Deborah Lipstadt, a historian and the Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, will present “Holocaust Denial: A New Form of Anti-Semitism” at 7:15 p.m. today in the Klingenstein Lounge. Lipstadt will be speaking about her recent victory on trial with historian David Irving, who sued Lipstadt for libel after she called him a Holocaust denier. She will also discuss the issue of anti-Semitism and how individuals should address it. Contributing Writer Sherry Shen spoke with Lipstadt about anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, the recent British Union of Colleges and Universities boycott and other controversial issues in the news.
Sherry Shen: Were you expecting to win the Irving court case?
Deborah Lipstadt: I wasn’t sure. In terms of winning, I knew the truth was on my side. I knew he was a liar. I knew he was a liar and distorter. I knew all the things he said were not true. … But I didn’t know how it would pan out in court because courts are strange places and judges sue strange things and I just had no idea how it would turn out from that perspective.
SS: What do you think the win means for the Jewish population?
DL: I think we exposed a man who many people took seriously. We exposed him as a liar and as a distorter of history, and we demonstrated that what he said about the Holocaust, he and other deniers, was all based on lies and distortion. So I think for anyone that values history and the truth and the facts not being distorted won a victory.
SS: What’s your response to the situation with the British Union of Colleges and Universities?
DL: I found it to be profoundly disturbing, because universities are not about boycotting. Universities are not about doing these blanket kinds of boycotts, number one. Number two, universities are places of openness, of learning, and this wasn’t a blanket boycott just of Israel. I wonder why they didn’t boycott Iran where they still stone women to death, why they didn’t boycott Egypt where it’s not a democratic system … or why don’t they boycott North Korea, or why don’t they boycott Sudan which is in the midst of a genocide? So I have to stop and wonder: why this double standard? … It just struck me as something that was started by people who are fierce haters of Israel. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with Israel’s policies — many people do. [There are] Israelis who do disagree with the government’s policies. But this was started by people way over the top, bordering on anti-Semitism.
SS: Can you also tell us more about what you exactly meant when you said that Jimmy Carter is in “soft denial”?
DL: Do I think Jimmy Carter is a Holocaust denier? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. In fact, the commission that led to the building of the Holocaust Museum was set up on his watch. But when he wrote his book … he put in a chronology there with the most important things that have happened in order to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict, and he had something happening in 1939, and then he had something happening in 1947. … This is to suggest that between 1939 and 1947, nothing of any importance happened. Now, one out of every three Jews was murdered in those years and while it didn’t happen in the Middle East, if you want to understand the Israeli worldview you can’t just say, “That’s not important.” It’s completely ridiculous. It shows his soft denial. It shows his blinders. The guy has blinders on. He sees the issue from one perspective only.
SS: As a Dorot Professor at Emory University, what do you enjoy the most about teaching college students?
DL: Their questions. I always wanted them to ask good questions, hard questions, not easy answered questions. I like a question that stumps me. … It doesn’t have to be controversial. It just can be something that sees into the issue in a different way or looks at the issue in a way I haven’t thought about previously. [It] doesn’t have to be necessarily controversial. I’m not looking for controversy — I’m rethinking what I thought. [It’s] making me look at things in a different way.
SS: What do you hope listeners will get from your presentation at Ithaca College?
DL: I hope they understand the difference between history and lying about history. I hope they understand that sometimes you’ve got to fight a fight. You can’t fight every battle, but some battles you can’t walk away from. And I hope they understand the importance of keeping an open mind and not allowing people who play with history and lie about history to confuse you and distort the truth.