July 18, 2019

Hanukkah Illumination Rocked by Darkness of Hate

The National Menorah Photo by Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Our age seems to be addicted to what Mark Twain called “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But when it comes to the upsurge of anti-Semitism in the United States, especially on our campuses and on our streets since Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue slaughter of 11 innocents by a white supremacist Jew hater on Oct. 27, you don’t need statistics — just the litany of shameful specifics — to bring home the alarming truth.

Here are but a few recent campus “incidents” across the U.S. during Hanukkah:

Now, to top it off, at Harvard University — which rolled out the golden carpet in 1934 for high Nazi official Ernst Hanfstaengl (a Harvard alum) who used the occasion for anti-Semitic incitement — the Chabad House menorah was knocked over on the first night of Hanukkah, an incident being investigated as a hate crime.

Statistics released by the FBI confirm that the Hanukkah attacks were no aberration.  Hate crimes rose an astounding 17 percent last year, yet crimes targeting Jews, who represent only 2 percent of the population, soared 37 percent. 

Not all anti-Semitism emanates from neo-Nazis. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) raised a Palestinian flag above the University of Vermont’s Davis Center, surrounded by handmade signs (put up in violation of university policy) calling for an end to United Nations Resolution 181, which recognized Israel’s right to exist as a U.N. member state.

The SJP and at least initially, its ally, J Street University of Vermont, repudiated an earlier Israeli flag-raising as allegedly symbolizing “the moral  bankruptcy of Zionist ideology … [and the] ethnic cleansing of Palestinian civilians” as well as Israel’s “racist and oppressive … sexist, homophobic, and transphobic policies.”

Campus campaigns demonizing Jews and other Zionists as racists and supporting ethnic cleansing along with demands that the lone Jewish state, home to world’s largest Jewish population cease to exist, open the door wide for more attacks against American Jews.

And reaction by some university officials to anti-Semitism has been nothing short of outrageous.

For example, the initial statement issued the day after the Pittsburgh synagogue bloodbath from Columbia University’s Student Life Office, was mute about exactly who was slaughtered and why. Only after indignant protests, many from Jewish Columbia alumni, was a revised statement issued condemning “horrific anti-Semitic violence.” The hemming-and-hawing was similar at Dartmouth College.

Denial by euphemism is awful. But could anything be worse than the UCLA administration’s decision, a few weeks after the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht pogrom, to give its go-ahead on specious free speech grounds to the national conference of Students for Justice in Palestine, whose ranks include leaders who have tweeted: “LOL let’s stuff some Jews in the oven” and “We need to put Zionists in concentration camps. Now that would be a life experience for them” and “Every time I read about Hitler, I fall in love all over again.”

What is to be done?

American-Jewish students inclined to visit or study in Israel — or just speak up for the Jewish state — are often subject to intimidation and ridicule, sometimes by the professors who teach them. The Jewish community and national organizations must ensure that no Jewish student is left alone to fight back. Timidity in the face of anti-Semitic bullying must end. And fight back they must! When it came to mobilizing for Soviet Jewry in 1960s and ’70s, students led and adults followed. Now the legitimacy of the Jewish state, Jewish history and Jewish values are under assault. We need to nurture young Jews who want to fight back, not become invisible.

Beyond the campus, American Jews must recalibrate our interactions with neighbors, believers and nonbelievers, to forge new alliances to confront and defeat history’s oldest hatred, a hatred that seems to grow stronger every day.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Historian Harold Brackman is a long-time consultant for the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.