Sarah: All right. Good afternoon, and welcome to yet another extremely topical and extremely timely and informative EMET webinar. As most of you know, the Anti-Defamation League came out with some new, very alarming statistics last week on March 23rd. The ADL, which has been tracking antisemitic instances since 1979, found that 2022 showed the highest increase since they’ve begun tracking them at three thousand six hundred and ninety seven assaults. That’s ten per day, and this is just according to what has been reported to the ADL. Most Jews do not immediately report their assaults to the ADL or to the police, or FBI.
Every single one of us who are Jews have felt this. According to a recent poll by the American Jewish Committee, fully, 89% of American Jews believe that anti-Semitism is a growing problem in the United States. Most assuredly, however, the Jews who are on the very front lines of this assault to their very identities are Jewish students on our nation’s college campuses. Many, according to this recent American Jewish Committee Survey, 55% are routinely and systematically made to feel ashamed of who they are as Jews, and they end up concealing their Jewish identities.
We see the most frequent form of anti-Semitism today, which is anti-Israel, very thinly masquerading as a free speech issue. While at the very core of this ongoing attempt… there is an ongoing attempt, I should say. To humiliate, assault and deny the very same rights to Jews as opposed to any other minority group on college campuses we’re deeply honored to have with us today a dear and a cherished friend and colleague, Alyza Lewin of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Center Law.
Many of you are aware of Alyza’s long and distinguished career. She’s now the President of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. They’re currently representing the Tel Aviv Heat and Israeli Rugby team in a discrimination case, and she and her team have represented a Avi Zinger, the Israeli licensee of Ben and Jerry’s, and a case against Juille Levege[?] to prevent Ben and Jerry’s boycott of Israel. In 2014. Alyza argued in the Supreme Court in the case of Zivotofsky versus Kerry, which is known as the Jerusalem Passport case, which has to do with children who were born in Jerusalem, who to this day remain stateless.
Alyza and her very distinguished and esteemed father, Nathan Lewin successfully represented the born family, and a litigation to ABD obtain damages under American Law for American victims of international terrorism, under organizations that knowingly provide funding to these international terrorists organizations. I first got to know about the Brandeis Center in the early 2000s when Emette had worked successfully to amend title 6 of the Higher Education Act. Another itle 6.
Ken Marcus, who was the founder of the Brandeis Center and is now the chairman of the Board of Directors, came to a session I was holding on Capitol Hill about that title 6, and then we immediately became fast friends. First of all, Alyza, it’s always an honor and a pleasure to have you. 1 of the most important cases is the case that you filed representing the young woman who had been sexually assaulted at SUNY New Paltz and formed a sexual assault awareness organization, and when her parents found out that she was not only a Jew but a Zionist, she was booted from the very organization she had formed. Can you tell us a little bit about this case?
Alyza: Sure, so first, Sarah, I want to thank you very much for inviting me to be part of your program, EMET and your organization, and the work you do is so extraordinarily important. I also want to make just 1 small but important correction to the… I thank you for that extremely gracious introduction, and that has to do with the Jerusalem passport case. It took us 18 years, but actually in October, 2020, the policy was changed, and Ambassador Freedman actually gave our client Manyahan Mansky[?] who was under a year old when we filed the case, but was 18 years old at this point.
He gave him the first passport to officially list Israel as the place of birth on a US passport for an American citizen born in Jerusalem, and today, that is the policy. The policy is that if an individual born in Jerusalem or their guardians request that the passports say Israel as the place of birth, the State Department will put Israel, the default is to put Jerusalem, but now, unlike what it was back in 2002, the rule is that for those who request it, which is what the original law had required, is that those who request it, the law had said the state Mormon shall list Israel as the place of birth, so that is now the policy, so it is not anymore that those in Jerusalem are, as you put it, stateless, that has now been changed. We did manage to succeed in changing that policy. As I say, say, after 18 years of a pro bono effort, we change it.
Sarah: Excellent, excellent work. I have to tell my granddaughters.
Alyza: Exactly. Exactly, so when they go to either renew their passport, or apply for a passport, they should specifically say that they wanted to say Israel. I know people who have gone to the State Department or to the embassy and have actually told the person, “I know the person who sued you to make sure you would ask me that question.”
Excellent, Alyza. Yeah. All right, so let’s get back. I think many, many people are very concerned about what’s going on in college campuses, so I think 1 of the earmark cases, was the SUNY New Paltz case where what you represented the outcome.
Alyza: Sure. We represent 2 students. 1, Cassie Blatner, who actually created, as you said an organization, a student club, to empower survivors of sexual assault, and this organization was running programming on campus, symposium and making a real difference. The university was responding and making change to provide greater support for these students, and then totally separately having nothing to do with the club. She shared on her own personal Instagram account, an infographic that said, “Jews are an ethnic group that comes from Israel, and you can’t colonize a place that you’re from.”
Her co-chairs in her club saw this post, as I say, that was not related to the club at all, just on her personal account, and they said, “Wait a minute. That’s how you feel about Palestine? If that’s the case, you can’t be part of this club because you are a colonialist oppressor.”
And they kicked her out of the club that she had created. They cut her off from the Google Drive. They cut her off from the social media accounts. There was another student who’d been extremely active, was a survivor herself, was Israeli, who had also had access. She was 1 of the leadership in the club, and so she decided to see what happens if she would share this same post on her personal account.
She shared this same infographic, and she too got cut out of the, out of the club, and then they went and proceeded to launch this online bullying and harassment campaign, where they were encouraging people to go after these students and to spit on them, to find them to locate, and the threats, which became these anonymous threats on Yik Yak became so aggressive that the students feared for their own safety and actually felt the need to leave campus. 1 of them left campus for the rest of the semester, so we actually filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.
We are pursuing that, and Cassie was actually interviewed by CNN, on their special, as part of their special about anti-Semitism in America, which was so crucially important because so many people have no idea that this kind of harassment and discrimination of Jews is taking place, and I would just add, she actually said on that interview, she said, “Look, I felt like I was being asked to choose between my identity as a sexual assault survivor and my identity as a Jew. That’s what was being demanded of me.”
Sarah: Right, and as so many of our students have said, there are a lot of progressive, or just liberal organizations, they want to join, but they feel that they have to check their liberalism at the door.
Alyza: Or check their Judaism at the door. 1 or the other.
Sarah: Right, right. Or Judaism. Exactly, exactly.
Alyza: They’re being told. I mean, that’s part of the problem is that administrators and actually the general public don’t understand Judaism. Judaism gets pegged as just a religion, and especially on university campuses. They think, well, the only thing we need to worry about in terms of discrimination against Jews is making sure that they can practice their faith, so we need to make sure that they can have their kosher food, or they can get their yom kippur exemption or accommodation, and I have to tell you, there are a lot of students who still have very serious issues trying to get those yom kippur accommodations.
You would be shocked at how many people have difficulty getting those, but they think that that’s it. The universities think that’s it. They don’t realize that Judaism is so much more than just about religious practice. Jews share this sense of peoplehood, and what that means is that we feel that we have this shared history, this shared ancestry. We’re about to celebrate the Passover holiday. We say we were all once slaves in Egypt.
This is part of what binds us together as Jews. but this notion that the Jews are people, that the Jews have this shared history, this shared ancestry. There’s actually now a concerted effort to try to deny that, to actually try to erase that, and there’s a coin that’s been termed term that’s been coined, excuse me, for that, which is evasive anti-Semitism. In other words, we’re now going to erase that part of Jewish identity. We’re going to deny that it exists, this idea that the Jews are a people, that the Jews are anything more than about personal faith and personal practice.
We’re going to deny that this Jewish history. This history of how the Jews became a people, how the Jews became a nation, the Jews historic and ancestral connection to the land of Israel, that’s all denied, that’s all, and then even including the Jews history, that includes expulsion, oppression, genocide, right? All of that is also denied. Today, there are those who say all Jews are powerful, White, privileged, rich, controlling. These are all part of those traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes, and that’s what happens when you erase the beauty and the richness of Jewish history and Jewish heritage, and you just try and pigeonhole the Jews, and get them to accept an identity that’s not their identity.
Sarah: Right, right. Could you talk a little bit about the Berkeley case?
Alyza: Sure, so at Berkeley, there were 9, it’s now grown, so I think over twenty clubs at Berkeley Law School that actually adopted, they modified their constitutions. They were formal bylaws where they said that they will not invite any Zionist speakers. In other words, anyone who supports Israel or Zionism, and so they were not saying, “We won’t host any programs about Israel or Zionism.” Nobody’s saying that they have to run that kind of programming if they don’t want to run that kind of programming, but they were saying is, “We will not invite a speaker who is a Zionist to talk to us on any topic.”
For example, the women’s group, the women at Berkeley Law wouldn’t invite a Zionist to speak about Roe V. Wade or the LGBT group at Berkeley Law wouldn’t invite a pro-Israel speaker to talk about gay marriage, and so Ken Marcus, as you say, as the founder of the Brandeis Center, wrote an abed where he said that this is actually promoting Jew free zones, because the speaker podiums at these organizations are now excluding Jews, because as even the Dean of the law school recognized this would apply to over 90% of the Jews on his campus, including the Dean himself, because these are people who believe that Israel has a right to exist.
That Jews have a right to self-determination in some borders in their ancestral homeland, and if you believe that, then these clubs will say, “Well, you’re not welcome as a speaker.” And so there has been a Title 6 complaint filed. We at the Brandeis Center actually investigating possible further legal action, because when you talk to the students, and I’ve talked to students at Berkeley and at Berkeley Law. They’ll tell you, it may be that these clubs won’t say, “Oh, a Jew can’t be a member of our club.”
However, if you want to be a Jew in that club, and you want to feel comfortable wearing a t-shirt with Hebrew on it or you want to be able to wear your [inaudible] openly, or you even want to have a conversation about Israel. The answer is you can’t be that kind of Jew and be in the club, so when you talk to these Jewish students and you ask them, do you feel comfortable expressing any of this? They say, “No.” And the truth is, they say, “It’s not just in these clubs that we don’t feel comfortable, we don’t feel comfortable anywhere right now at Berkeley expressing that.”
I have students who at Berkeley and elsewhere, will say, they went on a birthright trip, it was their first trip to Israel, and they say it was life changing. It was an extraordinary trip, and yet they will never post a photograph from that trip on their social media accounts. I have students who have said they bought… 1 student told me she has a ring, her favorite ring, she wears it all the time. She got it in Israel, and she gets compliments on it almost every day. She won’t tell people she bought it in Israel.
1 student told me that they had a brother who was only blocks away from a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv. Not this most recent 1, but 1 of the earlier one, and she said, “I couldn’t even tell my friends that my brother was so close to this, because if they knew that I had a brother living in Israel, I’d lose my friends.” This is what’s going on on the campuses today. These students are feeling as if celebrating this part of their history, believing in this part of their ancestry, of this part of what binds Jews together, what makes us part of the Jewish people.
They’re being told that if they feel that, if they feel that that’s part of their identity, that’s evil, they need to get rid of that part of their identity. They need to carve it out, and only if they carve it out, can they then fully, as you say, participate in all these progressive activities on campus. Can they be involved in the women’s movement and demonstrate on behalf of the LGBT community or on immigration rights, or on climate change, or on any of these issues. They’re being told, as you say, if you want to join us and be an active part of our community on campus, on all these issues that these students feel so passionately about, first thing you have to do is check this part of your Jewish identity at the door.
That’s no different than if they were saying to them, “You know what? You want to join our club, stop observing the Sabbath, or stop keeping kosher.” Because while Zionism may not… I’ll just say, while not all Jews may be Zionists. By the same token, not all Jews are Sabbath observers, but for those who are Sabbath observers, and that includes a very wide range of what it means to mark the Sabbath and incorporate some kind of Sabbath observance into your life, that’s done because it’s an expression of what it means to you to be Jewish.
By the same token, for these Jews who feel this connection to Israel, it is an expression of what it means to them to be Jewish. An expression of this pride in their shared ancestry, their shared heritage, their belief that we are part of the Jewish people, their concern and desire to make sure that Jews around the world are safe. That there is a safe haven for Jews. We want to ensure the safety and continuity of the Jewish people. That’s part of the reason why people feel that there is this need for Jews to have a Jewish homeland. Right?
Sarah: Right, so you touched on a lot of issues. You and I have discussed this, and EMET feels very strongly, and I know you feel very strongly at Brandeis, that universities have a very special responsibility, which is twofold. 1 is they’re the incubator of future ideas and future thought leaders, and if it’s over to be discriminatory, it gives an intellectual kosher seal of approval, validation for this kind of horrific virus that’s been growing at rapid rates within our society, but the other thing is that universities have to protect the child’s ability to flourish and to learn, and if you feel assaulted and who you are, it’s, you are not conducive to learning.
The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, you have on your website, a video, which was taken in 2009, but it interviews and many students who’ve been assaulted, and 1 was from the University of California, San Diego, and he had 8 credits, left, 2 classes to graduate, but because he was so systematically harassed and intimidated for being Jewish, or saw all of the anti-Israel demonstrations, he couldn’t take it anymore, and he had to drop out, so can you talk a little bit about the university’s special role in America?
Alyza: Yes, so universities, and I should also make just maybe this is an appropriate place to make clear that the Louis D Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which is the nonprofit, which I’m the president, and Ken Marcus is the founder, has no connection to Brandeis University. There many people who confuse that. We are a totally separate nonprofit. We’re based in Washington, DC just named for the same justice. Now, in that capacity, we work a lot with university administrators, we provide training to administrators.
We’re actually now providing training even beyond the administrators, and corporations and others, to try and help them understand this, but when it comes to universities specifically, 1 of the things that we explain to the administrators is you have to respond to incidents on three levels, and most of the time, the universities don’t, so what are the 3 levels? 1 is when something happens on your campus, and there may be anti-Semitic conduct. There may be an incident, and you could do an investigation and try and figure out who the perpetrator is, who’s responsible for ripping down the mezuzah on that student’s door, or who’s responsible for the anti-Semitic graffiti, the swastika that’s gone up, or it’s been carved in.
You may want to try and you should try and figure out who the perpetrator is, right? somebody’s been throwing rocks at the Hillel building? Who is it? And clearly, if that conduct violates your rules or violates the law, then you need to consider disciplinary action against the perpetrators and what the sanction should be. You also, that’s 1. 2, you need to think about who the targets are of that conduct, and you need to make sure that you offer the right kind of support to those who have been targeted by the conduct.
That’s where there may be mental health support. There may be other kinds of programming or support that you can provide. The third level, which is what universities fail. Repeatedly fail to do, particularly when it comes for Jewish students, is to recognize, and this is what you’re talking about, the impact on the campus climate for that group that’s being targeted, and you are absolutely right. Universities are the incubators of ideas. They are the place where students learn. They develop their perception of the world around them, and the people who are in the world around them.
It’s not rocket science to recognize that if on your campus you permit rhetoric that repeatedly denigrates, and disparages and targets 1 particular community that’s going to have an impact, that’s going to influence how the students on your community think and feel about interacting with the members of that community, so what’s happening today, is that oftentimes Zionism has become this code word for Jews, because overwhelmingly, most Jews are Zionists. Most Jews do define their Jewish identity as including Zionism.
If most Jews recognize this connection to the land of Israel, and yet overwhelmingly on your campus, you have people who are deliberately calling for folks to bully the Zionists to make it clear that Zionists aren’t welcome. If you have clubs that are requiring students to pledge no to a whole slew of isms in order to be a part of the club, so they have to pledge no to racism and Islamophobia and fat phobia and anti-Semitism, but they also have to pledge no to Zionism. Then you have clubs that are excluding Zionists. You have clubs who are excluding Jews. If you are demanding that Jews disavow Israel.
Claim that there’s no right for a Jewish homeland to exist at all, then you’re demanding that Jews give up this part of their Jewish identity, and it is, and this is the third piece. It is the university’s responsibility to use its own voice. Use its own voice to condemn this form of harassment, marginalization, and discrimination. The same way the university uses its own voice to condemn the harassment, marginalization, discrimination of every other group.
Universities are able to find their own voice when they feel that members of different ethnic groups are being targeted or marginalized, or shunned. They call it out. They condemn it, they talk about how it is divisive and undermines the values that the institution holds dear. They do that when members of the LGBTQ community are targeted. They will regularly use their voice for some reason when it comes to Jews, they go mute. They go mute.
They’re so afraid that if they come out in support of the Jews, that’s somehow going to be viewed as a political statement. What’s really, really important is that universities, the public, everyone has to understand Zionism is not a viewpoint. Zionism for the overwhelming majority of Jews is an integral component of their identity as Jews, and what they need to understand is, if you want to have a debate about the issues, absolutely we can have a debate about the issues, but that’s not what’s happening today on campus.
Nobody’s asking these students, what is your opinion on a two-state solution before they tell them they’re not welcome in their club. They’re pushing them out of the club because they’re Jews, and the university has to recognize this and has to speak out and has to condemn it. Because yes, we promote and we support, and we believe in free speech on the campuses. That’s key. Nobody’s suggesting that speech be censored or anybody be silenced. No. The answer to the speech is more speech, and the universities have to use their own speech to educate the students on their campus, their whole campus community on why rhetoric targeting Jews is unacceptable.
Sarah: Excellent, so Eliza, can you please address this erroneous concept that has found its well way unfortunately, into Capitol Hill about the Irish definition of anti-Semitism, which includes denial of the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavor. Many people as you know, we are actually working very hard, and reintroducing, and we will be reintroducing anti-Semitism Awareness Act or some senators and members of Congress have told us that they will be shortly.
Some people in a particular party have come back to us, and they have said that denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination is a free speech issue, and we have argued that this is no, an assault on the Jewish identity. Can you elaborate on that?
Alyza: Yes. It’s very, very unfortunate, and it’s disturbing because people are being influenced by deliberate distortions of what the IRA definition is all about. About how it works, about what it does. They’re deliberately distorting it, and who are the ones who are deliberately distorting it? The people who want to continue to engage in this active discrimination of Jews, but they don’t want it to be considered or called anti-Semitism, so here’s a few things to get straight about. The IRA definition.
Number 1, the IRA definition does not prohibit or punish anything. It’s not a criminal code. It doesn’t work that way. The IRA definition is exactly what it says. It’s a definition. It labels things, it labels things. Now, the first amendment to our constitution protects all speech, even hate speech. You can say some horrible, terrible, awful things in this country, and your right to say that is protected. You can say racist things. You can say bigoted things. You can say anti-Semitic things.
The First Amendment though, does not protect you from being called a racist or a bigot or an anti-Semite, if you say those things, so what the IRA definition does is it labels, it enables us to see the anti-Semitism that so many people are having such difficulty seeing, and it happens that in today’s generation, the form of anti-Semitism that most people have a hard time recognizing is the anti-Semitism as it’s connected to Israel, so if we just understand anti-Semitism in general.
Anti-Semitism is hard to recognize because the truth is, it’s doesn’t, it’s not consistent in every generation. It looks a little different, and the reason is because whatever that generation is facing, whatever that generation’s issues are, whatever the challenges of that generation is, the 1 thing that’s constant about anti-Semitism is that it’ll take that issue that society views as evil or as it’s misfortune, and guess what? It pins it on the Jew.
The Jew becomes the scapegoat, the Jews to blame for that misfortune, whatever it is. It could be Jews being accused of as being the Christ killers, the capitalists, the communists, the ones who brought disease, whether it’s during the Bubonic Plague or whether it’s COVID. The Nazis wanted a pure Arian race, so the Jews were the race polluters. Whatever it is that you think is the ideal, the opposite. The evil is the Jew.
What happens with anti-Semitism? The implication is that the world would be a better place without the Jew, so what happens when you build up these theories and you blame the Jew is, well, then the solution would be, let’s get rid of the Jew. Let’s push the Jew out. Let’s, as Irwin Cutler says, “Deny the Jewish place in society.” And if you think about how historically there have repeatedly through history been ways that Jews have been labeled or marked, so that people could see them most recently, perhaps. The yellow star of David that the Nazis had the Jews wear.
The idea was you could spot that Jew from a distance, and you knew exactly that meant you shun that person. You don’t walk on the same side of the street with them, you don’t do business with them. You don’t shop in their stores. You push them out. Push them out, so that’s the traditional anti-Semitism, but what about today? Today we actually have not only individual Jews, we actually have a Jewish collective. When we talk about the Jewish people, the Jewish people have a homeland. The Jewish people have a country, the Jewish people have a nation state, and so what’s happened now, if the idea of anti-Semitism is it seeks to blame Jews for today’s evil, well then it doesn’t come as a surprise anymore that there are people in the world today who say, “Which country is it?”
That’s the worst offender of today’s greatest evil, of the human rights violations of today. Which country is the worst offender? They don’t say it’s China and the Iran, they don’t say it’s Russia and Ukraine. They don’t say it’s Iran. They don’t say it’s North Korea. No. Guess what? It’s that Jewish state. That Jewish state is the world’s worst offender when it comes to today’s human rights violations. That 1 little democracy in the Middle East, where, wow, look at how democracy is working now. You have half the country that’s expressing it’s criticism of the policies. Nobody’s saying that half the country is anti-Semitic.
Criticizing policies, having a constructive, hopefully dialogue like what they’re having right now about how you might be able to change policies in a constructive manner that’s not anti-Semitism, but turning around and deciding that only the Jews. Only the Jews should be denied their right to self-determination. Only the Jews who have this ancient historic connection to the land of Israel are being told no, that history has to be denied. That history has to be erased. The notion that there even was a Jewish temple on the Temple Mount, we’re going to pretend that didn’t happen.
Only the Jews are being told that that part of their identity is unacceptable, so now we come to we need a definition. We need a definition to explain when does the criticism of Israel cross the line into anti-Semitism, so it’s really interesting, and I recommend this little exercise to anybody who’s watching, who wants to really understand the IRA definition and what it does. If you go back to the State Department in 2010, this is during the Obama administration. In 2010, the Obama administration was the first administration to adopt a US definition of anti-Semitism.
Mind you, the IRA definition didn’t come out until 2016, so this is 6 years before the IRA definition. and they modeled the state department’s definition on an earlier precursor to the IRA definition, and they put it up on the state department’s website. You can still go and find it if you Google State Department definition of anti-Semitism . You’ll see in the early in the preface to the definition that they now use, which is the IRA definition, there’s a hyperlink to the earlier definition that they used in 2010, and you can see the black box letter definition is identical to the IRA definition, and then they have a list of examples.
The only difference between the 2010 Obama definition and the IRA definition of today, is the way they organize and divide those examples. The examples in the 2010 definition actually have a header at the top of the page. They have a header at the top of the page that says, “what is anti-Semitism relative to Israel” And then, you know what they do? They actually take the examples and they break them down according to what was called [inaudible] 3 Ds. They say, when does criticism Israel cross the line to anti-Semitism? When it demonizes Israel, applies a double standard to Israel or delegitimizes Israel.
It gives those three headings and underneath it gives examples. Guess what? All of those examples are pretty much almost in identical words, slightly modified, but almost identical. Are all included in the IRA definition. They’re just not broken down with those headings, and when you see people claiming, “Well, the IRA definition, we can’t accept the IRA definition.” These are the examples we have problems with, guess what? The examples that they have problems with are these examples of when does criticism visual Israel cross the line into anti-Semitism? And so the people who are challenging the IRA definition are doing this because they want to carve out a big, huge gaping hole in the definition of anti-Semitism.
They want any anti-Semitism that relates to the Jewish collective, any anti-Semitism that targets the Jews as a people, to not be considered anti-Semitism because they want to be able to continue to target and marginalize and shun the Jews as a people, and the Jewish nation, as the Jewish nation state. They want to be able to say that the only country in the world that has no right to exist is the Jewish state. That’s today’s contemporary form of anti-Semitism, and we have to be able to define it. We have to be able to recognize it, we have to be able to call it out, and we have to be able to oppose it with every ounce of our being. That’s why the IRA definition is so important, because the IRA definition makes clear what this kind of anti-Semitism is.
Sarah: Excellent, and now is time to turn the podium over to my very, very esteemed colleague, Joseph Epstein, who himself is a relative recent graduate of Columbia University, and he was on the front lines in the trenches, so if Joseph, if you could just tell your story, I would really appreciate it for sure.
Joseph: Thank you Sarah, and thank you so much Alyza. That was really great, and we at EMET of course, so grateful for the fight that you are leading on behalf of these Jewish students. The issue with anti-Semitism on college campus has gotten really bad, and as Sarah mentioned, I’m a recent graduate from Columbia University. I can definitely attest to this. I was a board member of student supporting Israel, and we had our flyers defaced with swastikas. We had our ambassadors literally spat on and insulted while they were tabling or handing out flyers, but just besides that, there was this just general anti Semitism that really permeated the discourse, especially when it came to Israel.
I remember I faced anti-Semitism as well from TAs I had. I had 1 tell me that Jews are likely the descendants of houses, which I’m not sure, if everyone’s familiar with the disproven genetic theory, but pretty much what it states is that Jews are not the real Jews. They’re actually the descendants of a Turkey[?] group that inhabited Eastern Europe about a thousand years ago, and the whole point behind the theory, and because there’s always a point, is to deny Jewish identity. This is 1 of the major forms of anti-Semitism right now on college campuses, is the erasure of Jewish history and identity.
I remember that TA also, it wasn’t the only statement he made, and I actually sent an email about it telling him that this was anti-Semitism. and I remember in his response back to me, he said, “As an Arab on the real Semites, most anti-Semitism has turned into Islamophobia.” And he had actually debated whether or not to request administrative action against me for even bringing up anti- Semitism. It didn’t lead to that in that instance, but it did in another. I had this other TA in this gender and Islam class who was from Israel, but not Jewish, and he and I actually had a pretty good conversation about the conflict, and while we disagreed, it was cordial.
I sent him a follow-up email saying, “It was great to talk to you despite the fact that we disagreed, if there is ever going to be a solution that’s going to come through dialogue.” And then I added in Hebrew, we’re all brothers at the end of the day. The next thing I know, he responded to that attaching the professor and my advisor as well as the whole Dean of the anthropology program saying, “If you want to discuss the course, see me in office hours.” At the same time, I received a subsequent email saying that a paper I had already sent in was being regraded.
When I forwarded this to my advisor, she sent me links for students in distress that included a link to the psychological services, and the chaplain, as if that could help in the face of discrimination. I was actually kicked out of the discussion section as well, and when I asked what was my crime here, I was told that by using the Hebrew language, I had engaged in language imperialism, which is something I had never heard of, but it’s the sort of thing that I mean, it’s just purely discrimination. If a Muslim student, for example, said inshallah or as-salamu alaykum, and administrative action was actually taken against them, this would likely have made the news.
I remember even after that, I never contacted the TA, although he would always sit near me and sort of peer over at what I was doing, and the next thing I knew was called in by my advisor who’s waiting with the Dean of my program, who ambushed me with just this accusation that I had been threatening the TA after about twenty minutes of really trying to pull out and them what I was being accused of, I was told that apparently I’d drawn weapons and showed it to him. Now, in that course, there was some truth to that. I did draw weapons.
The weapons that I drew were doodles of little tanks shooting at each other with little stick figures with helmets.
Sarah: On your own desk, right?
Joseph: On my own desk. Far away from him. No contact with him of course, and no person in their right mind or the wrong mind really would take this as an actual threat, but it’s more part of the overall campaign of harassment and intimidation against Jewish students, Jewish scientists and Israeli students that is taking place in universities today, and I’m by far the only 1 who has suffered from it. I know that we have met with various offices with various staffers who are recent Jewish graduates, either undergrad or graduate school, and when I tell them the story, when we are advocating for bills that would fight this type of discrimination, they tell me that we know we have also experienced this, so it just shows how large this problem has really gotten.
Alyza: Well, first, Joseph, I say I am so sorry that you experienced that. You’re right as you say, you’re not the only 1. That doesn’t make it any better. It’s exactly these kinds of experiences that you described, which is why the Brandeis Center was created and what we do and why it’s so important for us to actually be able to try and help, let students know that these resources exist. I wish I’d been able to be there by your side to help you push back and fight against what happened to you. It was absolutely wrong, and a big part of trying to address this issue, as you say, they sent you to the mental health folks and to the Dean of Religious Affairs, because at the universities, they mistakenly think that what they’re witnessing is a political debate.
They don’t understand Jewish identity, they don’t understand Jewish peoplehood, they don’t understand Jewish ancestry and Jewish heritage, and they don’t understand how what is happening is not a political debate. You tried to engage in the conversation on the issue, and then what happened is, they turned on you not because of your political opinion, they turned on you because of your use of the Hebrew Jewish language. If anybody else, as you say, had taken pride in their ethnic community’s language, they would never have had the audacity to suggest that that is threatening.
That would’ve been viewed as a recognition or a celebration of that individual’s ethnic heritage. You were targeted for the use of your people’s language, and this is part of the problem. We have to pull, especially when you’re talking up on Capitol Hill. We have to separate what’s happening from the politics. We have to be able to use the language of harassment and discrimination, and show people how what is happening on campus today is not a political debate. You even found somebody who’s ready to have that conversation.
Most of the time when students actually say, “Let’s talk about the issues.” They’re agreed with, “Oh, no anti normalization, BDS boycott, we can’t even talk to you.” Because that’s unacceptable. You are beyond the pale. We can’t even have the conversation about the issues, because it isn’t about the issues. We saw at Tufts University, for example, at Tufts, they launched a BDS campaign at the end of last year, where they said, “We’re going to boycott not only the Israeli products and the company’s doing business, we’re going to boycott all the pro-Israel groups on campus.” And they actually included J Street in the list of the clubs that they were going to boycott.
J Street had co-sponsored events with SJP with Students for Justice and Palestine in the past, and so they asked, they said, “Why are you boycotting us, we believe in 2 states. We support a Palestinian state. We’ve co-sponsored events with you.” And the answer was, “You believe that the colonialist enterprise has a right to exist, reven if you’re saying 2 states, you still believe, and that is enough to justify our needing to boycott you.” And they noted, “We’re very happy.”
SVP said that people begin their anti-Zionist journey with J Street. However, the fact that you don’t go far enough warrants you to be shunned and excluded as well, and so they’re not trying to talk about a 2 state solution. They’re not trying to talk about what’s the resolution of this conflict, because their goal is the exclusion of Jews, and that’s the anti-Semitic goal, and that’s the distinction. You want to have a discussion about the issues fine, but the first thing you have to say is, “Stop demonizing or disparaging my identity as a Jew, and stop trying to define my Jewish identity for me.”
We live in a time today where the idea is everyone has the right to define their own identity for themselves. I don’t have a right to define somebody else’s identity for them. They have a right to define their identity for themselves, and everyone should respect however that person decides to define their identity. Well, it cannot be then that the only identity that we don’t accept, the only people who are not allowed to come to the table with their full identity are the Jews, that’s anti-Semitism. That’s unacceptable, and that’s what we need the laws to protect.
Sarah: Okay, Joseph. Would you like to read some of the questions that have come in the remainder of the time?
Joseph: Sure. I would love to, but just before I wanted to make 1 small point and thank you so much Alyza, your words are very kind. I would say that in general, I think the responsibility for fighting this anti-Semitism, some of it has to go to the students as well, and it’s a shame that that’s where we are. It’s a shame that the university administrations won’t play a bigger part in it. However, 1 of the things I noticed during my time at student supporting Israel at Columbia, I was actually 1 of the founding board members, and when we got there, the situation on campus was atrocious, really.
I mean, Jews were walking down, head down, tails between their legs just completely meek and completely accepting the situation, but when we got there and we started battling the narrative and started standing up to it, that was the most effective thing. I think that Jewish students shouldn’t wait for a university administration that just doesn’t have the interest in helping them to help them, and with that, yeah, Sarah, I would love to open up to questions. We’ve been getting a lot of really great ones.
Alyza: Just to build on that point. You’re absolutely right. We are not going to win this battle if the Jews try and keep their identity hidden in the closet. The only way that we’re going to win this battle is if the Jews embrace their Jewish identity openly and with pride, and that quite frankly is the best antidote, the best response to harassment and discrimination. The best response to the bully is self-confidence and pride. We know that. You can’t give into the bully.
You have to embrace your identity and stand up with pride. You’re a 100% right. The 1 additional thing I will say to that though, which is part of the challenge also is you cannot expect that Jewish students will stand up to fight anti-Semitism if their soul Jewish identity is all about fighting anti-Semitism. What you find about the students who are on the front-line who do find the courage to stand up and fight back, it’s because they feel that they have a Jewish identity that’s worth fighting for, and so it goes beyond the students on the campus back to their homes, right?
It’s really, really important for at home before they even get to campus, for them to have been instilled with a good feeling about what their Jewish identity is. Whether that comes from camp, whether that comes from Sunday School, whether it comes from family, whether it comes from whatever it is, there needs to be a celebration of why I feel good about being Jewish. Why is Judaism for me, something that enriches my life? something that I love being part of this people. I love having these celebrations, these holidays, the Jewish calendar, whatever it is.
Jewish history, whatever it is. Jewish philosophy. Jewish ideas, right? The fact that Jews are such enormous philanthropists. Jews have contributed so much to advance society in all sorts of areas. Medicine, high tech, art, science, you name it. Whatever it is that makes us feel proud of our Jewish identity, we need to dig into that, to lean into that, and then to then say, “I am proud of it, and you have no right to demand that I shed that. I feel very strongly about these issues, and I need to be able to engage and push for advancement on these issues wearing my full identity on my sleeve.”
Joseph: No, you put it very well. The 1 thing I guess I would add is the pride has to come from a knowledge of identity. 1 interesting thing is, I was in Kazakhstan not too long ago, and I was talking to a Kazakh and he asked me if Jews were Muslim, because the understanding over there is that Jews are a national group. Now, it might sound funny to us, but what’s really kind of ironic is in America, if you ask… like it would be a normal question for an American to say, “Well, what’s your ethnicity after Jewish? Is it white? Are you European? Are you from Russia? Are you from Ukraine? Is this just your religion?” Etcetera.
Just in general amongst Jews themselves, so many are confused about their identity. so yeah, it’s exactly right. They need to have pride in their identity, but they need to know what that identity is as well.
Alyza: Yes. Absolutely.
Joseph: Let me open up to some questions, as I mentioned, we’ve been getting a lot of really good ones. Okay, here’s 1. How would you respond to critics of IRA who claim that the definition of anti-Semitism inhibits free speech and doesn’t allow for fair criticism of Israel?
Alyza: I say that’s a mischaracterization. The definition of IRA does not silence any speech. It merely allows people to see and understand and label the kind of anti-Semitism that we’re talking about, so in many ways, you could say it’s just the opposite. It will enable people who want to criticize Israel to know how to criticize Israel without crossing the line into anti-Semitism, so look at right now, the best example, maybe all the craziness that’s going on in Israel right now. You have an enormous number of people in Israel who are criticizing the policy and the policies of the government of Israel.
That’s not anti-Semitism. Nobody, nobody can suggest that Jews are trying to silence criticism of the government of Israel or the actions of the government of Israel. Look at what’s happening. If there’s anything, or anything for those of us who are concerned about what’s going on in Israel, if there’s any silver lining, this certainly disproves any claims that the Jews are not willing to criticize or accept any kind of criticism of the government of Israel.
Clearly that’s not the case, so what is anti-Semitism? When does it cross the line into anti-Semitism? That’s [inaudible] 3 Ds. Let’s go back to the precursor to the IRA definition to understand these examples. If you actually read that earlier version, you will understand which examples or examples of demonization, which examples are examples of double standard, which examples are delegitimization. That’s the kind of criticism that crosses the line into anti-Semitism.
That’s why the IRA definition is necessary again, not because it will prohibit or punish it, people could still say those things. You can still say the anti-Semitic things, but you can’t. If you do that, avoid being called an anti-Semite. Just like if you say racist things, you’re protected. You can say that in this country, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be called a racist. The definition is necessary so that people understand when the criticism Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism.
Joseph: What would you say to the Jews that deny their connection to Israel, and even go further by say supporting BDS, claiming they’re anti-Zionist, etcetera.
Alyza: I would say it’s true. Not all Jews are Zionists, as I said before, just like not all Jews are Sabbath observers, but you don’t yourself have to be a Sabbath observer to recognize the harassment and discrimination of a Sabbath observer. If somebody is denied a job opportunity because they’re a Sabbath observer, or if somebody gets a failing grade because they couldn’t attend class on yom Kippur. We don’t ourselves have to observe yom kippur or be a Sabbath observer to recognize that that’s discriminatory. By the same token, you don’t yourself have to be a Zionist to recognize the marginalization and the shunning of Zionists.
What I would ask of the Jews who do not include Zionism as a part of their Jewish identity, to recognize that most Jews do define their Jewish identity as including Zionism, and so while you may disagree with that, you should at least be able to realize that excluding a Jew who does define their Jewish identity is including Zionism, to shun that Jew on the basis of that part of their identity to marginalize, or exclude the Jew on the basis of that identity. That also is unacceptable, and if you as a Jew truly believe that this world, that our spaces need to be truly welcoming, inclusive spaces for all, no matter how radical an individual may define their identity, you as a Jew should not be demanding that the Jews are the only ones who aren’t included in that desire for inclusivity.
I’m not trying to make Zionist out of the anti-Zionist, or Zionist out of the people who don’t include Zionist. Fine, if that’s the way you define your Judaism, that’s the way you define your Judaism, but don’t try and change the way I define my Judaism that’s this, and don’t shun or marginalize or exclude me if I choose to find my Judaism as including Zionists.
Joseph: We have a few questions that want to hear your opinion on the role of different ideologies and doctrines, especially on universities like the intersectional doctrine, post-modernist doctrine, woke doctrine, and their effect on anti-Semitism.
Alyza: I mean, many of these doctrines have I think furthered or embraced this problematic erase of anti-Semitism. Many of these doctrines have turned around and denied that Jewish identity exists as an identity beyond just the practice of one’s faith. They don’t recognize that Jews are people, they don’t recognize the Jews history. That’s part of the problem that we see, for instance, in the DEI programs now on so many campuses that have kind of grown out of some of these ideologies. The idea that diversity, equity, inclusion needs to sensitize and make people aware of bias against the whole group.
The whole intersectional group, and yet Jews are not included in that intersectional group. Jews are not seen as one of the disadvantaged communities, but the problem is, the anti-Semitism is often exacerbated because what ends up happening with these DI programs a lot like what you saw happen at Columbia is when you have the cases of discrimination, not only do these DI offices not include or address the discrimination against Jews. Oftentimes when they run the programs that are intended to sensitize the community to the bias that’s experienced, not only do they not talk about Jews, when they do talk about Jews, they talk about Jews as White colonialist, oppressors.
They talk about Jews as powerful and privilege and rich, which ends up reinforcing these anti-Semitic stereotypes, and giving people a very negative perception of what Jews are. I had 1 professor who called me, he’s a retired Rabbi, retired reform Rabbi, who used to teach a class an anti-Semitism on a campus where they’re a no Jews, and he told me that when he taught this class, he decided to teach about what Judaism is because if people were never going to meet a Jew on campus, how could they understand anti Semitism if they didn’t understand what Judaism was.
Then he retired and he called me because a new president had come to this campus, and 1 of the things that this president did is he instituted a diversity requirement that every single student had to take this diversity class before graduation, and he said, “I know the professor is teaching this class.” And he said, “I know that the only way Jews are going to be mentioned in this class are as White colonialist oppressors.These students are not going to meet another Jew on the campus, and I’ve retired. There’s no class anymore in anti-Semitism.”
He said, “If every single student’s going to have to go through this class and they’ll never meet another Jew, and this is how Jews are going to be portrayed, how can anybody be surprised if all the students who graduate from this university will come away with a very hostile attitude towards Jews?” That’s what’s happening today, and that’s what’s so frightening.
Joseph: Thank you so much, Alyza. I think that’s a really great note to end on.
Alyza: Maybe we should end on a happier note, which I’ll say that I do have hope. I do have hope because as bad as it’s gotten, people are starting to see it, people are starting to recognize it. Those who are engaging in this kind of discrimination are becoming so bold and so brazen. It’s impossible to miss the harassment and discrimination, and now that people are beginning to see it, they’re beginning to realize that they have to act to do something about it, and so the real first initial hurdle was getting to people to actually see what’s happening, and people are starting to see what’s happening, and the students who are on the campuses are extraordinary.
Absolutely extraordinary, so I do. I would prefer to end on this hopeful note. I do have hope for the future. I do think that people are beginning to see what’s happening. I think that people are beginning to recognize that the law requires them to act. and that includes universities, and I think that the students that are on the front lines are exceptional and they just need to know that there are resources like the Brandeis Center out there that can help them in this fight.
Sarah: Great. Okay. Thank you so much Alyza. I think it’s important that people know that if you have a case, especially of discrimination, against yourself as a Jew, your students, your your friends, to contact the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. We and EMET feel very, very passionately about this is from 99% of what we do is foreign policy work, but we are on the hill attempting to codify the IRA definition so that it can be used by this administration. It has not been denied by the executive order of President Trump has not been denied, but we believe very strongly that if it is codified, it will not vary with the whim or will of a particular president, and this would give Jewish students the same exact rights as any other student on college campuses.
We also desperately need your support, so if you would like to support us, please go to emetonline.org and look at the donate button, because this is an incredibly important, and I have to say Joseph’s story when he tells it on Capitol Hill is so compelling, and there are for almost every recent college grad I’ve spoken to, they’ve had similar stories, so we really do have to get the same sort of protections for Jewish students as for any other minority group on college campus, and we thank the Louis D. Brandeis Center for doing this, and Alyza, for all of your wonderful work throughout the years.
Alyza: Thank you, Sarah. Bless you, and bless the work you do.
Sarah: Thank you.
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