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Confronting Antisemitism

A Symposium on Its Past and Present


Sunday, April 7, 2024 • Michael A. Fitts Auditorium, Penn Carey Law School


The term antisemitism invokes actions, arouses passions, and enflames debate. On April 7, 2024, the Jewish Studies Program of the University of Pennsylvania will host a symposium on the history, meanings, and responses to antisemitism in the past and present. Scholars will convene to discuss the ways in which the term itself has been and continues to be matter of powerful political contest, will explore the relationship between antizionism and antisemitism, and will consider Jewish responses to such challenges as agents of history in their own right.


Organized by the Jewish Studies Program in the School of Arts & SciencesCo-sponsored by the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, Penn Carey Law School, the Department of History, and the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.



Symposium Schedule

Sunday, April 7, 2024
Michael A. Fitts Auditorium, Penn Carey Law School
3501 Sansom Street • Philadelphia, PA 19104 

10:00 am

Joshua Teplitsky (University of Pennsylvania)

10:30 am–12:00 pm
Panel I: Defining the Terms 

This panel tackles the central question: what is antisemitism? How has this question been answered in the past, and how should it be answered? What are the challenges with producing a definition, and what are the pitfalls of providing inaccurate definitions? The stakes include diagnoses of what antisemitism is and how one addresses it. 

Chair: Rebecca Kobrin (Columbia University)
David Engel (New York University)
Jonathan Judaken (Washington University in St. Louis)

12:00–1:15 pm
1:15–2:45 pm
Panel II: Historical Comparisons

The history of antisemitism and hatred of Jews is regrettably long. Yet, each moment is distinct in the forms, causes, and contexts. how can we make historical connections in a rigorous, careful and illuminating fashion? What similarities or differences might historians draw between the past and our present moment?

Chair: Lisa Leff (American University in Washington DC)
Sara Lipton (Stony Brook University)
David Feldman (Birkbeck University of London)
Karma Ben Johanan (Hebrew University in Jerusalem)

2:45–3:15 pm
Coffee Break
3:15–4:45 pm
Panel III: Antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and anti-Israelism

Arguably the chief debate in the current political moment is: is anti Zionism antisemitism, when is anti Zionism antisemitism, and how does one differentiate between valid criticism of Israel and antisemitism? When are accusations of antisemitism used to silence valid criticism of Israel? And when might hostility to Israel and Israelis be something entirely new? Leading experts will address and contextualize these highly contested and fraught questions. 

Chair: Benjamin Nathans (University of Pennsylvania)
Shaul Magid (Dartmouth)
Jonathan Karp (Binghamton University)

4:45–5:15 pm
5:15–6:15 pm
Closing Roundtable
7:00 pm
Dinner by Invitation


Karma Ben Johanan is a senior lecturer at the Department for Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She completed her PhD in the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University. Subsequently, she was a Fulbright postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley and a postdoctoral fellow at the Polonsky Academy for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. In 2019, she was appointed the first chair of Jewish–Christian relations in the Faculty of Theology at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where she served until the summer of 2022. Ben Johanan’s book, Jacob’s Younger Brother: Christian-Jewish Relations after Vatican II was published with Harvard University Press in 2022. Her academic work received several prizes and awards, most prominently the Dan David Prize for the Study of the Past and the Shazar Prize for Research in Jewish History.

David Engel served for 31 years as professor of history, Hebrew, and Judaic Studies at New York University, where he held, successively, the Skirball Chair in Modern Jewish History and the Greenberg Professorship in Holocaust Studies. Between 1985 and 2016 he edited one of the Center’s flagship journals, Gal-Ed: On the History and Culture of Polish Jewry. Engel is the author of eight books and more than 100 scholarly research articles on various aspects of modern Jewish political and intellectual history, including Zionism: A Short History of a Big Idea, and The Holocaust: The Third Reich and the Jews, a widely-used university textbook now in its third edition. In 2020 the Historical Association of Israel devoted four full issues of its journal to discussion of his 2009 article, “Away from a Definition of Antisemitism.” An English-language volume devoted to the same article, entitled Antisemitism and the Politics of History, was recently released by Brandeis University Press. He has taught and lectured in some two dozen countries, including Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, and China. He was a longtime member of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and served as a historical consultant for the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. His current research concerns how Jews have identified and thought about threats to their security over the centuries and how they have endeavored to maximize their safety and wellbeing.

David Feldman is a Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London where he is also Director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism. His most recent book, coedited with Marc Volovici, is Antisemitism, Islamophobia and the Politics of Definition (Palgrave, 2023). He is one of the authors of the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism which was published in 2021. His expertise has been sought by international organisations including the OSCE, the United Nations and the Diaspora Alliance. In the United Kingdom he has worked with a range organisations including the Football Association, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Antisemitism Policy Trust, and the leading think tank on racism, the Runnymede Trust. He has written on antisemitism for The Guardian, the Financial Times, Haaretz, the New Statesman, The Independent and The Political Quarterly.

Jonathan Judaken is the Gloria M. Goldstein Chair of Jewish History and Thought at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of ~50 academic articles on the history of existentialism, anti-Semitism, racism, critical theory, and on post-Holocaust French Jewish thought. He has written, edited, or co-edited seven books. He published the monograph Jean-Paul Sartre and the Jewish Question: Anti-antisemitism and the Politics of the French Intellectual (Nebraska, 2006), edited Race After Sartre: Antiracism, Africana Existentialism, Postcolonialism (SUNY 2008) and Naming Race, Naming Racisms (Routledge 2009), and co-edited (with Robert Bernasconi), Situating Existentialism: Key Texts in Context (Columbia 2012) and (with Karen Golightly) Memphis: 200 Years Together (Susan Schadt Press 2019). His most recent book is The Albert Memmi Reader (co-edited with Michael Lejman), a compendium of the Tunisian Franco-Jewish writer’s work (Nebraska, 2020), for which he wrote the Introduction. His new monograph, Critical Theories of Anti-Semitism, will come out in May in Columbia University Press’ “New Directions in Critical Theory” series. Alongside these books, he edited and wrote the lead article for a round table in the American Historical Review titled, “Rethinking Anti-Semitism” (October 2018) and co-edited and introduced a special issue of Jewish History (with Ethan Katz) on “Jews and Muslims in France Before and After Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher” (September 2018). He is U.S. Contributing Editor for the journal Patterns of Prejudice, on the Associate Editorial Board for the journal Critical Philosophy of Race, the Editorial Board for Jewish Historical Studies, and serves on the international board of scholars for Facing History and Ourselves. He was a founding member of the International Consortium for Research on Antisemitism and Racism.

Jonathan Karp is an associate professor of Judaic studies and history at Binghamton University of the State University of New York (SUNY). He is the author of The Politics of Jewish Commerce: Economic Thought and Emancipation in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2008) and editor or co-editor of seven volumes, including Beyond Whiteness: Revisiting Jews in Ethnic America (Purdue University Press, 2023); World War I and the Jews (Berghahn Books, 2018) with Marsha L. Rozenblit; and The Cambridge History of Judaism in the Early Modern World (Cambridge University Press, 2017) with Adam Sutcliffe. His work explores the roles that Jews have played in modern economic life and the images and stereotypes that have accompanied them. His forthcoming book is Jews and Blacks in the Business of American Popular Music. Karp is the recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service. From 2010 to 2013 he served as executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society.

Rebecca Kobrin is the Russell and Bettina Knapp Associate Professor of American Jewish History. She works in the fields of immigration history, urban studies, business history, East European history and American Jewish History, specializing in modern Jewish migration. She received her B.A. (1994) from Yale University and her Ph.D. (2002) from the University of Pennsylvania. She served as the Blaustein Post-Doctoral Fellow at Yale University (2002-2004) and the American Academy of Jewish Research Post-Doctoral Fellow at New York University (2004-6). Her book Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora (Indiana University Press, 2010) was awarded the Jordan Schnitzer prize (2012). She is the editor of Chosen Capital: The Jewish Encounter with American Capitalism (Rutgers University Press, 2012), Salo Baron: Using the Past to Shape the Future of Jewish Studies in America (Columbia University Press, 2022) and is co-editor with Adam Teller of Purchasing Power: The Economics of Jewish History (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015). In 2015, she was awarded Columbia University’s Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award for her outstanding teaching and graduate student mentoring. Her forthcoming book, A Credit to the Nation: East European Immigrant Bankers and American Finance, 1870-1930 (Harvard University Press, 2024), looks at the lost world of immigrant banking and brings together the literature on American banking, East European Jewish history, and immigration studies. She is one of the principal investigators leading the award-winning digital humanities Historical NYC Project, an award-winning map that visualizes the demographic and spatial changes wrought in New York City between 1850 and 1940.

Lisa Moses Leff is Professor of History at American University and Director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Her books include Colonialism and the Jews (edited with Ethan Katz and Maud Mandel, 2017), The Archive Thief (2015), and Sacred Bonds of Solidarity (2006). Professor Leff has also served in leadership roles in the profession, including as President of the Society for French Historical Studies, as a board member of the Association for Jewish Studies and as an elected fellow of the American Academy for Jewish Research.

Sara Lipton received a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies from Yale University, and is currently Professor and Chair of the Department of History at Stony Brook University. Her main fields of interest are Jewish-Christian-Muslim Relations, Christian anti-Judaism, and visual culture in the central and later Middle Ages; she also writes about religious and ethnic intolerance, the history of anti-Semitism, religious politics, and the role of social media for the broader public. Prof. Lipton is the author of Images of Intolerance: The Representation of Jews and Judaism in the Bibles moralisées (1999), which won the John Nicholas Brown Prize for Best First Book from the Medieval Academy of America and Dark Mirror: The Medieval Origins of Anti-Jewish Iconography (2014), winner of the Jordan Schnitzer Award of the Association of Jewish Studies). She has been a Visiting Scholar at Tel Aviv University, a Professeure invitée at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris), and a Distinguished Visiting Professor the University of London; and has held fellowships from the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers (NYPL), the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), Corpus Christi College, and, most recently, All Souls College, Oxfotrd. Her forthcoming book, The Vulgate of Experience: Looking at and Learning from Art in the High Middle Ages, will be published next year by Cornell University Press. She is currently working on a new project entitled How Pictures Hate: On the Origins, Mechanisms, and Effects of Inflammatory Imagery from the Middle Ages to Today. Prof. Lipton was recently elected President of the Medieval Academy of America.

Shaul Magid is a professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religion at Harvard, and Kogod Senior Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. He has rabbinical ordination from Jerusalem in 1984. Among other books, he is the author of From Metaphysics to Midrash; American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society; and Hasidism Incarnate: Hasidism, Christianity, and the Construction of Modern Judaism. He is the editor of the column Teiku for the Ayin Journal and writes regularly for +972 and Religion Dispatches. He is an elected member of the American Academy for Jewish Research and the American Society for the Study of Religion.

Benjamin Nathans is the Alan Charles Kors Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. His book To the Success of Our Hopeless Cause: The Many Lives of the Soviet Dissident Movement is due out in August. Nathans is author of Beyond the Pale: The Jewish Encounter with Late Imperial Russia; co-editor (with Gabriella Safran) of Culture Front: Representing Jews in Eastern Europe; and co-editor (with Kenneth Moss and Taro Tsurumi) of From Europe’s East to the Middle East: Israel’s Russian and Polish Lineages. He led the international scholarly group that designed the permanent exhibition of the Jewish Museum in Moscow, which opened in 2012. Nathans has held visiting professorships at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris) and University College London, as well as fellowships from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Shelby Cullom Davis Center at Princeton University, the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies in Germany, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement.