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Dr. Catherine Chatterley

Keeping Up with CISA: A Winnipeg Jewish Review Exclusive Interview with Dr. Catherine Chatterley

By Rhonda Spivak, March 11, 2019

“New challenges face the Jewish world today and resurgent antisemitism, including physical threats and violence, is one of the them. I am under no illusion that CISA, or any other organization, can solve the problem of antisemitism; however, it must be studied, identified, and marked out for censure. And that we will do.” 

Dr. Catherine Chatterley, Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA)


Rhonda Spivak: Catherine, do you think there is currently an actual rise in antisemitism today as some people are suggesting?

Catherine Chatterley: Yes. In 2018 there was a significant rise in antisemitic violence. In France, there was a 74% increase in antisemitic incidents (from 311 to 541), including the torture and murder of an 85 year old Holocaust survivor who was stabbed and set on fire, and rumoured to also have been raped (Mireille Knoll). Germany has just reported a 10 year record high of 1,646 antisemitic acts in 2018, in which 43 people were wounded. In the UK, 1,652 antisemitic incidents were recorded with 123 classified as violent (the total number is a 16% increase from the previous year). Canada reports that 2017 was the second consecutive year in which record numbers were reached: 1,752 antisemitic incidents (16 violent acts; 327 acts of vandalism; and 1409 acts of harassment). And, of course, the murder of 11 Jews (and wounding of another six) at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018 was the deadliest act of antisemitic violence in American history.

There is growing agreement that the main sources of antisemitic violence in the Western world today are on the far-right, the far-left, and within Islamic supremacist circles. Unfortunately, it takes an upsurge in physical violence against Jews for people (including Jews) to recognize the threatening nature of antisemitism. However, few people seem to be willing to connect the escalating rhetorical assault on Jews, Judaism, and the Jewish state since the new millennium to this increase in physical violence.

Rhonda Spivak: Does CISA’s journal, Antisemitism Studies, address these current concerns or does it only deal with the past?

Catherine Chatterley: Each issue includes five articles and five to eight book reviews. The journal is a scholarly production and it deals with all aspects of the phenomenon of antisemitism, all time periods, including today. We have published several studies on contemporary developments in Eastern Europe, France, and Germany, and on refugee attitudes toward Jews. There is growing concern about antisemitism in Europe, particularly in Western Europe and in the UK.

In my introduction to our last issue, I addressed a very serious concern—sexual violence against Jewish women and girls as an aspect of antisemitic violence more generally, and the reluctance to cover it in the media or address it in scholarship:

“On March 23, 2018, 85 year old Mireille Knoll was stabbed and set on fire in her Paris apartment by two twenty-something Muslim assailants, one of whom was her neighbor. There are persistent rumors she was also raped by this man (Yacine Mihoub was arrested for sexual assault on the 12 year old daughter of Mrs. Knoll’s nurse), and yet news reports fail to address this question consistently, which is then replicated in all other discussion of the crime (including scholarship) and does not find its way into antisemitism statistics either. On December 3, 2014, a 19 year old Jewish woman was raped during a robbery of her apartment, shared with her 21 year old boyfriend, by one of three Muslim assailants. Susanna Feldman, a 14 year old Jewish teen from Mainz, was raped and murdered by a 20 year old Iraqi migrant near Wiesbaden, Germany (who is also accused of raping an 11 year old girl there). She went missing May 22, 2018 and her body was discovered on June 6, 2018 in a wooded area near train tracks.”

I said that I hoped that “we, as scholars of antisemitism, will not replicate in 2018 . . . the postwar research on the Holocaust, which repressed the fact that sexual violence against Jewish women and girls was a factor in the Nazi antisemitic system of oppression and extermination. . . . The first book to deal with this subject matter was published only eight years ago, 65 years after the end of the war (Sonia Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel, eds., Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust [Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2010]). Shulamit Reinharz introduces the collection by addressing the repression of this subject matter:

Rape is almost always a component of war and terror. The Holocaust was no exception. Women who regrettably underwent this experience can, perhaps, take some comfort in knowing that their misfortune is finally being recognized. [The authors] are to be congratulated for beginning the exploration of this untold, horrific chapter in the history of men and women, Jews and antisemites. It is a story of sexual and religious oppression and their intersection. It is a story that, after sixty-five years, is finally being told (x).”

The effects of ignoring this aspect of antisemitism “are entirely negative, and it behooves scholars to investigate the relationship between misogyny and antisemitism, to describe the crimes committed against all Jews accurately and completely . . .”

I also discussed "a related problem that remains unacknowledged, and therefore understudied in our field, is the same intersection of antisemitism and misogyny faced by female scholars of antisemitism, anti-antisemitism activists, politicians, and any other woman who confronts antisemitism in public. This includes Jewish and non-Jewish women alike.

See, for example, Maggie Astor, “For Female Candidates, Harassment and Threats Come Every Day,” New York Times (August 24, 2018).

Also, see the experiences of Joanna White and John Mann, Luciana Berger, and Ruth Smeeth: “Labour MPs Give Raw Accounts of Facing Threats, Abuse, as British Parliament Debates Antisemitism,” The Algemeiner (April 17, 2018).

It seems to be impossible for antisemites to resist resorting to violent

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.