Rose Ritch Is a Clarion Call to End Jew Hatred on College Campuses

Most of us have heard the famous phrase “Houston, we have a problem,” which was uttered by Tom Hanks in the movie about the failed Apollo 13 mission to the moon. Well, we have a Jew hatred problem, which is growing and spreading just like a virus.
September 8, 2020
The Patsy and Forrest Shumway Fountain at the University of Southern California (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

A little more than a month ago, Rose Ritch, the vice president of student government at USC resigned, citing a relentless and anti-Semitic campaign of cyberbullying and public attacks on her simply because she identified as a proud Jew and Zionist.

Following her public resignation letter, USC President Carol Folt sent out a letter condemning the bullying of Ritch and announcing the creation of a “Stronger than Hate” program by the USC Shoah Foundation. Otherwise, USC has done next to nothing to make its Jewish students not feel as though they have to hide their Jewish identity and support of Israel in order to be able to freely and fully participate in student government at USC.

If USC truly wants to be “stronger than hate,” then it must make meaningful changes, such as requiring mandatory education on Jew hatred and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism. It also should create consequences for blatant anti-Semitism. To date, no one has been sanctioned, censured, or expelled for harassing Ritch. If Jew hatred is going to stop, there must be consequences for those who engage in or promote such misconduct.

On Labor Day, I had the honor of speaking at a rally in Los Angeles as a part of the #EndJewHatred now campaign, a grassroots movement demanding an end to the tolerance of anti-Semitism on college campuses and insisting that the USC Board of Trustees make the school the first university to respond to Jew hatred and anti-Semitic harassment in the same way as they would to all other forms of bigotry.

The  statement below is adapted from my speech and explains that what happened to Ritch is far from an isolated incident. For too long, Jew hatred has festered on campuses without an adequate response from university administrations. Enough is enough:

“Most of us have heard the famous phrase “Houston, we have a problem,” which was uttered by Tom Hanks in the movie “Apollo 13” about that failed moon mission to the moon. Well, we have a Jew hatred problem, which is growing and spreading just like a virus.

In our Passover haggadah, our sages tell us that “in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.” Our history has sadly proven the accuracy of that warning. Our history also has demonstrated that in every generation, we have a hard time listening to that warning.

Ten years ago, at UC San Diego (UCSD), there was an event where David Horowitz (CEO & Founder of The Freedom Center) was speaking to a group of students. During the Q&A session, a UCSD student publicly stated — on video — that she supported the idea of gathering all of the Jews in the world in Israel so that it would be easier to kill us all in one place.

What did the UCSD administration do in response to this student? Nothing. It just issued  a statement to the Los Angeles Times about the importance of “discourse and debate.”

Four years later, a National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students found that 54% of Jewish students reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism on campus. That’s over half of Jewish college students in America. Did this insane figure lead to soul searching by college administrators across the country or some commitment by college presidents to end anti-Semitism on campus? No. They did nothing. And neither did the majority of the Jewish community.

Barely one year later, a student at UCLA, Rachel Beyda, was nominated to the university judiciary board. She was then subjected to a grilling by four members of the UCLA student council about how, because she was Jewish and involved with Hillel and a Jewish sorority, she could not be an unbiased judge. This grilling, which was provided on live TV to the rest of the student body, was followed by a 40 minute debate seeking to disqualify Beyda because of her Jewish affiliations.

What did the UCLA administration do in response? Nothing. All it did was issue a weak-kneed statement about how an “intellectual community” must “hold itself to a higher standard.”

A month later, at USC, a Jewish student reported in Dorm Room Television that she overheard a conversation between the director of the Women’s Student Assembly and the assistant director of Queer & Ally Student Assembly about having a speaker representing the Israeli viewpoint on a panel about Gaza. The Women’s Student assembly director said, “I honestly don’t want to use our funds for a Jew to speak.”

And what did USC’s administration do in response to this published article exposing such plain Jew hatred within the student government at USC? You guessed it. Nothing.

Rose Ritch is just the latest victim of anti-Semitism on college campuses. Because Ritch identified as a Zionist — meaning that she, like most Jews, believes in the existence of a Jewish state within the Jewish people’s indigenous, historical and religious homeland — she was subject to cyberbullying, with students claiming on Instagram and on other social media platforms: “warms my heart to see all the zionists [sic] from usc and usg [sic] getting relentlessly cyberbullied.” Another post claimed all the groups on campus that “r Jewish r also Zionist” and because of this, Jews must not join any campus Jewish organization, because doing so smears “blood on ur hands.” Yet another student posted about “impeaching [her] zionist ass.”

What happened to Ritch epitomizes the “new anti-Semitism.” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said,  “Anti-Semitism is not an ideology … The best way of understanding it is to see it as a virus … Today, we are living through the fourth mutation. Unlike its predecessors, the new anti-Semitism focuses not on Judaism as a religion, nor on Jews as a race, but on Jews as a nation.”

The anti-Semitism in attacks on Israel and on Zionist Jews like Ritch is evident to all except the most intentionally hateful or obtuse. Simply replace the word “Israel” or “Zionist” with “Jews” and observe the similarity with anti-Semitic remark. In the 1930s, Nazis and anti-Semites like Henry Ford claimed that “Jews were conspiring to control all governments.” In the 21st century, anti-Zionists regularly make some form the claim that Israel is controlling or trying to control foreign governments. In the Middle Ages and for centuries thereafter, Jews were labeled as “baby killers.” Now, anti-Zionists libel Israel, the embodiment of the Jewish collective, as the “baby killer.” These anti-Semitic canards, amongst many others, have been recycled into an “anti-Zionist” barrage of lies.

Make no mistake — slander and libel are what fuels Jew hatred. Every historic crime against the Jewish people, from our expulsion from England in the 13th century to the Holocaust, was preceded by strings of lies.

But it is our apathy to this libel that lets it grow. Enough is enough. For 10 years now, hate crimes against Jews have been the most common hate crimes in America per capita. In 2018, according to FBI hate crime data, Jews in the United States were 2.7 times more likely than African Americans and 2.2 times more likely than a Muslim-American to be victims of a hate crime.

And 2019 only got worse. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) 2019 “Audit of Antisemitic Incidents” found that the total number of anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2019 increased 12% from 2018, with a frightening 56% increase in assaults. The ADL study found that there were, on average, as many as six anti-Semitic incidents in the United States for each day in the calendar year — the highest level of anti-Semitic activity ever recorded by ADL.

Our history has taught us that ignoring Jew hatred never makes it go away. Within living memory of the Holocaust, being an open Jew-hater in Europe went from being something beyond the pale to something unfortunately commonplace. That recent history has shown us how letting anti-Zionism give false cover to hate created a Europe where being openly Jewish is often a risky proposition, and where every synagogue and Jewish institution needs armed guards.

In the past few weeks alone, at least half a dozen synagogues in the United States were vandalized, and the Chabad center at the University of Delaware was deliberately burned to the ground. Is this what we want for the future of Jews in America?

The answer to that question must be a resounding no. That means that the response to the Jew hatred experienced by Ritch and so many other college students must be clear and unequivocal: there will be zero-tolerance for Jew hatred. Jew hatred will treated by all college administrators, at schools like USC, the same way they treat all other forms of harassment or discrimination based on a person’s faith, ethnicity or race. Nothing more and nothing less.

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