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How to confront rising antisemitism in the U.S.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

People who spread antisemitism have had a busy few weeks. A string of remarks by the rapper Ye is only part of the story. Human Rights Watch is documenting rising numbers of antisemitic incidents in Europe and elsewhere. So let's talk this through with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, who is the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. Welcome to the program.

DEBORAH LIPSTADT: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. Let's talk about monitoring it. What's going wrong?

LIPSTADT: What's going wrong? Well, we're seeing a rise, as you just said, in antisemitism. We're seeing it internationally. We're seeing it nationally. What we're seeing also is it's not that it wasn't there before. Antisemitism is the longest or the oldest hatred, as historians sometimes say.

INSKEEP: Sure.

LIPSTADT: But we're seeing normalization of it, that it becomes OK to say certain things. And whether it's - I don't want to focus on one rapper because the problem is much bigger than that, as you just acknowledged. But it becomes OK. I just heard a story of a kid in Montclair, N.J., who walked into the playground or the schoolyard. And her friends - one of her friends gave - other kids gave the Nazi salute, you know, or throw pennies on the ground because Jews are cheap and want to get every penny or say all sorts of things. So it's both physical dangers - we just commemorated the anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue, where people were murdered just for going to synagogue.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LIPSTADT: It's also little kids learning that being Jewish is something to be - instead of it being a source of joy, it's something that can bring you bodily harm.

INSKEEP: Can I just mention your job, your brief, of course, is the world, is the rest of the world?

LIPSTADT: Right.

INSKEEP: But you've - you're clearly thinking about incidents in the United States, which get attention around the world. Are we unfortunately, as a country, leading the way on this at the moment?

LIPSTADT: I don't know if we're leading the way, but we certainly are getting a lot of attention. But when I go abroad, I give a message that I got directly from my boss, Secretary of State Blinken, that I don't go around the world saying, we've got it solved, and I'm wagging my finger in your face. I go and say, we don't have it solved. We're worried about it in our country. We're worried about it in your country. This job - this position has existed now through four - I think three or four administrations. I've had wonderful predecessors. But we're seeing something now that we haven't seen before - the confluence of domestic and international.

It's - partially, it's the rise of populism. I'm right. You're wrong. I'm right. You're a danger to me. You must be stopped. The rise of sectarianism, supremacy, militiaism (ph), the rise of nationalism, segments of the population feeling that they are losing out. And, of course, antisemitism has always been a conspiracy theory. It's a prejudice like other prejudices, but it's - one of its distinctive characteristics is that it says the Jews are out to get you. The Jews are out to run the world. So you look - either you start out as an antisemite, and you know the Jews must have spread COVID. Or you start as a conspiracy theorist, and you look for someone who is powerful enough, connected enough, evil enough to do this, and you end up with the Jews.

INSKEEP: Do you feel that you know the way to properly combat these conspiracy theories, which are so widespread? And as you point out, it's just such a small step for some people from saying, someone is out to get me to saying, it's a Jew who's out to get me.

LIPSTADT: Yes. I don't have the easy answer, Steve. If I had the easy answer, I would have put it up on the website when - day I came into office and spend my time enjoying Washington.

LIPSTADT: (Laughter).

LIPSTADT: But I do know what...

INSKEEP: You could've put it on Twitter. People would know. Go on. Go on, please.

LIPSTADT: (Laughter) Right. But I do know that, first of all, we have to get people to take this seriously. There's been a failure to take antisemitism seriously. You know, they look at Jews. Come on. Jews can pass, unlike people of color, who don't have a choice. Jews can pass. They look at Jews, and they say, oh, they're well-set. They're in good shape. What do they have to worry about? And people just don't take it seriously. Jews don't present as many other victims of prejudice. I know Jewish parents who are now having with their children the equivalent of what Black parents have had for decades - the conversation. It's a danger.

INSKEEP: I understand exactly what you mean. Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, thanks so much.

LIPSTADT: You're welcome. Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: She is the United States special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.