University of Pittsburgh
December 1, 2003

Pitt Professor's New Book, Roots of Hate, Is First to Examine Empirically the Roots of European Anti-Semitism before the Holocaust through the Views of Average Citizens

Author William Brustein also addresses modern anti-Semitism and draws some surprising conclusions, among them that today's anti-Semitism is principally from the left and stems historically from Voltaire as filtered through Karl Marx Distinction drawn between opposition to Israeli policies and anti-Semitism
Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH—Anti-Semitism is usually seen as a phenomenon of right-wing nationalism, and events like the Holocaust and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany often overshadow other, still powerful, roots of anti-Semitism.

William I. Brustein, director of the University Center for International Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, hopes to help balance that history. His new book, Roots of Hate: Anti-Semitism in Europe before the Holocaust (Cambridge University Press, 2003), applies empirical methods to a survey of the traditional religious, racial, economic, and political rationalizations for hatred toward Jews. His 1996 book, The Logic of Evil: The Social Origins of the Nazi Party, 1925-1933 (Yale University Press), explored the reasons many Germans willingly joined the Nazi party during its early years.

Brustein will deliver a lecture based on Roots of Hate—"The Religious, Racial, Economic, and Political Roots of Anti-Semitism in Europe Before the Holocaust"— as part of a 2-4 p.m. Dec. 18 free public panel presentation at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

In Roots of Hate, Brustein, a professor of sociology, political science, and history at Pitt, looks for the first time at the views of average citizens in 19th and early 20th century Europe as reflected in newspaper articles, books, and pamphlets; legal restrictions on Jews; incidents of crime and violence; and economic data.

Brustein observed that anti-Semitism, after waning early in the 19th century with the emancipation of Jews in most of Europe, was in resurgence after 1870.

Germany, Brustein found, was far from the most anti-Semitic country in Europe at the time, despite the later growth of National Socialism. Incidents of formal anti-Semitic laws, boycotts, and pogroms were much more common in Eastern Europe. In the late 1890s, the secret police in Tsarist Russia concocted The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a fraudulent document describing a nonexistent Jewish plan for world domination that continues to circulate in left- and right-wing anti-Semitic circles.

His historical work has led Brustein to some surprising conclusions about present-day anti-Semitism.

"Traditional religious anti-Semitism is virtually gone," Brustein explained. "The continuation of anti-Semitism today is largely of the left. Much of the right-wing basis of anti-Semitism has eroded since 1945."

The Roman Catholic Church and conservative Protestant churches, Brustein explained, have radically changed their teachings in the last 50 years. Jews are no longer held responsible for the death of Christ; Protestant Evangelicals, in fact, tend to be strong supporters of the state of Israel.

Anti-Semitic views of Jews as Communists, Brustein added, collapsed with the end of the Cold War, and racial anti-Semitism was debunked after the fall of Fascism.

Brustein said that he was surprised at what he found.

"Anti-Semitism on the left was an intellectual puzzle for me," he said. "The left had fought discrimination, and Jews were overrepresented in the parties on the left."

But Brustein identified an idea running from Voltaire to Marx and other intellectuals on the left. Although these thinkers were critical of Christianity and anti-Jewish discrimination, they also resented Jews' insistence on remaining Jews.

"While the Enlightenment advocated Jewish emancipation," Brustein writes in Roots of Hate, "it envisioned equally the disappearance of Jewry."

There is a Voltairean secular critique," Brustein said, "that Jews refused to assimilate." For the modern left, he explained, Zionism looks like an expression of this refusal to assimilate, blending opposition to Zionism with opposition to Israel. Moreover, the economic roots of left-wing anti-Semitism are alive in the perception of Jews as controlling globalization.

Brustein's research led him to another surprising conclusion—that the resurgence of right-wing European anti-Semitism often reported in the American media is not happening.

"I try to bring empirical evidence to look at these arguments," Brustein said. "The anti-Semitism of 50 to 100 years ago is not re-emerging."

Empirically, Brustein said, the incidents of attacks on Jewish synagogues and graveyards have not occurred in significant numbers. Moreover, he said, the perpetrators almost always have been Muslims living in Europe.

Brustein actually found more support in Europe for Jews than for Muslims. He explained that the right-wing nationalist parties that are in resurgence in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy are particularly directed against Muslims in Europe.

Brustein draws a distinction between anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiments. "They are, for the most part, two different issues," he says. "Opposition to Israel in terms of policies is not necessarily anti-Semitism." Partly because European Muslims belong largely to parties of the left, Brustein explained, the European left tends to see the Israel/Palestine conflict as an anti-colonial or anti-imperialist struggle.

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