It seems you can’t condemn antisemitism anymore.
On May 26, the Chancellor and the Provost of Rutgers University New Brunswick, issued a statement condemning the precipitous rise in antisemitic incidents in the U.S.: “We are saddened by and greatly concerned about the sharp rise in hostile sentiments and anti-Semitic violence in the United States. Recent incidents of hate directed toward Jewish members of our community again remind us of what history has to teach us.”
Given the sudden rise in antisemitic rhetoric (the ADL tracked more than 17000 tweets saying “Hitler was right,” or some variation thereof, between May 7-14) and antisemitic attacks both in the United States and abroad, you would think that the Chancellor’s and the Provost’s statement would be unexceptional, even welcome—especially since many universities and colleges issues similar statements condemning ant-Black and anti-Asian violence.
But no. A day later they issued “An Apology” because “the message failed to communicate support for our Palestinian community members.” Then, Jonathan Holloway, who is the President of the entire university, replaced the original statement with this one: “Neither hatred nor bigotry has a place at Rutgers, nor should they have a place anywhere in the world. At Rutgers we believe that anti-Semitism, anti-Hinduism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism, intolerance and xenophobia are unacceptable wherever and whenever they occur.”
Odd. Why does a statement condemning antisemitism need to be broadened to include other forms of racism and bias? Maybe his was a one-time mistake by administrators over-eager to please?
But then, it happened again.
On June 10, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) published their own fervent condemnation of antisemitism: “The SCBWI unequivocally recognizes that the world’s 14.7 million Jewish people (less than 0.018% of the population) have the right to life, safety, and freedom from scapegoating and fear.” Then things got worse.
First, the Executive Director, Lin Oliver, abjectly apologized for the statement on the grounds that saying antisemitism is bad and that Jews have the right to live in peace hurts Palestinians: “I would like to apologize to everyone in the Palestinian community who felt unrepresented, silenced, or marginalized. SCBWI acknowledges the pain our actions have caused to our Muslim and Palestinian members and hope that we can heal from this moment.”
Then, the person responsible for the original statement, Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer April Powers, who happens to be both Black and Jewish, resigned, but not before delivering her own apology for neglecting “to address the rise in Islamophobia, and [I] deeply regret that omission.” (The Society has since removed both apologies from their site.) In an interview with Kat Rosenfield published by Bari Weiss’s substack site, “Common Sense,” Powers said that her Judaism rendered her “inherently suspect.” “You’re Jewish,” her critics said, so “you can’t be in a role like this.” Inclusion and equity, it seems, means exclusion and inequity for Jews.
Inclusion and equity, it seems, means exclusion and inequity for Jews.
This is just bizarre. How does recognizing that Jews have the right to live in peace, that Jews have the right to eat in a restaurant without being attacked, as happened recently in Los Angeles, harm anybody else? Would anybody say that protesting anti-Black violence neglects the rise in, say, anti-Asian violence? Or that protesting the rise in Islamophobia harms Black people if the statement doesn’t mention them as well? Why is antisemitism singled out for this sort of treatment?
These two incidents made national news, but this also occurs below the national radar. My institution, San Diego State University, responded to a recent spate of antisemitic incidents, ranging from swastikas inscribed on buildings to the repeated vandalizing of the local Chabad House, by organizing a task force to address antisemitism. I’m on this task force.
We soon learned that an outside group of faculty, led by a Palestinian professor, was unhappy with the task force’s membership (predominantly Jews) and focus (exclusively antisemitism). So they asked the University’s president to appoint another member they had chosen: an outspoken opponent of Israel who blamed an earlier attack on Chabad on Israel’s actions against Hamas and claimed that the University’s partnership with the ADL to fight antisemitism signaled indifference toward Arabs. In a note posted to the College of Arts and Letters listserv, the professor wrote that Arabic and Palestinian students “deserve to know that they are valued on this campus and that we want it to be a safe campus for them.”
Another chimed in, claiming that focusing on antisemitism alone resulted in an “inequity” and she hopes “our Administration [will] move to resolve this inequity whenever possible.”
In their view, condemning antisemitism must be accompanied by assurances that the university is equally concerned about Arab students, even though there has (to my knowledge) not been any attacks at SDSU on Arab students or any anti-Arab graffiti inscribed on buildings. One also wonders how condemning antisemitism without mentioning Palestinians results in “inequity,” but condemning anti-Black racism or Islamophobia without mentioning the Jews, or anybody else, does not.
By now, it’s common knowledge that antisemitism is not taken very seriously on the left. At first, this was blamed on Jews being “white” and therefore privileged. But in the wake of the war between Hamas and Israel, we see a new twist. Now, when there’s an antisemitic incident, diaspora Jews are blamed, not the person who hates Jews.
Now, when there’s an antisemitic incident, diaspora Jews are blamed, not the person who hates Jews.
We see this perfectly illustrated with my colleague, who wrote on the listserv that the attack on Chabad House was Israel’s fault because Israel’s responded to Hamas’ rockets: “It is highly disturbing that the message [condemning the Chabad House vandals] that was just sent out to the whole campus was sent without some contextualization about the current situation in Jerusalem and the 80+ jets that have just bombarded Gaza, killing 20 people, including 9 children, and toppling a 13-story building that covered a whole block.”
Never mind the 4,000 plus unguided rockets Hamas launched with precise intent and hope that they would kill Israeli civilians.
Antisemitism, in other words, cannot be condemned by itself, as can other forms of bias. Nobody, for example, sought to “contextualize” the recent murders of Asian women in Atlanta by referencing the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uighurs. In current woke discourse, you can condemn attacks on Jews only if you condemn attacks on Arabs and Palestinians as well. Which is all part of the denigration of antisemitism on the left. Not only is Jew-hatred blamed on the victim, but having the temerity to condemn hatred against Jews may cost you your job. And before you leave, you’ll have to write a Maoist self-criticism.
We know where this ends, and it’s not good.
Peter C. Herman’s books include “Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpowder Plot to 9/11,” and “Critical Contexts: Terrorism and Literature.” His opinion pieces have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Areo, Inside Higher Ed, and Times of San Diego.