The New York Times
Anti-Semitism at My University
Providence. Last semester, a group came to Providence to speak against admitting Syrian refugees to this country. As the president of the Brown Coalition for Syria, I jumped into action with my peers to stage a counterdemonstration. But I quickly found myself cut out of the planning for this event: Other student groups were not willing to work with me because of my leadership roles in campus Jewish organizations.
That was neither the first nor the last time that I would be ostracized this way. Also last semester, anti-Zionists at Brown circulated a petition against a lecture by the transgender rights advocate Janet Mock because one of the sponsors was the Jewish campus group Hillel, even though the event was entirely unrelated to Israel or Zionism. Ms. Mock, who planned to talk about racism and trans-phobia, ultimately canceled. Anti-Zionist students would rather have no one speak on these issues than allow a Jewish group to participate in that conversation.
Of course, I still believe in the importance of accepting refugees, combating discrimination, abolishing racist law enforcement practices and other causes. Nevertheless, it’s painful that Jewish issues are shut out of these movements. Jewish rights belong in any broad movement to fight oppression.
My fellow activists tend to dismiss the anti-Semitism that students like me experience regularly on campus. They don’t acknowledge the swastikas that I see carved into bathroom stalls, scrawled across walls or left on chalkboards. They don’t hear students accusing me of killing Jesus. They don’t notice professors glorifying anti-Semitic figures such as Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt or the leadership of Hezbollah, as mine have.
Nor do they speak against the anti-Semitism in American culture. Even as they rightfully protest hate crimes against Muslim Americans and discrimination against black people, they wrongfully dismiss attacks on Jews (who are the most frequent targets of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States) and increasing anti-Semitism in the American political arena, as can be seen in Donald Trump’s flirtations with the “alt-right.” They don’t take issue with calls for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.
Many of my fellow activists also perpetuate anti-Semitism by dismissing Jews of color, especially the Mizrahi and Sephardi majority of Israel’s Jewish population, descendants of refugees from Southwest Asia and North Africa. Ignoring the expulsion of 850,000 Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews from Arab and Muslim countries from 1948 to the early 1970s allows students to portray all Israelis as white and European and get away with making a “progressive” case for dismantling the Jewish state.
Even hummus has become politicized: Anti-Zionists at my school who demanded that cafeterias stop serving hummus produced by a company with Israeli ownership, also claimed that the product showed cultural appropriation even though Mizrahim and Sephardim have been eating Southwest Asian cuisine since long before the rise of organized Zionism.
In my experience, anti-Semites refuse to acknowledge Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews to minimize the history of oppression against Jews, and in doing so dismiss contemporary Jewish concerns. For example, non-Jewish students at Brown tell me that I cannot appreciate a history of marginalization because, as they see it, Jews have historically been a powerful group, the Holocaust being the only few years of exception. They play down the temporal and geographic scope of that history so that the oppression appears circumstantial rather than global and systemic.
These are serious issues, and social justice movements should be addressing them. I recognize my white, male and other privileges, and, accordingly, I listen to people of color, women and members of other marginalized groups and support them as allies. Likewise, I expect non-Jews at Brown and elsewhere to recognize our oppression to include us in efforts for change.
Benjamin Gladstone is a junior at Brown University.