KENNETH S. STERN
Kenneth S. Stern is the director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate (BCSH), which works to increase the serious study of human hatred, and ways to combat it. The Center maintains an international database of hate studies syllabi, has programs for students and faculty, publishes original work on hate (including A Community Guide For Opposing Hate and The State of Hate Index), and awards an annual “Beth Rickey Award” for sustained and effective action against hate, named for a late Republican State Committeewoman from Louisiana. Bard College is the first academic institution to have an official Hate Studies Initiative in its course list.
Mr. Stern, an attorney, is a member of the Oregon and New York Bars. He is also the author of five books, his latest being The Conflict over The Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate.
From 2014 until he became the founding director of BCSH in 2018, Mr. Stern served as the Executive Director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation (JKR), which helped establish and fund programs on understanding hatred. The foundation was established by Justus Rosenberg, who was the last surviving member of the Varian Fry group, which rescued hundreds of artists and intellectuals from Vichy France during World War II, among them Marc Chagall and Max Ernst.
Before joining the JKR Foundation, Stern was the director of the division on antisemitism and extremism at the American Jewish Committee. Between his coming to the AJC in October 1989, until his departure in 2014, Mr. Stern authored major publications for AJC, including those on the militia movement, Bigotry on Campus, Hate on Talk Radio, Hate and the Internet, anti-Zionism, Resolution 3379, Skinheads, Politics and Bigotry, Leonard Jeffries, Patrick Buchanan, David Duke, Louis Farrakhan, John Demjanjuk, Crown Heights, Afrocentrism, Christian Identity, and The Council for the National Interest. His report “Militias: A Growing Danger,” issued ten days before the Oklahoma City bombing, predicted such attacks on government.
Mr. Stern is also the author of “Liberators: A Background Report,” an investigative analysis that resulted in the withdrawal of that documentary film because of questions of its factual accuracy. He has also written the acclaimed book Holocaust Denial, the first comprehensive book treating this antisemitic libel. Mr. Stern’s book, Antisemitism Today: How It Is The Same, How It is Different, and How to Fight It, is a practical guide to understanding the different types of contemporary antisemitism, and a blueprint of how to combat them.
Mr. Stern is also the author of a book on prejudice against America Indians, titled Loud Hawk: The United States vs. The American Indian Movement, released by the University of Oklahoma Press, which was starred by Publisher’s Weekly and won the prestigious Gustave Myers Center Award as outstanding book on human rights. He is also a contributing author to various anthologies and encyclopedias, including: Antisemitism in America Today: Outspoken Experts Explode the Myths, published in 1995 by Birch Lane Press; Hate Crimes, published 1996 by Greenhaven Press; Violence in America: An Encyclopedia, published in 1999 by Charles Scribner’s Sons; Critical Inquiries: Readings on Culture and Community, published in 2002 by Longman Publishers; How to Fight Right-Wing Extremism in Germany Today: The Role of Citizens, Civil Society, and the Government, published in 2002 by Friedrich-Evert-Stiftung; and Reading Portland: The City in Prose, published in 2007 by the Oregon Historical Society, a compendium of the best writing about the city. Mr. Stern is also a contributor to Encyclopedia Judaica: Second Edition.
His op-ed pieces and book reviews have appeared in the Anglo Jewish Press (The Forward, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and elsewhere), online outlets (including CNN.com), academic-focused publications (including Inside Higher Ed), and mainstream newspapers including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post and The Guardian. He has appeared on Face the Nation, Dateline, Good Morning America, The CBS Evening News, The History Channel, and National Public Radio (including Fresh Air, All Things Considered, and On the Media).
His book, A Force upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate, was published in 1996 by Simon & Schuster, and reissued in paperback by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1997. This first book-length treatment of America’s private armies was praised in the New York Times and elsewhere, and was nominated for the National Book Award. It was also listed as among the “best of the University Presses for 1998” by the Association of School Librarians by the Public Library Association (PLA) and by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). It was also listed by VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) in its “list picks ’99” as among the “best adult nonfiction for high school libraries.” Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan called A Force upon the Plain “an insightful study which should be read by anyone who is concerned about extremist threats to the American social order.”
Mr. Stern wrote legal publications for AJC. He was the author of AJC’s amicus curiae brief in the appeal of the Leonard Jeffries case, wrote a critique of the court of appeals decision in the matter of Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk, and was of counsel on AJC’s brief in Wisconsin v. Mitchell, the landmark hate crimes case decided by the United States Supreme Court. Mr. Stern was also played an important role as an advisor to the defense in the historic London-based Holocaust denial trial of David Irving v. Deborah Lipstadt.
Mr. Stern was also a key participant at a 1998 meeting with leaders of the Jewish and Japanese-American communities, about the controversial use of the term “concentration camp” at an Ellis Island exhibit documenting the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mr. Stern drafted a joint statement, which was subsequently displayed at the entrance of the exhibit, explaining the term, highlighting the important differences between the Nazi camps (places of torture, medical experiments, summary execution and death), and the American camps, but also noting the commonality: “the people in power removed a minority group from the general population and the rest of society let it happen.”
Mr. Stern’s program on campus bigotry led to meetings with over two hundred college and university presidents from around the country. And Mr. Stern has also been active in developing strategies for fighting bigotry on the Internet that do not rely on censorship. His 1999 publication, “Hate and the Internet,” was used around the world as a model. Mr. Stern has also been instrumental in the creation of cutting-edge websites to confront bigotry, most significantly http://www.hdot.org/ which combats Holocaust denial with material from the Irving v. Lipstadt trial.
Mr. Stern has written and spoken about antisemitism on college campuses, and the difficult issue of the bigotry sometimes on display in campus debates about Israel. Mr. Stern was also the organizer of an effort by a group of college and university presidents to circulate a statement promising an “intimidation-free campus,” and specifically mentioning antisemitism on campus as the genesis of the statement. Over 300 college and university presidents signed, and the statement appeared as an advertisement in The New York Times in October 2002. Mr. Stern also worked with college presidents who supported an anti-academic boycott statement of Columbia University President Lee Bollinger in 2007, resulting in another full-page New York Times ad, endorsed by over 400 U.S. university and college presidents.
Mr. Stern was also the lead drafter of a “working definition” of antisemitism, now known as the IHRA definition of antisemitism. In 2017 Mr. Stern testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary about Antisemitism on campus, about approaches that work, and why Congress should not adopt the Antisemitism Awareness Act (which he described as an abuse of the working definition). When President Donald Trump signed an executive order that was intended to substitute for the legislation, Mr. Stern was widely quoted about why the EO would damage the academy and Jewish students. More recently Mr. Stern wrote an article for the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University on Anti-Zionism, Antisemitism, and the Fallacy of Bright Lines.
In 2022 Mr. Stern testified before House Homeland Security Committee about antisemitism.
Mr. Stern worked closely with the Jewish and human rights community in Montana when they were threatened in late 2016 and early 2017 by neo-Nazis. The JKR Foundation issued a nationwide call for people to make pledges tied to how long a proposed white supremacist march lasted, with funds going to the local community for projects and programs to combat hate. The neo-Nazis would in effect be raising money for things they detest.
In 1997 Mr. Stern served as an invited presenter at the White House Conference on Hate Crimes. In 2001 Mr. Stern was an official member of the United States delegation to the Stockholm International Forum on Combating Intolerance. In 2006 Mr. Stern was one of the designers of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Law Enforcement Officer Training Programme for Combating Hate Crimes.
In 2009 Mr. Stern served as expert specialist to the Parliamentarians’ Working Group on Policing and Prosecution at the London Conference on Combating Antisemitism, and he also testified before the Canadian Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism. In 2010 he served as an expert specialist for the Ottawa Conference of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism. And in 2011-2012, he served as an expert witness on antisemitic conspiracy theories regarding the 9/11 attacks in the Canadian case of Hughes v. B’nai B’rith et al. Mr. Stern also served as a board member of the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies, which publishes The Journal of Hate Studies (he also served as a member of the Journal’s editorial board). Mr. Stern saw his longtime effort to spur the creation of an interdisciplinary academic field of Hate Studies come to fruition at the First International Conference to Establish the Academic Field of Hate Studies, held at Gonzaga University in March 2004, at which he was keynote speaker. Mr. Stern has also participated in the Institute’s subsequent international conferences.
In 2012 Mr. Stern was appointed as Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies at Bard College, where he taught a course on antisemitism. In 2014 he has worked with the Arendt Center at Bard on an initiative regarding Hate and the Human Condition, which resulted in four new multidisciplinary classes on hate taught in the fall of 2014 at four Bard campuses (New York, West Bank, Central Asia, and Berlin). In 2018 he worked with Bard’s Human Rights Project to establish the Bard Center for the Study of Hate.
In 2012, Mr. Stern was appointed as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on State-Sponsored Antisemitism and Holocaust Denial, where he still serves. Since 2014 Mr. Stern has been working closely with The Third Narrative initiative of the progressive Zionist group Ameniu. Specifically, Stern brought together the leadership of Ameniu and a group of progressive academics, who created the Alliance for Academic Freedom (originally called the Academic Advisory Council) in support of academic freedom, against academic boycotts, and for empathy and respect for the aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike. Mr. Stern serves of the AAF’s Executive Committee.
In 2015 Mr. Stern was named a Fellow of the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College, and in 2016 as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Human Rights.
In 1998 Mr. Stern received the distinguished Service Award from the Center on Hate and Extremism of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. In 2001 he received the John Dewey Award for Distinguished Public Service from Bard College. In 2017 Mr. Stern was awarded the Eva Lassman “Take Action Against Hate” award by the Gonzaga University’s Institute for Hate Studies. Mr. Stern is also an elected member of the American Section of PEN.
Before coming to AJC, Mr. Stern was the managing partner of ROSE & STERN, a Portland, Oregon Law firm specializing in trial and appellate work. Mr. Stern’s practice concentrated in criminal law, constitutional law, and civil rights – he represented organizations helping Portland’s homeless community, as well Dennis Banks, the co-founder of the American Indian Movement. He was also co-counsel for Jack and Micki Scott in their libel case against heiress-turned-SLA member Patricia Hearst. Mr. Stern also practiced in New York City, and was appointed Environmental Enforcement Counsel for the New York City Department of Sanitation, responsible for efforts to crack down on illegal dumping of toxic and other materials. He also served as director of the National Organization Against Terrorism – a project supporting American victims of international terrorism. Mr. Stern has argued before the United States Supreme Court.
While at AJC, Mr. Stern was an active member of the AJC Staff Organization, the in-house union of AJC professionals, and was its president between 2012 and 2014.
Mr. Stern earned his A.B. at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and his J.D. from Willamette University School of Law in Salem, Oregon. He is married and has two children. His wife is a retired Reform rabbi in New York City.