Almost every day comes another anti-Semitic incident or physical assault within the United States. What was once lurking on the margins of society has increasingly become prevalent and more normalized. The FBI has recently reported that there are more attacks on the Jewish people than on any other religious group. Just recently in Brooklyn, N.Y., police made arrests relating to three Chassidic men who were attacked in the same week. It seems that for some, the more overtly Jewish one appears, the more license others feel they have to assault you.
These sorts of physical assaults come from highly marginalized, angry groups that get their hatred from virulently anti-Semitic sites in the deep dark web, and far too often even from preachers in their mosques or churches.
Today, however, there is a more pernicious, “polite” anti-Semitism, a specious attempt to eradicate the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. As former Prisoner of Zion and Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky has written, classical anti-Semitism was directed against the Jewish people, individually, or the Jewish religion. Modern anti-Semitism is directed against “the state of the Jews.”
Right now, the most immediate, existential threat to the survival of the Jewish people comes from Iran, which is assiduously working towards an attempted genocide of Israelis. Most of us are aware that the country has at least 40 kilograms of highly enriched uranium—at least enough for one nuclear bomb—and is probably hard at work on a weaponization program.
But there is also the “polite” anti-Semitism coming out of the mouths of professors and students (even in kindergarten through 12th grade),which legitimizes the further demonization of Jews at an extremely precarious time in the history of the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, our nation’s Jewish students are on the front lines. Let’s examine a few recent examples: On Aug. 26, a group of Berkeley Law School students associated with the BDS program have written a declaration barring the free speech of any student or invited person associated with Zionism. Recently, at SUNY New Paltz, a student who had been raped formed a sexual-assault awareness club. When they found out she was a Zionist, she was expelled from the very group she had created. At CUNY this July, a group of college professors titled “Not in Our Name” encouraged their peers to support BDS and to “stand against all methods of normalization with Zionist entities.”
This is just the tip of the iceberg. (For a comprehensive list that includes thousands of incidents, see the Amcha Initiative.) Students are routinely harassed, beaten up, intimidated and bullied because of who they are.
For the majority of Jews across the United States, Zionism is as integral to the core of our identity as Jews as any religious precept or ethnic tradition.
That is why there is a need for a clear and unambiguous definition of anti-Semitism, such as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition, which includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Unfortunately, there are some Jews who have strongly opposed the existence of Israel. Some, including journalist Peter Beinart, who recently penned an editorial on the subject in The New York Times, oppose the IHRA definition because it supports the existence of the State of Israel.
He is a part of the signatories of a self-appointed elite group of anti-Zionist Jews who have attempted to write another definition ironically called “The Jerusalem Declaration,” which defines, among other things, “Criticizing or opposing Zionism” as not being anti-Semitic, and states that “Boycott, divestment and sanctions are commonplace, no-violent forms of political protest against states. In the Israeli case, they are not, in and of themselves, anti-Semitic.”
We know where this leads to. Under the Weimar Republic, the very first institutions to adopt the Nazi discriminatory laws against Jews were the universities, where they summarily fired Jewish professors and dismissed Jewish students.
That is why it is extremely important for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to adopt the IHRA definition. It has been adopted by the U.S. Department of State, by the leaders of the European Union, the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as by more than 30 countries, including most E.U. states.
As a firm believer in the Constitution and in free speech, I am primarily concerned about the critically important role that our nation’s universities and public schools have in molding the minds and attitudes of future citizens and thought leaders throughout the United States.
There is a huge distinction between what can be uttered in the town’s square and what is allowable within the classroom, the campus or the quad. Universities have a unique opportunity to mold the hearts and minds of future generations.
The continuous, upward trend of demonization of students who are Zionists has gotten way out of bounds. There is far too much intolerance in this country, compounded by the fact that university administrators have turned a deaf ear to the very real concerns of students attacked for their support of the existence of Israel. That lends legitimacy to the marginalization of Jewish students and teaches that Jews are fair game for further demonization in this country.
In these days of political polarization and divisiveness throughout our country, allowing for—and therefore enabling—these vicious attacks on our nation’s Jewish students makes an unhealthy environment for our Jewish students; adds a sense of legitimacy to the marginalization of Jews in America; diminishes any empathy for “the other”; and contributes to the corrosive discourse within our society.
As the late Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote, “The hate that begins with the Jews never ends with the Jews.”
Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.