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Lauri: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this week’s Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) webinar. Today we are hosting a special Yom Hashoah webinar featuring Holocaust historian Dr. Rafael Medoff. Dr. Medoff will help us put recent events into perspective in the context of the Holocaust. Dr. Medoff will discuss the lessons the world seems to have forgotten since Israel was founded 76 years ago.

Dr. Medoff, I want to thank all of you for joining. We greatly appreciate your support for EMET’s important work. These are very challenging times for Israel and the global Jewish community. We are facing levels of antisemitism not seen since Nazi Germany. We are working tirelessly to do our part in the fight against antisemitism and the existential battle for the Jewish state. I am proud to share that the House of Representatives recently passed the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. We have been working on this legislation for years and we hope it will pass the Senate and be signed into law. The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act provides protections for Jewish students which are needed desperately. We could not perform our work without you, so please consider sponsoring a webinar or contributing on our website.

Today’s webinar will be recorded and available for future viewing. Please share it with friends and families. If you have any questions for Dr. Medoff, please put them in the QA section at the bottom of your screen and I will try and get to as many as possible later in our program. Please limit your submissions to questions only.

Dr. Medoff is the founding director of the David S. Weinman Institute for Holocaust Studies, in Washington, DC. The Weinman Institute focuses on America’s response to Nazism during the Holocaust. Dr. Medoff is the author of more than twenty books about the Holocaust and Zionism in American Jewish history. He has contributed to the Encyclopedia Judaica and many other similar publications. Dr. Medoff taught Jewish history at Ohio State University, Purchase College of New York, and elsewhere. He recently published a new book titled Whistleblowers, Four Who Fought to Expose the Holocaust to America.  Dr. Medoff is unbelievably prolific. I encourage everybody to follow his work. Welcome, Dr. Medoff. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Rafael Medoff: Well, thank you, and thanks to EMET’s founder and director, Sarah Stern, for inviting me to speak today.

Lauri: Before addressing events on our college campuses, I want to discuss the raging antisemitism that has developed over the past two decades. Antisemitism has now exploded across academia, the media, politics, the left and under Islam. It is raging on the streets in cities across Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and, of course, the US. Those of us who follow this space closely were not surprised to see the extent to which antisemitism has become unleashed, but it is no less distressing.

It seems to me that many Jews have simply not been paying attention. Today’s antisemitism has manifested in the form of anti-Zionism. Israel has not been a primary voting issue for many American Jews. However, I think many are now shocked at the levels of vitriol directed against Israel and the Jews. Can you discuss this new antisemitism from your perspective as a historian of the Holocaust? Is it good old-fashioned antisemitism wrapped in a different clothing, but motivated by the same animus? Is the apathy, naivete, and assimilation of American Jews a repeat of the mistakes European Jews made in the lead-up to the Shoah?

Dr. Rafael: Antisemitism in the Arab world has not changed at all.  Organizations like Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI provide expert translations of propaganda in Palestinian, Jordanian, Syrian, and other Arab newspapers, television, and radio. They expose the antisemitic stereotypes, Holocaust deniers, and hateful remarks being broadcast across these media outlets. This is the same hateful propaganda that has been disseminated for decades. In the Arab world, antisemitism is nothing new. What is new is the eruption of extreme anti-Israel and often antisemitic sentiment in the Western world, especially here in the United States. This is especially frightening to many American Jews. We are not accustomed to these levels of raw hatred in a society that we have generally perceived as rational, civilized, and modern. We did not expect this outpouring of almost insane anti-Jewish hatred.

Of course, antisemitism in America is not new and seems to go through phases in the US. Historians previously regarded the 1930s and early 1940s as the periods of peak antisemitism in America. Public opinion polls from the 30s and 40s reflected very positive responses to questions about whether Jews are cheap, clannish, and can be trusted. Based on the criteria from these polls, it seemed like antisemitism in the United States peaked after World War II. America had fought a successful war against Nazi Germany and Nazism was discredited. American society was much more welcoming and open to Jews after that. It appeared that antisemitism reached an all-time low during the 1950s and into the 1960s. However, in some cases, the levels of antisemitism reported depend on how it is measured.

Remarkably, antisemitism seems to find new ways to re-emerge. Up until recently, conventional wisdom held that most antisemitism in modern America comes from the far right.  Of course, white supremacists are notoriously antisemitic. Hate groups like the old Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups were a noisy, if small force on the American scene. However, something has shifted significantly. The old white supremacist groups are in retreat and are very few in number. Hate group monitoring, even by left-of-center groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, reveals surprising results. The largest antisemitic hate group in the United States is Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam is not a white supremacist or left-wing organization.

Today, the vast majority of anti-Jewish hatred we are witnessing comes from the political far left. They are expressing their hatred in the form of rhetoric, physical attacks, or vandalism. Some of this vandalism includes the painting of swastikas. This is something new, and it is disconcerting. What is especially disconcerting is that the antisemitism of the far left is being embraced by significant elements in the Democratic Party. They are reacting to antisemitism from the far left very differently from how they react to antisemitism from the far right. Their reaction is disturbing. For America to remain a civil, rational, and peaceful society, we must marginalize all hatred, including antisemitism and other forms of racism. If different ethnic groups in America are to co-exist peacefully, racial hatred must be kept on the edges of society.

For a mainstream political party to tolerate some forms of antisemitism, poses a very frightening new prospect for the overall integrity of American political culture. One of the two major political parties refuses to clearly, unequivocally, and consistently condemn antisemitism. They are not taking action to combat antisemitism. If this persists, how can anyone trust America’s institutions and have faith in the longevity of American democracy? That is the frightening new aspect.

Of course, another significant and ironic aspect of the new antisemitism in America is that it is centered on college campuses. For a long time, many of us believed education would help stamp out bigotry and antisemitism. Anti-Jewish hatred on college campuses, of all places, shattered that illusion. The most prestigious Ivy League institutions, like Harvard and Yale, Columbia and Cornell are hotbeds of Jewish hatred. As such, we can no longer trust in higher education. We cannot continue to assume that as people become more educated, they become more rational, more reasonable, and less bigoted. We are actually seeing quite the opposite. Young men and women who have gone through years of university training are embracing wild anti-Israel and anti-Jewish falsehoods. They are embracing irrational and vicious ideologies that run contrary to every American value. In many cases, these students are graduate students on their way to becoming PhDs. They are positioned to be the future intellectual leaders of America.

Lauri: They are certainly hiding behind claims that they are criticizing the Jewish homeland as opposed to hating Jews. I think those claims have allowed antisemitism to reach the levels it has. Over the past 10 to 15 years, demonization of Israel has ratcheted up at the UN, in the EU, and in Latin America. As you mentioned, demonization of Israel has also escalated in the US Congress. The new antisemitism is disguised as anti-Zionism. The existence of the state of Israel allows Jew-haters to espouse their venom toward Jews. They can claim they are not antisemitic. South Africa brought charges against Israel at the International Court of Justice. Colombia just cut all diplomatic relations with Israel. Do you believe that there are really that many Jew haters in the world or are their voices just more powerful and louder than others? Is this disdain for the state of Israel as pervasive as it seems?

Dr. Rafael: The disdain for Israel and the Jews is probably even worse than it seems. It is certainly a lot louder than it has ever been. If you were to take a public opinion poll today asking average Americans how they feel about Jews, blacks, Latinos or almost any minority group, a number of people will not answer that question honestly. This is because they know that openly or explicitly embracing any kind of racism is generally frowned upon in American society. This is why I say antisemitism is probably worse than it seems.

The same is true for antisemitic incidents. There are groups dedicated to monitoring vandalism, harassment, and other kinds of attacks on Jews. The number of incidents we hear about has increased rapidly in recent weeks, months, and years. However, that number is far below the actual number of antisemitic incidents taking place in America every year. This is because not everybody reports them. Many people will experience antisemitic harassment or see a swastika on a wall and they will not call the police or report it to the appropriate Jewish organization. There is no doubt that the level and intensity of antisemitism in America today is far worse than can be deduced from official statistics.

Jew haters have employed the tactic of disguising their antisemitism as anti-Zionism for many years and their efforts have been somewhat effective. Today, their dishonesty is transparent. The gloves have come off. The rhetoric we see in the signs and speeches of the pro-Hamas student extremists crosses into antisemitism again and again. Recently, a pro-Hamas student radical at George Washington University in Washington, DC, held up a placard calling for the final solution. Her photograph was circulated widely. Nobody comes up with the term final solution by chance or by accident. The person who created the sign knew what she was referring to. We all know she was referring to the mass murder of millions of Jews. Effectively calling for another final solution crosses a line. She was not just saying that she disagrees with Israeli policy. Calling for the mass murder of Jews is antisemitism and is not merely anti-Zionism. It is not just me saying it. The 33 countries belonging to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance crafted the important, now famous definition of antisemitism. They too have always defined calling for Israel’s destruction as antisemitism.

Calling for the destruction of Israel after October 7th probably means something different and even more sinister than it did on October 6th. On October 6th, I would have said that calling for the destruction of Israel crossed the line into antisemitism. Now they are saying that what happened on October 7th should be done to millions of Jews in Israel. This should be done to Jews, From the River to the Sea. This includes mass murder, torture, gang rapes and beheadings.

By way of comparison, imagine if student protesters from a white supremacist group called for the lynching of African Americans. Of course, this would be regarded as racism. We would not justify calls for the murder of black people in America because they excluded calls for the murder of black people outside of America. Calling for the mass murder of people based on their race, ethnicity or religion is bigotry. Saying that everything from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea should be destroyed, is calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. In the wake of October 7th, it is saying that what happened on October 7th should be applied from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

The call for an intifada is a very common slogan chanted and written on signs at campus rallies. This term invokes very specific, recent historical events, much more recent than the final solution. The intifadas were two periods of mass Palestinian Arab violence against Israel in the early 2000s. During the intifadas, Palestinian Arabs killed and wounded Israelis via hundreds of suicide bombings and thousands of stabbings. They attempted to burn Jews to death and massacred participants at a Passover seder. During both the first and second intifada, they conducted every horrible, violent kind of terrorist attack you can imagine.

Graduate students on the campus of Columbia University are now promoting the intifada revolution. They are holding banners saying, globalize the intifada. They are saying, in plain English, that millions of Jews in Israel should have their buses blown up again. Jews should have their religious events disrupted by machine gun attacks, they should be burned to death by Molotov cocktails, they should be stoned to death in rock-throwing attacks and they should be shot by snipers and stabbed by butchers. They are calling for something very specific and it is not a two-state solution. If these radical students marched around with signs saying they wanted a Palestinian state in a small part of the contested territory, people would conclude they were not antisemitic. That is not at all what they are doing. They are utilizing the most extreme anti-Jewish slogans possible. Their slogans call for the mass murder of millions of Jews. How could that not be antisemitism? The answer is that it is antisemitism. It is as plain as day.

Both sides of the political aisle agree that antisemitism has increased significantly. However, there is an important division between Democrats and Republicans as to what should be done about it. This week, President Biden, in his speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, acknowledged a frightening surge in antisemitism. Some in his camp recognize there has been a surge of antisemitism. However, they refuse to admit that slogans like, From the River to the Sea, are antisemitic. There are no mass rallies of the Ku Klux Klan or white supremacist neo-Nazi groups these days. We are all aware that the surge in antisemitism is coming from the bastions of the political left, America’s college campuses.

Lauri: Are the actions of the student protestors comparable to those of the brownshirts who forced Jews off of German campuses? One difference is that the brown shirts were supported by the German government, whereas the campus terrorists are organized and funded by nefarious individuals and organizations like George Soros and his Tides Foundation or the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Both groups have forced Jews off the campuses but are they comparable?

Dr. Rafael: We study the Holocaust and the entire period of the 1930s and 1940s, to learn the lessons from that period. We want to ensure the mistakes of those years are not repeated. No two historical circumstances are ever identical, but there are troubling parallels between what is happening today on American campuses and what took place in the 1930s. There were several episodes on American college campuses in the 1930s which are worth recalling. Officials from the embassy of Nazi Germany were repeatedly welcomed on the George Washington campus. They spoke on campus and nobody protested, nobody marched and nobody denounced them. Actual Nazis were welcomed on campus. Moreover, the George Washington University administration maintained friendly relations with Nazi-controlled universities. In the 1930s, they had a student exchange program with the University of Munich. George Washington students were sent to the University of Munich for a year abroad. By that time, the University of Munich had implemented a completely Nazified curriculum. The Jewish faculty had been purged, there were mass book burnings and the Nazis controlled the institution. George Washington sent its students there. It is ironic that students at George Washington carry signs invoking the Nazi final solution today. George Washington was not the only university complicit in this regard. Colombia maintained friendly relations with Nazi Germany, as did Harvard and other Ivy League institutions.

I mentioned that nobody protested when Nazi representatives came to the George Washington campus in the 30s. Ironically, there was a somewhat different reception when the Nazi ambassador to Washington, Hans Luther, was invited to Colombia in 1933. Hundreds of students protested. This minority of students held repeated protest rallies against Nazis coming to their campus. They also protested against the friendly relations their administration maintained with Nazi Germany. The leader of those student protests at Columbia, Robert Burke, was permanently expelled from Colombia as punishment for leading peaceful, non-violent rallies opposing Colombia’s policy. It is high time Columbia awards a posthumous degree to Robert Burke. Columbia should publicly acknowledge it was wrong to silence anti-Nazi voices in the 1930s. That said, apologies by universities for their pro-Nazi actions in the 30s would not address the problem today. Today’s problem is that their students are cheering on the Nazis of the 21st century. They are cheering the Hamas mass murderers and gang rapists fighting against Israel.

We have quite a turn of the tables here. A very noisy minority of students at elite American universities are now openly cheering for those who committed incredible, horrific atrocities on October 7th and before. In the wake of gang rapes, mass murders, and torture, they are out there marching in support of Hamas, a terrorist group. These supposedly liberal-minded progressive students are supporting a regime in Gaza that represents every value that liberal-minded Americans should oppose.

Before October 7th, Hamas governed Gaza under a fascist dictatorship. The people of Gaza had no civil rights. They could not speak freely and women were abused with impunity. Hamas rule in Gaza represented the exact opposite of liberal, democratic American values. Yet, educated students at prestigious universities are marching in support of this fascist terrorist group. They are demanding that Israel cease firing at these fascists. They want Hamas to resume control of Gaza and reinstate their incredible fascist terrorist dictatorship. We are living through a period of rich and very disappointing irony. It is a period that many of us would not have expected. However, in some ways, it is almost the logical fruit of what’s been happening on many American college campuses for years.

Many faculty members at top universities harbor extreme anti-Israel, and sometimes anti-American sentiments. These faculty members teach a vitriolic anti-Israel curriculum in their history and political science courses. The teaching of anti-Israel hatred spills into other fields like sociology, anthropology, and law. The faculty promoting this extreme anti-Israel sentiment are the voices of authority in their classrooms. Over the years, many Columbia, Harvard, and Yale students have been taught that Israel is evil, Zionism needs to be eradicated, Israel has to be destroyed and Hamas are freedom fighters. The natural conclusion of this indoctrination is a certain number of those students marching through campus praising Hamas. They have been taught to call for Israel’s destruction and denounce Zionism as evil and racist. Sadly, the core of the problem is not the cowardice of the university administrations. The root of the problem is the significant number of tenured radicals teaching hatred. Their students are now voicing that hatred. We are seeing this play out before our eyes every single day. Although the administrations are not the root cause of the problems on campus, it is appalling how they are kowtowing to these raging mobs and appeasing them.

Lauri: I am glad you mentioned the role of the faculty. I think the other part of the equation is the lack of response on the part of college administrators. This webinar is co-sponsored by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME). Asaf Romirowsky is the Executive Director of SPME. Years ago, we coauthored an article warning college administrators to wake up and start addressing the antisemitism flourishing on their campuses. Now administrators are bowing to the demands of the protesters. One such example is the president of Brown University. Northwestern is another example. They are now agreeing to invite Palestinian students to their campus and offer them scholarships. DEI and critical race theory are embedded in what the students have been learning at these universities. They have been taught to view the world in terms of oppressor versus oppressed and that needs to change. Do you have any thoughts on whether it actually will change?

Dr. Rafael: I am not optimistic. The university world today is filled with extremist professors and timid administrators. University administrators are not cowardly when they face other problems with the student body. Imagine for a moment that the people setting up illegal tents on university property were white supremacists. Let’s say they were the youth wing of the Ku Klux Klan or some Nazi crew. Let’s also say their placards, slogans, and speeches called for violence against African Americans. Does anybody believe for a minute that the president of Harvard, Yale, MIT, or Penn would negotiate with these white supremacists? Does anyone believe they would give in to their demands? Would they allow hateful slogans and calls for lynching on university property for a day or even an hour? No, certainly not. There is no doubt about it. I think university administrators, like many other Americans, perceive American Jews differently from the way they perceive other minority groups.

I think they would anticipate a much more forceful reaction from other minority groups than what they are seeing from American Jews. There have been very few organized pro-Israel responses on college campuses. I am not criticizing the students. I understand the Jewish students on these campuses feel frightened and intimidated. However, it is surprising that many of our mainstream Jewish and Zionist organizations are not out there. They are not marching and actively countering the anti-Israel forces. They are not responding with anything more than angry press releases.

I think university administrators perceive American Jews as patsies. American Jews might complain, but will not take forceful action to respond. Some groups, including EMET, have responded more vigorously. A number of important lawsuits have been launched and that is very positive. However, in terms of street action, the administrators view the Jews as weak and quiet. They see one side yelling, threatening and screaming, and creating bad press for the university. The other side just tries to get along. Their perceptions of the differences between the two sides, shape their responses.

They would respond vigorously to white supremacist students calling for the lynching of African Americans. They know full well that the African American community and others would respond quickly and forcefully to a weak response from the administration. They would not allow the university to tolerate such hatred. Unfortunately, American Jews have generally responded passively to antisemitic hatred on campus. Many university administrators interpret this tepid response to mean they do not need to really appease the Jews.

I think many university leaders will discover that Jews will be voting with their feet. This is to say that many Jewish parents are not going to be sending their children to Columbia or Yale or Harvard in the years to come. I think we can anticipate a significant reduction in the number of young Jewish men and women whose parents are willing to pay 60 or 80 or $90,000 a year to see their children harassed and intimidated at Ivy League institutions. They are not going to countenance having their children afraid to attend a Friday night dinner at the campus Hillel. In that sense, there probably will be a change. If the universities do not take significant action against Students for Justice in Palestine and other anti-Jewish groups, they will probably discover that many Jewish parents and their Jewish tuition dollars are going to go to universities that are perceived to be safer for Jews. These include Jewish-majority universities in the US and Israeli universities.

Lauri: I am glad you brought up Jewish leadership because I want to spend some time talking more about that. You wrote a book called, The Jews Should Keep Quiet, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, and the Holocaust. I urge everybody to read the book. I learned a lot from reading it. I believe FDR said the Jews should keep quiet and that is pretty much what Jewish leadership did. Rabbi Wise had great access to FDR and the White House and he did not want to lose those privileges. I think it is valid to compare the actions of Rabbi Wise in the 30s and 40s to those of mainstream Jewish leaders today. Where are our Jewish leaders? I know many of us are wondering what happened to the Conference of Presidents and the ADL. We hear Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL speaking occasionally, but we do not see our leaders doing anything. Are they worried they may be denied access to the White House Hanukkah party?

Your book explains that Jews were not as fully accepted in America at the time of the Holocaust as they are today. I think that that is a significant difference between then and now. Our leaders should be doing more and doing it loudly. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Rafael: Here is an interesting historical fact to consider. During the 1930s and 1940s, most American Jews were immigrants or the children of immigrants. They were not yet fully confident in their place in American society and they did not feel fully accepted as Americans. As such, they were generally hesitant to speak out publicly on Jewish issues. There were exceptions of course but that was the general trend and it applied to the leaders of the Jewish and Zionist organizations as well. As an example, there was only one march calling for the rescue of Europe’s Jews in Washington, DC during the entire Nazi era. In 1943, about 500 orthodox rabbis marched to the White House, only to be turned away by President Roosevelt. Things changed after the war. The next generation of American Jews tried very hard to learn from the mistakes of their parents. We know this from observing the successes of the Soviet Jewry protest movement and the rise of organized pro-Israel activism.

I interviewed veterans of the Soviet Jewry protest movement. They told me they were very conscious of the fact that American Jews did not rise to the challenge in the 1940s. Many of them knew about the 1943 march to the White House, and they were determined not to repeat past mistakes. The movement for Soviet Jewry was a broad-based national protest movement by American Jews from the political left, right, and center and it included many marches to the White House. It was a successful, activist, high-profile movement that did not rely on old practices of backstair diplomacy and quiet intercession characteristic of previous generations of Jewish leaders.

The same is true for pro-Israel activism today. Groups like AIPAC and EMET have responded to threats to Israel in ways that American Jews did not respond in the 1940s. For example, in the 1930s, President Roosevelt’s attitude towards Zionism, towards creating a Jewish state, was lukewarm at best. American Jewish leaders like Rabbi Wise were afraid to challenge him. Until recently, I thought this generation of American Jews recognized the mistakes made when Jews kept quiet in previous decades. However, since October 7th, the response from the major Jewish and Zionist organizations has been surprisingly hesitant and disappointing. There was one very large and very important rally in Washington, but that was five or six months ago. Why have they not organized other rallies? Anti-Israel and antisemitic forces have been holding massive rallies all over the country. Yet, for some reason, our major Jewish and Zionist organizations cannot seem to coordinate additional protests even though they are well-funded and employ many people.

This week, we received confirmation that the Biden administration has been deliberately withholding munitions needed by Israel for its fight against Hamas terrorists. I would have expected a very substantial and vigorous response from the Conference of Presidents of major American Jewish organizations. We have not heard it yet. We may yet hear some statements from them, but this is an unprecedented action from an American president and administration. They have taken the extreme step of withholding badly needed weapons at a moment when Israel is fighting a war against those seeking her annihilation. Just weeks ago, Iranian missiles were raining down on Israel. At a time like this, it is not sufficient for our leaders to be issuing angry press releases. I would have expected that Jewish organizations to go to the White House and make their feelings known. They could do this together or separately. It is surprising that they are not doing it and it begs the question of what lessons we will learn at the end of the day.

Today, we look back at the 1930s and 1940s and regret how hesitant American Jewish leaders were in those days. It is frightening to think that years from now we may look back at 2024 and ask the same kinds of questions. In the days, weeks, and months ahead, I hope there will be a more vigorous response to the incredible pressure being put on Israel. I hope there will be a much stronger response to the President’s attempts to tie Israel’s hands in the face of its most bloodthirsty enemies. That remains to be seen. As a historian, I know we often cannot see the full picture until years later, when archives are opened and documents become available. In this case, however, some of the picture is obvious because it is playing out in the headlines every day. We see what is happening just by looking at each day’s news and we know current events merit a more vigorous Jewish response.

We can only hope that those who presume to be leaders of Jewish organizations begin to recognize their responsibilities. I say they are presumed leaders because they are almost never elected democratically. Those who claim to be spokespeople for American Jewish organizations, whether on the political right, the center or the left, have a responsibility. First and foremost, they are responsible for articulating the opinions of the majority of the American Jewish community. I find it hard to believe the majority of American Jews are satisfied with having only one rally in Washington in six months at a time of such extreme crisis for Israel.

Lauri: After the rally, I wrote an article very critical of what transpired there. I think there was no cohesive messaging at the rally and absolutely no messaging to the White House or to Congress. Schumer promised to fund aid to Israel and proceeded to return to the Senate floor and vote against aid to Israel. I think the rally was a missed opportunity.

I am glad you brought up the Biden administration. I could spend a long time criticizing this administration for its policy towards Israel since October 7th. I will put that aside because we are talking about antisemitism. Do you see a parallel between the Biden administration’s failure to forcefully denounce antisemitism and FDR’s silence during the Holocaust? I do not believe Biden has a personal animus towards the Jewish people as we might say FDR did. However, I think a speech from the Oval Office would have been appropriate as our campuses and streets were blowing up. It is not just campuses that are impacted. Protestors are preventing people from getting to work by shutting down bridges, and tunnels and by blocking Grand Central Station.

I am also frustrated with the Department of Education. They are now investigating Emory, Colombia, and a few other schools for violations against Muslims and Palestinians. The Department of Justice and FBI are not using all of the tools available to them to investigate campus antisemitism. Pulling federal funds from antisemitic campuses would be a terrific starting place. What are your thoughts on the Biden administration’s handling of the antisemitism exploding on college campuses and on the street? Is this similar to FDR’s apathy toward the Jew-hatred of the 30s and 40s?

Dr. Rafael: Well, let me address two aspects of this problem. One is the Biden administration’s policy toward Israel, and the other is the administration’s response to campus antisemitism. Concerning US policy toward Israel, I would look to a parallel more recent than the 1940s. I think we should recall what happened in 1975. At that time, Gerald Ford was president and Henry Kissinger was his secretary of State. Ford and Kissinger wanted Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to surrender a large part of the Sinai Peninsula. The area included strategic mountain passes and important oil fields. Israel depended on those oil fields for its energy resources. They wanted Rabin to surrender that area to Egypt in exchange for something far less than peace. They called it a non-belligerency agreement and it spanned just a few years. Prime Minister Rabin resisted.

Let’s pause here and note how the US government treated left-of-center Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin. This is an important note for those who think that the problem in Israel is that it has a right-of- center prime minister in Benjamin Netanyahu.

At first, Rabin and his cabinet resisted the pressure Kissinger exercised using his famous shuttle diplomacy. Kissinger traveled back and forth between Cairo and Jerusalem trying to pressure the Israelis to give in to Egyptian demands. When Rabin continued to resist, Kissinger announced a reassessment of American policy toward Israel. What President Ford and Secretary Kissinger had in mind was not merely a reassessment, that was camouflage. They continued to insist that they were friends of Israel and they were looking out for Israel’s best interests. However, behind the scenes, they suspended US armed shipments to Israel. This is exactly what President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken are doing and saying today. Keep in mind that this was just over a year after the conclusion of the Yom Kippur War. During the Yom Kippur War, Israel had fought a war for its very survival, and there was no way of knowing when the Arabs would attack again. That was the time when Israel’s declared ally, the United States, decided to suspend arms shipments.

American Jewish leaders of the time were afraid to publicly challenge Kissinger. Kissinger cleverly weaponized his Jewish heritage against Israel. He would often assert that his Jewishness meant he could not be anti-Israel. American Jewish leaders at the time said that they were not aware of any pressure in Israel. They said they were reassured by Kissinger’s behind-the-scenes promises to them that nothing bad was going on. However, Ford and Kissinger were strangling Israel. They pressured Rabin in the most brutal ways possible and they cut off arms shipments to Israel. Finally, at the end of the summer of 1975, Prime Minister Rabin and his cabinet collapsed. They surrendered and gave in to Kissinger’s demands. They surrendered the strategic mountain passes and the oil fields Israel needed desperately. As part of the deal, Kissinger guaranteed the Shah of Iran would provide Israel with the oil Israel was forfeiting in the Sinai oil fields. Four years later, the Shah was overthrown, Khomeini took over in Iran, and Israel suddenly had to look for oil elsewhere. These kinds of guarantees have always proven temporary at best.

In 1975, without strong American Jewish support, Rabin was unable to withstand US pressure. Had there been a substantial response by organized American Jewry, things might have been very different. We are now standing at a somewhat similar moment in history. Once again, the president of the United States and his secretary of state have suspended shipments of some arms to Israel. In this case, the suspension is happening in the middle of a war. We are waiting to see if the response of organized Jewish and Zionist leaders in America will be any more forceful than it was in 1975.

I think the Biden administration’s response to campus anti-Semitism can be summed up by the phrase, too little, too late. The administration and the president should have been speaking out much more forcefully much earlier. The president should not be lumping antisemitism together with Islamophobia when he speaks about what is happening on the campuses. There are no marches on college campuses calling for the mass murder of Muslims or Arabs. There are no waves of anti-Muslim vandalism, threats or harassment. Muslim students on campuses are not being targeted, intimidated, or attacked. In his recent statement, the president said he condemns antisemitism on campuses. He also said he condemns Islamophobia and discrimination against Arabs and Palestinians. They got three out of the four categories and the Jews got one. That trivialized the massive surge of antisemitism on America’s campuses.

There are a lot of things the president and his administration could do if they wanted to intervene on campuses. Of course, they could start by speaking out. They also have many other powers at their disposal. If they were genuinely concerned about all the anti-Israel and antisemitic hatred on campuses, they could do a lot more. This is an election year and the president’s political advisors seem to believe that he could lose a lot of votes, especially among young Americans, if he appears to be too pro-Israel. They think he will lose votes if he appears to be speaking out or taking action against the anti-Israel forces on campuses.

We have all heard about the polls showing a significant number of younger Americans are becoming hostile to Israel and are sympathetic to the Palestinian Arab cause. However, there was a very interesting poll that came out this week. The poll asked how much young Americans care about Gaza, Hamas, and Israel and where it is on their list of priorities. Interestingly, only 2%. Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 regard the Gaza situation as their top concern. For most of them, it ranked around number 15 in their list of concerns. Most young Americans care about a lot of other things before they care about Gaza. So, sure, they have opinions, and their opinions are often based on misinformation and nonsense. However, it is not a very important issue to them. As such, it is hard to believe that many of them would cast their votes based on American policy toward Israel. So, in a sense, President Biden’s political advisors are running scared, but they are running from an illusion. They seem to think that there is a genuine political danger to the president if he says the right thing and speaks out forcefully against anti-Semitism. They think he will lose votes if he takes action to protect American Jews from those attacking them. In reality, the political price that the president would pay for this is probably extremely small.

Lauri: In 2022, a poll of American Jews revealed Israel was basically at the bottom of their list of voting priorities. This type of information may have led to misunderstandings in the White House. James Baker said, “F the Jews, they’re not going to vote for us”. Perhaps the Biden administration is saying, “Well, F the Jews, they are going to vote for us anyway.” In November we will see whether events since October 7th have changed the priorities of Jewish voters.

I do want to try to get to a couple questions from the audience. Someone in the audience is asking about Holocaust education because it seems to be failing. What are your thoughts on that? Polling indicates that a huge percentage of these young people believe that the Holocaust was a myth, or they are not sure if the Holocaust actually happened. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Rafael: As a Holocaust educator, I think that Holocaust education is good and necessary. That said, we would be kidding ourselves if we thought that Holocaust education was the answer to antisemitism. It is vitally important that we learn about the Holocaust, and especially about how our own country, our own president, and our own news media responded to the Holocaust. At the same time, we need to keep in mind that there are a lot of other factors shaping how people feel about Jews, factors aside from whether or not they feel sorry for the fact that the Jews were murdered in Europe 80 years ago. If we expect Holocaust education to accomplish more than it can, we are going to be disappointed.

There is a valid question as to what extent American Jewish monetary resources should be invested in Holocaust museums and Holocaust education, but there is no clear answer. There is no reason why the Holocaust should not be taught alongside other subjects both in public schools and in private Jewish schools. I don’t think we have to choose between teaching the Holocaust and other subjects. They are both important. However, as we are seeing from today’s events, it is not enough to say, oh, look, the Jews were victimized, and therefore the world should feel sorry for them. Unfortunately, the international community seems to have a very short memory. The fact that Jews were victimized by Nazis long ago does not seem to impress many people today, least of all those who are marching on the university campuses with signs calling for a final solution.

Lauri: Recently, Jonathan Tobin wrote a great piece in JNS on this topic. He argued that Holocaust education has to be more expansive. It has to include Jewish history in addition to the events of the Holocaust. Our history did not begin with the Holocaust.

An audience member is asking about the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the opposition to the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act. The pushback is in the name of free speech. Can you touch on how the Anti-Semitism Awareness act might help protect Jewish students and why the pushback is not correct?

Dr. Rafael: You cannot fight antisemitism without a clear, accepted definition of what it is. Without a definition, you cannot fight it legally or in a court of public opinion. There has to be a widely understood and well recognized definition of antisemitism, and there is one. 33 countries belong to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. They crafted the definition of antisemitism that would be codified by the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act.

The reason there has been opposition is because the IHRA definition correctly states that comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and comparing Jews to Nazis is an example of antisemitism. People who are hostile to Israel do not want that to be part of the accepted definition because it means they would not be able to go around comparing Israel to the Nazis without consequences. That is the reality. Opponents of this bill say that their concern over the IHRA definition is a concern over limiting free speech. That is nonsense, it is a cover. Codifying the IHRA definition does not endanger free speech. It does not contradict our constitution and our guaranteed civil liberties. Opponents of the Act want to avoid being labeled antisemitic when demonizing Israel. They do not want to face that kind of criticism. That is the reason why many from the anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian Arab crowd are against this bill and against this definition. However, their opposition is really just a reminder of how badly the it is needed. People from that camp need to be stopped from using criticism of Israel, as they put it, as a fig leaf for what is in fact an embrace of violent terrorists and of virulent antisemitism.

Lauri: Unfortunately, I am not going to have time to get to the rest of the questions from the audience. I apologize to those of you who submitted one. Perhaps we can continue this conversation at some point in the future. Dr. Medoff, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon. We appreciate your insights always, and I urge everybody to follow his work. Wish everyone a good afternoon.

Dr. Rafael: Thanks for having me. Take care.

Lauri: Bye.



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