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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Distorted view of White Home technique on campus antisemitism (letter)

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To the Editor:

Of their latest piece in Inside Greater Ed, Michael Barnett and Nathan J. Brown criticize the White Home’s just lately launched nationwide technique to counter antisemitism. Their critique, sadly, is laced with critical distortions and fails to meaningfully focus on the challenges concerned in addressing the spike in antisemitism nationally, or on U.S. faculty campuses particularly.

The White Home technique represents the U.S.  authorities’s first ever multi-agency, whole-of-society effort to deal with what is commonly known as the world’s most historic, persistent type of hate — and the groundbreaking technique has obtained broad help for its complete strategy towards tackling this difficulty. However as a substitute of understanding the White Home’s effort as a historic first step to confront the alarming spike in antisemitism on this nation, Barnett and Brown as a substitute assault it, claiming it gained’t adequately defend them from accusations of antisemitism once they write controversial articles concerning the Israel-Palestine battle.

As somebody with a long time of expertise advising college leaders about their accountability to guard numerous campus populations, I understand how troublesome it’s to focus consideration on complicated, seemingly intractable issues like antisemitism and jumpstart actual systemic change on campus. The group I now work for, Hillel Worldwide, has been working for 100 years to construct sturdy, vibrant, and inclusive Jewish communities on faculty campuses that type a vital bulwark towards antisemitism. Barnett and Brown’s article, nevertheless, doesn’t have interaction with these points; as a substitute it mischaracterizes the White Home technique and misleads readers about the true points. 

The primary distortion considerations the small print of the technique itself. The authors’ piece claims that the White Home punted on the difficulty of when criticism of Israel slips into antisemitism. On the contrary, the technique forthrightly declares that “the USA has embraced” the Worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by 39 nations, the European Union, the Group of American States, and dozens of U.S. state and native governments. Along with the Administration’s continued utility of Govt Order 13899 which, as Barnett and Brown acknowledge, requires consideration of the IHRA definition in making use of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, it’s completely obvious the place the White Home technique comes down on utilizing the IHRA definition.

In fact, Barnett and Brown aren’t actually searching for extra readability of requirements towards antisemitism. Their actual objection, in truth, is that IHRA is too clear in proscribing what their article characterizes as “any questioning of Zionism” or “sturdy criticisms of Israeli coverage.” They declare that the White Home embrace of IHRA might be utilized by “governments and college directors to sanction and punish critics of Israel for being antisemitic.”

That is their second, extra primary distortion, one that’s usually expressed by different IHRA critics who seem to hope that their viewers is not going to learn what IHRA really says, and as a substitute depend on their mischaracterizations of IHRA’s textual content. It’s false to counsel that the IHRA definition bars any questioning of Zionism or offers Jews privileges afforded to nobody else. What IHRA, in truth, says is that “criticism of Israel just like that leveled towards some other nation can’t be thought to be antisemitic.” The definition additionally goes to nice lengths to declare its use as a “non-legally binding working definition supposed to function a information” with examples that “might function illustrations…bearing in mind the general context.”

At Hillel, we educate college students and college directors concerning the IHRA definition and in addition encourage them to study different definitions that provide completely different understandings. However it’s one factor to coach, evaluate, and distinction; fairly one other to distort details on the bottom. The explanation why Barnett and Brown don’t point out a single instance of any school or college students really being punished based mostly on IHRA anytime, anyplace in the USA is as a result of it has by no means occurred. 

Which results in a 3rd distortion: the article is grounded in deceptive claims that Israel’s defenders “play the antisemitism card” to silence their critics and will accuse anybody assigning college students to learn their article on Israel-Palestine of discrimination. It takes nerve certainly to criticize the White Home’s efforts to stanch the surge in bigoted, usually violent antisemitism throughout the USA by invoking fears of non-existent sanctions and punishments being imposed on lecturers. 

On the contrary, many humanities and social science departments at distinguished establishments aren’t solely hospitable to anti-Israel viewpoints; too usually they marginalize and erase any opposite views. Barnett and Brown themselves acknowledge that the notion of Israel as a “state deeply entrenching injustice and inequality” is a “widespread view” within the educational circles by which they work. These of us who have interaction every day with the realities confronted by Jewish college students on faculty campuses know they’re those who usually face bullying, marginalization, and discrimination, particularly once they categorical their connection to Israel.

From 2016 to 2021, Hillel tracked a threefold enhance in antisemitic incidents on American faculty campuses, up from 109 to 244. In 2021, 43 % of Jewish college students surveyed by Hillel and ADL reported that they witnessed or skilled antisemitism on their campus, and 15 % of faculty college students reported that they felt the necessity to cover their Jewish id from others on campus. The numbers are indicative of gut-wrenching real-life incidents: Jewish college students pelted by rock-throwing whereas celebrating Passover; an Israeli scholar allegedly instructed by her professor throughout class introductions that “it’s not your fault you had been born in Israel”; Jewish college students compelled out of a help group for sexual assault survivors merely for supporting Israel. Sadly, these aren’t remoted incidents, however a part of a harmful pattern that the White Home technique is correctly centered on addressing. 

Regardless of Barnett and Brown’s distortions, there may be no less than one level on which all of us can agree: a extra reasoned engagement with these vital points is required. Happily, they needn’t fear that the White Home’s technique addressing the spike in antisemitism will stand in the best way.

–Mark Rotenberg
Vp of college and authorized affairs
Hillel Worldwide

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