CISA Announces Its First Year of Programming: Editor Interviews Dr. Catherine Chatterley
Editor: The Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) which you founded last year is now in the position to announce its first academic year of programming, so what can Winnipeg expect to see?
Dr. Chatterley: Well, we have four events scheduled thus far. Hillel Neuer, a young Canadian lawyer who heads UN Watch, will be speaking at UM on November 23rd. Neuer will be speaking on campus about the problems he sees in the UN Human Rights Council, including its obsession with Israel. He is the guest speaker for the Jewish Foundation’s Annual Luncheon and we all agreed that it was important for him to speak to students while he was in Winnipeg.
In the New Year, on January 5, we will premiere an important new film about the contemporary deployment of Antisemitism against the State of Israel, entitled Unmasked: Judeophobia and the Threat to Civilization. The director, Gloria Greenfield, will be our guest.
I will be speaking about the Holocaust and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in the Critical Conversations Series at UM on March 5. And CISA’s first Shindleman Lecture will be held on the evening of Thursday, March 22nd and our guest will be Hannah Rosenthal, President Obama’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism. Further details can be found on the events page of CISA’s website: http://www.canisa.org
Editor: Will Hillel Neuer address the Palestinian bid for statehood in his talk?
Dr. Chatterley: Mr. Neuer will take questions on any subject related to the United Nations.
Editor: How can the public buy tickets to these events?
Dr. Chatterley: For this year, CISA’s events will not require tickets. We will be asking the public to support our work by making charitable donations to the Institute. Ideally, this will be how CISA will operate into the future—without entrance fees, open to all, and funded by public support.
Editor: Didn’t Gloria Greenfield produce The Case for Israel with Alan Dershowitz?
Dr. Chatterley: Yes, and Irwin Cotler. She is the president of Doc Emet Films based in Boston and will be with us to premiere her new film on January 5th at the Berney Theatre. We will have a discussion after the film during which the audience can ask her questions about the project and the serious problem she has addressed. The film is a documentary that includes interviews with leading scholars, commentators, and politicians. It should be an important educational evening.
Editor: How did you manage to get President Obama’s “Special Envoy” Hannah Rosenthal to speak in Winnipeg—it is exceedingly rare for the Jewish community to be able to hear from a top official in the US State Department? Do you know Rosenthal?
Dr. Chatterley: Hannah Rosenthal works with Hillary Clinton in the State Department and it is her specific mandate to monitor and combat Antisemitism around the world on behalf of the US government. Her focus this year is to work to remove references to The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the lie of “Jewish Conspiracy,” from children’s textbooks throughout the Middle East.
I met Hannah last year on my birthday, the day the Free Press published my editorial “War on the Holocaust,” about the UCCLA pig postcard, and I think I’ll save that story for her introduction to Winnipeg on March 22nd. Let’s just say it was beshert.
The office of the Special Envoy to Combat Antisemitism is actually the creation of the George W. Bush administration and Barack Obama has thankfully maintained the position. A special envoy is an Ad hoc diplomatic appointment, usually created for a specific problem like climate change or HIV/AIDS, or a specific region of the world undergoing severe crisis like Northern Ireland, Kosovo, or Darfur—all of which have had special envoys created by the UN or by the US government.
Hannah’s presentation will be a major event for Winnipeg.
Editor: Why CISA? Why did you create this Institute and what is its purpose?
Dr. Chatterley: Well, I have studied the history of Antisemitism and the Holocaust for over 20 years at university and even longer in my own life, and over the last ten years there have been shifts in how the public and academia perceives these subjects. Today, in many arenas, there is a desire, not to complement, but to replace Holocaust studies with comparative genocide studies. If you can imagine, the Holocaust is perceived by many people to be “too Jewish—too particularistic.” Colleagues have even told me this over the years. These people focus on its victims and ignore the broad historical and cultural context that produced the Holocaust in the first place. The Holocaust is a product of Western civilization and its Christian heritage—there is very little in fact that is Jewish about this. And, perhaps most significantly, the motivating ideology of Hitler’s Holocaust—Antisemitism—continues to persist and evolve, unlike the motivating hatreds of other genocides in the past. Wouldn’t we all be grateful if Antisemitism had died in the bunker with Adolf Hitler?
Antisemitism has never been part of the university curriculum anywhere in the world except for perhaps a chapter in Jewish history courses and part of the context in the few Holocaust courses that exist at Western universities. Jew-hatred is missing from too many academic and political discussions about human rights and racism. I believe it is time for us to give Antisemitism the clear and specific focus it deserves as a persistent and extremely complex problem of human history; one that deserves the attention of the brightest minds at our universities.
As a teacher and a scholar, I believe it is our obligation to make this a reality given the contemporary evolution of Antisemitism, and the very real threat it poses today. Add to this the fact that we now have respectable people, including many academics and progressives, denying that Antisemitism exists at all (for example).
CISA is committed to securing that these subjects are taught in Winnipeg and that students can take a variety of courses, either as a major or as a complement to their studies in human rights. This is why I am creating a formal program in Antisemitism and Holocaust Studies. We need the support of the community to endow this program and that is why we have established a fund with the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba (JFM). The Institute and its program will exist in perpetuity, for future generations, regardless of shifting opinion and political pressures.
Readers who are interested in helping to fund this important new program are welcome to contact me through CISA’s website.
Editor: Is there any other news about CISA you would like to share with our readers?
Dr. Chatterley: Just recently we welcomed two new board members: Mel Lazareck and Ida Albo, both distinguished business people and respected community leaders. The Jewish Foundation is welcoming contributions to our new CISA endowment fund, which will support the Institute and its new program in Antisemitism and Holocaust Studies. With the support of all communities in Winnipeg, and other cities, we hope to build CISA into a permanent and significant Canadian organization.
The interest in our work is growing and our unique position as an academic organization founded by a non-Jewish Holocaust scholar (the only such institution in the world) seems to inspire a feeling of hopeful optimism despite our dark subject matter. We are attracting the interest of non-Jewish members, students, and donors, and this is crucial to our mandate as an independent, multi-ethnic, Canadian organization. People know that education can change hearts and minds if it is broad, deep, and thoughtfully presented by qualified scholars. I have seen this kind of transformation in my own students (so many of them future teachers) after spending a 72-hour academic year with them. With adequate funding, we will expand this kind of progressive change exponentially.
Editor: What kind of relationship, if any, does CISA have with the universities in Winnipeg and with the CMHR?
Dr. Chatterley: I am extremely excited about this program in Antisemitism and Holocaust Studies that CISA is currently developing, and plan to offer courses at the undergraduate level and a dual stream M.A. program—one for students who want to pursue doctoral research in these subjects and one for qualified life-long learners in the community who want to study these subjects at an advanced scholarly level for their own education.
Given the existence of the CMHR, there is a lot of interest in human rights research at the universities in Winnipeg and CISA will be an active participant in these scholarly debates and initiatives. It is important for Antisemitism to be placed on the agenda of human rights scholars and activists, and CISA is well situated to do exactly this. I just met with Stuart Murray and conveyed CISA’s desire to be involved in the CMHR’s research and scholarship initiatives as they develop in the coming years. We look forward to building opportunities with the museum for students and faculty who specialize in the study of Antisemitism and of the Holocaust.
Editor: Is CISA a national Institute?
Dr. Chatterley: Yes, CISA is based here in Winnipeg and will operate nationally in major Canadian cities. There are many educational organizations and university programs with which we plan to partner to bring scholarly programming on Antisemitism to various communities and campuses across the country. Our flagship project, however, is our new university program in Antisemitism and Holocaust Studies, which is currently under development, and it will require the support of our community, city, and province.
Editor: Your first book, Disenchantment: George Steiner and the Meaning of Western Culture After Auschwitz, was just published by Syracuse University Press, what research are you pursuing now?
Dr. Chatterley: I have just finished a two-year research fellowship at the University of Manitoba and have a second manuscript in progress. The title of this work is A History of the Antisemitic Imagination. That really is what we are dealing with when we are talking about Antisemitism—the human imagination and its hallucinations about a fictitious character known as “the Jew.” Originally a Christian invention and fixation, this imagined character and its supposed crimes are now a global phenomenon.
I am just beginning to design an interview series with leading scholars of the Holocaust and Antisemitism to investigate where we are headed, as far as these fields are concerned, given the current dictates of contemporary culture to equalize and level different historical phenomena. My first interview will be with CISA’s Honorary Chairman, Professor Wiesel.
Editor: If people would like to support the Institute how can they do so?
Dr. Chatterley: Our website has a donation page with our mailing address and a link to make donations by credit card. We are currently raising funds for our operating costs and appreciate public support for this. As I mentioned, we also have a CISA endowment fund at the JFM to which people are welcome to contribute.
This support is necessary and very much appreciated.
Anyone with any questions or comments is welcome to email me.
Editor: Does CISA offer any volunteer opportunities for students?
Dr. Chatterley: This year, we would like students to volunteer at our events and eventually there will be other exciting intellectual opportunities to intern for the Institute as well. Students are welcome to take the initiative, send us an email via the website and make suggestions for projects they would like to design and organize. Next year, we will also be working with another Canadian organization to educate students about Antisemitism on campus. CISA will make announcements on its facebook page so students should connect with it as well and spread the word about our events to friends and family.