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Alexandria Fanjoy Silver

The Day After

Students gleefully burning Jewish books, Carlsbad, 1938.

Global leaders, the world over, have been (understandably) focused on the question of the “day after” for Gaza for months. Anyone with an ounce of intelligence and compassion understands that Israel cannot possibly allow Hamas to stay in power, but the question of what fills the void of Hamas, and how it successfully does so, is deeply provocative and complicated. My concern, however, is more what happens to the Jewish community the day, weeks, months and even years after this war — because a future that once looked relatively calm now seems on the verge of collapse.

In the past week, I’ve been watching the unfolding insanity at Columbia with some consternation. A “solidarity” with Gaza encampment, complete with blowup paragliders (a symbol of peace and, per Ilhan Omar, “anti-war activism” if I’ve ever seen one). American flags are burning. Israeli flags are burning. Jews being beat up. Arrests being made. Former students of mine who go to Columbia are cowering in their dorm rooms, crying their eyes out, waiting for rescue. Shouts of “go back to Poland,” “no Zionists allowed,” and “10,000 October 7ths” ring loud. A prominent Orthodox rabbi from Jersey advised his students not to go to classes for the time being, arguing that while it’s not the Jewish community’s responsibility to ensure their own safety on campus, it increasingly has become entirely our providence. And Columbia clearly cannot guarantee anything.

The same Columbia president argued that she hadn’t seen any anti-Jewish protests, but that anti-war protests increasingly devolved into antisemitism. So, a yes to the antisemitic protests, then? A man in London, England has sparked massive internal debate for the Met police, as he was called out for “being visibly Jewish” — which, by definition, was provocative for the pro-Palestinian mob. In Ottawa last week, Justin Trudeau, of fence-sitting fame, finally had to come out and say that said mob might have an antisemitism problem, as evidenced by their shouting promises to repeat October 7th. One cannot google Israel without seeing the word “genocide” — despite the fact that even the highly politicized ICJ court came back and said that there isn’t actually a genocide happening. It merely warned Israel to “not allow genocide to happen” — which, considering the UN’s obsession with Israel, basically means that they didn’t find anything substantive. If you had told me that this would be the present one year ago today, I would have thought that either Gilead or the Nazis had taken over. And yet, here we are.

There’s one book line that I cannot get out of my head right now, from the end of Return of the King. Frodo reflects on his experience and wonders “how do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend, some hurts that go too deep.” So, what now? People keep saying that when the war ends, all of this overt and seemingly acceptable antisemitism will fade from society and merely disappear back into the hearts and minds of nut jobs the worlds over. But how can it possibly? And, perhaps more pertinently, how can we ever forget? And, seeing where the root of much of this hatred is being fostered, what real hope do we have for a future that looks better than today?

When ideological regimes come into power, the first place they start is the school system — namely, removing anyone who is an ideological “enemy,” and training youth in certain intellectual and political traditions. As we watch videos of these encampments describing how they’re making human chains to prevent “Zionists” from being able to enter campus; as we look and wonder at the fact that every tent is the same make and model and wonder who purchased them en masse; as being “visibly Jewish” is becoming something shameful and provocative, how can you not see shades of the Nazis and Communists in the early 20th century? Where Jews, less than 90 years ago, were prevented by Nazis from entering schools in Germany. Where Zionists, less than 60 years ago, were jailed for believing in the right for Jewish self-determination in the Soviet Union. What is happening is a disgrace, and it does nothing to advance the rights of Palestinian people thousands of miles away, instead, all it is doing is serving to ostracize and make fearful a group of people for just simply being Jewish.

Book burning, Bundsarchives.

Can you imagine, rightfully, if these protest were directed at any other group or any other population? If someone burned a pride flag and attacked openly gay students for being gay? If people shouted that they don’t hate Muslims, just Muslims who are from X country, and it was treated as acceptable discourse? If Black people were being prevented, by human chain, from entering campuses? If a Russian or Chinese professor was not allowed onto campus because the University could no longer guarantee his or her safety from the mob?

I’m someone who has long lived my life in academic settings; I’ve done 12 additional years of post-secondary education, and I spend my life teaching. I love school. School is the holy altar I worship upon, books the roots that tether me to the earth. Learning is the root of love and life and the future, and yet, so many of our most learned institutions are coming down with a bad case of the antisemites. And, I’ll admit, this is somewhat problematic for someone whose Jewish identity was formed in a university classroom, as it wasn’t until university that I met, and fell in love with, real life Jews. And now, what do those same university halls ring with? “Israel is committing genocide;” “Israeli apartheid;” “Zionist power;” “Globalize the Intifada”; “intifada revolution is the [final] solution” etc. How can people not be influenced to believe the worst of us, if, absent context or actual evidence, people feel free to describe us thus? [Also, for the record, when did Zionist become a dirty word? Last time I checked, all Zionist means is those who believe in the Jewish right of self-determination and freedom. So you don’t like what the Israeli state has done? Get in line. Also, I don’t like what Russia is doing, or China is doing, or what the US does sometimes, or France, or Germany, or the UK, or Canada, but do you ever see people suggesting en masse that that means that those states should no longer exist and their people exiled? If you think that the Jewish state should be disbanded because you don’t like the government, but you don’t apply that to any other country in the world, check your double-standards.]

So what happens when the war end and there are two million un-genocided (not a word) Palestinians? Are we still ‘guilty’ of genocide? What happens when the war ends and Israel is involved in some way in the rebuilding of Gaza? Are we settler colonialists again then? What happens to Jewish students on campus when the war is over, but the hate remains? Because there’s no closing this Pandora’s box.

So here we are. In 2017, a mob stormed UVA in Charlottesville, and publicly proclaimed that the reckoning of the Jews was coming; I remember watching it in shock. In the past seven years, that kind of talk has apparently become acceptable — except this time, it’s also found its way into the mob that was fighting the neo-Nazis at Charlottesville too. So now we have the protestors and the counter-protestors agreeing with each other, on one thing at least — that it’s the Jews’ fault (whatever it is). And if universities legitimize the voices of those who call for the destruction of a sovereign state — but only the one — and tell Jewish students that they cannot provide security for them, then what are the outcomes of that? University campuses, these arenas that are supposed to be hotbeds of diversity and expression, of intellect  and challenge, bow to the mob. Universities open late transfer windows to Jewish students who need to leave. And the mob gets to pat themselves on the back for declaring their university Judenfrei. 

At this rate, the next major congressional hearing about Jews at universities will end with a Nazi salute — or maybe a Hezbollah one. TBD.

About the Author
Dr. Alexandria Fanjoy Silver has a B.A. from Queen's University, an MA/ MA from Brandeis and a PhD from the University of Toronto (all in history and education). She lives in Toronto with her husband and three children, and works at TanenbaumCHAT as a Jewish history teacher.
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