(August 2, 2020 / JNS) Close your eyes and picture a swastika. What comes to mind is probably a Nazi flag, or an armband on the uniform of a German soldier, or perhaps a skinhead chanting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Va. For me, I see death camps and millions of my people brutalized, dehumanized and murdered for no reason other than who they were. Now, the Student Union president at Brandeis University wants to destigmatize the swastika and force Jewish students to confront this evil symbol on campus, no matter how uncomfortable it makes them.
As president of the student union, Simran Tatuskar shoulders important responsibilities on campus. Instead of working for the good of Brandeis’ collective student population, however, she has decided to focus her energy on a crusade for the rehabilitation of the most universally recognized hate symbol in the western world.
Tatuskar argues that the swastika is not actually a hate symbol at all, but rather a peaceful icon that should be included in school curricula. This could not be further from the truth. Normalizing the swastika is tantamount to expunging the most painful chapter of Jewish history. Ironically, minimizing Jewish suffering throughout history is exactly what the Nazis did to justify their persecution and extermination of their Jewish neighbors.
Tatuskar has since apologized for her rhetoric, saying that she regrets the “misunderstandings” that her advocacy caused, but nevertheless went on to defend her position. She said she wanted to “show the visual differences of the left-facing hooked cross Nazi swastika and the right-facing Hindu/Buddhist/Jain swastika for those who were unaware of the difference.” But the truth is, Tatuskar is not Jewish and has no idea the pain and suffering that the image of the swastika involves for my family, my Jewish friends and me. To have a non-Jew attempt to erase my experience of this symbol is an injustice one would never dare attempt with another minority group.
Tatuskar’s actions, oddly enough, were prompted by the now-passed New York State legislation that would add the study of “symbols of hate, including the swastika and the noose” to middle school and high school curricula. Brandeis should seriously question why a student leader at a Massachusetts University is spending her time reaching across state lines to protect hate symbols from scrutiny. Advocating for the promotion of the swastika is unbecoming of any student, let alone one in a position of influence and power on campus, specifically at a time when anti-Semitism is hitting unprecedented levels in the United States.
It’s time the Brandeis administration on campus speak up to condemn Simran Tatuskar for her inexplicable defense of a Nazi symbol.
Liora Rez is an alumna of Brandeis University.
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