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Hebrew University
Commemorating Prof. Robert Wistrich: Hebrew University and the Undermined Research on Antisemitism


Editorial Note

We approached today the first yahrzeit of late Professor Robert Wistrich, the renowned historian, who chaired the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (SICSA) at the Hebrew University, until his death on the 19th of May 2015. The SICSA website presents his voluminous research, including the conferences he held - all focusing on various aspects of antisemitism. 

SICSA was founded in 1982 by Vidal Sassoon, the famous hair-dresser who came to Israel 
in 1948 to help her fight in the Independence War. Antisemitism was high on his agenda. In his last interview to Voices on Antisemitism published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Sassoon said: "I was born in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, in 1928. And the period of my childhood was very interesting, because Britain never went Fascist or Communist. But antisemitism was absolutely rife. I mean, it was nothing for another kid to say to you, “Dirty Jew.” And although England was a good place to be, especially with Churchill and the fight against the Nazis, there was always that sense of the Jews being second-class citizens." The interview was published shortly before his death in 2012.

Professor Dalia Ofer served as SICSA's chair from 1996 and Wistrich replaced her from 2002In her concluding remarks upon ending her term Ofer wrote, "From its inception, the Sassoon Center has been dedicated to an independent, non-political approach to the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge necessary for understanding the phenomenon of anti-semitism." 

Before his death Wistrich privately expressed concerns over where would SICSA be headingWistrich was right to be worried, exactly one year after his death, SICSA has not been focusing on the study of antisemitism, as can be seen from the activities listed below.

Things came to a head when some of Wistrich research projects were discontinued soon after his death. For example, the proceedings of a conference hosted by Wistrich were purposed to culminate in a book, two years have gone by and the book is not out yet.

It is worth noting that SICSA's 
academic committee of eight professors comprises of half specializing in fields not related to antisemitism: Romance and Latin American Studies; Musicology; English; and Law.  

Ofer's words on "non-political approach" sound hollow, some members of the academic committee participate in political activism. For example, a conference held by the Minerva Humanities Center at TAU together with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, a political German foundation, questioned "Are Modern Societies Racist? Racism and Xenophobia in Israel and Europe Today," the new chairperson of SICSA, Prof. Manuela Consonni, included comparisons of antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe.  Not a single incident, between 2011 to 2012, organized by Van-Leer, Consonni participated in a discussion group on "Partition and Its Alternativespromoting a one state solution for Israel/Palestine. By aiming to "examine critically the view that partition is the only logical solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Group members questioned "whether separation ... is indeed the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." And questioning to "what extent partition will ensure sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

Consonni is not the only political activist among SICSA's academic committee. In an interview with Al-Jazeera published in 2012, Yehuda Bauer was questioned on the Israeli demand of the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, Bauer's response was, "I think that is proof of his [Netanyahu's] internal insecurity. If you are secure in your Jewish identity you do not need Abu Mazen or Saeb Erekat to tell you that you are a Jew. Do they need me to fortify their belief that they are Palestinian?"

Another member of the academic committee, Michael Karayanni, a law professor who wrote about his work, "I teach three courses at the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and engaged in three main research projects: the first deals with the liberal dilemma associated with the accommodation of religious minorities in nation states given that liberalism will work to back such an accommodation but should also be attuned to vulnerable minority members such as women and children; the second deals with the extraterritorial application of access to justice rights; and the third deals with the history and nature of the recognition accorded to the Palestinian-Arab religious communities in Israel... As to my extra-academic activities I would like to list the fact that I was a member of the board of ACRI – Association for Civil Rights in Israel – the country’s major human rights association, and since 2009 serve as a member of the committee awarding the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award to organizations and individuals whose work made a significant contribution in the field of human rights in Israel. I have also served as a member in the School of Peace, located in Naveh Shalom – Wahat El Salam that engages in different co-existence activities." He has no background in the study of antisemitism.

Since Wistrich's death, the legacies of Vidal Sassoon and Robert Wistrich have been undermined.  While neo-antisemitism is growing among Muslims in Europe and elsewhere, by having academic committee members associated with pro-Palestinian activist groups, the study of antisemitism will be heading nowhere. 


Next Event 

Boycotts, Prejudice and Violence: 
Confronting New Forms of Racism in Brazil

Chair: Prof. Manuela Consonni, 
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 

Prof. James N.Green, 
Brown University 

Prof. Renato Lessa, 
Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil 

Dr. Michel Gherman, 
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro 

Click here, for further details 


The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 
Tel. 02-5882494 5882991 
Email: sicsa@mail.huji.ac.il 
Website: sicsa.huji.ac.il 
The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism
Human Rights and Culture: Between the Universal and the Local Context 
Chair: Prof. Manuela Consonni 
The Vidal Sassoon International Center of the Study of Antisemitism 
Dr. Renana Keydar 
Minerva Center for Human Rights The Hebrew University of Jerusalem 
Gabriele D'amico 
Freie Universität Berlin 
Monday, 14 March 2016, at 18:30 
Rabin Building, room 2001, Mount Scopus Campus 
Reception 18:00 
This invitation, along with an I.D. card, grants entrance for the Mount Scopus campus via Bezalel Gate


The Vidal Sassoon International Center

for the Study of Antisemitism - SICSA

Tel. 972-2-588 2494

Fax 972-2-588 1002

lecture by Dr. Sarit Cofman-Simhon

at the upcoming Research Seminar of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism


"La Belle Juive in European Drama: from 'The Jew of Malta' to 'Tevye the Milkman'"


The seminar will take place on Monday, January 18, 2016, at 10:30 in room 400

the Contemporary Jewry Institute, Mount Scopus Campus.


Dr. Ofer Ashkenazi will be the Chair.


The seminar will be held in Hebrew.



The Vidal Sassoon Center for the Study of Antisemitism

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The Institute for Contemporary Jewry

Gaster Building, Mount Scopus

Jerusalem 9190501

 Tel: 02-5882991- 02-5882494

Fax:  02-5881002


symposium in honor of Dr. Nelly Las's book

Jewish Voices in Feminism: Transnational Perspectives


On Monday, 29 February, 2016 at 18:15Rabin Building, room 3001.

Reception at 18:00.

The participants: Prof. Manuela Consonni, Chair, Prof. Shulamit ReinharzProf. Frances RadayDr. Martina Weisz,

Dr. Nelly Las, Respondent.

The lectures will be held in Hebrew.


Nelly Las's latest book 
"Jewish Voices in Feminism Transnational Perspectives" 
Click here for more information


Jewish Voices in Feminism: Transnational Perspectives: Excerpts

by Nelly Las

My approach is to observe what happens when today’s feminist activism and Jewish dilemmas meet and intersect against a comparative background of France and the United States. The feminist debate is thus placed in a setting which does not address women’s “voices” only but also more generally historical and contemporary aspects in Jewish identity and dilemmas.  Why look for correlations between two topics that seem so far apart? Why deviate from the focal area of feminism and pose questions about it on the slippery and complex terrain of Jewish identity? This initiative is based on both theoretical work and hands-on experiences, in the context of feminist thought as well as the Jewish search for identity. Our starting point is the principle laid down by feminists themselves: that the issue of women must be considered as it intersects with all issues in the society in which they live and develop.

Editor’s Note: The HBI hosted Dr. Nelly Las, Helen Gartner Hammer scholar-in-residence and author of the upcoming, Jewish Voices in Feminism: Transnational Perspectives previewed below. Dr. Las of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem researches contemporary Jewish history including Zionism, anti-Semitism, history of French Jewry, Jewish NGOs, and gender studies including women in Jewish history, Jewish women in feminist movements and analysis of contemporary Jewry through the prism of gender.


All research has its autobiographical roots, and the choice of this particular subject is definitely a reflection of various topics of interest to me, including Jewish history and current affairs, plus the universal topic of women, with the stress on France with which I have linguistic and intellectual ties. To this mixture I must add the American and Israeli sources and situations which have fed my Jewish and feminist experiences, enabling me to juxtapose different intellectual traditions. It goes without saying that “the Jews” are not a marginal topic, one studied only out of personal interest. Just as women’s issues do not concern women alone, so Jewish issues do not concern Jews alone. The Jews have played a key role in our civilization. They have in turn been idealized, denigrated, tolerated, or condemned, all the way to the abhorrent Nazi plan to exterminate them, a plan which passes all understanding. Today, they are still very much at the heart of current affairs, at the center of philosophical, political, and media discussions, especially in the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict in which, like it or not, they are caught up.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a period which was particularly harrowing for the Jews, many Jewish women were involved in general feminist movements that called for women’s rights to vote and work, as well as for world peace. At the same time, organized action to help the oppressed Jews was undertaken almost exclusively by Jewish men and women. The Jewish women involved in these struggles had to fight for their co-religionists without any outside help.

Unlike the nineteenth-century anti-slavery movement, which many white women supported, female activists showed no empathy over anti-Semitism. At times, as we will see, they even joined the anti-Semitic camp. In France, during the Dreyfus affair there were both pro- and anti-Dreyfus feminists. Similarly, between the two world wars and then under the German occupation, no clear feminist line was adopted in favor of the Jewish victims of anti-Semitism. The phase of feminism on which we will focus here is the contemporary period, known as the “second wave,” which began at the end of the 1960s, some twenty years after the Nazi genocide and almost the same number of years after the establishment of the State of Israel.

This period coincides with the beginnings of increased awareness and speaking out about the Nazi period, as well as support by the left for Third World struggles, especially that of the Palestinians. A number of Jewish women who had thrown themselves enthusiastically into the feminist movement were bitterly disappointed by the indifference, lack of empathy, and sometimes hostility of their non- Jewish comrades about their fears and dilemmas. Others, including Israeli women, supported the vehement criticism of the Jewish state’s policies. Since this time, the feminist debate has included the question of Israel, the origins of Zionism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The contemporary Jewish “voices” cited in this work highlight diverse— and even contradictory—elements that make up Jewish identity, defined as a religion, a diasporic or national culture, or a historical memory bound up with anti-Semitism and the State of Israel. One of the questions that arise when feminism is chosen as a tool for analyzing multiple-component dilemmas in Jewish identity is, inter alia, to what extent is such an approach likely to enrich reflection by giving it new perspectives? The other question concerns the positions of feminists as a whole, in respect of issues of current relevance: is it possible to identify a particular tendency which is more in keeping with feminism than another? This refers in particular to debates of ideas about current events in the domains of politics and society with regard to the Jewish world: religion, history, memory, anti-Semitism, and Zionism. It goes without saying that we must take account of pluralism and diversity in both feminism and Jewishness: expressions of identity, as well as political, intellectual and ethical engagements. Hence the range of responses will be extremely wide and varied.

Jewish Voices in Feminism: Transnational Perspectives by Nelly Las is published by the University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, for the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Dr. Las received a translation award from the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute to translate the book from French to English.

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