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The alternate universe of antisemitism

Apparently, the First Amendment favors terrorists but not racists. Go figure.

Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testifies before a House committee on antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Source: C-SPAN.
Liz Magill, president of University of Pennsylvania, testifies before a House committee on antisemitism on campus on Dec. 5, 2023. Source: C-SPAN.
Thane Rosenbaum. Photo by Bruce Gilbert
Thane Rosenbaum
Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech ... From Itself.”

Disclaimer: This essay is a work of fiction. The author is a white Jewish male in his 60s. He is not a teenage African-American co-ed. But he is a novelist with a number of titles to his name, so he makes up stories and invents characters for a living. Well, not exactly a living. OK, that’s your trigger warning if emotional distress and cultural grievance have already set in, and you are grinding down what’s left of your teeth.

Dear Mom and Dad,

My first semester of college is almost over. Exams start this week with organic chemistry. Can you believe it? Your daughter’s dreams of one day becoming a doctor are underway! I promised I would not waste this opportunity, and I haven’t.

That’s mainly why I haven’t written these past two months—long hours of studying and making new friends. But there was another reason. A little disturbing, which is why I didn’t bring it up. I didn’t want you to worry.

OK. Please sit down. So here goes … there was this student group on campus comprised of mostly white boys from the South who are opposed to diversity on our campus. They say that blacks have taken scholarships and grants away from more deserving white kids. They feel that African-Americans and other people of color are inferior. They also say that we are prone to violence and demanding of government handouts. They say that George Floyd gave African-Americans a blank check to vandalize businesses and intimidate white people.

It’s just gross.

Well, they started making their feelings known in a much more aggressive manner. Protests outside of the main library; sit-ins at the president’s office; disruption of classes; scheduled walk-outs; blocking the entrance to the student center; shoving Black students; racist graffiti everywhere: “Blacks get out!”; “First George Floyd, you’re next!”; “Take your welfare elsewhere!”

Worst of all, slogans were chanted on the campus green, sometimes right to the faces of students of color: “Lynch blacks!” and “From Charleston to Arlington, the South will be free.”

Can you believe this? A lot of my black friends were scared to go to class! The protesters said that they had a First Amendment right, and academic freedom, to make their political opinions known, by any means they chose to make it.

And get this: More than a few racist faculty members were advising these students, joining them, and cheering them on! Some apparently said ugly and stereotypical things about black people during class lectures that were inciting these crowds. It was like Selma all over again!

OK, you can breathe now. Everything is fine. Crisis averted. All of those racist students have been suspended; some lost their financial aid. The leaders were expelled from school, barred from attending the university. As for those professors—all placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation, but we have been promised that they will probably never be reinstated, at least not at this university.

You’ll love this part. My roommates. You met all three of them on move-in day. All white girls, right—they stood by me throughout the entirety of this campus unrest. And some white football players I know from one of my classes escorted me to the dining hall and libraries.

In fact, most white kids supported students of color in different ways (someone baked me cupcakes with smiley faces as frosting). They all wanted us to know that they had our backs, and they openly rejected the racist hatemongers. They even scheduled a nighttime vigil where everyone held candles and chanted songs from the civil-rights era.

It gets better: The president of the university, a white female, made it clear almost immediately that the First Amendment does not protect such harassing, harmful, despicable speech. “Lynch blacks!” She said this university is better than that, and she and the administration won’t tolerate it. The actions of the students and faculty violated not only the university’s Code of Conduct but broke the trust that students and parents have that safety, mutual respect and a collegial environment will be given the highest priority.

A law professor, some guy named Rosenbaum, I think, wrote an op-ed in the university newspaper, arguing that the Bill of Rights was not created to protect bullies who are incapable of having a civil conversation or engaging in thoughtful debate.

I hope I didn’t freak you out. That’s why I didn’t say anything until now. I waited for everything to settle down.

Well, not exactly. There is one more thing. Hard to believe given what I just told you.

Almost immediately after the surreal murder of Jews in southern Israel on Oct. 7, large crowds of masked pro-Hamas sympathizers have been parading around campus, threatening and intimidating Jews, spreading fear, calling for a global “jihad!” (everyone knows what that means!), ripping down those hostage posters and basically doing some of the same things that the white racists were doing to us.

But curiously, the white, non-racist students aren’t standing up for them. Unfathomable. Some, in fact, have gone ahead and joined the barbaric pro-Hamas bandwagon. And even more inexplicably: The university president hasn’t condemned the attack on Israel and hasn’t done a single thing, or issued any formal statement, to protect the Jews on campus. Apparently, the First Amendment favors terrorists but not racists. Go figure.

As a black girl, I am sensitive to racism, of course. But I know about antisemitism and read about the Holocaust. And yet I have never seen anything like this—hatred so overt, a lynch mob in search of Jews. And nobody seems to want to help. They are looking the other way. I don’t know what to make of it all.

The Jews are standing alone. So much for their white privilege.

On that unpleasant note, I must get back to the books. But I’ll see you for Christmas after finals. Maybe I’ll have better news.

Your loving daughter,

Latifa

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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