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Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and fine lines

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If I ask you to think about anti-Semitism, you’ll almost certainly think about Nazis, Neo-Nazis and perhaps the KKK. You might picture the first or second white supremacist march in Charlottesville, and you might even remember that Donald Trump is no friend of Jewish people.

You would miss one of the key components of modern anti-Semitism: liberal people who think that they are standing up for the rights of Palestinians. I’m going to need to be very clear and very careful here because this issue has turned into a mess of resentment and accusations (for a case study right here at Stanford, see the Jewish Voice for Peace’s op-ed in The Daily last Thursday and an alumna’s response from this Monday).

Here we go: Supporting Palestine is not anti-Semitic. Whether that means advocating for a Palestinian state, advocating against the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestine or something else entirely, supporting Palestine is not anti-Semitic. Even if that means that you oppose the state of Israel.

However, equating Jews with Israel is anti-Semitic. Assuming that all Jews support the government of Israel, blaming Jews for the decisions made by Israel’s government, implying or assuming that all Jews are Islamophobic or should be responsible for anything the Israeli government does is anti-Semitic.

This should make logical sense: The vast majority of Jews do not live in Israel. They probably do not want to live in Israel. They have absolutely no say in how Israel’s government conducts its foreign policy. Even Jews who live in Israel may not agree with the Israeli government. The majority of Americans would be infuriated if everyone they met assumed that they supported Donald Trump.

The two Daily articles I mentioned earlier, for anyone who bothered to read this piece but hasn’t followed this back and forth, concern an event held on Monday, Oct. 16. The event was a presentation by Reservists on Duty held at Stanford’s Chabad. The speakers were veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces who identify as Muslim, Druze, Christian and Bedouin. The Jewish Voice for Peace belatedly objected to this event, saying that Reservists on Duty is an Islamophobic group.

Frankly, I do not care about Reservists on Duty, I do not care about Jewish Voice for Peace, and I wish that I didn’t have to care that they are having a catfight in this paper. I’m Jewish, and I have already spent far too long explaining what anti-Semitism is and why being Jewish does not mean that I support Israel. I am tired of people interrogating me about my personal views on Israel and Palestine and tired of having to prove that I’m not Islamophobic. I will not share those views in this article because I am explicitly making the point that I shouldn’t have to.

The point here is not to add my two cents to the Reservists vs. Voice argument or to involve myself in the Israel vs. Palestine vs. one-state vs. two-state (etc.) argument. I am writing because anti-Semitism on college campuses is something that I have to care about, and, because of that, I have to care about Stanford’s mini-controversy.

College campuses in America are very liberal. They’re also a great deal more anti-Semitic than most people realize. In 2016, more than 1,200 anti-Semitic incidents were reported on American college campuses. In the first quarter of 2017, reports jumped by 86 percent. In 2016, the NYC-based American and Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner published its first report on the 40 most anti-Semitic college campuses in the U.S. Columbia, Princeton, Vassar and UCLA have all had high-profile anti-Semitic incidents or patterns of anti-Semitism.

Some of this is just garden-variety anti-Semitism, the kind of thing that causes people to make jokes about Jews and money or to enjoy Holocaust jokes. A lot of it, though, is caused by conflating Judaism with supporting the Israeli state as it currently behaves. Students learning about Palestine and Israel’s actions in Palestine get upset. They can’t help Palestine or hurt Israel, but they can blame and attack their Jewish classmates.

Stanford is not exempt from this. Between Oct. 18-21, someone drew a swastika on Stanford’s Business School. Similar incidents occurred on campus between December of last year and April of this year, and again in September.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Jewish Voice for Peace is involved in these incidents or blaming the group for the problem. Jewish Voice for Peace and Reservists on Duty have both done reprehensible things in the name of their respective causes (see the articles written by both sides in The Daily if you’re interested).

I am suggesting that all of us need to be careful about remembering where impassioned political arguments end and anti-Semitism begins.

So far, Stanford has been able to weather the occasional swastika. In fact, Stanford associate professor Ari Kelman found that most Jewish students on California college campuses do not feel attacked and do not think there is a problem. That’s great.

In order to continue that, though, students need to remember the separation between “Jewish” and “pro-Israel.” So let’s take a moment, separate from political discussions, to remind ourselves and each other that anti-Semitism is not as simple as name-calling or inappropriate jokes. It is also blaming Jews for faults of the Israeli state and holding Jewish people accountable for problems out of their control and halfway across the world.

 

Contact Sarah Myers at smyers3 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Sarah Myers '21 is pursuing a BA in International Relations while also studying Physics, Mandarin, and German. She enjoys writing about politics, ethics, and current events. She spends her free time reading and convincing herself that watching Chinese television counts as studying Mandarin.