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Daughter of Famed Civil Rights Leader Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Anti-Israel Climate On Campus Reminiscent of Fight for Racial Equality

avatar by Rachel Frommer


Susannah Heschel. Photo: Dartmouth.edu.

The professor daughter of a famed Jewish leader of the Civil Rights Movement told The Algemeiner on Friday that the current anti-Israel climate on college campuses is reminiscent of the fight for racial equality in the US.

Susannah Heschel, who teaches Jewish studies at Dartmouth College and is the daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel — who marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, AL — said, “The Civil Rights Movement was in large measure about coming to know people. America had to come to know Martin Luther King, and when it did, the country respected him and was inspired by him. Today, people need to come to know Judaism, Israel and Jewish history in a positive way.”

“I always think that every single human being on the planet has some connection to Israel. Be it the technology in their phone or computer, or a generic drug that they take — everyone is touched by Israel in some way. They just aren’t necessarily aware of it,” Heschel said. “We have to teach them that Israel is extraordinary. That it has and is contributing incredible things to humanity, that the country is about so much more that a conflict with the Palestinians.”

Heschel spoke to The Algemeiner following a lecture she gave earlier this week at Canada’s York University on “Antisemitism and Academia: Past and Present,” where she spoke about the systematic indoctrination in the academe of Hitler’s Germany, and the intellectuals and theologians who were early adopters of Nazi ideology. Cary Nelson — the jubilee professor of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — also gave a presentation, in which he discussed the current wave of anti-Zionism on campus.

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Heschel made clear that she does not believe today’s anti-Israel culture on campus is at all comparable to Holocaust-era Jew-hatred.

“There are tendencies among individual professors [to be antisemitic], but there are no rules, like under the SS. In the 1930s, students were told that they can’t quote Jews in their dissertation, or were directed to re-read Mein Kampf because they hadn’t fully ‘understood’ its theories,” she said. “Many people now are simply completely ignorant. They aren’t evil, they don’t deserve to be demonized. They just don’t know what they are talking about.”

Heschel said, “There are no easy answers” for excising the “ignorant, cruel, damaging or stupid” from the university when it comes to discussing Israel, but that educating faculty and students may be the most important tool in fighting back.

“My fellow Jews sometimes think it’s naive to be optimistic, but I think it’s a very Jewish trait,” Heschel added. “My father used to say to me: never despair. It’s a sin, it’s forbidden.”

As The Algemeiner reported, a campus antisemitism watchdog recently released interactive maps depicting the spread of swastika graffiti, BDS resolutions and anti-Israel faculty across the US.

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