by Myriam Miedzian
IN A RECENT New York Times article, “The Nazi Tweets of ‘Trump God Emperor,’” Jonathan Weisman writes about the barrage of hate he has been receiving since tweeting an article by Robert Kagan on the rising fascism in this country. “Holocaust taunts, like a path of dollar bills leading into an oven, were followed by Holocaust denial, sickening visuals to accompany the vitriol,” Weisman wrote. “‘I found the Menorah you were looking for,’ one correspondent offered with a Trump-triumphant backdrop on his Twitter profile; it was a candelabrum made of the number six million.”
This comes shortly after New York Times journalist Julia Ioffe was hit with horrific tweets and phone calls after she wrote an unflattering article about Melania Trump. An anonymous caller played a Hitler speech. On Twitter, users posted photos of her face superimposed on a mug shot from Auschwitz. Donald Trump has not condemned these acts — but has said that the article about his wife was inaccurate.
When the Trump campaign sent out a twitter containing a photo of Hillary Clinton next to a Star of David with “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever” on it — all this on a background of dollar bills — Trump denied it was a Star of David and said he regretted his staff withdrawing it after protests. This suggests that he does not want to lose the support of the extreme rightwing racist and anti-semitic groups who have found their voice in him and enthusiastically support him.
In March of his year, a massive number of flyers delivering anti-Semitic messages, which included accusing the Jewish people of “destroying the country through mass immigration and degeneracy,” were found at universities, including Princeton, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and the University of Southern California. The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website took credit for them.
AROUND the same time, at the other end of the political spectrum, Joy Karega, an African-American assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin, posted quotes on Facebook that included the claims that Zionists had been involved in the 9/11 plot, that ISIS was a puppet of Mossad and the C.I.A., and that the Rothschild family owns “your news, the media, your oil, and your government.” On February 25, The Tower published a graphic that Karega had posted shortly after the Charlie Hebdo shooting last year, of an ISIS terrorist pulling off a mask, which revealed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The accompanying text explained that in fact the attack, masterminded by Netanyahu, was carried out by Mossad with the intension of stopping French support for Palestinians.
On March 5, the chair of Oberlin’s Board of Trustees released a statement: “These postings are anti-Semitic and abhorrent. We deplore anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry. They have no place at Oberlin. These grave issues must be considered expeditiously.” Oberlin’s Jewish president, without mentioning the professor’s name, expressed his dismay at an “assistant professor’s personal social media posts” but stated that academic freedom prohibits taking any action against her.
Karega has not suffered any professional penalties.
Now, imagine a Jewish assistant professor posting analogously outrageous racist comments on Facebook — for example, that ISIS is a puppet of Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam; that O.J. Simpson and Bill Cosby are your typical violent and sexually irresponsible black males, raping and killing at will just like their brethren in The Independent Republic of Congo and other African countries. Black and sympathetic white students would very likely react by staging mass ongoing protests demanding that this racist professor be fired immediately. How likely is it that she would suffer no professional consequences?
The reaction to professor Karega’s anti-Semitic postings has been very different. In an April 4, 20116 Daily Beast blog by Emily Shire entitled “Why Are Oberlin’s Students So Silent About Anti-Semitism?” Shire points out that “Oberlin is a school where the student body is clearly sensitive to so many cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual, and gender groups’ needs,” yet, “the silence from students when it comes to Karega’s remarks was deafening to some, and especially disconcerting because the silence seemed disproportionately reserved to matters related to Judaism or Israel.”
When Shire sought out Jewish students who were offended by Karega’s anti-Semitic comments to interview, they requested anonymity so their real names are not used. The small group of students who are not anti-Zionist “feel increasingly threatened, censored, and silenced by their peers and the Oberlin community who are impatient and dismissive of complaints of anti-Semitism.” she writes.
One student, Jenny tells her that she found out about Karega’s comments from her parents who had read about it. “Nobody was talking about it,” on campus Jenny told her. Shire writes: “The response from her fellow students (or, more accurately, lack thereof) is curious when one considers Oberlin’s reputation for social activism and outrage over even the slightest of microaggressions.”
In Nathan Heller’s May 30th , 2016 New Yorker article, “The Big Uneasy,” he quotes, Oberlin student Aaron Pressman reporting : “I’ve had people respond to me, ‘You could never understand — your culture has never been oppressed.’ “I’m, like, ‘Really? The Holocaust?’”
Matthew, a fourth year student, believes that a “large reason” for the lack of concern and the dismissiveness about anti-Semitism is “because Jews are seen as being white and privileged. Historically, there are countless number of instances where Jews assimilated into the privileged class, and every time that happened, the system turned against Jews and used them as scapegoats. So many people at Oberlin are so blind to this and cannot see that they are perpetuating this tradition.” The shining example of what Matthew is talking about is Germany, where the situation of Jews in the 1930s was similar to that of American Jews today. A large percentage of the German Jewish population were professionals and artists: physicians, lawyers, university professors, composers, film makers, successful business people etc.
I FIRST BECAME aware of the problem these Jewish students describe back in the late 1980s when I got a phone call from my daughter, a student at Oberlin; she was confused and annoyed by campus identity politics which relegated her to the “white” category and her roommate and friend to the “people of color” category.” Her roommate grew up in Puerto Rico in a financially well-off family — with a father of Spanish origin and a white mother from the Middle West. My daughter grew up in the U.S. with a child-Holocaust-survivor mother, and grandparents who were part of a small minority of Jews who succeeded in escaping Europe during the Holocaust. The rest of the family was not so fortunate. Over one hundred family members in Poland and a smaller number in Belgium, where her grandparents lived before the Holocaust, were murdered.
In addition to this personal family history, until the 1960s, U.S. Jews were routinely discriminated against in educational institutions, housing, hotels, and private clubs — not to mention being called kikes and Christ-killers, and having the dollar bill referred to as the Jewish flag.
I had not given any critical thought to the category of “people of color” before this conversation. Now that I did, the concept made little sense, and I was concerned that the exclusion of Jews set a bad precedent. Hispanic, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and other “people of color” who have, like Jews, been victims of past discrimination and violence, but many of whom are now doing very well in terms of educational, professional, and financial achievement, are nevertheless considered — together with African-Americans — oppressed people of color. But Jews are viewed as “white and privileged.”
My concern was warranted. Claims of anti-Semitism are now frequently dismissed as unwarranted overreactions, or confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Privileged white people cannot be victims of discrimination.
The case of Karega is an example of how even clear manifestations of anti-Semitism are considered of no significance by many students and not sufficient significance to be worthy of professional penalties. In fact when African Americans make anti-Semitic statements, complaints about it are often turned around — protesters are accused of being racists. For example, Joy Karega is quoted by Jewish Telegraphic Agency (March 3, 2016) as stating that comments criticizing her “shed light on and provide insight into how and to what extent anti-Blackness rhetorics show up in anti-Semitic call-out culture and practices.”
ANTI-SEMITISM in academia is not unique to Oberlin. In March, Jasbir Puar, a Rutgers Department of Women and Gender Studies tenured professor, gave a lecture at Vassar. Puar does not allow her lectures on this topic to be recorded by audience members — Fordham University recently refused to abide by this unusual condition and canceled a talk she was scheduled to give — which makes it difficult to know exactly what she said at Vassar. But the event announcement included a reference to the “maiming and stunting of [the Palestinian] population.” According to the Brandeis Center for Human Rights, Puar claimed, without citing sources, that there were “more than 120 deaths by field assassinations of young Palestinian men, largely between the ages of 12 to 16, by IDF soldiers” and that some “speculate that the bodies were mined for organs for scientific research.” The Center comments that “Professor Puar’s statements revive hateful anti-Semitic tropes specifically the historic blood libel against Jews.”
Ziva Dahl, a Vassar alumna and political researcher and writer, attended the lecture; in a February 9th, 2016 Observer article she accused Puar of “incendiary, unbalanced hate speech [that] masquerades as scholarship.”
Puar apparently got the “harvesting Palestinian organs” story from an article in a Swedish newspaper which has been proven to be fallacious. In a December 2009 Guardian article on the topic, the paper’s Middle East editor, Ian Black, concluded that “there was no evidence that Israel had killed Palestinians to take their organs.” While it is true that in the 1990s the Israeli Abu Kabir institute did research on human organs without permission, according to Nancy Scheper-Hughes, professor of medical anthropology at the University of California-Berkeley (who conducted a study of Abu Kabir), Palestinians were “by a long shot” not the only ones affected. Abu Kabir harvested skin, corneas, heart valves and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli civilian, Palestinians, and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives. According to Israel’s health ministry “all harvesting is now done with permission … according to ethics and Jewish law.”
In a March 21, 2016 Forward article, Michaela Pohl, a Vassar professor of Russian history who is not Jewish, wrote that there has been an increase in hostility against Jewish students at Vassar College due to tensions over anti-Israel activism that has often devolved into anti-Semitism. Pro-Palestinian students’ intimidation of students who oppose a Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) resolution is one of the factors that feeds into an environment in which “students look down at their desks when I say things about Jewish emancipation or … I get embarrassed silences in class while discussing Jewish history. Anti-Jewish speech off and on campus is very real, and it is starting to have long-term effects.”
In 2014, the Vassar chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) posted a 1944 Nazi cartoon on Tumblr. It features a monster in a Star of David loincloth with many hands, wearing a Ku Klux Klan mask, holding a little man grasping a moneybag, and attached to an American plane wing while it destroys a European town. It is entitled “Liberators.” At the urging of the Brandeis Center for Human Rights, Vassar President Catherine Bond Hill took some action against SJP, but two years later, SJP is still active on campus.
AT UCLA, Rachel Beyda was nominated to be on the Student Council. According to a March 5, 2015 New York Times article by Adam Nagourney, at her confirmation hearing she was asked, “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community … how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view? … For the next 40 minutes … the council tangled in a debate about whether her faith and affiliation with Jewish organizations, including her sorority and Hillel, meant she would be biased in dealing with sensitive governance questions … The discussion … captured on video, seemed to echo the kind of questions, prejudices and tropes — particularly about divided loyalties — that have plagued Jews across the globe for centuries …The council voted first to reject Ms. Beyda’s nomination, with four members against her. Then, at the prodding of a faculty adviser who pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest, the students revisited the question and unanimously put her on the board.”
At UC Irvine, anti-Israel student protesters disrupted the screening of an Israeli documentary, Beneath the Helmet, a coming-of-age film that follows five Israeli high school graduates as they become part of the Israel Defense Forces. Jewish students attending the screening had to be escorted away from the scene by campus police, the Orange County Register reported.
Matt Lamb, a Loyola University Chicago student writing in The College Fix, September 29, 2014 describes how members of SJP verbally abused students who were manning a Hillel table promoting Birthright Israel, a program that pays for Jews to visit Israel, and then formed themselves in a wall that blocked access to the Hillel table.
Progressives have always challenged anti-Semitism on the right. Is it time to challenge it on the left as well?
Dr. Myriam Miedzian (myriammiedzian.com), a contributing writer to Jewish Currents, is a former philosophy professor who writes frequently on social, cultural, and political issues. She is the author of Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking The Link Between Masculinity and Violence, among other books.