Prof. Robert S. Wistrich, the director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism at Hebrew University has been in the field of academia for over thirty years, and is considered by many to be a scholar, even the most imminent world scholar on antisemitism.
Wistrich’s reputation as a reputable scholar was severely damaged however by his entrance into the polemical realm of Islamophobia and his pursuit and advocacy of the thesis that the so-called “New Antisemitism,” criticism of the political ideology of Zionism and the state of Israel has become the “most effective form of antisemitism in our times.”
Wistrich first came onto my radar when he took part in Rabbi Raphael Shore‘s Clarion Fund-Aish HaTorah film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War on the West.” One will recall that Obsession was not only a radically Islamophobic movie, comparing Islam to Nazism, but was also used cynically in an attempt to influence the 2008 U.S. presidential elections through the free distribution of 28 million DVD copies of the movie in over 70 major nation-wide newspapers.
Wistrich lent legitimacy to the film, first by being interviewed and second by never severing his association with the movie makers or regretting his participation in the movie. Another professor, Khaleel Mohammed, who happened to have been the only Islamic studies professor interviewed in the film had this to say to the website Obsession for Hate,
Sadly, it would seem that I have allowed myself to be used. I gave an interview to the makers of “obsession” wherein I explained the meaning of Jihad, and its misuse by extremists. I understood that the film would be used objectively, focusing on fanatics who seek to spread violence. (emphasis mine)
Clearly, Wistrich approved of the “Obsession” theme as he went on to write a 1200 page tome, published in 2010, titled A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad.
Thomas Weber in his review of the book for The Journal of Modern History wrote,
This is a book filled with villains and fools. Foremost among them are political leaders; such as Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Yitzhak Rabin, Helmut Schmidt, and Javier Solana; academics such as Tony Judt and Tariq Ramadan; and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mahmoud Abbas, and almost every single Muslim mentioned on any of the close to 1,200 pages of this book. This unholy alliance of characters is pitted against the very few heroes of A Lethal Obsession, men like Silvio Berlusconi or Donald Tusk. The book’s central argument is that the villains and fools are responsible for — or have at least inadvertently facilitated — a recent global revival of antisemitism no less dangerous than the genocidal antisemitism of the 1940s, while only the Berlusconis of the world have stood up to it. (emphasis mine)
Weber also points out that Wistrich forwards the “Islamicization” of the West myth, but what is most interesting here is his heroizing of Silvio Berlusconi.
I wonder how Wistrich feels about that now, after Berlusconi praised the fascist “Il-Duce” Benito Mussolini on — of all days — Holocaust Remembrance Day!
Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, used the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, to praise the fascist “Duce” Benito Mussolini. Mussolini had “done a great deal of good”, notwithstanding the racial laws that were “his worst mistake”, Berlusconi said.
Italian responsibility for the Shoah was “not comparable to that of Germany”, Berlusconi continued. It had been “difficult” for Mussolini, who acted under pressure from Hitler. Italians had merely tolerated Nazi racial policy and were “not really aware of it at the beginning”, he said.
Berlusconi expressed his comments on fascism during the official inauguration ceremony of a Holocaust memorial on “Platform 21” of the Milan Central Station. The memorial has been erected around the hidden railway tunnel originally used by the fascists to conduct deportations.
From 1943 to 1945, thousands of Italian Jews were deported from this point to extermination camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, and the Italian camps of Bolzano and Fossoli. A total of around 8,600 Jews were deported from Italy to the death camps.
Contrary to Berlusconi’s remarks, anti-Semitism was not merely imposed on Italian fascism externally by Hitler and Nazi Germany—the persecution of the Jews was entirely in line with Italian fascism and Mussolini’s own racist ideology. Jews were socially isolated and dispossessed; they were banned from attending state schools in Italy, heading a business, carrying out an official function, and could not marry Italians.
In order to create a new “Roman Empire” around the Mediterranean Sea the Italian fascists occupied North Africa and parts of Yugoslavia, classifying Africans, Slavs and Jews as “subhuman” and discriminating against them. The defense of a “pure Italian race” was used, especially in Abyssinia and Libya, to justify massacres and genocide.
As historian Carlo Moss demonstrates, racial laws against the Jews were first introduced in Italy in 1938 in accordance with the racial policies of the Third Reich. At the same time they corresponded to “a long-existing, general-fascist racial concept” (Moos, Carlo: Late Italian Fascism and the Jews, 2008). (emphasis mine)
This is nothing but disgusting pandering by Berlusconi to the extreme, xenophobic and antisemitic right in Italy, but for Wistrich, Berlusconi remains a hero.