Benjamin Folkinshteyn

Feeding the Narrative and the Insidious ‘And’

On June 1, 2020, prompted by the aftermath of the George Floyd-related protests in Minnesota and across the country, Dean Ted Ruger of the University of Pennsylvania Law School issued a statement endorsing systemic reform to combat structural racism. In relevant part, Dean Ruger argued that the circumstances surrounding George Floyd’s death “reminded all of us that this country’s 400-year history of racism continues to produce clear and present danger to the bodies and lives of Black people in every part of the United States.” Further, he extended his “deepest condolences to all who have lost loved ones to anti-Black violence and who have struggled in the face of racism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism” (emphasis added).

Similarly, on March 17, 2021, former University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann issued a statement titled “A Message to the Penn Community regarding violence and anti-Asian hate incidents”. In concluding the four-paragraph long proclamation, President Gutmann said the following:

“At this time of great stress for Asian citizens and visitors across the country, we want those of Asian descent who are part of our Penn community to know that we stand strongly and proudly with you. We are committed to working together to address this racism and hatred, and to fight the scourge of intolerance, including anti-Black racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in our midst.” (emphasis added)

And, last but not least, after refusing to speak on this matter for over a month, University of Pennsylvania Law School’s Dean Sophia Lee sent an e-mail on November 8, 2023 to all alumni, expressing the law school’s position thusly:

“The University has announced an Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism and a Presidential Commission to address the interconnectedness of Antisemitism with other forms of hate, including Islamophobia. These are University-wide initiatives, and we will align our efforts with them as those plans take shape. I’ve been heartened by the interest expressed by students, faculty, and alumni in serving in this important undertaking. We are also ensuring these critical issues are incorporated into the Law School’s existing mandatory anti-bias programming and are offering a new spring series open to all students that will address Antisemitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bias.” (emphasis added)

Now, two of those three statements have been altered. One is true to original copy. Give yourself a cookie if you chose Dean Lee’s statement as the real deal.  Missing from Dean Ruger’s and President Gutmann’s public proclamations were any references to other forms of hate. Each of those statements had a singular focus on anti-Black racism and anti-Asian racism, respectively. But after October 7, Antisemitism and Islamophobia have become joined at the hip, often accompanied by “other forms of hatred” as the third wheel.

In the days, weeks and now months following the gruesome October 7 ` attacks on Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists, very few institutions and governmental bodies had the temerity to speak out only against antisemitism. There is always that equivocating connector –“and”. It has become de rigeur for all public figures and bodies to set their auto-correct settings to automatically drop that ‘and’ in after every mention of antisemitism, lest an errant tweet escape without it, akin to invoking Voldemort He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named aloud.

This verbal tic is a symptom of a larger disease of minimization of Jewish suffering, but it also does something much more sinister. It allows anyone who used this magic incantation to quickly pivot to demonizing and delegitimizing Israel at the first opportunity without any cognitive dissonance or otherwise loss of “street cred” among fellow travelers that they are Zionist shills.

And this phenomenon plays out on television screens and social media feeds day after day. Those who have wrapped themselves in the “all forms of hate” mantle freely jump at any news tidbit, insinuation or blood libel, however knee-jerk or inaccurate, to portray the Jewish State to be as violent and vile as the October 7 terrorists, freedom rapists, “freedom fighters”. They are against antisemitism in the abstract, but not in practice. To them, antisemitism is something that is only the purview of people in white hoods and not of the faces looking back at them in the mirror. And they proudly wave the Anti-Zionist banners and chant of Palestinian liberation “by any means necessary”. They have no reservations about telling Jews how to be Jews and pontificating that true Judaism is free of Zionism. Ignorant of history, completely enthralled with Soviet propaganda repackaged for the modern age, and enabled by institutions unwilling to speak against madness, they are emboldened to equate Israel with Nazism and unapologetically deny Hamas atrocities as Zionist/Western propaganda.

The word ‘and’ when speaking out against antisemitism is just like the word ‘but’ when used in an apology. It automatically cancels out whatever precedes it.Our public institutions (including universities) must speak out with a loud voice against antisemitism in the public square without any equivocations. To be clear, antisemitic voices, in my opinion, should not be silenced. It is much easier to find Waldo when he glorifies and celebrates violence against the Jews with glee. But Jew hatred should be condemned just as loudly as it is expressed and should not be consequence-free.

Unfortunately, many universities and public institutions have become addicted to the dogma that judges the individual only by the groups to which he or she belongs. And, thus, over the last two decades in particular, the Jew has become today’s Shylock, to be treated with some pathos but ultimately put in his place as an interloper and a colonialist. The road to recovery is long, but I do hope (perhaps foolishly) that when my children go to college they can attend without fear as proud Jews.

About the Author
Benjamin Folkinshteyn is an attorney in private practice in the Greater New York area. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
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