By now, the incident in which a Jewish student at the University of California, Los Angeles was almost denied a position on the student government Judicial Board based solely on her Jewish identity, has made waves across the country. It has served as a catalyst for conversations about the politicization of identities, and the rise of what has come to be known as new anti-Semitism.
Out of respect for that student, a friend whom I have immeasurable respect for, I have hesitated to publicly comment on the events which took place on my campus. However, early last week I came across the following quote by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook which emboldened me to write this piece: "I don't speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don't have the power to remain silent."
According to the United States Department of State, anti-Semitism is defined as "a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestation of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities." Among the list of "Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism, the State Department included the following, "accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations."
My friend, who was an overqualified candidate for the position she was appointed to, was questioned as to whether or not her identification as a Jew and her affiliation with the Jewish community at UCLA would inhibit her ability to remain unbiased as a member of the Judicial Board. The word "Israel" did not come up once in the 40 minute interrogation. This student was questioned, not for her political opinions, but for her politicized identity.
This accusation, which has followed the Jewish people since its very conception as a people, is among the recycled rhetoric and hateful sentiments which have characterized anti-Semitism since the beginning of time. Although we would like to believe that much has changed since the 18th century, in regards to anti-Semitism, it has not.
The reality, which Jewish enlightenment thinker Moses Mendelssohn hoped to address, in chartering the Jewish people to "be a Jew in the Home and a man on the street," seems to be just as relevant to us now as it did to Mendelssohn then.
Nowadays, Jewish students on college campuses are encouraged to do the same.
We are forced to "not be so public" about our Jewish identities. We are expected to be experts on all facets of Judaism and explain them on cue. We are assumed to be blind supporters of the Jewish state and manifestations of its government.
And, between combating Divestment resolutions, defending ourselves against anti-Semitism and constantly trying to afford our peers context, we have lost sight of what we really came to these universities for: an education.
In 2004, Natan Sharansky, a Jewish leaders and current Israeli politician created a set of criteria intended to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism. He called this system the "three Ds," which consist of delegitimization of Israel, demonization of Israel and subjecting Israel to double standards. Soon after its publication, the US State Department adopted this system as part of its definition of anti-Semitism.
Furthermore, Irwin Cotler, a former professor of law at McGill University, leading scholar of human rights, and current Canadian member of Parliament and special advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the International Criminal Court, proposed the concept of "new anti-Semitism" which entails the delegitimization, demonization and setting of double standards, not only against the Jewish state, but against the Jewish people.
Nowhere in the world is this phenomenon more rampant than on college campuses. With the newest incessant barrage of anti-Israel legislation creeping into student governments across the country, anti-Israel rhetoric has slowly but surely transformed college campuses into breeding grounds for false perceptions of Jews and their beliefs.
The systematic singling out, delegitimization, demonization and setting of double standards in relation to the Jewish state has led to the systematic singling out, delegitimization, demonization and setting of double standards in relation to the Jewish people: discrimination at UCLA, a call for the expulsion of Jewish students who did not support BDS at the University of Durban in South Africa, swastikas at the University of California Davis, Emory University and most recently, George Washington University.
It would be naive to not recognize that this rise in anti-Semitic behavior occurred following this summer's operation in Gaza.
However, disdain for Israeli policy or decisions of the Israeli government are never an excuse for anti-Semitism. In their pervasive crusade against the Jewish state, the world has renewed an age-old, historic hatred against the Jewish people.
And it is essential that we put an end to it now. We no longer have the power to remain silent.
Now, for a last comment on the debacle at UCLA: Do I think the four student government representatives who made the slanderous comments on that fateful evening are anti-Semitic?
I've had conversations with several of them and each of them deeply regrets what was said (and not said) that night. Were the words which flowed from their lips anti-Semitic?
Were the sentiments they conveyed?
The current course of systematic delegitimization, demonization and setting of double standards against the Jewish state -- primarily pushed by theBoycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement -- has empowered an already noisy minority of students on campuses across the country to make false assumptions about the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
Personally, I am more concerned with the mindset which led these students to voice those opinions more so than the words they expressed. Sometime in the last decade students have by and large adopted problematic ideologies with regard to the existence of the Jewish state of Israel. Somehow it has become "cool" to be anti-Israel. Students are elected to positions of leadership, based solely on their perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The anti-Israel rhetoric is jammed so far down their consciousness that anything associated or perceived to be associated with it instantly stigmatized as bad. College students have lost their propensity for critical thinking.
Rather than serving for forums in which students of different backgrounds come together to celebrate the diversity of their opinions and formulate their own ideas about the world around them, they have become breeding grounds for polarity, groupthink mentality, inequality and prejudice.
It is my hope, that if there is any good to come of this, that it will serve as a turning point, a catalyst for change, a wake up call to Israel's detractors and Israel's defenders, alike.
"Watch your thoughts, they become your words.
Watch your words, they become your actions.
Watch your actions, they become your character.
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."
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