Emory’s Anti-Semitism Problem

Members of the wider Jewish community display support for Emory's students who have been targeted and made to feel unsafe.
Members of the wider Jewish community display support for Emory's students who have been targeted and made to feel unsafe.

While Atlanta is no longer home I still feel very much at home in Atlanta. A recent visit brought back fond memories of four years at Emory University and living there as a young adult for some years afterward.

The same week that I visited, Emory was targeted with another (now all too common on American campuses) anti-Semitic incident. Under the auspices of Emory’s “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP), fake eviction notices were posted on the doors of students in university and private housing. The “eviction notices” were allegedly in response to a controversial Israeli policy confronting the terrorism to which it has been subject for decades: destroying the homes of the terrorists. This policy is meant to be both punitive as well as preventative. It’s hard to know to what extent it is effective as the only real estate that terrorists seem to care about is Israel itself, and its destruction. They also make nefarious claims of “ethnic cleansing” and that Israel destroys houses of other Palestinian Arabs in order to claim land for Jews.

In response to the recent anti-Semitic incident, someone wrote in the Emory Wheel defending the fake eviction tactic, claiming that it encouraged dialogue. That’s nonsense. SJP promotes hate and lies. Academic dialogue is the standard to strive for at a campus with Emory’s reputation. Similarly, calling out SJP’s lies (as distinguished from opinions) must take place as a matter of academic integrity. Anyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

As a student at Emory, and Hillel president, in the 1980s, we celebrated Israel and all its achievements. But I also engaged in a dialogue with the Moslem Student Association headed by a Syrian medical student with whom I became friendly. We had vast differences of opinion about which we spoke openly. He was much more radical than I was, but we did not have any overt conflict.

One may legitimately disagree with and protest any sort of policy, in Israel or elsewhere. Yet SJP’s lies are as incontrovertible as their anti-Semitism. By suggesting that Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing, they not only lie but they show their true colors employing overt anti-Semitism by demonizing Israel, employing double standards, and campaign to delegitimize Israel’s very right to exist.

If Emory were question how this is anti-Semitic, they only needed to walk across the quad to visit with Prof. Deborah Lipstadt, Emory’s own in house authority and respected historian whose most recent book, “Antisemitism Here and Now” explains that.

As “students” they also show a lack of academic integrity and honesty.

Underscoring SJP’s dishonestly, they want you to believe that the destruction of terrorists’ homes takes place in a vacuum, as if it’s some whimsical anti-Arab Israeli policy. The fact is that terrorism that’s the trigger and Israel’s policy is a consequence of that. Terrorism is the definition of evil, epitomizing the horrific and indiscriminate nature of the hatred and violence that is perpetrated and celebrated throughout Palestinian Arab society.

And while the target of their hate and terror is Israel and its Jewish residents, too frequently there are other victims including non-Jews, and even occasionally other Palestinian Arabs. Perpetrators of the canard that “justice” is a one-way street and only Israel is responsible for problems among Palestinian Arabs are dishonest. Tremendous suffering among Palestinian Arabs exists directly because of the terrorism and cronyism that exists within Palestinian Arab society. But SJP wants you to believe either that it doesn’t exist, or that its Israel’s fault.

The perpetrators of this lie do not want dialogue. They want you to believe their lies, and think that Israel is the evil boogieman. At Emory, they raised the ante by engaging in overt anti-Semitism.

By targeting and threatening Jewish students among others and not policies, SJP demonstrated that anti-Semitism is the very core of their activity. If they had truly sought to expose an Israeli policy that they disliked, academic integrity would have required them to do so in a way that address the policy, and supporters of the policy, Jews and non-Jews alike.

In Atlanta I spoke to administrators, faculty, other alumni, and parents. I was given reason to believe that Emory would address this and I should wait. I was encouraged, so I did. Last week, Emory’s president came out with a tepid statement so much so that as one Emory parent said, “I can’t tell if the President was for it or against it.”

Indeed, President Claire Sterk wrote of a “wide range of voices,” hearing “personal pain (of) students and the wider Jewish community.”

Then, almost as if justifying the anti-Semitic incident, she writes, “What happens on the Emory campus does not happen in isolation. All of us are aware that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise on college campuses and throughout American society today. It is in that context of escalating intolerance that our Jewish students found the mock-eviction notices – which incorrectly gave the impression that Emory endorsed the message on the flyers – on their doors. Although Jewish students were not singled out, they and their families justifiably felt targeted, given the world in which we live.”

Her statement continued without mention of the words Jewish or anti-Semitism, equivocating in a way that seems to defend everyone. “We defend our shared right to express controversial views…words and actions have consequences. Freedom of expression has costs, and those costs are not always born equally. At Emory we must stand with all of our students, faculty, and staff whenever actions threaten their sense of safety or well-being. This is not only important to me personally, but it is also the heart of who we are and what we value as an academic community. Several of the students with whom I recently met eloquently reminded me that many students across our campus—individuals from all backgrounds and all walks of life—have been deeply affected by this incident. I urge us to work together for healing.”

This sounds like the typical blame the victim statement made when Israel responds to terror and world leaders call for restraint.

All this has created a heated dialogue among alumni and parents of Emory students. Comments of disgust to disappointment abound such as:

When it comes to Jews, at Emory, there is certain level of tolerance when we are the ones being attacked.

Whoever in the University campus life who approved the posting of the flyers should have been fired by now, no questions asked.”

There was more concern of the “microaggressions” when some students simply wrote “Trump” in chalk on the Emory sidewalk during the elections than during this episode.”

If this incident had featured flyers that mentioned “lynching” black students or anything whatsoever directed against Moslems or Muhammed, or a peep against LGBTQ community, the whole campus would be in an uproar, the national media would be all over it, and the university president would be pandering to all the groups promising to make dramatic changes to placate the complaints.”

Indeed, earlier this year when Emory discovered photos of people in blackface in decades old yearbooks, it created a commission to investigate this.

As President Sterk noted, it is part of a growing trend, one with national consequences. Because of that, Emory not only had a chance to clean house and show zero tolerance for this anti-Semitism without ambiguity, but to set a national example. Instead, Emory swung for the bleachers trying to appease everyone, and struck out.

If expressing ideas can’t be done on an academic setting without engaging in lies and anti-Semitism, especially one at Emory’s high level, then Emory is part of the problem. The haters who propagated this anti-Semitic attack do not deserve to be Emory students. They diminish the reputation to which Emory strives.

Not only did SJP violate human decency, posting their notices on Jewish students’ doors is minimally vandalism, and possibly an assault, if not a hate crime.

Historically, Emory openly engaged in anti-Semitic discrimination, a policy it for which it publicly apologized decades later. It’s not too late now. Emory can still do the right thing, and in doing so become a moral compass rather than a ship with a skewed moral rudder.

Just like terrorism, as President Sterk noted, words and actions have consequences too. Violating rules of human decency, if not the law, has consequences. If Emory won’t bring legal charges against the perpetrators, they should expel or using their own word, evict, the individual perpetrators if not SJP itself.

About the Author
Jonathan Feldstein made aliyah in 2004, married and raising six children in the Judean mountains. He is a long time Jewish non-profit professional and works closely with many Christians who support Israel.
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