Jewish Questions Podcast: Anti-Semitism

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Jewish Questions is the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies’ podcast on issues that matter now in Jewish life, politics, history and culture — from a scholarly perspective.

This season, hosts Laurie Marhoefer and Noam Pianko talk with faculty experts from the University of Washington about anti-Semitism: what it is, its long history, and how to push back against it today.

Jewish Questions comes out weekly on Wednesdays. This season’s five episodes will look the causes and consequences of anti-Semitism across history, from medieval Spain to Nazi Germany to the United States in the 20th century.

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Episode 1: Is America an exception? Anti-Semitism in the United States

Guest: Susan A. Glenn, Professor of History

The United States was the country where Jews came to finally be free from anti-Semitism… or was it? Historians of the modern era tend to think of the U.S. as an exceptional place for Jews — a place where Jewish people have been able to exist in relative freedom from violence and prejudice.

But is this common understanding of the United States as “the exception” really accurate? In this episode, guest Susan A. Glenn discusses the history of anti-Semitism in the U.S., touching on the Second Ku Klux Klan, anti-Semitic industrialist Henry Ford, the “mother of all conspiracy theories,” the secret rehabilitation of Nazi war criminals, and the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the present day.

View the Episode 1 transcript >

Episode art. Pictured, top to bottom: Still from the 1947 film “Gentleman’s Agreement”; a Ku Klux Klan rally in the 1920s; Walt Disney with rocket scientist and Nazi war criminal Wernher von Braun in 1954; headlines from papers reporting on the Leo Frank lynching in 1915; President Franklin D. Roosevelt and treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau; Henry Ford and Clara Bryant Ford visiting Germany in 1930.

Episode 2: Could it happen here? The rise of Nazi Germany

Guest: Laurie Marhoefer, Associate Professor of History

We often connect Germany with anti-Semitism, but in the early twentieth century, Germany was actually considered one of the best places in the world to be Jewish. How did the progressive Weimar Republic give way to the genocidal Nazi regime… and could it happen here?

In this episode, guest Laurie Marhoefer explains the rise of the Nazi party in one of the most progressive places in the world, detailing the swift and dramatic shift in government, efforts to resist, and troubling echoes of these events in the present day.

View the Episode 2 transcript >

Episode art. Pictured, top to bottom: Sketch of German gay rights activist Kurt Hiller in 1924; the Reichstag, one of the Weimar Republic’s governmental buildings, in 1932; painting of a Weimar-era club by Rudolf Schlichter; Hitler driving through a crowd in the newly annexed territory of Cheb in 1938; 1935 Nuremberg Laws stripping Jews and others of citizenship rights; a 1941 gymnastics performance by members of the Nazi League of German Girls.

Episode 3: In the blood? Being Jewish in medieval Spain

Guest: Ana Gómez-Bravo, Professor of Spanish & Portuguese Studies

Has anti-Semitism always been the same, or have ideas about Jewishness, and suspicion towards Jews, changed over time?

In this episode, guest Ana Gómez-Bravo helps to answer these questions by looking at the lives of Jews and “conversos” (Jewish converts to Christianity) in medieval Spain, exploring how Catholic authorities tried to define and restrict their Jewish and converso residents, in a conversation that spans medieval medicine, forbidden breastfeeding, decoy hams, official guides to Jewishness, and the expulsion of Jews in 1492.

View the Episode 3 transcript >

Episode art. Pictured, top left to bottom right: Illustration of Jews dancing from the Rothschild Miscellany, an illuminated manuscript from 15th-century Italy; painting of Jewish scribes from the “Book of Games” commissioned by Castilian King Alfonso X in 1283; 19th-century illustration of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella; 13th-century illustration of Queen Eleanor and King Alfonso of Castile.

Episode 4: Jewish anti-Semitism?

Guest: Devin E. Naar, Associate Professor of History

Can Jews be anti-Semitic against other Jews?

In this episode, guest Devin E. Naar looks at the history of Jewish prejudice against other Jews in the United States, from the very first American Jewish settlers in the 1600s to twentieth-century efforts to exclude Jews from the Muslim world from Jewish institutions — as American Jews struggled to hold on to their “precarious whiteness.”

View the Episode 4 transcript >

Episode art. Top left to bottom right: Drawing of early colonial Jews; text of the Naturalization Act of 1790, which made American citizenship possible for “free white persons”; a 1907 political cartoon from the “Sunday Sunset” magazine; a scene from the 1941 film “The Maltese Falcon,” which includes the “queer Levantine Jew” criminal Joel Cairo (pictured middle); President Calvin Coolidge signs a bill on the White House lawn in 1924, the same year he signed the restrictive 1924 Immigration Act into law.

Episode 5: Before Zionism

Guest: Liora R. Halperin, Associate Professor of History

Present-day discussions of anti-Semitism often involve Israel and the Zionist movement… but before the 20th century, Jews’ and Jewish scholars’ understandings of anti-Semitism were completely connected with Europe and Christianity.

In the last episode of our series, guest Liora R. Halperin looks at how 19th-century Jewish settlers to Ottoman Palestine were influenced by the anti-Semitism they experienced in the Russian Empire: how it shaped their perceptions of their new home and influenced the new identities they hoped to take on, and what we can learn from their story today.

View the Episode 5 transcript >

Episode art. Top left to bottom right: 1890 painting by Fedir Stovbynenko depicting a Kossack man; 1901 map showing Jewish populations in the western region of the Russian Empire, the “Pale of Settlement”; early 20th-century postcard depicting Russian Jews fleeing a pogrom; illustration of the “wilderness of Judaea” from the 1880s; postage stamp depicting the early settlement Petah Tikva; photograph of Petah Tikva from the early 20th century.

About the Hosts


Portrait of Laurie Marhoefer in T-shirt, smilingLaurie Marhoefer is an associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of History. She studies Weimar and Nazi Germany (1918-45), with a focus on fascism and the politics of sex and gender in Germany before 1933. Her first book, “Sex and the Weimar Republic: German Homosexual Emancipation and the Rise of the Nazis,” was published in 2015. Laurie’s writing has appeared on The Conversation, Salon.com, Newsweek.com, and in numerous other publications.

Portrait of Noam smiling in a suit, trees behind himNoam Pianko is the director of the University of Washington’s Stroum Center for Jewish Studies, and is a professor in the UW’s Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies. His research interests include modern Jewish history, Zionism, and American Judaism. His most recent book, “Peoplehood: An American Innovation,” published in 2015, won the American Jewish Historical Society’s Saul Viener Book Prize. Noam currently serves as president of the Association for Jewish Studies.

Jewish Questions is produced, recorded, and edited by Kara Schoonmaker.

Season one was supported by an Ignition Grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, and by the Stroum Center for Jewish Studies.