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Jews and the Left
May 6-7 2012

CONFERENCE | Co-presented with the American Jewish Historical Society | Supported by the Atran Foundation, the David Berg Foundation, and Dr. Joseph K. McLaughlin
Watch the Conference
About the Participants

Since the nineteenth century, Jews have played prominent roles in a variety of leftist political movements. At the same time, associations between Jews and communism have been a frequent leitmotif of antisemitic thinking. While the political Left often spoke out against antisemitism and promised Jews tolerance and an end to distinctions between Jews and non-Jews, specific, prominent, leftists espoused antisemitic ideas. In addition, Jews cultivated their own, uniquely Jewish, socialist parties and ideologies. In recent years, the relationship between Jews and the Left has been further complicated by left-wing opposition to the State of Israel and debates about the extent to which this opposition bleeds into outright antisemitism. YIVO, in association with AJHS, brought together historians, political scientists, philosophers, and journalists from Europe, Israel, and America to discuss some of the important topics pertaining to the relationship between Jews and the Left.

SUNDAY, MAY 6, 2012 (DAY 1)

null Jonathan Brent, Jack Jacobs: Welcome & Introductory Remarks
Session 1: Israel, Zionism, and the Left: Past and Present
Chair: Ronald Zweig
null Mitchell Cohen: "Anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and the Left."
null Yoav Peled: "Delegitimation of Israel or Social-Historical Analysis? The Debate over Zionism as a Colonial Movement."
null Ronald Radosh: "When the American Jewish Left loved Israel: When and Why did They Change?"
null Anita Shapira: "Socialist Zionism and Nation Building."
Session 2: Antisemitism and the Left, from Karl Marx to Present Day
Chair: Jonathan Brent
null Norman Geras: "Universalisms genuine and spurious."
null Lars Fischer: "Marxism's Other Jewish Questions."
null Moishe Postone: "The Dualisms of Capitalist Modernity: Thoughts on History, the Holocaust, and the Left."
Keynote Address
Chair: Jack Jacobs
null Michael Walzer: "The Strangeness of Jewish Leftism."
MONDAY, MAY 7, 2012 (DAY 2)

Session 1: Jews and Communism in the Twentieth Century
Chair: Marci Shore
null Harvey Klehr: "Jews and the American Communist Party."
null Tony Michels: "Dynamics of Disillusionment: Communism, Anti-Communism, and American Jews."
null Antony Polonsky: "Jews and Communism in Poland and the Soviet Union."
Session 2: Jews, the New Left, and the Counterculture
Chair: Jonathan Karp
null Riv-Ellen Prell: "Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1968: Godparents of the Jewish Student Left."
null Judith Friedlander: "Crumbling Ideologies Offer Opportunities for Rebuilding at the New School for Social Research (1968-1989)."
null Paul Berman: "The New Left and the Jews: Personal Memories and Reconsiderations."
Session 3: Jewish Women on the Left
Chair: Marion Kaplan
null Barbara Engel: "Are Jewish Women Distinctive? The Case of the Russian Populist Left."
null Deborah Hertz: "Money, Love and Career in the Life of Rosa Luxemburg."
null Alice Kessler-Harris: "The American Agenda of the Minimalist Jew."
Closing Remarks
Introduction by Daniel Soyer
null Ezra Mendelsohn: "Reflections on Jews and the Left."

Paul Berman is a writer on politics and literature whose essays and reviews appear in The New Republic (where he is a contributing editor), The New York Times Book Review and many other journals. He has at different times served on the staff of The Village Voice, The New Yorker and Slate. His books include a two volume study of the international Generation of 1968, A Tale of Two Utopias and Power and the Idealists, and another two volumes on Islamism and Western responses, Terror and Liberalism and The Flight of the Intellectuals. He has edited a number of anthologies, including Debating P.C, Blacks and Jews, and Carl Sandburg: Selected Poems.
Jonathan Brent is the Executive Director of The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City. From 1991 to 2009 he was Editorial Director and Associate Director of Yale Press. He is the founder of the world acclaimed Annals of Communism series, which he established at Yale Press in 1991. Brent is the co-author of Stalin’s Last Crime: The Plot Against the Jewish Doctors, 1948-1953 (Harper-Collins, 2003) and Inside the Stalin Archives (Atlas Books, 2008). He is now working on a biography of the Soviet-Jewish writer Isaac Babel. Brent teaches history and literature at Bard College.
Mitchell Cohen is Professor of Political Science at Baruch College and the Graduate School of CUNY as well as former co-editor of Dissent. His books include Zion and State (Columbia University Press) and The Wager of Lucien Goldmann (Princeton University Press).
Barbara Engel is Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She is the author of Mothers and Daughters: Women of the Intelligentsia in Nineteenth Century Russia (1983); Between the Fields and the City: Women, Work and Family in Russia, 1861-1914 (1995); Women in Russia: 1700-2000 (2004), and most recently, Breaking the Ties that Bound: The Politics of Marital Strife in Late Imperial Russia (2011).
Lars Fischer is the Academic Director of the Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations in Cambridge, is a Fellow and Councillor of the Royal Historical Society and is the Secretary and Bulletin editor of the British Association for Jewish Studies. Among his publications is a monograph on The Socialist Response to Antisemitism in Imperial Germany, published by Cambridge University Press in 2007.
Judith Friedlander is Professor of Anthropology at Hunter College, CUNY, where she has served as Dean of Social Sciences and Dean of Arts and Sciences. Among her published works are Being Indian in Hueyapan and Vilna on the Seine: Jewish Intellectuals in France Since 1968. Currently she is writing a book on the history of the New School for Social Research, where she served as Dean of the Graduate Faculty of Political and Social Science (1993-2000) and held the Eberstadt Chair of Anthropology. Her article on Tony Judt which has just been published in French Historical Studies (Winter 2012) addresses some of the questions raised by this conference.
Norman Geras is Professor Emeritus in Politics at the University of Manchester. His books include The Contract of Mutual Indifference: Political Philosophy after the Holocaust and Crimes against humanity: Birth of a concept. His blog can be found at
Deborah Hertz is the Herman Wouk Chair in Modern Jewish Studies at the University of California at San Diego. She is the author of Jewish High Society in Old Regime Berlin (Yale University Press, 1988; in German translation, four editions), and How Jews Became Germans: The History of Conversion and Assimilation in Berlin (Yale University Press, 2007; paperback 2009; German edition 2010). Her new book in-progress is entitled From the Shtetl to the Barricades: How Jewish Women Became Radicals in Russia and Beyond.
Jack Jacobs is Professor of Political Science at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. He is the author of On Socialists and “the Jewish Question” after Marx (1992), and of Bundist Counterculture in Interwar Poland (2009) and is the editor of Jewish Politics in Eastern Europe: The Bund at 100 (2001). He is currently writing a book, under contract with Cambridge University Press, on Jewish identity, antisemitism, and the development of the Frankfurt School.
Marion Kaplan is Skirball Professor of Modern Jewish History at NYU, and the author of Dominican Haven: The Jewish Refugee Settlement in Sosúa, 1940-1945 (2008), Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany (1998), The Making of the Jewish Middle Class: Women, Family and Identity in Imperial Germany (1991), among other books, and editor of such works as Jewish Daily Life in Germany, 1618-1945 (2005). Her work has received National Jewish Book Awards and other major prizes.
Jonathan Karp is the Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society and an Associate Professor in the History and Judaic Studies Departments at Binghamton University, SUNY. He is the author of The Politics of Jewish Commerce: Economic Thought and Emancipation in Europe (2008), as well as coeditor (with Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett) of The Art of Being Jewish in Modern Times (2007) and Philosemitism in History (with Adam Sutcliffe, 2011). He is completing a book entitled Chosen Surrogates: Blacks and Jews in American Culture.
Alice Kessler-Harris is R. Gordon Hoxie Professor of American History at Columbia University where she is also Professor in the Institute for Research on Women and Gender. Her books include In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in Twentieth Century America (2001) and, most recently, A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman (2012). Among American Jewish scholars, she is widely known for introducing Anzia Yezierska's Bread Givers to new audiences.
Harvey Klehr is Andrew Mellon Professor of Politics and History at Emory University. He is the author or editor of thirteen books including The Secret World of American Communism (1995), which was a selection of the History Book Club, Book of the Month Club and Conservative Book Club. His newest book is Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America, published by Yale University Press. He has also written for professional journals as well as for Commentary, The New Republic, New York Review of Books, Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard. He served as a member of the National Council on the Humanities from 2004-2010.
Ezra Mendelsohn is Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry and in the department of Russian and East European studies at the Hebrew University. His first book (1970) dealt with the Jewish workers' movement in Tsarist Russia; his most recent one, dealing with the Polish-Jewish artist Maurycy Gottlieb (Hebrew version 2006), won the Bialik Prize in Israel for Jewish history in 2008.
Tony Michels is the George L. Mosse Associate Professor of American Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is the author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York (Harvard, 2005) and editor of Jewish Radicals: A Documentary History, which will appear in July 2012 from NYU Press.
Yoav Peled is Associate Professor of Political Science at Tel Aviv University and a lawyer. His book, Being Israeli: The Dynamics of Multiple Citizenship, co-authored with Gershon Shafir (Cambridge University Press 2002), won the Albert Hourani Prize of the Middle East Studies Association of North America for best book in Middle East studies in 2002. Peled has edited or co-edited five collections of essays. The latest is Democratic Citizenship and War, published by Routledge in 2010. He is Co-Editor in Chief of The Public Sphere: Tel Aviv Journal of Political Science.
Antony Polonsky is Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is chair of the editorial board of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, and author of such books as Politics in Independent Poland (1972), The Little Dictators (1975), and The Great Powers and the Polish Question (1976). His most recent work is The Jews in Poland and Russia (3 vols.). He has been awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, the Officer's Cross of the Order of Independent Lithuania and the Kulczycki prize for the best work in 2011 in the field of Polish Studies.
Moishe Postone is Thomas E. Donnelley Professor of Modern European History and The College, and Co-Director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory at the University of Chicago. He has written on Marx, Critical Theory and anti-Semitism.
Riv-Ellen Prell, an anthropologist, is Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota, and is affiliated with the Center for Jewish Studies and the Department of Gender, Women and sexuality Studies. She is the author of Prayer and Community: the Havurah in American Judaism and Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender and the Anxiety of Assimilation. Her paper is drawn from her forthcoming book, Baby Boomers and their Jewish Summer Camps: the Making of a Cultural Revolution.
Ronald Radosh is Professor Emeritus of History at CUNY, an Adjunct Fellow at The Hudson Institute, and a columnist for PJ Media. He is author or co-author of many books, including, with Allis Radosh, A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel. The book won the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s Gold Award in 2009 for the best book written on the Middle East and the United States. His articles and reviews have appeared in The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard and other publications.
Anita Shapira, Professor Emerita at Tel Aviv University, served that institution as Ruben Merenfeld Professor in the Study of Zionism. Shapira is currently the Chair of the Chaim Weizmann Institute for the Study of Zionism and Israel at TAU, and Senior Fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute. Her best known works are Berl Katznelson: a Biography of a Socialist Zionist, Land and Power, the Zionist Resort to Force, 1882-1948, Yigal Allon: Native Son, and Joseph Hayyim Brenner, A Life Story. She is currently working on a biography of David Ben Gurion. She has won many prizes and awards, including, in 2008, the Israel Prize.
Marci Shore, Associate Professor of History at Yale University, is the author of Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968 and the translator of Michał Głowiński's The Black Seasons. Her second book, The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe, is forthcoming in 2013.
Daniel Soyer is Professor of History at Fordham University in New York. He is author, along with Annie Polland, of Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920, forthcoming from New York University Press.
Michael Walzer has addressed a wide variety of topics in political theory and moral philosophy: political obligation, just war, and economic justice. His books, Just and Unjust Wars and Spheres of Justice, have played a part in the revival of practical ethics and in the development of a pluralist approach to political life. Walzer is a co-editor of Dissent. He is currently working on volume three of The Jewish Political Tradition.
Ronald Zweig is the Henry and Marilyn Taub Chair of Israel Studies, NYU. He is the author of Britain and Palestine During the Second World War; German Reparations and the Jewish World; and The Gold Train.