Antisemitism: here and now

Deborah Lipstadt is speaking in Sydney and Melbourne.

US historian Professor Deborah Lipstadt has described this month’s defacing of a Melbourne theatre billboard promoting a production of The Diary of Anne Frank as “deeply disturbing”.

Arriving in Australia to attend Sydney’s Antidote Festival and the Melbourne Writers Festival, the acclaimed American academic and Holocaust historian responded to The AJN about the scrawling attack, including a swastika, on a billboard outside a small community theatre in Mount Waverley.

The incident – reported to The AJN by Peridot Theatre Company during its staging of a season of the classic play, based on the diary of a young Shoah victim who later died in Bergen-Belsen – “is symptomatic of the freedom antisemites feel to publicly express their hatred”, said Lipstadt.

“I am not sure if there are more antisemites and bigots around today than there were a decade ago but I am sure that they feel emboldened and free to express views that they once would have quietly whispered to one another.

“Some might be inclined to dismiss [the billboard attack] as a prank in which no one was hurt, but the key thing to remember is that all genocides begin with words. Not all words necessarily lead to a genocide. But no genocide or any other type of prejudicial violence began with action. They always began and begin with words,” reflected Lipstadt.

Lipstadt will speak on Antisemitism: Here and Now, which is also the title of her 2019 book, at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday, before flying to Melbourne to present at the writers festival.

She will appear at the festival on Monday with Anti-Defamation Commission chair Dvir Abramovich in a forum chaired by broadcaster Sally Warhaft on The Fifth Estate: Antisemitism, and next day will present the John Button Oration: In the Face of Hatred.

Asked about her upcoming appearances in Australia, she said the invitations to her reflect a growing consciousness about “the rise in prejudice in general and antisemitism in particular”.

“There is antisemitism on the political right and the political left,” Lipstadt told The AJN

“I think it is important to remember that while acts of antisemitism directly impact Jews, they are also threats to the wellbeing of the democratic societies we live in and which we treasure. No healthy democratic society can tolerate antisemitism in its midst and hope to remain healthy,” she said.

Lipstadt, who has visited Australia numerous times, made headlines in 2000 when a British court threw out a libel suit brought against her by Holocaust denier David Irving, with the judge stating Irving had “persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence” and that “he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is antisemitic and racist”. The court battle was portrayed in a 2016 British-American movie, Denial.

Professor Deborah Lipstadt will speak on Antisemitism: Here and Now, at the Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House on Sunday, September 1, 11am. She will also be on a panel, The State We’re In, about xenophobic populism, at the Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 1pm. Visit www.sydneyoperahouse.com/events/whats-on/Antidote/2019/deborah-lipstadt-here-and-now.html.

At the Melbourne Writers Festival, she will appear in a forum on The Fifth Estate: Antisemitism, at The Capitol, 115 Swanston Street, Melbourne, on Monday, September 2, 6pm, and will present the John Button Oration: In the Face of Hatred, at the Isabella Fraser Room, State Library Victoria, on Tuesday, September 3, 6.30pm. Visit mwf.com.au/artist/deborah-lipstadt.

PETER KOHN