10th Annual Rothschild Lecture

Rothschild Lecture Features James Loeffler on Jews and Human Rights, Commemorates the Career of Morris B. Abram

The year 2018 marks the seventieth anniversary of two momentous events in twentieth-century history: the birth of the State of Israel and the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both remain tied together in the ongoing debates about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, global antisemitism, and American foreign policy. Yet the surprising connections between Zionism and the origins of international human rights are completely unknown today.

Prof. James LoefflerOn November 15 at 7:30pm, Emory’s annual Rothschild Lecture will explore this complex and often controversial history with guest scholar James Loeffler of the University of Virginia speaking on “Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century,” the subject of his recent book by the same title.  The lecture, sponsored by the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies and AJC Atlanta, will take place in the Oxford Road Presentation Room, 1390 Oxford Road, on the Emory campus, and will be followed by a reception and book signing. The evening’s program will also commemorate the centennial of Morris B. Abram, a Georgia-born attorney, civil rights leader, and human rights activist, whose papers are housed at Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.

Loeffler's lecture will explore the stories of several Jewish founders of international human rights, following them from the prewar shtetls of eastern Europe to the postwar United Nations, a journey that includes the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the founding of Amnesty International, and the UN resolution of 1975 labeling Zionism as racism. As in his critically acclaimed book, he will challenge long-held assumptions about the history of human rights and offer a startlingly new perspective on the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Loeffler's book coverThe lecture will also help contextualize the career of Morris B. Abram, whose work as a civil and human rights activist was launched by his fourteen-year battle in Georgia against a state election law that gave disproportionate weight in primary elections to white rural districts and disadvantaged African American urban voters. Due largely to Abram’s efforts, the measure was finally struck down in 1963 by the U.S. Supreme Court, which affirmed the principle of “one voter, one vote.” Later, Abram became active in the movement for international human rights, serving during the Johnson Administration as the U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. He also served as national president of the American Jewish Committee, president of Brandeis University, and chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. Exemplifying the complex and often fraught connections between human rights activism and Zionism that Loeffler details in his book, Abram was the founder of U.N. Watch, a group designed to monitor and expose antisemitism and anti-Israel bias in the U.N. human rights program.

The Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild Lecture, now in its 10th year, memorializes the late rabbi, civil rights activist, and spiritual leader of The Temple, Atlanta’s oldest Jewish congregation. Each year the Rothschild Lecture features a distinguished speaker on a topic related to social justice and Judaism.

As part of the commemoration of the Abram centennial, the Rose Library will also present a “show and tell” of several items from the Morris B. Abram Papers on the day following the Rothschild Lecture—Friday, November 16, at 11:30 am on the 10th floor of the Woodruff Library. For complete information, visit the Tam Institute website at js.emory.edu.