BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, the first European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism and the United States' newly appointed special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism are among the nearly 60 scholars from 15 countries who will convene at Indiana University Bloomington during an upcoming conference on contemporary antisemitism.
"Contending with Antisemitism in a Rapidly Changing Political Climate," which will take place March 23 to 27 at the Indiana Memorial Union, is the fourth conference of its kind hosted by IU's Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism.
Alvin Rosenfeld, director of the institute and the Irving Glazer Chair in the Borns Jewish Studies Program, said the number and caliber of international antisemitism scholars participating in this conference is unparalleled by other academic conferences in the U.S. These scholars, through panel discussions, will address how antisemitism has been escalating throughout Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the United States, and is present in both right- and left-wing politics. The connections between anti-Zionism and antisemitism and the effects of nationalist and populist movements on human rights will also be topics of discussion.
Rosenfeld said an international increase in anti-Jewish hostility, as evidenced by last year's shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and an uptick in antisemitic hate crimes in Europe and throughout the world, prompted the gathering.
"It's troubling to see the antisemitic threat return so energetically, especially after we saw during the Holocaust what can happen when hate like this goes unchecked," Rosenfeld said. "There was a time when we believed that if enough people knew about the horrors that happened, it would be unlikely that such violence and threats would return. We were wrong."
The return of anti-Jewish hostility is evident in a report from the Anti-Defamation League, which found that nearly 2,000 antisemitic incidents occurred in the United States 2017, a 57 percent increase over the previous year. Similarly, a high increase in such incidents has been reported in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and other countries.
The conference's keynote speaker, Katharina von Schnurbein, will share how the threat is being handled in Europe during her address, "The European Union and the Fight Against Antisemitism." IU President Michael A. McRobbie will introduce von Schnurbein's talk, which takes place at 8 p.m. March 24 at the Whittenberger Auditorium in the IMU and is open to the public.
Von Schnurbein was appointed the first European Commission coordinator on combating antisemitism in December 2015. She's held a variety of roles since joining the EU in 2002, including spending five years as advisor to commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, acting as a press officer with the EU delegation in Prague and working as spokesperson for the Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Directorate-General.
Other distinguished panelists include Irwin Cotler, former minister of justice and attorney general of Canada and current Nobel Peace Prize nominee; distinguished Israeli historian Dina Porat; and Elan Carr, special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism at the U.S. State Department.
Scholars will travel from countries including Canada, Germany, Israel and India to be in attendance.
Indiana University is a leader in the study of contemporary antisemitism, and the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, with the support of the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, boasts an active program of courses, lectures, conferences and publications on the topic. Additionally, Rosenfeld recently has endowed a professorship in memory of his late wife, Erna, for the study of post-Holocaust antisemitism. It's the first of its kind in the United States.
"Universities, in particular, have an obligation to educate our students, the communities we serve and the broader public about both the history of antisemitism and its contemporary resurgence," McRobbie wrote in a letter endorsing the conference and welcoming the visiting scholars. "Your important explorations at this conference will help to shed new light on the current political environments that advance antisemitism, the ways in which antisemitism is expressed and how it can be most effectively resisted."
The upcoming conference builds on work done at three previous IU Bloomington conferences of scholars sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism: "Resurgent Antisemitism: Global Perspectives" in April 2011; "Deciphering the New Antisemitism" in April 2014; and "Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism and the Dynamics of Delegitimization" in April 2016. Major books on these subjects have been published by Indiana University Press.
Papers presented at the conference are likewise expected to appear in a book that will be published as part of the IU Press Studies in Antisemitism series that Rosenfeld edits.
"This gathering is more than a conference," Rosenfeld said. "We are developing a cohort of scholars internationally who are devoting substantial energy and attention to the study of antisemitism and, in doing so, developing a new and important academic discipline."