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March 17, 2022 1:46 pm
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Stop Teaching Kids to Hate Jews

avatar by Florina Rodov

Opinion

An empty classroom. Photo: Wiki Commons.

In a chilling video released by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, a predator sneaks out from behind a car, ambushes a Hasidic man, and punches him. What sets this antisemitic attack apart from the many others occurring in New York City and across the globe is that the alleged criminal is a 15-year-old boy. Following his arrest for this hate crime and another one, people on social media wondered where someone so young learns to hate Jewish people.

While pondering this question myself, I was transported back to when I taught high school English in Upper Manhattan over a decade ago.

Going through my mail one morning, I discovered a note from a history teacher urging me to read a packet of articles blaming Jews and Israel for 9/11. Looking around, I saw that he’d distributed the propaganda widely. As one of just a handful of Jewish faculty, I took it upon myself to confront him, threatening to file a formal complaint. While I didn’t follow through on it, I did speak to the principal, who assured me it would never happen again.

Shortly afterwards, while arguing with a Jewish colleague, the history teacher told them, “More of your kind should’ve been thrown in gas chambers.” When I found out about it, I picked up my phone to dial a journalist friend, intending to expose the antisemite in the media. But when I realized it would embroil our school in a scandal, I decided against it.

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Then, when I was walking in the neighborhood one afternoon, a gang of students cornered me, yelling antisemitic slurs including the exact phrase, “More of your kind should’ve been thrown in gas chambers.” A bystander stopped them from physically hurting me, and promised to see to it that they were punished, as he knew a couple of their families. I didn’t file a police report, because I didn’t want to feed them into the school-to-prison pipeline.

So where does someone so young learn to hate Jewish people? Sometimes they learn it in school, and that hatred is fueled by the rampant antisemitism that’s sweeping social media, weak hate crime laws, lenient judges and district attorneys, and the complacency of cowards like me who fail to take action, putting the well-being of antisemites over the survival of my own people.

It’s a scary time for Jews at academic institutions and elsewhere.

The FBI’s 2020 hate crimes report revealed that nearly 60 percent of the total number of reported religion-based crimes were directed against Jewish people — though Jews comprise only 2 percent of America’s population. One-third of Jewish college students are victims of antisemitism on campus, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Not a day goes by without reports of scrawled swastikasdefaced mezuzahsstudents and teachers performing “Heil Hitler” salutes, and professors spouting antisemitic rhetoric.

To combat antisemitic indoctrination, we must expand and improve Holocaust education, teach students about Jews’ extraordinary contributions to society, and call out and punish antisemites.

First, all academic institutions must adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, which is used by the US Department of State to investigate antisemitism. The definition includes many examples of how antisemitism is manifested, such as when conspiracy theories are aimed at Jews and when fair criticism of Israeli policies crosses the line into bias — by claiming that the Jewish homeland is a racist state, comparing Israeli actions to Nazi crimes, etc. Understanding these manifestations is vital, as antisemitism often hides behind the false cover of anti-Zionism.

Next, revamp Holocaust education. While it’s currently required in 22 states, it must be mandatory in all 50. A rich Holocaust curriculum should be accompanied by training and support for teachers, who must emphasize that antisemitism is the oldest hatred, existing for millennia, and spread through propaganda and complacency. Nearly a decade before the Holocaust, the Nazi Minister of Propaganda Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels was on the cover of TIME Magazineproclaiming, “THE JEWS ARE TO BLAME!” Soon, six million Jews were murdered across Europe by Nazis and their collaborators.

If students grasp the insidiousness of propaganda, they may reject it when they encounter it, particularly on social media. According to a report by the US/UK nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), the top five social media platforms have systemically failed to shut down antisemitism, allowing hashtags like #fakejews and #killthejews to proliferate, resulting in what CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed has called “a safe space for racists.”

On TikTok, where 69% of users are aged 16 to 24, antisemitic hashtags were viewed more than 25 million times in six months, and on Instagram, where almost 70% of global users are 13 to 34, there are “millions” of antisemitic hashtags, according to another study.

Disturbingly, there are links between hate speech online and hate crimes in real life. After 21-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Quintez Brown posted antisemitic conspiracy theories on social media, he opened fire on Craig Greenberg, the frontrunner in the race for mayor of Louisville, Kentucky. Brown missed when trying to kill Greenberg, and was only charged with attempted murder. Black Lives Matter bailed him out.

When studying the Holocaust, students must learn that hate groups target youth because they’re susceptible to group-think, haven’t fully developed their empathy skills yet, and “are drawn to extreme ideas to help them make sense of the world,” Nikita Malik, former director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism, wrote in Forbes. Kids with challenging family lives and other adversities are especially susceptible.

After the Nazis lured children into the Hitler Youth, they sent them to die in World War II. If kids understand that hatemongers always martyr their disciples for an ideology, they’re likely to push back against brainwashing, like eighth graders in Chicago recently did when their teacher allegedly had them read “Mein Kampf “and make pro-Nazi propaganda posters, according to The Forward.

The good news is that the impressionability that lets kids be steered toward evil also allows them to be guided to good.

That’s why we should encourage Jewish and non-Jewish students to form alliances, in the vein of “Jews & Allies United to End Antisemitism” and “Creative Community for Peace.”

Take them on trips to the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, so that they can understand Jews’ pain as well as their joy and resilience.

Teach them about extraordinary Jewish people like director Steven Spielberg, actresses Gal Gadot and Mila Kunis, comedian Tiffany Haddish, musicians Drake and Pink, swimmer Dara Torres, human rights activist Natan Sharansky, biochemist Ruth Arnon, associate justice of the US Supreme Court Elena Kagan, and president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky.

Force the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to investigate the numerous cases of antisemitism at schools and universities. Hold social media companies responsible for removing antisemitic accounts. Strengthen hate crime laws, fire lenient judges and district attorneys, and prosecute perpetrators.

Most importantly, end the complacency. At the school where I worked, we taught the Holocaust, read “Maus” and “Night,” visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and invited survivors into our classrooms. Still, one antisemite was able to brainwash our most vulnerable kids because we didn’t stop him. All of us must do better.

Florina Rodov has written for The Atlantic, The Forward, Newsweek, and others, and is working on a book.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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