By Jacqueline Hyman, opinion editor, @jacqbh58
A group of four panelists spoke to this university’s students and community members Monday at 5 p.m. at the Stamp Student Union modern anti-Semitism, highlighting the differences between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.
Panelists were history professor and author Jeffrey Herf, historian and George Washington University Ph.D. candidate Robert Isaacson, Maryland Hillel Assistant Director Maiya Chard-Yaron, and Benjamin Weinthal, a European correspondent at The Jerusalem Post.
Ometz, the Conservative Jewish student group, along with several other Jewish and multicultural campus organizations, sponsored the event, “Rising Antisemitism in the Western World,” which focused on three main issues: the root causes of anti-Semitism, a comparison of the problem in Europe versus the U.S. and the extent of anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Isaacson said anti-Semitism is a broad and diverse set of beliefs among anti-Semitic people that changes from day to day.
“This is a living tradition. It plays creatively with the past and is inseparable from it, but it’s alive,” he said. “It’s not a relic of the 1880s or the 1940s …. It is something that is going to be new tomorrow.”
Isaacson said the French government has been making steps to protect its Jewish community, which has caused the level of anti-Semitic expressions in France to drop by about half.
Weinthal, who has been reporting on this subject for about 16 years, noted that there is a rising level of anti-Semitism in Europe. Therefore, he said, he believes European Jews should flee and make aliyah or move to more accepting countries such as the U.S.
“The only other possibilities are to stay in Europe, turn inward and live in a state of fear where one is filled with anxiety and is afraid to go out and wear a kippah or to demonstrate one’s Jewishness in some way,” Weinthal said.
But Isaacson and Chard-Yaron said people should not stay quiet, which allows the issue to continue further.
“What I think is important in dealing with [and] approaching anti-Semitism is to not be silent, is to not be intimidated and not let yourself be silenced,” Isaacson said, “because otherwise you … give these myths more opportunity to spread.”
Chard-Yaron said that she is very proud of how welcoming this university is to Jewish students, but knows that anti-Semitic incidents occur between students or in classes with professors making inappropriate comments. This is a problem she said Maryland Hillel tries to help students combat.
“For us to just pretend everything is always hunky-dory, nothing bad ever happens, would be irresponsible,” she said. “But I think it would be also irresponsible to let ourselves live in this fear of the fact that anti-Semitism is the story of Jewish students on college campuses today, because it’s not.”
Herf, who recently wrote a book about anti-Semitism in Germany, focused on the differences between people who are pro-Israel and those who are pro-Palestine. He said it is understandable that people would want to distance themselves from Israel if indeed it is a racist state. However, he said many of the reasons given for this, such as that the Israeli government mistreats Palestinian academics, are not valid.
“[BDS] is fundamentally an attempt to break the alliance between the United States and Israel,” said Herf, of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. “And the way it is attempting to do that is by asserting falsehoods about the state of Israel.”
Weinthal said the modern definition of anti-Zionism is an opposition to the existence of the state of Israel, which some people say is not the same as hating Jews. However, he mentioned author Hans Meyer, a Jewish Marxist, who wrote “whoever attacks Zionism, but by no means attempts to say anything against Jews, is deceiving himself or others. The state of Israel is a Jewish state. Whoever wishes to destroy it, overtly or by means of policies … is pursuing Jew-hatred.”
Junior English major Yosef Palanker said Herf’s comments about the fact that anti-Semitism is nothing new resonated with him, but there is now a rising academic legitimacy to the claims.
“That’s what’s scary, and that’s what really struck me … because I could see it,” Palanker said. “I see a lot of the things that teachers have said and I’m like, ‘wow, that’s really offensive.’”
He said one of his teachers once dubbed herself a “grammar Nazi,” and wrote on her presentation, “grammar makes a man free,” a reference to the sign above Auschwitz that read “work sets you free” in German. Palanker said when he told his professor this was inappropriate, she disregarded his concern.
Students mentioned the recent pro-Palestine protest on campus during the question and answer session after the panel, which they said was one of the first organized instances of anti-Semitism they have seen at this university.
“It’s important for students to be very proactive,” Chard-Yaron said. “When I think about the pro-Israel groups that exist on this campus … it’s not about being reactive to what’s happening around you, it’s about being proactive throughout the year.”