Holocaust Scholar Inaugurates New Lecture Series on Combatting Hate and Bias

Deborah Lipstadt speaks at a book signing following her talk.
Deborah Lipstadt talks at a book signing following her lecture. Photo by Catherine Angst

A new university speaker series addressing various forms of hate and bias launched Monday night with Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt tracing the rise of anti-Semitism in the United States and Europe.

Sponsored by the offices of the Duke University President and Provost, the series “Confronting Hate” will expand the campus dialogue on issues of bias. The series comes at a time when campus communities across the nation are experiencing growing numbers of hate-based acts while also struggling to respond to these incidents and also support traditional intellectual values of free speech and debate.

“We need to examine the power of speech to incite hatred and hateful acts,” said Sally Kornbluth, in introducing Lipstadt to inaugurate the speaker series. “Duke has not been immune to these incidents, whether it be something as overt as a swastika carved in a pumpkin on Halloween, or painted on a bridge, or the day-to-day comments and assumptions made about Jews and Judaism.   

“Indeed, there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the country as a whole and on college campuses in particular. I want to take this opportunity to condemn in the strongest terms these and other occurrences of anti-Semitism, and state that these behaviors have no place at Duke, or in any civil society.”

The “Confronting Hate” series will bring about one speaker a semester, Kornbluth said. The Duke community can participate in the speaker selection process by nominating speakers who have “expertise on various forms of bias and hate being manifested on campuses and elsewhere.” A steering committee of faculty, staff and students will organize the talks.

More information about nominating speakers for the series will be posted on the provost’s website.

In her talk Monday before more than 500 people, Lipstadt touched upon recent violence from Pittsburgh to Charlottesville that targeted Jews, but she noted how anti-Semitism can manifest itself in more subtle speech, and acts on both the political left and right. Lipstadt is author of the recent book “Antisemitism: Here and Now,” and is also known for winning a libel trial in England against writer David Irving that stands as an important legal action against Holocaust denial.

Lipstadt said she was concerned that the rise of anti-Semitism and other hate-based beliefs would marginalize Jews and other groups on campus. She warned of a “step backwards” on campus but also said university communities can create supportive environments.

“Sometimes it’s concrete actions on the ground that might sound like small stuff, but it begins with recognizing the other’s humanity,” she said.

This includes creating an environment where vigorous discussions can be held, but based on mutual respect.

“We need to not be afraid to speak truth, to be honest with one another, non-Jew to Jew and Jew to Jew,” Lipstadt said. She added that marginalized groups should resist making oppression “the compelling factor of your identity. Because what that does, it turns you from subject to object.”

Co-sponsors for the talk included the Office of Global Affairs, the Duke Center for International and Global Studies, the Department of Religious Studies with support from the Barney Jones Endowment Fund, the Jewish Studies Center, POLIS, the Sanford School and Jewish Life at Duke.