Lipstadt "Taken Aback" by Antisemitic Symbols at CharlottesvilleHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Charlottesville, antisemitism, White Supremacy, White Nationalism, Unite the Right
Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt told a jury in Charlottesville Wednesday that she was shocked by the extent to which antisemitism defined the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally.
“There was a great deal of overt antisemitism and adulation of the Third Reich throughout the evidence I looked at,” said Lipstadt, an expert witness in a case against rally organizers.
“Very few things surprise me, but I was taken aback.”
One of the foremost experts on the Holocaust and President Joe Biden’s nominee for global antisemitism envoy, Lipstadt explained basic tenets of antisemitism to the jury and analyzed statements made by several of the defendants in the federal trial. Nine plaintiffs are accusing 14 men and 10 groups of conspiring to violate their civil rights at the 2017 rally that killed a counter-protester and injured dozens more.
In her first appearance as an expert trial witness, Lipstadt’s testimony served to confirm that past blatantly antisemitic statements made by the defendants, including that “the Jew has been drinking our blood,” were in fact antisemitic. But she also inserted powerful anecdotes into her explanations to the jury of four women and eight men, including four Black members.
Lipstadt also offered succinct definitions of antisemitism — “simply put, it is Jew hatred,” — and the Holocaust, which she called “state-sponsored genocide by the Third Reich” that resulted in the murder of approximately six million Jews.
Defendant Christopher Cantwell, on trial alongside white nationalist pundit Richard Spencer and 12 other men for what plaintiffs injured in the Unite the Right rally allege was a conspiracy to commit racist violence, briefly cross-examined Lipstadt.
He attempted to suggest that many of the statements and symbols Lipstadt had identified as evidence of strident antisemitism by organizers of Unite the Right were, in fact, jokes.
“There’s no such thing as an innocent antisemitic joke?” Cantwell asked Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish studies at Emory University.
He later followed up: “If somebody was going to make a joke about the Jewish people, would the Holocaust be an easy target?”
“I find it hard to imagine using a genocide, which killed six million people, irrespective of their religion, their identity, their nationality, as a topic of jokes,” replied Lipstadt, a former Forward Association member and former Forward columnist.
She rose to fame outside of academic circles in the 1990s when she successfully defeated a libel lawsuit in the United Kingdom by a Holocaust denier who had sued her for defamation. The case was the subject of the film “Denial,” in which she is played by Rachel Weisz.
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