The Normalization of Jew-hatred at Temple University and Around the World

We hear so much today about protecting rights of minorities. But not all minorities. There are 7 billion people in the world, and only 14 million Jews. It seems to me if any group needs protecting it is the Jewish people: the scapegoat for the world’s problems.

You might ask why I am writing about Jew-hatred at an American university when we see it all over the world. Attacks against Jews –for merely existing. “Hitler should have finished the job.” “Israelis are Nazis.” Why talk about the incident August 20 at Temple University, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, home to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, where the Constitution and Declaration of Independence were signed?

Because it is a university, providing “comprehensive public research university with more than 39,000 students; 25th largest university in the United States, and it is the 4th largest provider of professional education (law, dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, and podiatric medicine) in the country…with international campuses in Tokyo, Japan, and Rome, Italy. Temple also offers educational programs in the People’s Republic of China, Israel, Greece, Great Britain, France and other countries throughout the world.” That’s why.

Temple is a major university in the USA, home of the brave, land of the free-where Lady Liberty holds her light high inviting all who are in need to her shores. And yet, and yet, a Jewish student, Daniel Vessal, was physically and verbally attacked-for being Jewish, at this place of higher learning.

It isn’t that he was sucker-punched and verbally abused. It was that it was treated… lightly. Although the event co-ordinators demanded that the SJP table- Students for a Just Palestine-where the attack took place and by a member of the group- be shut down, the Temple Campus Safety Services decided that sending the culprit home was sufficient. A little slap on the wrist and off you go. End of story.

It is the end of the story in one sense. Because no matter what happens now, Temple has shown itself to be an unsafe place for Jews-Not Muslims, Not Blacks, Not Gays, Not Women. Just Jews.

When TruthRevolt posted the story, Temple began the Jew-step-two step. I was in touch with Hillel J Hoffmann, University Communications at Temple. Suffice it to say he obfuscated. But he led me to believe that Temple was a safe place. That anti-semitism was negligible. That despite the fact that the university had recently been in the spotlight, June 9, for one of its professors minimizing the Holocaust.

Adjunct Professor Alessio Lerro had argued that

“Jews are exaggerating the extent of the Holocaust to obtain political advantages.”

Lerro’s remarks were made during the fractious debate over a proposed Modern Language Association boycott of Israel. It seems the esteemed “Professor”Lerro reportedly quipped,

“Six million? mh…. we all know (or should know) that the counting of Jews is a bit controversial.”

Then a university spokesman explained, ‘the exercise of academic freedom necessarily results in a vigorous exchange of ideas.'”

Mr. Hoffmann responded: “Regarding the Lerro situation, I can share one important fact: Lerro was an adjunct instructor–he wasn’t a full-time faculty member at Temple. Since that incident, his contract was not renewed, and he no longer teaches at Temple.”

Here is the official response of the University which I received from Mr. Hoffmann a few days later.

“It is Temple University’s position that the ample historical evidence, scholarship and research regarding the horrific impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people is a strong counterpoint to Mr. Lerro’s statements. Mr. Lerro’s opinion is solely his own and not that of Temple University. Temple University condemns in the strongest possible terms the disparagement of any person or persons based on religion, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity.”


And that’s supposed to make things better? No public admonition? No berating a professor for changing facts to fit his anti-semitism which he felt he could share on campus? Could he have shared similarly negative attitudes toward Muslims, blacks, gays? Would he?

This speaks to my statement that Jew-hatred has become normalized.

And that is why I believe the verbal and physical attack on the Jewish student at Temple was more or less dismissed; despite the concern now expressed and the involvement of so many organizations, including the justice system.

As I wrote to Mr. Hoffmann and he did not dispute it:

“It is my understanding that the police arrived in time to hear students at the SJP table screaming ‘You Zionist pig, you racist, that’s what you get.’

“The victim, having been sucker-punched by a student at the table reported immediately to the head of student activities who wanted the SJP table shut down. Your Campus Police refused to shut down the table because the police had decided to send the perpetrator home.

“Eye witnesses reported hearing members at the SJP calling the victim a “kike” while he was lying dazed on the ground as a result of the force of the punch from the student at the SJP table.
“The victim did receive medical care at Temple University Hospital for ‘mandibular pain, cervical sprain, and closed head injury.’ One can conclude that these injuries were the result of the punch to the head by a Temple University student. Had a student in a sporting event sucker-punched another student, that student would have been suspended. There is zero tolerance for that kind of behaviour in sports.”

If a black student had been sucker-punched by a white student, part of a campus organization group, and then called, amongst other names, a lazy nigger, or if a gay man had been attacked and called a godless homo, do you really think the Campus Security Services would have sent the perpetrator home?

So I asked Mr. Hoffman.

“Considering the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I wonder, Mr. Hoffmann, what the response from the Campus Police and Temple University  would have been if the student who was sucker-punched had been black, had been called a nigger, a lazy nigger and ‘that’s what you get.’”

That question wasn’t answered.

But a few days later came this official response:

Regarding the actions of SJP:

“No action regarding the status of the organization will be taken until the Office of Student Conduct is able to evaluate the findings from the investigation to determine if the group violated the Student Conduct Code.”

How long do you think that will take? Is this such a difficult decision to make? And if the conclusion is that the group did not violate the Student Conduct Code, do you think changes to the code might be required?

This Jewish student no longer feels safe on Campus. And he no longer displays the Israeli flag. He is hiding his proud heritage from fear-as had our grandparents and great grandparents 70 years ago. And now fear is leading to similar responses in the Jewish community in Europe, Canada and across the USA.

This is the official response from Temple.

“The safety of Temple’s students is our highest priority. Individuals or groups who have asked for additional security will have that provided to them. This is in addition to the comprehensive set of safety activities we engage in on a regular basis.”

Does this not sound odd to you? Students asking for extra protection on a USA campus?  Temple is by no means alone in anti-semitic incidents. This is America, not Afghanistan. How did America and its campuses get to this place, again? Were no lessons learned from the civil rights era?

Yossi Klein Halevi in his recent article in the New Republic wrote “As Yasser Arafat, the late PLO leader and master of psychological warfare, once put it, the goal of terrorism is to provoke Israeli despair, which would ultimately result in the wholesale emigration of Israel’s middle class and the collapse of the Jewish state.”

The purpose of the attacks on diaspora Jews on campus or in the streets is no different. Neither is the result.

Canada has seen her fair share of Jew-hatred on campus under the rubric of Israel Apartheid Week. And campaigns to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel, while nary a word from these social activists about Burma and the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims, the occupation of Tibet, and Northern Cyprus. And where are the massive protests against ISIS?

I think for me, though, the most egregious example of Jew-hating normalization came in 2013 at the al Quds day celebrations at Queens Park in Toronto, Ontario when Elias Hazineh, former President of Palestine House stood up and said loudly and proudly “Kill the Jews in Jerusalem.” And not a word from the crowd or the police.

Mr. Hoffmann is Jewish. I hope he has spoken up on behalf of this student and against professor Lerro during administration meetings. I fear too many of our Jewish brothers and sisters in positions of authority, of making change, do not speak up. There is no excuse for inexcusable behaviour, ever.

Where is the moral outrage that Jewish students on a campus are not safe, that a professor can just walk gently into that good night after questioning the Holocaust? Why do our people not speak up and demand justice? What happened to “Never Again” amongst our own people? If we don’t act, why should we expect others?

About the Author
Diane Weber Bederman is a multi-faith, hospital trained chaplain who lives in Ontario, Canada, just outside Toronto; She has a background in science and the humanities and writes about religion in the public square and mental illness on her blog: The Middle Ground:The Agora of the 21st Century. She is a regular contributor to Convivium: Faith in our Community. "
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