Understanding Jew-hatred: a campus perspective
OpinionGuest Columnist

Understanding Jew-hatred: a campus perspective

"Just as one cannot cure a disease if one does not understand its causes, one cannot fight this social cancer of antisemitism if all one can do is describe its symptoms and cannot explain it."

Signage at anti-Israel encampment in Pittsburgh (Photo by Jim Busis)
Signage at anti-Israel encampment in Pittsburgh (Photo by Jim Busis)

The recent house bill rightly condemning the death chant “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will be Free” as antisemitic has garnered little respect in my generation. The voice of Jew-haters in America is reaching a pinnacle — and some “Zionist bill,” paid for by “Zionist money,” lobbied by “evil Zionists” won’t take their moment away.

On my campus, Boston University, this is evident. Three days after this bipartisan resolution passed, a mass of students took to central campus to let us Jews know that they still hate us, and they still want Jews in Israel and elsewhere to feel the wrath of radical Islamic terror. Several of these “progressives,” in addition to sporting Communist and Palestinian flags and apparel, held signs that read: “Fight for Worldwide Intifada” (read: attack and torture Jews globally), and “Only a Revolution Can End Imperialism.” Walking past this hate display, with people whose teeming animosity and anger you can feel, holding signs calling for you to be attacked (not an irregular thing at BU), is crushing and psychologically annihilating.

We are bombarded, assaulted by antisemitic, anti-Israel propaganda in our classes, in shared campus spaces, at our Hillel, on social and mainstream media. We do not know how to protect ourselves from it. Even well-meaning professors cannot help us distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources because they themselves do not know how to distinguish between them. We are not taught how to think about issues critically — that is, logically. Unbiased classes and professors are nearly impossible to come by. Even at the university holding the largest Jewish population of any private university in the country, we are rendered helpless and confused. As a result, many Jews sadly feel compelled to join the side supportive of sadistic rapists, internalizing the assumption of moral equivalence, equating Israel’s ability to defend itself from evil with the greater evil.

On the other side, in Jewish publications, all one hears are the voices of panic and lamentations of distressed Jews, who can say, at best, as does Seth Mandel in his must-read essay in Commentary: “The good news is we’re only in this fight again because we won it the last time.” At what price, one may ask.

Just as one cannot cure a disease if one does not understand its causes, one cannot fight this social cancer of antisemitism if all one can do is describe its symptoms and cannot explain it.

In this regard, I was lucky to come into contact with one of a minority of faculty members at Boston University seeking to combat this open Jew-hatred. Liah Greenfeld, an authority in interdisciplinary social sciences, especially nationalism, and a professor at Boston University, teaches a class on Israel and antisemitism. For this course, she developed a comprehensive explanation based on the systematic examination of facts, which allowed me and 20-some classmates to truly understand the problem that Jews, and our civilization, are facing.

Greenfield stresses that there are no antisemitic traditions in the Chinese and Indian civilizations and connects antisemitism to monotheism — which is the essence and source of our civilization — and specifically to the fact that the foundations of both Christianity and Islam are borrowed from the Jews. The scriptures and history of these two religions show that, since their inception, they have been fixated on the Jews, whom they envy because God revealed Himself to the Jews first. For thousands of years, their leaders invented Jew-hating tropes and infused them in popular consciousness. These tropes of Jew-hatred, perpetuated for more than 2000 years and conveniently molding to the trendy ideology of the times, made antisemitism the most institutionalized, systemic attitude in our Western, monotheistic civilization. It is an irrational hatred and cannot ever be explained by rational grievances (for instance, accusations of “white colonialism” or “apartheid”): All such grievances are invented, based not on fact but on the deep complex of inferiority that, through various tropes, has been sewn into collective identities, deeply cut into the mind of the West.

This rare course made today’s otherwise unbelievable prevalence and appeasement of antisemitism understandable. With the institutionalized tropes, laid out in Christian and Muslim traditions and later ingrained into the secular social consciousness of nations, modern antisemitism and damnatory claims about Jews and Israel are easily appeased, accepted and parroted.

On campus, when I look to my right and a student’s laptop has a sticker saying “Boycott Israel” next to a Pride sticker and Palestinian flag sticker, and the girl two seats behind me has a “Stop Israeli Apartheid” sticker on her water bottle, I understand. When my friend is told he won’t be elected student body president because he’s Jewish, I understand. When friends feel the need to hide their kippahs and Stars of David (and justifiably so), while more and more students comfortably don kaffiyehs, I understand. When I see Jewish students make desperate attempts to not be hated, to try and fit in by being a “good Jew” renouncing Israel, I understand.

While I understand, I remain scared and unsettled, pessimistic about the future of Jews in this country. But I understand how the unparalleled institution of antisemitism allowed for Hamas’ strategy to so easily coopt my generation. I understand how students and faculty so easily incant claims of “apartheid,” “white colonizers,” “power-hungry oppressors,” “Zionist-brainwashers,” “blood-hungry,” “baby killers” and so on. They are the product of tropes which have evolved over thousands of years, masked by whatever makes Jew-hatred acceptable in the contemporary moment.

Equipped with a real understanding of the causes of this social cancer, those of us who took Greenfeld’s course can begin to fight it. And fight we will. As Menachem Begin said, paraphrasing Descartes, “We fight; therefore we are.” PJC

Alexander Wecht is a senior at Boston University and an incoming law student at Duke University School of Law. He is from Pittsburgh.

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