December 13, 2018

Brave Students Oppose Anti-Semitism

Photo from Flickr.

Most of us never have to deal with anti-Zionist activists protesting outside our homes or harassing us at our jobs. We can make a conscious decision to face our opponents at rallies or protests or in other public settings, but we almost never enter into in-person encounters unless we deliberately choose to do so. 

But brave pro-Israel students at UCLA and other universities face that challenge every day. Last week, I wrote about the threat of anti-Semitism on our college campuses and praised those students for the work they do and the risks they take to confront that threat. But even while we support and applaud those courageous young people, many in the Jewish community have come to view the campus battle lines as something far removed from our own lives. 

What happens on college campuses, though, rarely stays on college campuses. And the thing to remember about college students is that they often graduate. After they receive their diplomas, they take with them into the real world the lessons they learned both inside and outside the classroom. A cultural attitude or policy preference that a young person develops as an undergraduate doesn’t disappear when they finish college; it accompanies them for many years afterward.

Once they complete their education, these young people grow up to stay at Airbnbs when they travel. They buy music from Lana del Rey and Lorde. They join the National Women’s March, even if the March’s leaders are consorting with Louis Farrakhan. 

None of these ideological or consumer choices make someone anti-Semitic, of course. But our biggest danger as a community doesn’t come from a small number of haters as much as from a much larger group that ignores or tolerates or minimizes hate. The more difficult challenge is not from those few individuals who learned during their college years that they should despise us, but rather the much larger group that learned they just shouldn’t care very much one way or the other.

This ambivalence manifests itself in every corner of society. The owners of Airbnb aren’t anti-Semites. It just never occurred to them that discriminating against Jewish settlers on the West Bank was anything more than a politically correct concession. Most of the singers who refuse to perform in Israel aren’t intentionally malicious, but rather simply oblivious to the security necessities of a nation that must protect its people against terrorism. And those Women’s Marchers who choose to excuse the behavior of their leaders aren’t haters themselves, they’ve just decided that the March’s other goals are higher priorities than standing up against hate directed toward the Jewish community and homeland.

Until now.

With the notable exception of courageous leaders like Amanda Berman and her colleagues at the Zioness Movement, too many Women’s March participants and supporters have been willing to overlook the close relationship that March leaders Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory maintain with a notorious anti-Semite like Farrakhan. It was only after Farrakhan’s most recent invectives against the Jewish people that broader pressure began to build on Sarsour and Mallory to distance themselves from him. (Women’s March Founder Teresa Shook, actor Alyssa Milano and several regional March leaders deserve special credit for their efforts to bring necessary attention to the controversy.) 

Sarsour and Mallory have issued defiant and unsatisfactory responses to this pressure, creating a dilemma for all the women and men who support the March’s goals. Is it better to pretend that Farrakhan’s allies in the March leadership have satisfied our concerns about their relationship with him and their support of his agenda? Or does it make more sense to continue to push for their ouster, even at the risk of potentially weakening the broader impact of the March scheduled for Jan. 19?

The answer can be determined by how troubled each of us is when anti-Zionism oozes into anti-Semitism, and where this particularly noxious brand of hatred ranks on the list of outrages to decide how much that disagreement matters to each of us.


Dan Schnur is a professor at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, and at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. He is the founder of the USC-L.A. Times statewide political survey and the former director of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeles region.