Hebrew University Mourns the Passing of Prof. Robert Wistrich, Leading Historian and Scholar of Antisemitism
Jerusalem, May 20, 2015 – The Hebrew University of Jerusalem mourns the passing of Prof. Robert S. Wistrich, a preeminent historian who since 2002 has headed the university’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism. Prof. Wistrich, who held the Neuberger Chair for Modern European History, was a meticulous scholar and prolific author who shaped much of the current understanding of antisemitism.
Prof. Wistrich died on Tuesday while in Italy to address the Italian Senate on the subject of rising antisemitism in Europe. He was 70 years old.
President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, said: “Prof. Robert Wistrich, head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, was one of the greatest scholars of modern Jewish history. He played a prominent role in shaping contemporary research of Zionism and of antisemitism in its many guises throughout the world. His uncompromisingly rigorous research approach — based on the use of original sources and of the most stringent methodology — created solid foundations for studies in these areas. On a personal note, I am profoundly saddened by the loss of a dear teacher whose classes I took when he was first in Israel, whose integration I helped facilitate, and whose career I have followed ever since.”
Wistrich was born in Kazakhstan on April 7, 1945 to parents who fled Poland to escape antisemitism. After briefly returning to Poland, the family later emigrated to France. Wistrich grew up in England, won an Open Scholarship to the University of Cambridge, and there obtained his BA and MA degrees. He received his Ph.D. from the University of London and later immigrated to Israel, where he obtained tenure at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has directed the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism since 2002.
From 1999 to 2001 Prof. Wistrich was one of six scholars appointed to an international Catholic-Jewish historical commission to examine the wartime record of Pope Pius XII. In June 2003, he initiated and acted as Chief Historical Advisor for a BBC film documentary on contemporary Muslim antisemitism, entitled Blaming the Jews. Since 2003, he has edited the research journal Antisemitism International and the Posen Papers in Contemporary Antisemitism. In 2011 he was awarded for Lifetime Achievement by the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, which declared him “the leading scholar in the field of antisemitism study.”
In 2014, UNESCO headquarters in Paris hosted an exhibition authored by Prof. Wistrich on behalf of the Wiesenthal Center. Entitled People, Book, Land: The 3500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People with the Holy Land, the exhibition tells the history of the Jewish People in the Middle East, from the biblical patriarch Abraham to the present-day State of Israel.
Winner of dozens of awards, Wistrich served as Rapporteur on antisemitism and related issues to the US State Department, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the United Nations Commission on Antisemitism and Human Rights, and the Human Rights Commission in Geneva.
Prof. Wistrich authored or edited numerous award-winning books. Among the more than 30 titles that bear his name are Socialism and the Jews, which received the American Jewish Committee award; The Jews of Vienna in the Age of Franz Joseph, which won the Austrian State Prize for Danubian History; Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred, which received the H.H. Wingate Prize for non-fiction in the UK and was the basis for a PBS film documentary which Prof. Wistrich scripted; A Lethal Obsession: Antisemitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad, which was awarded the Best Book of the Year Prize by the editors of the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism; and From Ambivalence to Betrayal. The Left, the Jews and Israel, which was the first study to explore the transformation in attitudes on the Left toward the Jews, Zionism, and Israel since the origins of European socialism in the 1840s until the present.
The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism (http://sicsa.huji.ac.il) was established in 1982 as an interdisciplinary research center dedicated to an independent, non-political approach to the accumulation and dissemination of knowledge necessary for understanding the phenomenon of antisemitism. The Center engages in research on antisemitism throughout the ages, focusing on relations between Jews and non-Jews, particularly in situations of tension and crisis.