January 27th marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
The Holocaust did not begin with genocide. It began with words and sentiments that were dismissed or ignored, elevated to actions of bias and hate, then to physical violence and ultimately to genocide. The atrocities of the past have been taught with a simple goal: Never Again.
When I entered college, I expected my greatest concerns to be rising tuition costs, stressful course loads, and, of course, how to consume enough caffeine to study for finals. But, it turns out, that for Jewish students, these concerns pale in comparison to the threats and occurrences of antisemitism that have become a daily part of college life. Modern antisemitism does not always resemble the discrimination faced by our ancestors; on college campuses, it is often masked as criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism.
On my campus at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign I, a Jew, have been labeled a Nazi for being a Zionist, abandoned by progressive campus organizations, silenced in the student government as the lone Jewish senator, and personally threatened -- all for supporting the right of Jewish self-determination.
Our student government has tried to strip Jewish college students of our voice and identity. In particular, at the behest of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group who spits antisemitic rhetoric to unsuspecting students under the guise of political speech, the student government passed a resolution on antisemitism without consultation or approval from any mainstream Jewish organization on campus. It declared antisemitism and anti-Zionism exclusive of each other.
Never before on our campus had our community been so deeply united over a single cause. In the face of losing our collective voice and identity, over 400 Jewish students walked out of the student senate chamber, proudly proclaiming, “We deserve to define hate against us! We do not negotiate antisemitism!”
As a first step, we need to clearly define what Jew-hatred is. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism does just that – it highlights examples of hate that Jews in modern society face. Adopted by nearly 20 countries, and now formally used by the United States, we, as college students, need to unite and urge our respective institutions to adopt this definition. This is not to place any limit free speech but to help draw a line between in understanding what is and what is not antisemitic.
I'm often in awe of the persistence, hope and endurance of those who survived the Holocaust. Their determination to live a life of joy in the face of unequivocal evil is a lesson of the strength of the human spirit. But as a college student in America watching the sharp rise in antisemitism, I want to tell my peers, that just because the Holocaust is over does not mean the world is free from hate. We must unite in the fight against antisemitism and hate today, and honor the memory of all those – including members of my extended family – who were victims of that darkest episode in human history.
Ian Katsnelson is a student government senator at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign