It’s Not a Joke, It’s An Assault On Our Very Existence

Every time I turn on my phone, every time I read the news, every time I turn on the television, every time I open Facebook, I see it. It’s not just a singular phenomenon; it’s not meaningless. It’s an assault on my right to exist; it’s an attack on my very core. The understanding that across the world, my right to exist is denied, the understanding that there is only one place where I can feel safe and comfortable within my faith and ethnicity, and the understanding, that throughout everything that my people have gone through, leads myself, and my friends to continue to feel as though we are strangers in a strange land. We had thought things were getting better; we truly believed that people began to accept the right of all people to exist, regardless of ethnicity, religion, race, culture, gender, sexuality, and otherwise. But it seems as if not everyone is given that right; it seems rather, that we are explicitly denied of that right.

Zionism, the right of the Jewish people to feel safe and secure in their homelands whether we live in Israel or across the world, was declared a racist ideology by the United Nations in 1975. In other words, the right of the Jewish people to have the same acceptance, the same compassion, and the same safety as any other people, was delegitimized while the remainder of the world has been encouraged to pursue national self determination and state sovereignty. Only one country and one people has been systematically denied that right: The Jewish People.

Anti-Semitism, the scholarly understanding of the hatred of Jews as a people, has been on the rise throughout the world, and in particular in Europe. Much of the rise has been falsely attributed to the crises ongoing in the Middle East and in particular, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not only does this fail to address the reality that anti-Semitism has existed since the first Jew called himself a Jew, but also it places the onus for Jewish hatred on the Jewish people. The remainder of the world has been systemically deprived of its agency to accept responsibility at the expense of placing blame on less than .2% of the global population. This is a profoundly illogical, if not simply racist, response; a single possible equivalent might be a sexual assault case in which the victim is not only assaulted, but is further blamed for “asking for it” or putting themselves in the situation to be attacked. Imagine if someone attempted to make that case in the world today, not only would such an individual be shunned, he or she would face dramatic backlash for victim blaming and slut shaming. Further, it would be as if White-Anglo-Saxon Protestants placed the blame for racism on the existence of minority or non-white populations. This is the very definition of the revision of history to suit a privileged population and again, would be globally and internationally condemned. Yet, when it happens to the Jews, the world rationalizes these actions, placing responsibility on the expansion of Jewish cities and towns in Israel or the desire of religious Jews to pray at our holiest site.

Anti-Semitism is not on the rise because the Jewish people continue to exist, anti-Semitism is on the rise because the world legitimizes it and allows it to continue. Under the guise of anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism continues to persist. This is not to say that one cannot be anti-Zionist (in regards to disagreeing with the policies of Israel as opposed to the right of the Jewish people to live) nor that one cannot be in opposition to Israel as a Jewish State without being anti-Semitic. So long as such individuals hold all parties to the same standard, so long as they recognize the hypocrisy in not doing so, one would be hard-pressed to call such criticism anti-Semitic. However, in reality, it is excruciatingly rare to find such legitimate critics; this is a shame as these critics are our best hope of securing the best possible future for my community, and for the one country in the world where I can feel safe to be a Jew, Israel.

I am often asked to justify such a statement in juxtaposition to the United States where it should be crystal clear that I have the right to be a Jew; I am told that it is patently false to say that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States. And yet, I cannot seem to wrap my head around that. In Kentucky, Robert Ransdell ran for the United States senate under the slogan, “With Jews you lose”; David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan held a position as a Louisiana State Representative; Art Jones, a proud neo-Nazi ran for congress in Illinois in 2012. However, the larger issue is not that of the United States Congress; the American people have generally opposed such blatant hatred, understanding that if nothing else, such hatred could not be accepted publically in such a way.

The larger issue, in direct opposition to the values, for which it claims to stand for, is the tendency of students on liberal college campuses to engage in anti-Semitic behavior. Without addressing the so-called BDS movement which some continue to argue is only in opposite to Israel even as Jews in general have become its victim, without addressing the anti-Semitism of allegedly pro-Palestinian group SJP calling for an Intifada or uprising against Jews, I want to focus solely on blatant hate crimes such as the desecration of property with Swastikas or justifying the argument that Hitler should have finished his Final Solution which have been on the rise across the American and global college campuses.

At Binghamton, a friend of mine had Swastikas drawn on a sign he put on is door as an apology for not being able to open his home to guests after he had been the victim of theft; at Framingham State University, just a few minutes from where I previously went to school, a Swastika was etched onto a private vehicle which was deliberately chosen for its lack of video surveillance in the area; across the board, Alpha Epsilon Pi, a historic Jewish fraternity, as fallen victim to Swastika desecration on its houses; but closest to home, in a study room where I did work regularly for the past two years, at Clark University.

Matt's House 2

Clark Swastika

One of the many reasons I initially decided to attend Clark, prior to transferring to Brandeis after feeling unsafe and uncomfortable at the school, was because of the incredible opportunities that existed across the board to do mitzvoth, to make the world a better place than when I arrived. My campus, as my friend beautifully stated “caters to those who want to ‘challenge convention’ and change our world’, as our motto boasts”. Thus, one should reasonably come to expect that we as students could understand the legitimate oppression that Jews, and other minorities have and continue to face. Instead, someone had the audacity to deface the school and commit a hate crime.

Regardless of the fact that the Swastika is minimal in size and was likely drawn by an ignoramus who has no knowledge of history or compassion for those who are different from them, the fact still stands: an attack on the Jewish people is a hate crime. The doodling of a Swastika on a wall is not simply a minute act, it is an attack on my very right to live as a Jew. It isn’t a joke, it is a declaration of war.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking, I was informed that recently an Israeli friend of mine who was shopping at Price Chopper in Worcester MA, was heiled at for speaking Hebrew with his friends as he walked by. In the past, I faced similar experiences when speaking Hebrew, but I always laughed it off as an insensitive joke; rather than address the reality, I felt too uncomfortable and chose to laugh instead.

The time for silence and discomfort is done. As a Jewish student, I can honestly say, again as my friend beautifully wrote that, “seeing this swastika, which symbolizes a deep loathing towards every Jew, makes me feel unsafe on my own campus. This needs to stop. I will never be quiet about my identity” and I like her, agree that all those who face hate and attacks on their very existence must also speak up.

It may begin with the Jews, but as Arab-Israeli Ambassador to Norway, George Deek brilliantly stated, “If we cannot accept the Jews, we acknowledge that we can accept no one who is different than us”. Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem alone, it is a global lack of acceptance to the right of human beings to be who they truly are. For my sake, and for yours, we must not be silent.

About the Author
Seth Greenwald is passionate in his fights both against anti-Semitism on college campuses as well as the fight against anti-Israel bias and slander worldwide. Seth first developed a passion for Israel after traveling there for his Bar-Mitzvah, kindled that passion through United Synagogue Youth, and has continued to develop throughout his undergraduate career at Clark University. Seth also served as an intern at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle Eastern Reporting for America (CAMERA), Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), and the David Project.