also raise challenges to its current formulations. Eliyahu Stern (Yale) will speak about the political and ideological affinities between the Alt-Right and certain sectors of Orthodoxy and ask whether these affinities represent a case of politics creating strange bedfellows or two groups that share similar worldviews. James Loeffler (University of Virginia) will serve as moderator, bringing his expertise about human rights and Jewish politics to bear on the conversation.

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