Historian Beth S. Wenger discusses the history of modern antisemitism, its effect on the Jewish people, antisemitism on the right and left, Kanye West, Kyrie Irving, criticism of Israel, and the history of Jewish people in America.
Greg Johnson, Writer
Antisemitism has been called the oldest hatred, spanning nearly 2,000 years, and as recent events have made clear, it is alive and well in the 21st century.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 2,717 antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2021, the highest number ever recorded since they began tracking the statistic in 1979.
In the past month, there were high-profile incidents wherein a former president, a candidate for governor, a rapper, an NBA player, a comedian, and a college football coach were all criticized for making antisemitic comments.
Likewise, there were lesser-known incidents during which a Jewish cemetery was desecrated in Illinois, antisemitic flyers were placed on cars and homes in California, antisemitic graffiti was found on a trail in Maryland, and antisemitic messages were projected outside of a major college football game in Florida.
In the midst of all of this, Beth S. Wenger, the Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of History in the School of Arts & Sciences, was teaching her undergraduate course Jews in the Modern World, a survey of Jewish history from the 1650s to the present.
As fate would have it, while the country was embroiled in controversies surrounding antisemitism, Wenger was preparing to discuss the emergence of modern antisemitism with her students.
“It’s one of those moments where teaching about the past is extraordinarily for our present day,” she says.
Penn Today spoke with Wenger, who is also the associate dean of graduate studies, former chair of the Department of History, and former director of the Jewish Studies Program, about the history of modern antisemitism, its effect on the Jewish people, antisemitism on the right and left, Kanye West, Kyrie Irving, criticism of Israel, and the history of Jewish people in America.