Howard Goldsmith
Dad, Husband, Rabbi, Outdoorsman, Skier, Cook, Dreamer

Yes, That Is Antisemitic

The video clip made the rounds on social media. In it, a curly haired young man with a Jewish star on a chain tried to walk to class. Students wearing masks and keffiyehs blocked his way. As his friend filmed, he said, “I am a student at this school just trying to go to class and you are blocking my way.” Instead of moving, these students continued to block his path, refusing to speak to him or make eye contact with him, treating him like an object.

Now, we do not know any specific context of this incident. Perhaps he was trying to walk through a designated protest area. Or perhaps the entire thing was staged. Or perhaps he had been egging them on for hours before filming his video. But, unfortunately, the more likely scenario is that these anti-Israel activists blocked a Jewish student from moving freely on his campus. Unfortunately, whatever the specific context of this video, the general context in which we live makes the video completely believable. Watching it I could only think of the Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old girl who, with the escort of four federal marshals, was the first African American to integrate an elementary school in the south in 1960. But there were no marshals to help this Jewish student get to class. Instead, a security guard seen in the corner of the shot just stands and observes.

Over the last month or so I have grown weary of college administrators and government officials citing freedom of speech and assembly. I am tired of people talking about the value and tradition of protest. Of course we value those freedoms. But I think that the constant references to free speech provide a convenient way for leaders to avoid outright condemnation of what is being said. Just because you CAN say something, does not mean you SHOULD say something. Just because you CAN say something, does not make it correct. People have the right to chant whatever they want, but they should then own the fact that so much of what they’re chanting on campus is antisemitic.

Now is the part where people say, “Well, they’re just ‘useful idiots.’ They don’t understand the history or what they’re saying. They can’t find Israel on a map. They’re just joining the cause-of-the-week.” I have grown tired of these refrains, too. The protests have taken place at many of the most elite universities in our country beginning, of course, with Columbia. The students at these universities cannot use ignorance as an excuse and I am done giving them a pass because “they don’t really know what they’re saying.”

And THIS is the part where people pause and say, “But I really wish the war would stop. The death toll in Gaza is so high.” Of course we want the war to stop! Who wants to see the violent death of innocent people? Are there some people on the fringes advocating flattening Gaza? Sure, but they do not speak for anyone I know. This could end if Hamas surrendered its leadership and returns the hostages. They will not do that. They are messianic, radical fundamentalists who have promised to carry out October 7th again and again until the middle east is empty of Jews. That promise and the hostages motivate Israel’s continued offensive. And what government would not fight under those circumstances?

Back to the antisemites on campus. One of the most galling assertions they make is that their slogans and behaviors are not antisemitic. They claim that “from the river to the sea” is not a call for the annihilation of the Jewish State. They say that “globalize the intifada” is about divestment, not violence against Jews. They say that “We are all Hamas” is a statement of support for the Palestinian people writ large, not the terrorist group or its doctrine. Can you imagine if people tried to tell any other group what discrimination looked like? Only a black person can really define anti-black racism. It is not the place of white people to impose their definition of racism on a black person. And yet many campus protestors insist that their slogans are not antisemitic. That is for us to decide, not them.

My teacher Yossi Klein Halevi recently observed that “these students are falling into an old pattern of turning the Jew into the symbol of whatever a civilization regards as its most detestable qualities”. It a classically antisemitic move. Our world has so many problems and horrors and these protestors are projecting all of them onto Israel and the Jews. The IDF has not fought this war perfectly – war is never perfect and always tragic. But to focus the ire of every progressive on Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people, is as antisemitic as it gets.

So, call the college students and 20-somethings in your life. Ask about the climate on their campus. Offer me as a resource to them – I’m happy to talk to anyone. Tell them that you love them and that they have not done anything wrong. And then, let’s all pray that this war ends quickly with a lasting and secure peace for everyone living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

About the Author
Rabbi Howard Goldsmith is the spiritual leader of Congregation Emanu-El of Westchester, a Reform synagogue in Rye, New York. He is the President of the Westchester Board of Rabbis and a chaplain for the Westchester County Police Department.
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