I have written on several occasions that the one place where anti-Semitism is still tolerated in America is on college campuses. We continue to see this across the country as Jewish students are pilloried for their support of Israel, their loyalties questioned, and their views dismissed as racist, Nazi-like and insensitive to human rights. Hypocritically, the labelers object to themselves being labeled for what they are – anti-Semites and Israel deniers.
The reports of increasing anti-Semitism on the campus may be exaggerated but they reflect the deteriorating conditions on at least a couple of dozen campuses where the boycott, divestment sanctions movement BDS has poisoned the environment. At Berkeley, for example, Prof. Ron Hassner told Haaretz, “These repeated votes have had one effect only; a deterioration on of the campus climate leading to outbursts of anger and even violence…These anti-Jewish outbursts are not surprising since the anti-Semitism is rooted in the BDS movement itself.”
Just how bad is it?
“At divestment meetings on my campus,” Hassner reports, “BDS opponents have accused Israelis of putting rats in the vaginas of Palestinian women, stealing Palestinian organs and positioning the water in Gaza. You’ll recognize these as classic anti-Semitic tropes from 19th-century Polish blood libels, for example.”
The sad irony, Hassner adds, is that none of the votes on BDS have changed campus policy. “In fact, California campuses and universities throughout the United States quickly declare they won’t change their policies toward Israel or companies, regardless of the student vote….And since it doesn’t affect university policy, it goes without saying that it has no effect on Israel. … It also has no effect on Palestine because these resolutions aren’t aimed at supporting Palestinians. They aren’t pro- Palestinian but rather anti-Israel resolutions, which is a shame.”
Jews have been reluctant to label the BDS advocates anti-Semites because the term is sometimes used too loosely, allowing the true anti-Semites to misdirect attention from their scurrilous positions by claiming they are being silenced or by screaming “McCarthyism.”
Zane Hellmann, a Stanford student, encapsulated the problem on campus in an article discussing a Jewish student’s allegation that a “progressive” organization on campus, Students of Color Coalition (SOCC), was guilty of anti-Semitism because of the way she was questioned about her views on divestment. She felt personally targeted because of her religion. The SOCC shot back that the woman mischaracterized their interview with her and insisted they oppose anti-Semitism and other forms of bias.
“This is not the first time that Jews on campus have been told that something is not anti-Semitic by those who are not a part of the Jewish community,” Hellmann observed. “During divestment debates recently, members of SOOP (sic) repeatedly told the senate that the bill was not anti-Semitic.” Hellmann argued that only the Jewish community could decide what is anti-Semitic. “Just as it would be reprehensible for the JSA [Jewish Student Association] to tell members of other minority communities what is and is not racist, sexist or homophobic, I find it personally atrocious that members who are not participants in the Jewish community at Stanford would clearly state for the campus as a whole that their own actions were not anti-Semitic”
Hellmann is describing one of the more serious implications of the Israel deniers, which is to disguise their anti-Semitism as simply criticism of Israel, similar to what you can read every day in the Israeli press. We are not fooled, however, when we hear the kind of epithets described by Prof. Hassner, listen to grossly inaccurate descriptions of Israeli society, are told we are monsters, and notified that our homeland should be eradicated.
People who hate gays or African Americans or any other minority, but say some of their best friends are minorities, or that they bear no malice in their hearts, are homophobes and racists. They may disagree, just as the Israel deniers do, but the objects of their opprobrium would not be mollified. Moreover, once the evidence is out, pleas of innocence fall on deaf ears within the offended community and the general public.
Those who attack Jews and Israel, however, have the chutzpah to tell us we are overly sensitive, we are lying or we are the ones who are guilty of casting aspersions. And let’s dispense with the free speech dodge used only when Jews are the subjects of attack. Students and administrators happy to defend organizations calling for Israel’s destruction would never tolerate campaigns to eliminate a Muslim state or impose boycotts against gays or other minorities.
The truth is free speech on campus has little to do with the law and everything to do with politics. Minorities have intimidated campus authorities and ensured that offensive speech will be squelched and swiftly punished (as in the recent case of the University of Oklahoma fraternity); however, Jews do not have the clout, despite their alleged power, to provide the same assurance to Jewish students.
What about Jews who too often are leaders of the BDS movement?
They represent no one but themselves, as this is one of the rare areas where there is wall to wall consensus opposing BDS in Jewish communities around the world and among Jews on the political left, right and center, liberal and conservative, and orthodox, conservative and reform.
I would not call anyone a self-hating Jew or a Jewish anti-Semite; however, these Jews are abetting the anti-Semites, a phenomenon that did not begin with the BDS movement, but, hopefully, will end with it.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel, After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.
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