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Education is key to counter normalizing anti-Jewish hate and ignorance

The Jewish calendar year 5783 was a disturbing one when it came to antisemitism.

The University of Pennsylvania's Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Credit: NM Giovannucci via Wikimedia Commons.
The University of Pennsylvania's Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Credit: NM Giovannucci via Wikimedia Commons.

On the eve of the Jewish New Year, the worldwide Jewish population increased to 15.7 million last year, still 1 million fewer Jews than there were before the Holocaust, showing that the Jewish community has not yet recovered from the Nazi’s systematic genocide. As the New Year begins, the importance of education in combatting the continuing rise in acts of hatred against Jews and Israel is as essential as ever before.

The Jewish calendar year of 5783 was a disturbing one for American Jews and Israelis. The number of attacks against American Jews remains alarming, with countless acts of intimidation, especially on social media, left unreported. Unrelenting physical assaults targeting Jews, bomb hoax calls forcing the evacuation of synagogues, denial of Jewish history and shameless intimidation of Zionist university students continue to make headlines.

A few recent events show that while we are making a dent through community activism, continuing threats loom large. Anti-Jewish voices are normalized at the United Nations and amplified on American university campuses. Denial of the Jewish ancestral connection in the land of Israel is a common theme.

Denying Jewish history

There is a long, sordid saga of denying basic facts of Jewish history. Jews have maintained a continual presence in Jerusalem for more than 2,000 years and built two temples that were destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans. There is archaeological evidence proving the exact location of the Second Temple before its destruction in 70 C.E. The most visible remains of the Temple Mount complex today are the Western Wall—Judaism’s holiest site.

These facts did not prevent late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from telling President Bill Clinton that “there was never a Jewish Temple, so I cannot accept any Israeli presence in Jerusalem. Not even underground.”

The Supreme Moslem Council confirmed the historical connection of the Jewish people to Jerusalem in 1924. From a brief guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif. Credit: Courtesy.

A guide to the holy mosques published by the Supreme Muslim Council in 1924 in Jerusalem unequivocally confirmed that Islam’s Dome of the Rock’s “identity with the site of Solomon’s Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to the universal belief, on which ‘David built there an altar unto the Lord.’ ” But in recent decades the Temple Mount’s Islamic guardians removed and destroyed invaluable Jewish archaeological remains.

The United Nations targets Israel

The United Nations has for decades denied the Jews’ historic connection to the Land of Israel, and even infamously equated Zionism with racism. The United Nations also empowers autocratic states that routinely target Israel, disregard Jewish history and seek to deny Jews the right of self-determination in their ancestral homeland.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recently announced that the prehistoric Jericho ruins are a Palestinian cultural heritage site, when in fact they are well-known to pre-date Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared that the site is a testimony to the authenticity and history of the Palestinian people. The Israeli foreign ministry called it “another sign of Palestinians’ cynical use of UNESCO and politicization of the organization.”

UNESCO previously listed the Jewish Cave of the Patriarchs in the old city of Hebron—the burial site of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah—as a Palestinian heritage site. Former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin scolded “UNESCO’s intent on sprouting anti-Jewish lies, while it remains silent as the region’s heritage is destroyed by brutal extremists.”

Corrosive campus climate for Jewish students

Speakers who claimed that the Jewish state acts worse than the Nazis, called for Israel’s destruction and stated that Israel has an insatiable appetite for violence are headlining an event at the University of Pennsylvania. Penn is hosting the “Palestine Writes” literary festival, an event taking place during Shabbat and ending immediately before the start of the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt condemned the timing as “insulting. Shame on Penn.”

The event is being sponsored by a number of university departments, including the Wolf Humanities Center, and a professor was requiring students to attend. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), a Penn graduate, called on the school to disinvite some of the most disgraceful speakers—musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd fame and academic Marc Lamont Hill, two well-known voices of hatred against Israel.

The conference leader dismissed the historical connection of Jews to their ancestral homeland, calling Israelis colonialists and stating that the indigenous Palestinians are being erased, the exact opposite of what is actually true. Palestine was once synonymous with Jews. The Palestine Post, an English-language Jewish newspaper, was renamed The Jerusalem Post following Israel’s independence. The Israel Football Association (soccer) was founded in 1928 as the Palestine Football Association. Currency bills during the British Mandate for Palestine were in English, Hebrew and Arabic.

ADL Report: Anti-Israel Activism on Campus 2022-2023. Credit: Anti-Defamation League.

The latest perversion of history is happening on campus a week after the ADL released its annual Anti-Israel Activism on U.S. Campuses, 2022-23 report. The vilification of Israeli supporters and expressions of support for terrorism against Israel were the most prevalent activities on college and university campuses. There is a growing, radical movement on many campuses in which opposition to Israel and Zionism is required to be fully accepted in classes and student clubs, effectively marginalizing campus Jewish communities.

The ADL also shared its recommendations with university administrators for the new school year. Its letter advises adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, ensuring accommodations for Jewish students who observe religious and cultural practices and other recommendations.

On the positive side last year, the strengthening of ties forged between Israel and other Abraham Accords nations proved that peace is possible in the Middle East, and the modern-day State of Israel celebrated its 75th anniversary. The White House released the first-ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, and American Jewish and Israeli communities displayed resilience against continuing threats.

Points to consider:

  1. Erasive antisemitism seeks to eliminate Jewish identity.

There are bigots who not only deny or distort the Holocaust; they also deny and distort all of Jewish history and identity. They deny that Jews are a people with a unique ancestry who have shared memory, experienced oppression, were exiled from the land of Israel and have a centuries-old connection to the Jewish state. This is erasive antisemitism. Instead, these bigots accuse Jews of being oppressors. They label all Jews as “white,” even though historically, Jews were never considered white—most notably by Hitler, who saw Jews as race polluters. Jews need the help of non-Jews to push back against this growing effort to erase the Jews’ distinct identity and create spaces where Jews feel comfortable talking about their history. Jews must be able to celebrate their heritage openly and proudly without fear of being excluded, shunned or even harmed.

  1. Palestinian denial of Jewish history creates distrust.

Palestinian leaders have a long history of denying basic, underlying facts about the Jewish ancestral connection to Israel. This denial of historical Jewish connections during the past 30 years of the Oslo Accords makes peace harder to achieve. Ignoring history generates feelings of doubt and sows distrust in negotiations. Lies about Jewish history are prevalent in the Palestinian education system, raising new generations of young Palestinians to believe false narratives about Israelis. To make progress towards lasting peace, it is essential that all parties acknowledge and respect each other’s historical narratives. This will help pave the way towards peace and stability in the Middle East.

  1. What was unacceptable in the past is more tolerable today.

Beating Jews in broad daylight and routine calls for Israel’s destruction were once unfathomable; today, they are increasing at an alarming rate. Actions and rhetoric that were unequivocally condemned in the past are now sometimes met with indifference—or even more alarmingly—tacit approval. This deeply troubling change not only threatens the safety and well-being of U.S. Jewish communities but also undermines the tolerance, respect and coexistence that should be the foundations of American society. As the saying goes: “What begins with the Jews often doesn’t end with the Jews.”

  1. Education counters the amplification and normalization of anti-Jewish hate.

The insidious nature of antisemitism often thrives in ignorance and prejudice. Prioritization of education can counteract harmful narratives. Education dispels misconceptions and stereotypes by providing accurate information about Jewish history, culture and contributions to society. It fosters understanding and empathy, breaking down the barriers that fuel prejudice. Teaching about the Holocaust and contemporary antisemitism serves as a stark reminder of the consequences of unchecked hatred. It is a powerful tool for instilling values of tolerance and preventing history from repeating itself. Media literacy and critical thinking skills are essential education components in the digital age where hate spreads rapidly online. Social-media users need to be able to discern between reliable information and propaganda, reducing the risk of being influenced by hate-filled narratives.

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