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August 19, 2020 5:04 am

USC’s Antisemitism Problem and the Gross Negligence of Education

avatar by Naya Lekht


The University of Southern California campus. Photo: Padsquad19 via Wikimedia Commons.

The recent case of Jewish student Rose Ritch’s resignation from the student government at the University of Southern California (USC) spotlights not only the ongoing problem of campus antisemitism, but more alarmingly, the failure of campus administrators to address the problem head-on.

Ritch, who endured continuous harassment and bullying by fellow USC students based on her religious and national identity, turned to various institutions on and off campus for guidance.

Ritch followed protocol, as outlined by the USC student handbook, when filing her complaints with the university; the same handbook outlines multiple student conduct offenses that Ritch’s fellow peers committed.

But did the university reprimand the students for these violations? No. Did the university ensure Ritch’s emotional and physical safety? No. And finally, is USC President Carol L. Folt’s recent letter a sufficient response? No.

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It is this final “no” that requires the most attention. In her letter bemoaning “the intense pressure and toxic conditions that led to her [Ritch’s] decision [to resign],” Folt assures her campus community, and those looking on from the outside, that USC will launch a new educational initiative to counter on-campus hate through the USC Shoah Foundation’s “Stronger than Hate” program. As per the program’s own language, “becoming stronger than hate means … fostering a culture of antiracism.” To be clear, Ms. Ritch is not a victim of racism. She is a victim of antisemitism.

Treating antisemitism with the elixir of anti-racism is not appropriate. While antisemitism, such as that expressed by the Nazi party, may take on racist features, antisemitism shares little with racism.

Racism is the idea that one race is superior to another. A major feature of racism is dehumanization. Racists often describe an unwanted race as impure; racists rely on propaganda that likens an inferior race to termites, rats, apes, and the like.

Termed “the longest hatred,” antisemitism can be dated as far back as the Jewish people’s status as slaves in Egypt or the birth of Christianity.

And antisemitism, unlike racism, does not view the Jews as inferior. Rather, sometimes it views Jews as being super-human. Accusations against Jews, such as world domination or killing Christ (deicide), contradict racist ideology.

If the goal is to confront and combat antisemitism, the first and most crucial step is to correctly identify it. If we cannot identify that which we encounter, no “Stronger than Hate” program will ever help prevent Jew-hatred. Hannah Arendt pointed out that antisemitism, unlike other forms of hatred, does not seek to colonize or enslave the Jewish people, instead “antisemitism’s end goal is genocide.” Indeed, as history teaches us, wherever Jews lived as minorities, antisemitism culminated with, in the case of Imperial Russia — pogroms, Nazi Germany — the Holocaust, and Soviet Russia — the imprisonment and deaths of Jews and Zionists.

USC’s attempt to triage antisemitism through “Stronger than Hate” is, unfortunately, part of a pattern of ineffectual programming that does not combat antisemitism. Take, for example, the ADL’s initiative “Words to Action,” a program that treats antisemitism as “prejudice.” Employing the “pyramid of hate,” ADL staff are helicoptered into schools to help students learn about antisemitism. Yet the pyramid does not address manifestations of antisemitism, but rather any form of hate or intolerance. Another initiative to help combat antisemitism is Holocaust education. But as recently described in professor Ruth Wisse’s “The Dark Side of Holocaust Education,” Holocaust education has, unfortunately, been detrimental to staving off antisemitism. For evidence that Holocaust education does little to decrease antisemitism, just look at the United Kingdom, whose high levels of antisemitism coincide with “Holocaust fatigue” at British schools.

This, then, is the gravest tragedy to have unfolded from Ritch’s case: educators decided that their role was to be surgeons of the heart — to fix through “education” the wrongs committed historically to all persecuted minorities. What they woefully overlooked was a crucial component of any true educational endeavor: the particular context that, in this case, foments hate. Until large institutions such as the ADL, the Shoah Foundation, and the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to name a few, actually teach about antisemitism, we will never truly confront this age-old disease.

Dr. Naya Lekht is the Director of Education at Club Z, a Zionist youth movement whose goal is to cultivate the next generation of proud and articulate Jews.

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