Past Event

Tears of History: The Rise of Political Antisemitism in the United States

April 9, 2024
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM
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East Gallery, Maison Française, Buell Hall

Pierre Birnbaum, in conversation with Ira Katznelson and Rebecca Kobrin, moderated by Emmanuel Kattan

Pierre Birnbaum will talk about his book, recently translated by Columbia University Press as Tears of History: The Rise of Political Antisemitism in the United States. He will be joined by Ira Katznelson and Rebecca Kobrin to discuss the book and compare political anti-semitism in the U.S. to the experience of other countries, including France. 

Pierre Birnbaum’s book starts from the premise that, for more than a century, the United States has seemed to be a safe haven for many Jews. There has been antisemitic prejudice, but nothing on the scale of the discrimination, persecution, pogroms, and genocide witnessed in Europe. White American ethnic violence has assailed many targets, but Jews have rarely been among them. Observing what he took to be an American exception, the influential historian Salo Baron challenged the “lachrymose conception” of Jewish history as an unending flow of oppressions, and many have followed him in seeing American Jews as sheltered from violence. But in recent years a spate of antisemitic attacks has cast doubt on this rosy view.

Pierre Birnbaum offers a timely reconsideration of the tear-stained pages of Jewish history and the persistence of antisemitism. He explores the promise of American tolerance as well as the darkest moments of American intolerance, such as the 1913 lynching of Leo Frank. Birnbaum engages deeply with Baron’s views about Jewish history and tracks the echoes of European antisemitic violence in American culture. He argues that a new and insidious form of antisemitic ideology has arisen, one that sees the state as an instrument of Jewish control—and threatens further bloodshed. Thoughtful and eloquent, Tears of History is an important reflection on the roots of antisemitic violence and hatred.

Pierre Birnbaum is a historian and political sociologist who is professor emeritus at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. His books in English include Paths of Emancipation: Jews, States, and Citizenship (coedited with Ira Katznelson, 1995), The Anti-Semitic Moment: A Tour of France in 1898 (2011), Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist (2015), The Jews of the Republic: A Political History of State Jews in France from Gambetta to Vichy (1996), and  Geography of Hope: Exile, the Enlightenment, Disassimilation ( 2008).

Ira Katznelson is Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History at Columbia University, and Deputy Director, Columbia World Projects. His 2013 Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time was awarded the Bancroft Prize in History and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award in Political Science. Other books include Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy After Reconstruction (2018, co-authored with David Bateman and John Lapinski), and Liberal Beginnings: A Republic for the Moderns (2008, co-authored with Andreas Kalyvas). His most recent book is Time Counts: Quantitative Methods for Historical Social Science (2022, co-authored with Gregory Wawro).

Rebecca Kobrin is the Russell and Bettina Knapp Associate Professor of American Jewish History, in Columbia University’s Department of History, where she teaches in the field of American Jewish History, specializing in modern Jewish migration. She is also the Co-Director of the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia. Her research, teaching, and publications engage in the fields of international migration, urban history, Jewish history, American religion, and diaspora studies. Her forthcoming book, A Credit to the Nation: Jewish Immigrant Bankers and American Finance, 1870-1930 (Harvard University Press), brings together scholarship in Jewish history, American immigration studies, and American economic history.   

This event is co-sponsored by the Maison Française, the Alliance Program, the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, and the Department of History.

Recording of the event available on YouTube