Monday, January 25, 2021

Four More Campuses Hit by Anti-Semitism

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Stephen Smith
Stephen D. Smith is Finci-Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

It has emerged again: A group with neo-Nazi sympathies has littered university campuses with anti-Semitic flyers that seek to sow fear and hatred of Jews.

This particular flyer, posted at UC Berkeley, UC Davis and two private colleges in New York, perpetuates the preposterous claim that a Jewish conspiracy was somehow driving the opposition to Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the handbill, the likeness of Kavanaugh is surrounded by a gallery of U.S. senators of Jewish descent whose foreheads are each marked with a Star of David.

“Every time some anti-white, anti-American, anti-freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it’s Jews behind it,” blares the flyer, which apparently was posted by a group of young, white “American Nationalists” called the Daily Stormer Book Club.

False caricatures and wild conspiracy theories about Jewish control fit neatly within hundreds of years of historical precedent of anti-Semitic thought. The similarly named Nazi weekly newspaper Der Sturmer used caricatures to vilify Jews in the 1930s. The recent news that these hateful flyers have appeared on several college campuses is nothing new, and much like we saw through Europe during the Nazi period. These recycled ideas are the product of Nazi sympathetic agitators who seek to seed hate and discontent.

“False caricatures and wild conspiracy theories about Jewish control fit neatly within hundreds of years of historical precedent of anti-Semitic thought.”

The perpetrators are likely not students, nor is the organization known to be affiliated with any campus groups. This is an insidious infiltration of student life by outside Nazi groups seeking to misinform young people, distort facts and promote hateful ideologies. We at the USC Shoah Foundation remain at the ready to help students mobilize and guard their campuses against these kinds of hateful propaganda campaigns, and give young people the tools they need to be “Stronger Than Hate.”

In the past year, we have created programming and produced classroom-ready resources that directly address these sorts of incidents — incidents that characterize an escalating prevalence of hate speech and identity discord on college campuses across the nation.

Chief among our new resources is the Intercollegiate Diversity Congress, an annual summit that convenes student leaders from across the country at our headquarters to develop action plans that counter hate on their campuses and promote inclusion. We have also produced a suite of no-cost learning activities in IWitness University about civility, empathy and intolerance in co-curricular spaces.

These activities delve unflinchingly into the consequences of unchecked hatred. They also offer ideas on how to harness the power of storytelling to bring about positive change.

This fall, the student government at USC used the activities during an annual orientation event for its 80-plus members. The students responded especially well to a clip of testimony from Silja Vainer, a Holocaust survivor who described the comfort she derived from joining a Jewish-Muslim-Christian interfaith group.

Shany Ebadi, co-chief of diversity on the student government body at USC, said Vainer’s testimony inspired students to develop specific action plans that promote pluralism and diversity. “We went back to our groups and discussed that evolution of the idea of, ‘Let’s not just let the problem simmer, but let’s think about ways to combat it,’ ” she said. 

There are doubtless many on campus who are easily impacted by the hate campaigns of groups seeking to draw attention to themselves and stir controversy, but we know from history that caricatures of Jews depicting political power and conspiracy led to horrific consequences. Such threats should be taken seriously, especially as they target young minds at our academies. 

The surest way to guard against this brand of hate is through education.

Stephen D. Smith is the Finci Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation.

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