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Scholars Examine Anti-Semitism at Unprecedented Prague Seminar

May 26, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

A host of scholars, gathered here for the first international seminar on anti-Semitism in post-totalitarian Europe, were unable to agree on what has kept hatred of Jews alive for 2,000 years.

But they all acknowledged that anti-Semitism did not die with the defeat of the Nazis and haunts the continent once again.

As Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel put it, in an eloquent address to the seminar, "Anti-Semitism has re-emerged with a stubborness, stupidity and agressiveness all its own."

The seminar, held in Prague from Friday through Sunday under Havel’s auspices, was organized by the Franz Kafka Society of Prague and co-sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, the British Embassy and the Prague Jewish community.

Participants included Elyakim Rubinstein, head of the Israeli delegation to the current bilateral peace talks; Karel Schwarzenberg, chancellor of the presidential office of the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic; Martin Butora, counselor to Havel on human rights issues; and David Singer, AJCommittee’s director of research.

Papers were delivered by Hebrew University Professors Yehuda Bauer and Shlomo Avineri and Professor Bedrich Loewenstein of the Berlin Free University.

Also participating were representatives from the countries of the former Soviet bloc, who spoke of their own experiences.

"To find rational explanation for the irrational" was one of the seminar’s main goals.


Some lecturers sought the roots of anti-Semitism in ancient times, pointing to the schism between Judaism and Christianity some 2,000 years ago; the subsequent competition between Jewish and Christian messianism; and current attempts by anti-Semites to prove there is a Jewish conspiracy to rule the world.

Others maintained that anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance are byproducts of the disintegration of empires.

Those who did so drew a parallel between the fall of the Roman Empire and the ensuing instability in Europe, and the disintegration of the Soviet empire and subsequent escalating ethnic rivalries.

Scholars pointed out that conspiracy theories and denial of the Holocaust appear mainly in societies with crises of conscience and feelings of shame for the deeds of the previous generations, in such places as Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

Howard Spier of the Institute of Jewish Affairs in London said that there are 120 anti-Semitic organizations in Russia, the Pamyat group being only the tip of the iceberg.

Shimon Samuels, director of the Paris office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, observed that there are nearly 400 Jewish organizations in Russia today. He claimed that only about 5 percent of Russian Jews, and no more than 12 percent of all Jews in the former Soviet Union, see aliyah as a solution to their personal problems.

Replying to an observation that some Jews seem to react in a paranoid manner to anti-Semitic remarks, Bauer said they have good reason to be paranoid.

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