Land of the Free? The Rise of Anti-Semitism

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Racial prejudice, anti-Semitism, or hatred of anyone with different beliefs has no place in the human mind or heart. – Rev. Billy Graham

When I had my DNA tested it revealed I have Lithuanian Jewish heritage. I am proud of that and even though my bloodline may be thin I believe it is like gold, no matter how thin it is stretched it still shines. I am deeply disturbed about the growing tide of anti-Semitism that is sweeping the world, including the United States. In the past year there have been violent demonstrations that included firebombing synagogues in France, Brussels and Germany. On January 9, 2015 the worst fears of France’s already tense Jewish population became reality when an assailant took hostages in a kosher deli in Paris, killing four people. Ugly threats across Europe have been surpassed by uglier violence. Four people were fatally shot in May, 2014 at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. A Jewish-owned pharmacy in a Paris suburb was destroyed in July, 2014 by youths protesting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. A synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, was attacked with firebombs. The list goes on.

Just this February, the grilling of student Rachel Beyda at UCLA, who was seeking an appointment to the student judicial board, over whether she was unqualified to join the  board, merely because she is Jewish, shocked people with its blatant display of anti-Semitism at one of the nation’s most liberal schools. She was asked, “Given that you’re very active in the Jewish community, how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?” Fabienne Roth, a member of UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association Council, asked her. After Beyda left the room, another member of the council opined, “I don’t know. For some reason I am not comfortable. I just don’t know why. I can definitely see she’s qualified. I am just worried about her affiliations.” The initial vote was 4 against, 4 for and 1 abstaining. Only after college administrators stepped in and explained that their comments were anti-Semitic did they vote unanimously to appoint Beyda to the board. The following week the board issued a ban on anti-Semitic activity on the campus. In the 21st century why is this even necessary?

What’s even more frightening is that Beyda’s case was nothing new; it is a run-of-the-mill example of the suspicions and hostility directed toward the Jewish community at some of the most socially progressive campuses across the country. Fifty-four percent of Jewish college students reported being subjected to or witnessing anti-Semitism on campus during a six-month period, according to a 2014 survey published by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Trinity College. While many equate anti-Jewish protests as actually being “anti-Israel”, students seem not to be making a distinction. Not only was this survey undertaken before the violent summer conflict in Gaza, which researchers Barry A. Kosmin and Ariela Keysar said led to a “worldwide flare-up in anti-Semitism,” but they also noted that the “data suggests there is an under-reporting of anti-Semitism through the normal campus channels.”

Disturbingly, Jewish students reported that they often felt universities did not take their concerns about anti-Semitism seriously. “The response of many university faculty and administrators to Jewish complaints and outrage often shows that their threshold for the definition of the existence of the crime of anti-Semitism is set ridiculously high,” write Kosmin and Keysar.

Liberal colleges where prideful students exclaim their efforts to protect the rights of ethnic and racial minorities, stomp out sexual and gender discrimination, hate speech against the Jewish community has become a dirty little secret. And often it is not even secret. Swastikas have been appearing on sidewalks, walls and anti-Semitic slogans are being written in bathrooms. Swastikas are also accompanied with hate filled phrases such as “Death to Israel” and “Kill all the Jews”.  A number of the traditional Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi’s houses have also been graffitied with swastikas in the past year. Prestigious universities such as Vanderbilt, University of Oregon and Emory University have all had anti-Semitic symbols and phrases such as “Gas the Jews.” In my opinion, students at these seats of liberal learning are being influenced by the very obvious anti-Israel sentiment coming from our President and his political appointees. They are still clinging to the delusion that President Obama is a leader of worth. The fact that major leaders of the world immediately called Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on his reelection as Israel’s Prime Minister while it took days for Obama to call shows the ungracious, self-important egotism that has become this President’s hallmark.

In Washington, DC I visited the Holocaust Museum. From the haunting entrance designed to replicate the bleak rail yards used to carry Jews and other minorities to the death camps to the disturbing images of mass burials of skeletal bodies, it was not a pleasant experience. It is not designed to be. It is meant to show how a child who played with his companions and enjoyed status in the community, gradually became ostracized by his former friends, forced to wear the Star of David on his arm, and at the end be loaded onto a rail car that will carry him to his death. At one point during my tour of the museum I opened a door and stepped into a long corridor. One side was completely filled with shoes, thousands of shoes. It hit me like a punch in the stomach. The museum is not designed as entertainment, it is designed to make sure we never forget this horror and it never happens again.

We cannot allow our great country to succumb to this kind of discriminatory and hateful behavior. It goes against everything our country stands for and puts us in an even more negative international light. We are exceptional in the world and we need to regain the respect we once had. We need to get back to the poem engraved on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Seventy years after the liberation of the concentration camps we should not have Jewish people afraid to go to school and to worship. This way madness and evil lies and we are better than this.

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