It’s been over a decade since I became involved in the issue of anti-Semitism on our college campuses. I saw it first-hand while teaching part-time at the University of California at Irvine and seeing speakers come to campus every May during the Muslim Student Union-sponsored week of anti-Israel events. It wasn’t just the attacks against Israel that bothered me; it was the attacks against Jews as people that certain speakers engaged in. Being a student of the history of the Third Reich, but being new to activism, I soon came to the realization that anti-Semitism was undergoing a resurgence-especially in Europe thanks to the wave of Muslim immigration. In the US, the situation wasn’t as bad, but the pro-Palestinian movement on our college campuses was stirring anti-semitism against Jewish students.
In the ensuing years since I became involved in reporting and commenting on anti-semitism, the situation has gotten dramatically worse-both in Europe and the US. I have seen a few developments which are worth noting.
First, anti-semitism in the US has spread from beyond the campuses. Jewish synagogues and schools are becoming increasingly unsafe. Even worse, it has spread into the halls of Congress. The recent elections of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to the House of Representatives brought a string of anti-semitic insults-especially from Omar- that not only criticized our long relationship with Israel, but attacked American Jews and their supposed “dual loyalties”. Over in Britain, the Labour party, under its brazenly anti-semitic leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has acquired a reputation for anti-semitism, which has caused several of its reputable members to resign from the party.
Secondly-and this is a positive- public awareness of anti-semitism in both Europe and America- has increased dramatically in my view. For years, a small group of us at UC Irvine and Orange County struggled to make the local community aware of the problem on campus. On a larger level, groups like the AMCHA Initiative, the Brandeis Center, Zionist Organization of America, and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East worked hard to put pressure on universities to deal with the growing problem. We not only had to fight the pro-Palestinian lobby, but the self-defending universities, as well as certain national Jewish organizations like the local chapters of Hillel and the Jewish Federation. They had and still have a conflict of interest in wanting to work with the universities that give them campus access. They also don’t want to see Jewish students discouraged from attending their universities even though they are plagued by anti-semitism. The Anti Defamation League has for years ignored the problem at UC Irvine. The entire organization has usually been reluctant to talk about anti-semitism from Islamic quarters.
At least, those who would deny the problems of anti-semitism on or off campus have lost that argument. The country is aware because the problem can no longer be denied. It is not just the tragic shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh; it is the recurring problem of swastikas showing up on various campuses. It is the highly publicized scandal of a member of Congress accusing American Jews of dual loyalties. And, of course, it is the issue of European Jews emigrating to escape a situation that brings back memories of the 1930s-the run up years to the Holocaust.
Having said all that, here is the third development: Who is responsible for the resurgence of anti-semitism? What we have now-at least in the US- is a debate over who the purveyors of anti-semitism are. The left is trying to sell the idea that this is all the work of white nationalists, KKK-types, neo-Nazis, and most outrageous of all, Trump supporters. Though President Trump is arguably the largest supporter of Israel to ever occupy the White House, and though his own daughter is a Jewish convert, he is being branded by many as the inspiration for American anti-semitism. It is a false charge.
Let me be clear: I do not deny anti-semitism on the part of the KKK, Neo Nazis and white nationalists, and I condemn it. With the constant drumbeat of demonization against white people in general and conservatives in particular, there is a growing white backlash in this country, and it is troubling. How do Jews figure in this? In my view, they are caught in the middle. Though most American Jews are white, many still consider them a separate race. That was Hitler’s thinking. To the Nazis, it didn’t matter how assimilated German Jews were or whether they had intermarried or converted to Christianity. It was about race, not religious belief. On the other hand, academia in the US has played a leading role in pigeon-holing Jews as members of the white race-the “privileged” white race. Indeed, American Jews have been portrayed as being among the most privileged and well off segment of the “privileged” white class. That brings back many of the traditional libels against Jews. Thus, they get little sympathy as a “marginalized minority” though they are arguably the most marginalized group on campus these days.
That brings me to the crucial part of the third point. In my view, the biggest purveyors of anti-semitism in this country, including on college campuses, are Muslims. Not all Muslims to be sure, but it is specifically the pro-Palestinian movement in the US, which is well oiled and well organized, that is stoking anti-semitism. Most of that movement is made up of Muslims, students, faculty, and activists. Not all of them are Muslims, some are even leftist Jews, who hate Israel, but it is mostly Islamic driven. After all, Jew hatred is deeply embedded in Islamic teachings and the Arab world seethes at the idea of a Jewish state living in its midst. In Europe, it is no coincidence that Jews are leaving in fear while the continent is being swarmed by over a million Muslim migrants and refugees.
Yet, we cannot bring ourselves to admit this basic truth. To do so would attack a minority and invite charges of “Islamophobia”. It is not only the left which seeks to shield Islam from charges of bigotry, mainstream media and other entities are reluctant to identify Islam as being a driving force behind today’s anti-semitism, which it clearly is. Thus, we see the Democrat party trying to shield Ilhan Omar from the consequences of her speech and shift the focus to the extreme right. Instead of talking about Omar and why she is anti-semitic, they would rather talk about the despicable characters who showed up to demonstrate at Charlottesville, Virginia a couple of years ago with terrible results. Those people are to be condemned, to be sure. I also condemn those on the other side of the Charlottesville barricades, the thugs of Antifa.
So this is the debate we need to be involved in: Who is responsible for anti-semitism today? I say, let us condemn all sides, but we must be free to openly discuss all sides. That means an open discussion of what groups like the various Muslim Student Association chapters and Students for Justice in Palestine have contributed to this problem. What have the Middle East Studies departments across the country contributed to this problem? I still maintain that the focal point for the rise in anti-semitism in America is on our college campuses. That is also an indictment of cowardly college administrators who have been afraid to admit the problem and point the finger of blame at those responsible. They have failed to protect their Jewish students.
And finally, the American Jewish community itself must face the reality of who is mostly driving the hate. All too often, rabbis and other Jewish leaders have linked arms with their Muslim counterparts to march together against anti-semitism and “Islamophobia” when the very Muslim leaders they are holding interfaith events with are themselves guilty of anti-Jewish hate speech. Just this week, we saw an example in Philadelphia and the Al-Aqsa Islamic Center. On the one hand, this mosque was engaging in interfaith events with synagogues while its imam was calling for the deaths of Jews in his sermons. This is not to say we should turn our backs on true Muslim moderates and reformers, but there too many wolves out there in sheep’s clothing. We should never penalize innocent Muslims who don’t buy into all the hate, but we must not hesitate in calling out those who are guilty.
So here we are. Those who tried to deny anti-semitism was a huge problem have lost the debate. The new debate is truthfully identifying all those who are guilty of reviving (if that’s the proper word since anti-semitism has never fully gone away) this ancient hatred.