(September 7, 2023 / JNS)
As we head back into a new school year, we know that our American Jewish students will be on the front lines of the battle against rising antisemitism. Many of our students, whom we have taught to cherish and protect their Jewish identity, their Zionism and their deeply nurtured connections to the state of Israel, may face much hostility from both their anti-Zionist peers as well as from their professors.
As they head back to their campuses, over the course of the year, many will be confronted with chants of “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” They may have to endure mock “apartheid walls” or “die-in’s.” Many professors, particularly in Middle East Studies, will libel Israel as “an apartheid state,” “a colonial state” or “a racist state.” Jewish students may see swastikas drawn somewhere on the campus and might have their mezuzahs ripped down from their doorposts. They might well be excluded from certain clubs or extracurricular activities if their peers find out they are Zionists or even Jewish. Their professors might single them out for ridicule if and when they find out that they are Zionists. One recent graduate had told me his professor said: “Had I realized you were a Zionist when grading your paper, I would have given you a lower grade.”
As students head back to Princeton University, they might be taking a humanity course featuring a book by Jasbir Puar, The Right to Maim: Debility, Capacity, Disability, where she argues that Israel harvests Palestinian organs.
Or they might be unfortunate enough to have her as a professor at Rutger’s University, where she is the director of the women’s and gender studies program.
Or they might be unlucky enough to go to Oberlin College where Islamic Studies Professor Mohammad Jafar Mahalati has argued that the Iranian massacre of more than 5,000 of its citizens is simply “a minor detail.”
Or they might be unfortunate enough to go to Columbia University where Joseph Massad calls Israel “a racist and colonizing state.” Or George Saliba, who once notoriously said to a Zionist student: “You have no voice in this debate. You have green eyes. You’re not a Semite. I have brown eyes. I am a true Semite. You have no claim to the land of Israel.” Or Hamid Dabashi, who recently posted on Facebook: “Every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world just wait for a few days and the ugly name of ‘Israel’ will pop up as a key actor in the atrocities … .”
Or to the City University of New York, where Marc Lamont Hill, who was fired from CNN because of antisemitism, now holds an endowed chair in urban education. This is the same Marc Lamont Hill who says that “justice requires a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” (Of course, leaving no room for Israel.)
In an era where tolerance and mutual respect should be prevailing values, the unfortunate reality is that antisemitism, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, continues to raise its monstrous head. This form of discrimination, deeply rooted in historical prejudice, remains a pressing concern that demands our immediate attention and action. Antisemitism has long been the harbinger of a disgusting rot within any society and indicates the displacement of responsibility for the failure of another group to flourish within that society. In its most popular, current form it is directed at the one state of the Jews: Israel.
As Jewish students return to their university campuses, they will be witnessing a horrific misrepresentation of who we are. They will hear many professors label Israel, “an apartheid state”, a “racist state” “a colonial state” and worse. They will be barred from certain clubs simply because they are defenders of Israel or even simply because they are Jewish; and will be told that if they want to join certain clubs they must “check their Judaism at the door.”
As we witness a disturbing surge in antisemitic incidents within the United States, the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023, will be introduced later this week by Reps. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.) and Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.). This bill stands as an essential tool in the fight against this ancient hatred. EMET was the first organization to introduce this legislation to these courageous congressmen. And we, as a people, should remain profoundly and eternally grateful to each of them for undauntingly advocating on behalf of our people.
Recent data paints a sobering picture of the escalating wave of antisemitism. According to the ADL, in the United States in just a single year—2022—there was a 36% increase in antisemitic attacks.
These incidents range from hate speech and vandalism to violent attacks targeting Jewish individuals and institutions. What is perhaps most alarming is the prevalence of anti-Israel sentiment that often morphs into anti-Jewish hatred, particularly in academic settings.
College campuses—touted as spaces of enlightenment and intellectual growth—have sadly become breeding grounds for the propagation of anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism. Far too often, under the guise of legitimate criticism of Israel, students and faculty members find themselves exposed to harmful rhetoric that perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Jewish people and seeks to exclude them and punish them for their identity. This normalizing of anti-Jewish bias is a dangerous slippery slope that must be addressed urgently.
Many Jewish students have reacted in a combination of fear or shame. Some do not want to stick their necks out for fear that their professors will punish them with a permanent grade on their record that will stand it the way of their ideal admittance to graduate school or long dream of careers. The power situation remains very one-sided for our nation’s vulnerable Jewish students.
Others might find the courage to stand up to this one-sided propaganda under the facade of legitimate scholarship, only to find that they have got to suffer the consequences, not only from professors but from the overt hostility of their peers.
Antisemitism, in the form of attacks on the State of Israel coming out of the mouths of professors at least in our nation’s Middle East Studies Centers, has reached new heights of popularity, with statements made about Jews and the Jewish state that would never be uttered by professors in regard to any other minority group. If so, they would worry about returning to their jobs.
I had naively thought back in 2008, would be eradicated by amendments that the organization I head up, EMET, was able to successfully pass in Congress to Title VI of the Higher Education Act. Title VI of the Higher Education Act requires an application from the universities, (the “grantees”) to the U.S. Department of Education (the DoE), (the grantor”). Our nation’s Regional Studies programs must go through this process to obtain funding. Rather than a “Title.” The universities have taken taxpayers’ largess for these largely antisemitic programs and have taken them as an “Entitlement.” Among other things the 2008 amendments to the federal law called for “a diversity of perspectives and wide range of viewpoints.” Under the previous administration, these federally mandated amendments were employed once by the former administration in a letter by the assistant secretary of civil rights in the U.S. Department of Education, Robert King, as elucidated in the Federal Register regarding a particularly egregious 2019 event in a Middle East Consortium between the University of North Carolina and Duke University when Palestinian rapper and actor Tamar Nafar opened with the words: “Let’s try it together. I need your help I cannot be antisemitic alone.”
The Perennial Power of the Nakba
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