I was recently asked by a friend whether I thought there was antisemitism on our campus. I have certainly encountered a lot of language that has made me as a Jewish student uncomfortable. In the wake of Oct. 7, I saw many of my peers using the term “resistance” in reference to a violent terrorist attack, praising it as some kind of noble feat of progress.
As more details of the attack became known, and organizations and public figures backed down from statements specifically praising the attack, language calling for more “resistance” has remained prominent in campus discourse. This, in conjunction with calls to “globalize the intifada,” reads as a call for violence against supporters of Israel around the world — especially considering the prominence of terror attacks against civilians during the Second Intifada of 2000 to 2005.
Now, I do not believe this is the imagery most of my peers have in mind when making these statements. Rather, it is my understanding that my peers are trying to raise criticism of Israel and its government and bring global attention to a humanitarian emergency — two goals which are not inherently antisemitic.
It is not necessarily antisemitic to disagree with a Jewish person. What I take issue with are the responses given to the Jewish community when we try to discuss how certain rhetoric is hurtful or problematic. Specifically, I am troubled by a pattern of excluding Jewish voices from conversations about what language is harmful to Jews.
Some responses have been dismissive. I have been told that what sounded to me like support for Hamas’ terror attacks was “not meant that way.” What that exactly meant was not made clear. Others have tried to compete in the Trauma Olympics and argue that the magnitude of loss in Gaza somehow invalidates grieving for Israeli victims.
Specific Jewish voices have also been used as tokens and shields. For example, people have pointed to Instagram posts by an organization called Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) to validate their use of the phrase “from the river to the sea.” They do so even though there is no consensus in the Jewish community in support of many of JVP’s positions. To the contrary, prominent Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League have voiced strong opposition to JVP.
Many people hold that marginalized groups should be the primary arbiters of what is offensive to them. However, I see many of my peers who believe in this approach failing to apply the same standard now that the Jewish community is the group in question. People do cite specific Jewish voices supporting their positions. However, cherry picking which Jewish voices to listen to based on what they are saying is not the same as actually considering Jewish perspectives.
When this subject comes up, members of our University community have accused Jews of weaponizing the “antisemitic” label to silence free speech. Sure, these community members ask, maybe some of these phrases are hurtful, but do they really cross the line into speech that should be banned on campus?
This question misses the point entirely. I am not advocating for externally imposed censorship; I am upset that people decline to change their own speech when they are told it is hurtful. We have pretty strong protections for free speech on campus. Thus, when you knowingly say something hurtful, that reflects a free choice over which you have full ownership. Responding to concerns of antisemitism with concerns about free speech is a kind of whataboutism. It is a way of dodging personal accountability for speech by deflecting the conversation to a different matter.
So, to answer my friend’s question: Yes. There is antisemitism on our campus. It takes the form of dismissing Jewish concerns, invalidating Jewish grief, disregarding Jewish perspectives, using selective Jewish voices as a license to ignore others, and running away from any serious discussion of these issues.
This article was published as part of the Campus Times’ Nov. 21, 2023 Special Edition on Israel-Palestine.