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May 18, 2015 2:23 pm

Antisemitism and Anti-Israelism on Campus

avatar by Daniel S. Mariaschin

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Members of Stanford's Sigma Alpha Epsilon discovered swastikas spray-painted on their house. Photo: ABC Channel 7 News

Daubing swastikas on walls has always been a deliberate way to convey hostility— a short-hand for inspiring hate, fear and intimidation.

A college fraternity at Stanford University was vandalized with swastikas and other written epithets in late April.

Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., also suffered recent attacks, with swastikas found in a campus library in April and one scratched into a student’s car in January 2014.

Reading of this vandalism, I was reminded of an incident I experienced in the fifth grade, some 55 years ago. Our teacher, Mrs. Kellom, called me over to the classroom doorway, and told me, in hushed tones, that a swastika was found on the wall in the boys’ bathroom. She assured me that the custodian had washed it off, and wanted me to know. I was the only Jewish student in that school, and even then I was astounded that Mrs. Kellom, in her own way, did not want me to think she took such things lightly. That was only 15 years after the Holocaust.

More than five decades later, anti-Semitic attacks are more prevalent worldwide than ever. And these odious incidents are manifesting in a variety of new and exceedingly disturbing ways.

In the Jewish community, we have to be vigilant on so many levels.

This wrenching reality is in our backyard. And here we must be citizen advocates to fight for justice.

In the United States, college campuses are at the forefront of a growing hatred of Jews and Israel. Make no mistake—these are not separate things.

Too often, the haters claim they are against Israel’s policies, not against Jews. Any suggestion that the anti-Semitism we are seeing is legitimate criticism of Israel is a false justification—it’s anti-Semitism masquerading as something else. But we are not fooled.

In Nashville, Tenn., in March, Vanderbilt University’s Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) chapter was vandalized; swastikas spray-painted in the basement and elevator of the fraternity house. B’nai B’rith has partnered with AEPi on a number of programs for the betterment of the communities in which we live. The maturity and fortitude of these young men is heartening, facing this hatred head on. It is shameful that college students have to face such indignity. But at the same time, we have an opportunity to recognize and commend our allies in fighting such hatred.

It is a testament to the school that hundreds of students came out to publicly support AEPi, and many fraternities and sororities publicly and loudly stood with AEPi against hatred.

Unfortunately, the vocal minority is loud and ominous in its efforts.

To be sure, swastikas are a sinister and potent, threatening symbol, telling Jews they don’t belong.

But there have been incidents that go beyond symbolism, and question the very foundation of what it means to be a Jew in America.

At the University of California, Davis, campus, epithets were hurled at Jewish students who opposed a boycott Israel resolution put forth by the student council. That campus also was hit with a swastika on a fraternity house.

At the University of California, Los Angeles, in March, when a Jewish student applied to be on the university’s judicial board, she was grilled about her assumed lack of objectivity due to her religion. Fabienne Roth, a member of the Undergraduate Students Association Council, asked Rachel Beyda during Beyda’s confirmation proceedings, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

This line of thought is chilling and unacceptable. It is menacing to say to someone they can’t serve on a board because they are Jewish. This is eerily reminiscent of discriminatory systems in place in the middle of the last century, when the number of Jews in certain professions was limited or when Jews were not admitted to certain clubs or hotels.

At first, Beyda was rejected from the committee. A faculty adviser later helped lead the students to another conclusion and she was eventually accepted. But at what cost?

In its reporting on the situation, The New York Times wrote of the debate over Beyda’s ability to serve that the discussion “seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes—particularly about divided loyalties—that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries.”

College is a place to develop critical thinking skills. And in an educational setting, it is expected, and in many ways, a cherished tradition, that students will disagree. But “conversations” about Judaism and Israel are no longer dialogues in far too many places.

To fight anti-Semitism, we need allies; people of goodwill, like Mrs. Kellom, to be engaged. In the Jewish community, we have tolerance programs, such as our own Diverse Minds Youth Writing Challenge. In this education and awareness program, high school students write original books promoting tolerance, diversity and equality. Winning entrants earn college scholarships and have their books published and distributed to local school libraries, so tolerance and respect for others can be taught at an early age.

The virus of anti-Semitism is spreading. Partnerships are required to excise it. Mrs. Kellom clearly understood that people of goodwill need to act when confronted by these symbols or expressions of hatred. Now, 70 years after the Holocaust, together with friends and allies, we need to ensure that the passage of time doesn’t dull the collective consciousness to this scourge.

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  • Caren Oppenheimer

    The so acute now that no girl will hook up or “date” a pro-Israel boy now, and vice versa. It is just too “uncool” like supporting the torture of animals or pedophilia. Nothing will change that. At least on college campuses, the Israel cause is lost.

  • Bob in Florida

    Jews are too few in number to counteract worldwide animosity as effectively as desired; and there are too many reasons to list to account for all the ignorant hate. That being said, President Obama has a responsibility to speak out in a clear and passionate voice, and show unequivocal intolerance toward this hate on US college campuses; unfortunately HE HAS NOT DONE SO in the manner he is capable. (think all his speeches). You will have to consider why he hasn’t, and then find a way to get his handlers to have him do this type of speech. That should stop some of this anti-Jewish sickness in its tracks a bit while the world discusses his speech. If Ireland can agree to same-sex marriage, there’s hope for us…well, maybe.

  • Julian Clovelley

    I am in absolute sympathy with what the writer says here but I view it from the Gentile perspective as far as Jews are concerned, and from the total non belief in races and peoples as concepts and realities from my own side

    The writer says “The virus of anti-Semitism is spreading. Partnerships are required to excise it.” I ask here “what is a partnership?”

    From the internet here are a few quotes I find relevant:

    “Partnership involves a social system or entity based on an agreement between participating organisations and persons to collaborate on a common goal in which benefits and risks, as well as resources and power are shared fairly.”

    “The collaboration inherent in a partnership is more than a mere exchange – it is the creation of something new, of value, together.”

    “Partnership can be defined as a collaborative relationship between two or more parties based on trust, equality, and mutual understanding for the achievement of a specified goal. Partnerships involve risks as well as benefits, making shared accountability critical.”

    Partnership demands that the partners adjust to each other in order that they can work efficiently, or at all, together. The problem to me is that Jewish people in general and the State of Israel in particular have not been doing that. What they have been demanding is the one thing that cannot be offered – which is unconditional support.

    The writer says “To fight anti-Semitism, we need allies; people of goodwill…. to be engaged.” I say “then you must behave like that”. Those who support people coming under prejudice originating attack do so because to them that is the moral high ground for their own behaviour. But our expectation for our partner is exactly the same, and that starts with “don’t tell us that we are different from you, that is deeply insulting” as well as scientific nonsense

    I won’t labour over this, except to say that as a progressive thinker I find Jewish support for the extreme Right – which in my worldview is support for Fascism and neo-Nazism very disturbing. For in that extreme Right one finds also the conservative religious demons that make life for many of us a constant battle against pig ignorance, stupidity and insane superstition. One also finds there the warmongering that could initiate a universal Holocaust

    The demand for support is not the same as the plea for partnership. Partnership requires you to change too – and in this the concept of what it means to be a Jew in America is just “wrong”. And if you look at your own community and the numbers escaping via intermarriage and the adoption of secularism – you don’t need a Gentile to tell you so.

    So ask yourself, do you want “partnership” or don’t you? – and the only opinion I offer on that is that if you don’t seek it and if you aren’t prepared to pay the price in change of identity, you may well lose everything because then, with that attitude on your part, no-one can help you.

    • Jo-Anne

      No offense, but your post is more than a little psychotic. For one thing, Jews historically side with the left, not the right. As for the rest, it defies comment. Suggest you go back on your thorazine.

      • Julian Clovelley

        I don’t find your reply to me in the least offensive because I am too busy finding it rather sad Jo-anne

        What you illustrate, in a rather extreme form, is the kind of response sympathisers to the Israeli and Jewish plight rather expect from Rightists and traditionalists in the very community they seek to help. But it fortunately does not stop them doing so. If they did you would all really be in trouble. But sometimes the allowances demanded go one step too far.

        Being brought up in a Christian environment has meant being in a modernising environment that is some two and a half thousand years in advance of the point that those who call themselves “Jews” appear to be fixated on – and beyond that on a purely mythological train of non events that did not occur some one thousand years earlier – on both of which fixations they base “identity”

        In terms of actual descent the claimed Genealogy is at best dubious, a matter now at last being recognised by Jewish scholars. The actual descent that “Jews” can lay claim to is no different to anyone else’s. The difference is purely one of adherence to a religion that utilises documents written two and a half thousand years ago by people who are included in everyone’s family tree. For one group of claimants to try to use these documents to justify present territorial policy in their favour is utterly ridiculous

        It is a ridiculous as me claiming I am exclusively descended from the Ancient Britons of the period before 55BC when Julius Caesar landed. You see I am also descended from those Romans who interbred at every opportunity, including with slave women – I am descended from several Germanic tribes, from Danes, Vikings, French, Dutch, Belgian, and Irish. My children in addition are descended from Scots and Jews. I wonder how far I’d get pressing a claim to Ancient Briton Descent as justifying a territorial claim to displace Jewish Property owners from London West End Real Estate – or Hatton Garden perhaps! Or how about my using it to reclaim Arsenal Football Stadium turf from Emirate ownership or Harrods from The Sovereign Wealth Fund of Qatar.

        Even more important however, is that fact that this ancestry means not only a shared European and Middle Eastern ancestry, but that these same ancestries are shared throughout the Americas and anywhere the British and European Empires extended

        So you think you are different? – well you aren’t – Judaic documents from two thousand and more years ago record vast input. The Christian documents record vast conversion and assimilation – The first Christians were Jews who intermarried in Christian communities

        These are simple facts. No one is “psychotic” for presenting them to you and telling you that to work in partnership to bring antisemitism to an end we need to work together – not separately – in coming to terms with “identity”. No-one in the real world is entitled to special treatment – unless we all are

        Algemeiner in recent months has published a mountain of material pressing the Jewish community to vote for the extreme Right in America and Israel and to support Zionism. Progressive Judaism and progressive Israeli and American politics often seem hardly to get a word in. I see a lot of very questionable material that remains unchallenged except in comment columns which often disappear mysteriously – maybe an IT problem – who knows.

        As to your claim incidentally that Jews historically side with the Left, in America that is virtually impossible because you have two main parties which are both in world political science terms very much of the Conservative Right. The fear is that Jews are being pressed to vote for the more extreme Right of the two Conservative possibilities as the result of a defective analysis of realities on the ground – an error which could spell the end of Israel itself, if pressed to its logical conclusion, which is a conflict that Israel could well lose.

        Look at the map…


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  • Leeada Johnson

    Ms Fabienne Roth Aryan German Swiss Blond Blue Eyed Foreign Student Challenges the Right of an American to be on a Student Government Body in the USA in 2015 because that person is a Jew??? Does she think, that that she’s a Hitler Jugend representative in 1933 Nazi Germany? Shouldn’t she be taking her anti-semitism back to where ever she comes from?

  • rabbi yakov lazaros

    I am glad to see this article by my dear friend Daniel Mariaschin. As executive director of Bnai Brith Mr Mariaschin has been fighting anti-semitisim his entire life.
    Unfortunately, we are living in a time when hatred of Jews has become accepted on many college campuses. We in the Jewish community must fight this new disease and let college administrators know we will hold them personally responsible for the safety of our Jewish students.

    • Julian Clovelley

      Try looking to see where you just might have gone wrong instead

      For the record I do not personally support BDS

      But I can understand the opposing points of view and do not regard them as necessarily antisemitic in nature

      And I do view the Settlements and Occupation as arguably illegal