Adolf Hitler and German President Paul von Hindenburg, Potsdam 1933

The ‘Why?’ exchange, part 2: ‘Antisemitism did not propel Hitler to power’

Peter Hayes is professor of history and German and Theodore Zev Weiss Holocaust Educational Foundation Professor of Holocaust Studies Emeritus at Northwestern University and chair of the Academic Committee of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Professor Hayes received his PhD from Yale University and taught at Northwestern for thirty-six years from 1980 to 2016. He is the author or editor of twelve books, including the prize-winning Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (1987, 2001) and Lessons and Legacies: The Meaning of the Holocaust in a Changing World (1991).  

This exchange focuses on Professor Hayes’ new book Why?: Explaining the Holocaust (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017). Part 1 can be found right here.


Dear Professor Hayes,

In a chapter of your book entitled “Why the Germans?” you write the following about the misunderstood role of anti-Semitism in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power:

Yet the centrality of the so-called Jewish problem was much more important and obvious to Hitler than to the average German voter. We have no reason to think that the antisemitic nucleus of his ideology propelled Hitler’s rise to power. It played an important role in attracting many of the core believers to the Nazi Party, but not the mass of the Nazi electorate. Hitler was a product of crisis and opportunity, and Germans seem to have been drawn to him out of desperation and a sense that only the Nazis were energetic and organized enough to deal with the nation’s woes.  

In your introduction you mention the idea of anti-Semitism bringing Hitler to power as one of the common myths that your book debunks. I would like to ask about the significance of rectifying this mistake: how can debunking this particular myth change our understanding of the lessons of the Holocaust?




Dear Shmuel,

Getting this right redirects our attention from pre-existing beliefs as the cause of the Holocaust toward politically induced ones, from attitudes toward Jews in Germany prior to 1933 toward convictions about them shaped thereafter. And in doing so, the debunking invites readers to reflect on the conditions that amplify antisemitism and those that mute it, both in the past and in the present.

If a person believes that antisemitism propelled the rise of Nazism, s/he may conclude that preventing a repetition is a matter of stamping out Jew hatred. Good luck with that. The focus is too narrow and negative, and the desirable outcome impossible. But if a person understands that Hitler’s antisemitic beliefs made him nothing more than a political also-ran—the Nazis polled in the single digits in the parliamentary elections of 1924 and 1928—until the economic catastrophe of the Depression increased the appeal of those beliefs to some Germans and, more importantly, handed him the power to inculcate them in those beliefs, then the lesson to draw is different.

That lesson centers around two interrelated points that I make toward the end of the book. First, in the western world antisemitism has been and is a parasitical issue that needs “situational causes” to obtain power. Avoid these, and antisemitism generally remains the property of cranks on the fringes of a nation, just as the Nazis were in Germany in the 1920s. Don’t avoid these causes—sink into economic crisis and political turmoil, raise the level of anxiety in a society—and antisemitism may flourish. Second, the security of minorities anywhere, including Jews, depends on the strength of liberal values of tolerance, civility, and fairness there. The way to fight Jew hatred is to assert positive values in which all people (and peoples) should and usually do have a stake. Let these decay, and the haters will multiply. The Euro-American historical record of the last two centuries suggests that fighting antisemitism is necessary, but not sufficient to prevent the demonization and persecution of Jews. Why? Because antisemitism is too embedded and persistent in Euro-American culture to stamp out entirely, but strong enough to become a governing ideology only when events panic non-Jews into giving power to believers in this superstition. This line of thought is less reassuring than it sounds, since directly confronting antisemitism is actually theoretically easier than heading off or stemming the crises on which it feeds. Antisemitism is containable and largely has been contained in countries that make virtues of pluralism and individual

rights and that enjoy relative political and economic stability. But when these conditions erode, along with norms of decent speech and behavior, antisemitism rises, as if from the dead.

Hatred of Jews propelled Hitler toward the Holocaust, but antisemitism did not propel Hitler to power. In the first place, a majority of Germans had never voted for him and his racism before he became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. In the second place, those who had done so often cast their ballots for reasons unrelated to antisemitism, mostly their own desperation for deliverance from the Depression and political gridlock. And in the third place, Hitler owed his appointment to a group of aristocratic intriguers who persuaded President von Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor because they thought they could use him, not because they shared his racism (though some did).

Within six years of Hitler’s accession, however, most Germans affirmed Hitler’s antisemitism or acted as if they did, which amounted to the same thing. Their beliefs and behavior conformed to the prevailing ideology’s call for a kind of mass exorcism. Recognizing that virtually an entire nation quickly fell in behind this program is at least as worrisome as erroneously assuming that it provided the principal fuel for Hitler’s rise.

Ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, but not Nazism

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone told a Parliament committee that he does not believe Zionism or the policies of the Israeli government are at all analogous to Nazism.

Livingstone also reiterated that he regretted saying Adolf Hitler supported Zionism because of the furor his remarks sparked, not because he disavows them.

“I therefore do regret raising the historical points about Nazi policy in the1930s when the specific issue of Hitler was raised by (reporter) Vanessa Feltz,” Livingstone said in a written statement filed with the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on anti-Semitism. “I regret it because there was an hysterical response from opponents of the Labour Party and of its current leadership, which will not have aided Labour’s campaign for the 5 May elections. I am horrified by the way my remarks have been interpreted and twisted. I cannot think of a worse insult than to be called a racist or an anti-Semite. And I am sorry if what I said has caused Jewish people, or anyone else, offense. That was not my intention.”

In a radio interview in April with the BBC, Livingstone had said, “Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism.”

He made the remarks in defense of Labour Party lawmaker Naz Shah, who was suspended a day earlier over a Facebook post in 2014 suggesting that Israelis should be moved en masse to the United States. Days later, Livingstone was suspended from the party for the remark.

In recent months, Labour has suspended at least 20 members, including at the senior level, for anti-Semitic or vicious anti-Israel invective that critics say party leader Jeremy Corbyn had not done enough to curb.

The inquiry into anti-Semitism was launched in April to determine whether anti-Jewish prejudice has increased in the U.K. and to assess the particular dangers facing Jews.

Livingstone objected to the fact that in its questioning, the committee dwelled on the BBC interview in which he made the Hitler remarks rather than asking him about anti-Semitism and racism because of what he called his “long track record” of fighting both.

“Instead, the overwhelming majority of questions asked of me were about my views on the history of Germany in the 1930s, Hitler, the Nazis, Israel, Zionism and the Labour Party. Committee members seemed to be obsessed with these issues,” he wrote.

Livingstone also wrote: “To avoid any other misunderstanding, I do not believe that Zionism or the policies of Israeli governments are at all analogous to Nazism. Israeli governments have never had the aim of the systematic extermination of the Palestinian people, in the way Nazism sought the annihilation of the Jews.”

He did accuse Israel of ethnic cleansing, continuing: “However Israel’s policies have included ethnic cleansing. Palestinians who had lived in that land for centuries were driven out by systematic violence and terror aimed at clearing them out of what became a large part of the Israeli state.”

Livingstone served as mayor twice, from 1981 to 1986 and from 2000 to 2008.

In Lithuania, Yiddish teacher becomes unlikely bulwark against far right

Dovid Katz isn’t typically a hard man to miss. With his bushy charcoal beard, heavy physique and trademark all-black outfits, Katz, a New York-born scholar of Yiddish, resembles a character from a Harry Potter film.

But at one of Europe’s more unusual neo-Nazi marches, complete with ultranationalists clad in medieval armor and smoke blowing in the colors of the Lithuanian flag, even he could blend in temporarily with the crowd.

But halfway through the Feb. 16 procession traversing Lithuania’s second largest city, Katz was spotted. One marcher walked up to him and blew a horn in his direction as others began chanting “Out with Katz.” Undeterred, he continued to flank the procession.

For Katz, 58, who moved to Lithuania in 1999 to take a professorship at Vilnius University, the incident was just the latest expression of hate he has endured since 2008, when he began to speak out against the country’s creeping legitimization of fascism.

“I came here in the euphoric post-independence years, when world peace was around the corner,” Katz said. “My own euphoria diminished with every neo-Nazi march after 2008 and attempt to justify and explain away the Holocaust, events that are becoming even more common and acceptable responses to Russian aggression.”

Lithuania has a long history of conflict with its Russian neighbor. The Museum of Genocide Victims in Vilnius, which until 2011 did not even mention the more than 200,000 Lithuanian Jews who died in the Nazi Holocaust, was established in 1992 to memorialize Lithuanians killed by the Nazi, but mostly Soviet, occupiers.

Lithuania is also one of the few countries where neo-Nazis are free to brandish swastikas on the street. Its northern neighbor, Latvia, is the only European country where veterans of the Waffen SS are allowed each year to march on main streets and commemorate their comrades, who are venerated as freedom fighters against Russia.

Since 2008, Latvia and Lithuania have played host to three neo-Nazi marches annually. A fourth event began last year in the third Baltic nation, Estonia.

The Baltic nations, which have clashed frequently with Slavic peoples, share bitter memories from Soviet domination that have made them natural allies of Germany, according to Efraim Zuroff, a Nazi hunter and director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel office. The historic conflict led thousands of Lithuanians and Latvians to volunteer for armed Nazi groups.

“Now, Russian expansionism under Vladimir Putin is serving as the perfect pretext to push forward a false historical account that accuses the Russians of genocide, and at the same time conveniently portrays the local Baltic populations as victims instead of perpetrators,” said Zuroff, who shadowed the Kaunas march with Katz.

Those tendencies were in plain sight at the Kaunas march, where dozens carried banners of Ukrainian nationalists alongside Nazi symbols. Tomas Skorupskis, a march organizer from the Lithuanian Nationalist Youth Union, said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year has helped swell the ranks of Lithuanian nationalists.

“Many Lithuanians find it hard to forgive Jews who, during communism, killed nationalist freedom fighters,” Skorupsis said. “But I think we should leave it in the past and look ahead.”

Since he began denouncing these phenomena, Katz, the author of numerous books in the field of Yiddish, lost his position at the Yiddish institute he founded at Vilnius University. He says it was political retribution, but his former bosses deny the claim.

Far-right activists often denounce Katz as a Russian agent. Some have published insulting caricatures of him and posted photographs of Katz at a cafe with a woman to the Facebook page of a far-right activist. Katz understands the latter move to be a reminder that he is being watched.

“I found out that anyone who will speak out against the legitimization of Nazism will be marginalized or threatened, or both,” said Katz, who now makes a living by lecturing internationally and from seminars in Vilnius for visiting groups from around the world. “Especially if they are single, a bit eccentric and of a certain weight and appearance.”

Katz is not the only anti-fascist activist complaining about persecution in the Baltics. In Latvia, authorities last year refused to renew the residency permit of Valery Engel, a Russian Jew with dual Israeli citizenship who lives in Riga with his Latvian wife and child. Earlier this month, Latvian officials considering his appeal to remain in the country demanded Engel prove that he informed Russian authorities of his Israeli citizenship.

“Since when does Latvia enforce Russia’s laws on nationality?” asked Joseph Koren, a Latvia-born Jew who with Engel runs the Latvian branch of the World Without Nazism group. “It’s an attempt to harass and to silence our opposition to the far right and the government’s support of it.”

Both Koren and Engel are mentioned several times in a 2013 report by the Latvia Security Police as having “played a great role in the discrediting campaign against Latvia” through actions “carried out in accordance with Russian foreign policy.”

To Koren, a businessmen who says he is routinely detained at Riga’s airport and lives under constant surveillance, this shows that Baltic nations “may have ended Soviet rule, but the Soviet techniques and mindset remain.” Katz’s case, Koren says, “is classic silencing in academia, just like in Soviet times.”

The Latvian Foreign Ministry did not respond to questions about Engel and Koren.

For his first nine years in Lithuania, Katz largely avoided speaking out about politics. That changed in 2008, when Lithuanian prosecutors began probing three Jews who were declared suspects of war crimes allegedly committed during World War II. The investigation was abandoned amid an international outcry that Katz helped generate by lobbying Western embassies and founding his website But it came at a price.

“I was thrust into the spotlight of political activism at the expense of my reputation as a scholar,” Katz said in an interview in his Vilnius apartment, which he shares with thousands of 19th-century Yiddish books that he rescued from across Eastern Europe. “I could no longer remain silent.”

Katz says he was warned by his bosses at the Yiddish institute to cease lobbying in defense of the three Jews — Yitzhak Arad, Fania Brantsovsky and Rachel Margolis — who had fought as partisans against the Nazis.

But the institute’s director, Sarunas Liekis, a member of the state’s commission on Nazi and Soviet crimes, denies Katz’s politics factored into the decision not to renew his contract.

“Mr. Katz is prone to conspiracy theories,” Liekis said. “The truth is he hardly showed up for work from 2007 to 2010.”

Katz says he never missed a class during his time at the institute.

What if the Nazis had tweeted?

What could Goebbels have done with 140 characters?

The question, disturbing as it might sound, can no longer be approached only as theoretical.

As the arch-propagandist of Nazism, Joseph Goebbels spread the demonic messages of his Fuehrer via the written word, mass demonstrations, radio and film. He used those avenues to near perfection, promoting what perhaps was the most evil publicity campaign in the history of humankind.

Some eight decades later, the tools are different but the motivations are the same. In the place of vitriol-filled radio broadcasts and Berlin stadia filled to capacity with saluting Nazis, the resources employed today by bigots are increasingly the Internet and social media. Undoubtedly the #HeilHitler hashtag, if launched in 1933, would have had followers in the many millions, likely surpassing even the numbers of the most revered celebrities who employ resources like Twitter.

With all the tremendous good it does, and the hundreds of millions of people it entertains, inspires and educates daily, at its core the Internet is the most capable propaganda tool ever invented.

The online community is both largely uncensored and without any natural borders or limits — a combination that makes it so effective and so dangerous. With the same speed it takes to reach millions with videos of laughing babies or talented Korean dancers, hate-filled messages pour into the world’s social media feeds and email inboxes.

The reality in the online war against hate is that our enemies are smarter than any anti-Semitic forces we have ever seen. They understand the power of the Internet and embrace the protections under law it offers.

Today’s most effective anti-Semites are not the flag-waving, stormtrooping skinheads of yesteryear. While those forces still exist, their reach pales in comparison to the computer users able to spill their messages of hate to millions around the globe in a matter of minutes.

The peace-loving forces within the international community are therefore faced with a daunting challenge — yet it is not insurmountable.

First, we need to recognize the scope of the problem. Online hate is difficult to impossible to quantify. While perhaps we can try to count the number of problematic websites, there is no real way to know how many people those sites reach. All the more so with social media, where the trail of content can split into literally thousands of directions in minutes. The scope of the problem is unprecedented and enormous, and thus deserving of massive resources and international cooperation.

Second, and perhaps more fundamental, the world must change its mindset for what deserves protection within the online community.

Most often, when people speak about the Internet and the world of social media, terms bandied about are “marketplace of ideas” or “common ground for expression” or similar terminology professing that users should be allowed to disseminate whatever ideas come into their minds at a given time. This position is defended by those who advocate that freedom of expression should be interpreted literally to allow people to express whatever they feel, regardless of how inflammatory or incendiary it might be. This must be rethought.

Freedom of expression indeed means that people’s right to free speech and free speech can and must be protected. But the protection should never be extended to expressions that come at the physical expense of the other.

Without entering into legal discourse that is far too complex for this forum, there is no disputing that hate speech on the Internet and in social media has the very real potential to inspire acts of violence. This has been proven countless times since the advent of the Internet and is realized every day through the examples of young and impressionable people who turn to the web for inspiration for all sorts of devious ideologies and beliefs.

In order for the Internet to sustain its openness, all responsible parties must commit to guarding against the use of online hate mongering.

This new medium is so different from anything faced previously by the civilized world that it requires re-evaluated understandings of what is and is not acceptable. It will be a challenging process and requires an underlying commitment to protect the interests of all viewpoints, all the while rooting out those messages that cross the fine line between valid speech and toward dangerous incitement.

The success of this effort will require the participation and involvement of the relevant commercial players who allow the Internet to flourish along with national governments and international law enforcement. It will not be achieved overnight.

If the past has taught us anything, however, it is that the stakes are far too high to do nothing. This time the world must be sure to respond.

Gideon Behar is the director of the Department for Combatting Anti-Semitism of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the chair of the Global Forum for Combatting Anti-Semitism beginning May 28 in Jerusalem.

Israel and its relationship to the Shoah

What can we learn from the history of the establishment of the State of Israel as to its relationship to the Shoah?

Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer argued, “The reason why survivors turned to Zionism is not hard to understand. The murder of the European Jews seemed to vindicate the Zionist argument that there was no future for Jews in Europe.”

Naturally, the Zionists supported the resettlement of displaced Jews in Palestine but so did many others who understood that a means had to be found to permit the refugees — they were not then survivors — to rebuild their lives. Jews could not return home; they would not rebuild their lives in Germany, the land in which their destruction was conceived and executed.

We dare not imagine that this support for resettlement in Palestine was purely the result of altruism, a sudden concern for the Jews or even horror at what had happened. Leaders of the world understood that every Jew resettled in Palestine meant one less Jew to be received by other countries — by their countries.

Palestinian operatives, Jews sent by the Yishuv working both in the Jewish Brigade and the Mossad L’ Alyah Beit [Aliyah Aleph, legal immigration; Aliyah Beit, nonlegal, illegal or extra-legal immigration]; American Jewish chaplains, rabbis serving in uniform who ministered both to the American soldiers and their fellow Jews; and Jewish organizations, as well as their supporters kept the pressure on.

There were four important milestones that led to the U.N. resolution of Nov. 29 1947 — every once in a while it is good that we should remember that Israel was established by the United Nations.

  • The Harrison Report that demanded that Army policies be changed; that Jewish displaced persons be separated from other displaced persons and that recommended that 100,000 Jews be admitted immediately to Palestine to ease the overcrowding.

  • The visit of David Ben-Gurion to the displaced persons camps, which was a political triumph. Survivors received him as a hero and pronounced their faith in his vision.
    Ben-Gurion responded: “I come to you with empty pockets. I have no certificates for you. I can only tell you that you are not abandoned. You are not alone. You will not live endlessly in camps like this. All of you who want to come to Palestine will be brought there as soon as is humanely possible.”

  • The Anglo-American Joint Commission that also recommended the admission of the Jews to Palestine and added to the pressure on the British to end the mandate.
  • The work of Bricha in bringing Jews from Soviet-occupied territories, primarily Poland, after the pogrom at Kielce, and thus flooded the American and British sectors of Germany with Jewish displaced persons, all of which intensified the pressure for the creation of the Jewish state.

But most importantly, the work of the survivors themselves, who after the immediate shock of their loss and the desperation of their medical condition, reconstituted themselves as a vital, living, functioning community in exile — in displaced persons camps — disdainful of governments; distrustful of outsiders, perhaps only a bit less so of Jews; determined to have a say in their own future.

They embraced the Zionist diagnosis that the problem of the Jewish people was its abnormality, its lack of sovereignty, the absence of a national polity. They were willing to risk their future — and in many cases their lives — on a Jewish nation with its own flag, and a Jewish army with its own soldiers who would have adequate power, and leaders wise enough to enable them to defend themselves.

That is the risk of contemporary Jewish history, a risk that they were willing to take, and also its achievement, the achievement of that generation.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence stated: The catastrophe which recently befell the Jewish people — the massacre of millions of Jews in Europe — was another clear demonstration of the urgency of solving the problem of its homelessness by re-establishing in Eretz-Israel the Jewish state, which would open the gates of the homeland wide to every Jew and confer upon the Jewish people the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations.

The confusion of our time is that the Zionist revolution worked so well and accomplished so much, yet it did not achieve what it promised.

The Zionists believed that the hatred of the Jews was linked to the anomaly of their situation as a people without a land, without an army and a flag, without the power to defend itself. Their solution was political independence, which they miraculously achieved precisely as the world became increasingly interdependent.

They learned from the Holocaust that powerlessness invites victimization; the key lesson was to gain power. Israel has amassed considerable power, an impressive army, the latest of armaments. It is universally considered among the world’s nuclear powers.

It responded to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by acquiring two German nuclear submarines. It is perceived by the world as powerful and hence, the narrative of its response to Hamas and Hezbollah — outside of the United States and Israel — is an attack of the strong upon the weak, a “disproportionate response” to legitimate provocation.

Israel perceives itself as it is not perceived by most others, as victims, weakened precisely by its empowerment.

Power has not brought an end to vulnerability — so much so that many Jews overwhelmed by the feeling of vulnerability forget the power, the opportunities and the securities it provides.

Is Israel an answer to the Shoah? Surely not.

The Holocaust invites questions not answers, and to regard Israel as the answer is to endow it with a measure of responsibility.

Did Israel attempt to address the problems uncovered by the Jewish condition in the Holocaust? Absolutely and surprisingly successfully.

However, it has neither ended Jewish vulnerability nor achieved normalcy for the Jewish people, something that does not surprise religious Jews but astonishes secular ones.

At 60, it has not — or at least not yet — achieved the status of a fully privileged member of the comity of nations. That will have to be the achievement of the succeeding generation.

Moses left something undone for Joshua and Joshua something undone for the Judges.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust and a professor of theology (adjunct) at American Jewish University.

What Does Israel
Mean to You?

Send us a 500-1,500 word essay on this topic by April 20. We’ll print a selection of the most powerful writing in our special “Israel at 60” issue on May 16, 2008. Please e-mail your entry to and put “What Israel Means to Me” in the subject line.

For Rosh Hashanah: Make your own joy

The best part about Y2K, in my judgment, was that it signaled the end of the 20th century.

Who among us would want to relive the last 100 years? Tens of millions of
people died during the previous century in the most violent and brutal ways.

World War I, at the start of the century, was supposed to be the war to end all wars; it turned out to be merely the beginning. Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism and many other iterations of -isms, resulted in the bloodiest century in human history. Auschwitz and Hiroshima were two cataclysmic events that demonstrated the unbridled power and willingness of human beings to destroy life.

I, for one, was delighted to see the century end. Because how could the next one be worse?

Now that we are halfway through the first decade of the 21st century we are beginning to see how it could be worse. The penchant for genocide and murder on a massive scale as a result of secular orthodoxies apparently has not abated. But now, as we begin this new century, it has been supplemented by a penchant for genocide and murder on a massive scale by religious orthodoxies.

The definition of a fanatic used to be someone who believed in something so strongly he was willing to give up your life for it. Today’s religious fanatic is not only willing to give up your life to reach their goals, but also their own lives and the lives of their children, as well. Martyrdom, what you and I call suicide with maximum collateral damage, is a religious ideal. This brand of religious fanaticism seeks to re-establish the glory of the Islamic caliphate.

In effect, these fanatics want to return us to the seventh century, when Islam first conquered the world and spread its message by word and by sword. It is not paranoid to express fear over what could possibly happen if these groups trade the sword for something nuclear. They will then have the power to return much of the world to the seventh century — if, indeed, there would still be a world.

Kind of hard to wish each other Happy New Year after that.

Fear turns to anxiety and then to despair if we allow ourselves to feel helpless in the face of the threat of cataclysmic destruction. But despair is just not the Jewish way. We are simply not allowed, the sages of the Talmud tell us (Shabbat 30b), to allow sadness to dominate our mood: “The Shechina, the Divine Presence, cannot dwell in the midst of sadness.”

To live in sadness is to block the presence of God from entering the world. To despair of a peaceful future is to give a victory to the forces of darkness. That is why Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, who himself struggled with depression, is famous among Chasidim for his great teaching: “Mitzvah gedolah lihiyot b’simcha tamid” — it is a great mitzvah to be in joy perpetually.

How do we turn despair to joy? By exercising control over our environment. By utilizing the personal and collective power we have yet to tap. By responding to this homicidal religious fanaticism with a religious determination of our own. By endowing certain economic, political and technological policies with the holiness of a religious imperative.

The transition from an economy based on oil to something that doesn’t enrich Muslim theocracies is a mitzvah. We condemn Iran for having funded Hezbollah, but the reality is they did so with our petrodollars. Reducing their income from the exportation of oil removes a powerful tool for Iranian mischief.

Conservation — buying a hybrid, flipping off unused lights and unwatched TVs, recycling and more — is a mitzvah of the highest order. Establishing the greening of Jewish institutions — including synagogues, schools and communal buildings — is not just good for the environment, which should be motivation enough, but it will help save lives. And it goes without saying that actively opposing nuclear proliferation is also a mitzvah.

These are mitzvot that have taken on great urgency and will change the world. If each of us finds the determination and the strength to begin this now, this will indeed be a happy New Year. And a much safer one as well.


Perry Netter is rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles and author of “Divorce Is a Mitzvah: A Practical Guide to Finding Wholeness and Holiness When Your Marriage Dies” (Jewish Lights, 2002). He can be reached at

Anti-Zionism Views Reach UC Riverside

An inflammatory poster equating Zionism with Nazism at the University of California’s Riverside (UCR) campus has mobilized Jewish students and faculty, drawn strong condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and cautious responses from university officials.

The offensive poster appeared in a display case of UCR’s sociology department in mid-October, prominently featuring photos of a Star of David and swastika, separated by an equal sign, and of an Israeli soldier pointing a rifle at a Palestinian woman.

To "explain" the Star of David/swastika "symbolism," the text noted that Israel was imposing a Nazi-like final solution on the Palestinians and that "Zionists believe that Israel is to be the land from which God’s chosen people will rule over the rest of the world, in accordance with God’s master plan."

The poster was the work of Debbi LeAnce, a 28-year-old senior, who leads a campus anti-war group, founded after Sept. 11, known as the Student Coalition for Peace and Human Rights, and, alternately, as the UCR Resistance.

A shocked Hanna Gershfeld, president of the campus Hillel chapter, turned for advice on counteraction to two sources, the ADL regional chapter in Los Angeles and UCR philosophy professor Howard Wettstein, faculty adviser to the Hillel group, which is currently without a director.

Wettstein said the attack came as a surprise because the campus, with a large number of Asian American and Latino students, is generally marked by a "pleasant, nonhostile environment."

ADL Director Amanda Susskind and Associate Director Alison Mayersohn turned first to UCR Chancellor France Cordova, asking her to condemn the hateful attack.

Cordova, who had been advised by counsel that the poster came under the free speech protection of the First Amendment, responded with a generalized statement, asking for a civil campus environment, but without mentioning the poster incident.

A follow-up letter by ADL elicited a further statement by Vice Chancellor James W. Sandoval, which also asked for respectful discourse, but did label the poster as "offensive and reprehensible."

At the same time, Robert Dynes, president of the statewide UC system, issued a statement to the board of regents, denouncing the poster as "reprehensible," but constitutionally protected.

Wettstein praised one high-level official, Patricia O’Brien, dean of humanities, arts and social sciences.

"She got it right away and was very supportive," he said.

By the end of October, the poster was removed, after the mandated two-week display limit had expired, but the controversy continued.

Last week, LeAnce and her student group announced a panel discussion at an off-campus coffee shop, which Gershfeld and seven other Hillel members decided to attend. Gershfeld asked for backup from StandWithUs, a grass-roots pro-Israel organization, which sent a three-person delegation, headed by Roz Rothstein, its executive director.

Gershfeld, a 20-year-old senior in political science, said that after an opening "rant" by LeAnce, the tone became calmer. Both she and Rothstein said they relished the opportunity to present the Israeli side to some 40 largely uncommitted and uninformed students, including a number of moderate Muslims.

Meanwhile, Wettstein was working with the UCR administration and fellow professors to organize an open forum to discuss the incident’s underlying political, free speech and campus ramifications.

The Nov. 3 meeting drew some 150 faculty, students and staff, including the chancellor and top administrators. Wettstein and a moderate leader of the local Muslim community spoke, and although LeAnce presented her customary list of anti-Israel charges, Wettstein described the event as "positive."

A series of additional forums is planned for the future.

Although pained and angered by the poster, Wettstein felt it produced some positive results.

"The incident drew Jewish students and faculty together, and energized them," he said. "Despite their anger, they didn’t become strident, stayed focused and kept their eyes on the ball.

"I was disappointed by some of my liberal and left-leaning colleagues, who are usually quick and loud to speak out against bigotry, but stayed silent in this case," he added. "But I was pleased by the student newspaper, which bluntly criticized the campus administration for not speaking out more forcefully."