Worry about Islamophobia, but Not Anti-Semitism

Anti Israel demonstraters

Southern Connecticut State University, where I teach, has gone to great lengths to accommodate Muslims — and reject the slightest manifestations of Islamophobia — while acting complacently toward egregious anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Concurrently, widely publicized events at Vassar and Oberlin Colleges reveal that displays of anti-Semitism typically cause uproar within the Jewish community but near silence by others, who even go so far as to defend hateful expression as freedom of speech.

In recent months, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bullying, misrepresentation and double standards have been common fare. In one case, an academic named Jasbir Puar who claims to be a feminist, and who is associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, gave voice to the latter. In her controversial Feb. 3, 2016 lecture at Vassar, Puar asserted that Israel conducts scientific experiments in “stunting growth” of Palestinian bodies. Apart from engaging in classic forms of anti-Semitic blood libel, she is a queer theorist of so-called “homonationalism,” or the concept that LGBT people in progressive liberal Western countries where they have won civil liberties have become “co-opted” and “discriminate against” other minorities — specifically Muslim immigrants, whom they falsely accuse of harboring homophobia. Puar, operating in what Hillary Clinton calls the “evidence free zone,” turns against feminist concerns, demonizes Western LGBT people and Israel, and accepts Islamic fundamentalism as the manifestation of legitimate Muslim grievances against the West.

A Troubling Report on Anti-Semitism

Worse still, at Oberlin, Assistant Professor Joy Karega, who teaches rhetoric and composition, has given voice on Facebook to bizarre and virulent anti-Semitic rants, blaming Jews and Israelis for masterminding 9/11, the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks and the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014. In response to communications she has received from others castigating her or attempting to educate her about antisemitism, she has announced that she plans to write a book-length work defending anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as legitimate responses against those with “hegemonic power,” and, basically, to critique how Jews conspire to silence anti-Semitic expression.

In the meantime, the observant Jewish president of Oberlin, Marvin Krislov, initially responded only tepidly, by defending her right to “academic freedom of speech” but without offering any acknowledgment of the vicious anti-Semitism of her posts. Only after intense pressure from Jewish groups has the Oberlin Board of Trustees recently released a statement of condemnation with the suggestion of taking disciplinary action. Meanwhile Karega would surely have been immediately and severely reprimanded publicly had she engaged in anti-Islam (or sexist, racist, or homophobic) conspiracy theories.

At my own institution, in December 2015, the Faculty Senate — which putatively deals with matters involving academic policy and administration — held a regular meeting that showed how the practice of ignoring anti-Semitism while focusing on Islamophobia operates. During that meeting, one Senator mentioned that some students had made a derogatory comment to another student about her hijab. A Muslim faculty member who was present also said that Muslim students had come to her with concerns over how they were perceived on campus. These events quickly led to an impassioned discussion about anti-Islam bias.

This public conversation took place on a campus where there are a sizeable number of Islamic students who usually interact seamlessly with non-Islamic students and where views of Donald Trump range from disapproval to disgust. However the Senate passed a motion and decided to hold, on February 3, 2016, a two-hour campus-wide meeting to “raise awareness of Islam.” The Senate justified the choice of this time to ensure that as many professors as possible would be able to attend and bring their students. The Senate scheduled the forum to take place at one of the largest venues on campus, and Faculty Senate President William Faraclas announced plans for an aggressive campaign of public outreach.

Steering Orthodox Jews Away from Massad at Columbia

Insofar as bias against and ignorance of Islam remains prevalent, the Faculty Senate action was commendable, appropriate and timely. But the lavish attention given to this one form of prejudice seemed somewhat misplaced. And this is particularly true in light of other remarks offered at that same Senate meeting, at which another faculty member noted in passing during the conversation about Islamophobia that swastikas had been painted in a public women’s bathroom in the main academic building on campus. The Senate was not interested in this comment. Unlike in the case of the remark about Islam, the swastikas were not perceived as problematic, or representative of a more widespread issue that the campus needed to address.

Further, painting swastikas in bathrooms is a hate crime — something far more serious than inappropriate comments about hijabs or concerns about perception. But in the contest between merely negative remarks and painted swastikas, the negative remarks won by a landslide. The Senate went even further: it even canceled its next regular meeting so that the entire Senate would be obliged to attend this forum on Islam.

To my personal knowledge, apart from the swastikas, there have been at least three anti-Semitic hate crimes committed against Southern faculty alone since 2008 — at least one of them involving death threats against the faculty member and her family as well as defacement of Jewish and Israeli materials posted on office doors. Further, during that same time period, Jewish students have complained to me about false anti-Israel allegations made by professors and, led by them, students as well. Rather than the Faculty Senate taking these seriously — anti-Semitic hate crimes and hateful classroom commentaries by professors — it did nothing.

The fact is this: while the mildest critical remarks or behavior directed toward Islam (or any other protected group) produce serious public outcry, anti-Semitism on campus, particularly in the form of anti-Semitic animus directed at Israel, is widely perceived as permissible.

On my campus, after repeated complaints made by Jewish faculty members — but, of course, no one else — a forum focusing on Judaism and anti-Semitism is finally in the planning stages. It remains to be seen whether or not the Faculty Senate will cancel its regular meeting or dedicate similar time and resources to it.

Reprinted with permission from The Algemeiner

Corinne E. Blackmer teaches English and Judaic Studies at Southern Connecticut State University.


8 thoughts on “Worry about Islamophobia, but Not Anti-Semitism

  1. Jews pushed for open borders, both now and in the 20th Century, with the gutting of generous immigration quotas for ‘chain immigration’ of the 1965 Immigration Act, all to increase Jewish immigration and screw their long-term hatred, the Goyim.
    Jews brought this on themselves. When Evil Whitey is gone , and mission accomplished from the identity politics people is proclaimed, no one will care about identity politics or be pathetic enough to placate non-identified groups.

    1. I disagree vociferously that the so-called “Jewish people” (and all such blanket generalizations are dangerous and indications of anti-Semitic animus) harbor hatred for “the Goyim” or “Evil Whitey.” Such remarks are simply shameful and prejudicial.

  2. Phrases like “anti-Semitism” and “racism” are used by different groups of university activists to gain power by taking advantage of the desire to please of ordinary people, and the cowardice of university administrators. “Islamophobia” is the latest of these phrases. They should all be ignored, and these words dropped from our vocabulary.

    1. As an observant Jewish woman who supports the right to existence of the democratic state of Israel, there is nothing I would like more than to drop the word “anti-Semitism” from our collective vocabulary. To do so in a realistic fashion, however, I would need to see an end to anti-Semitism on our campuses. This is not occurring, and thus it remains, contrary to the sentiments you express, necessary to protest against it and attempt to educate the public.

  3. Why is it bad to be phobic of a religion whose fundamental text commands killing apostates or those of different faiths; and whose founder was a sadistic warlord?

    1. The foundational texts of most of the world’s major religions were written in ancient periods, when egregious abuses such as slavery, sexist oppression, homohatred, xenophobia, and ethnocentrism were rife and, indeed, considered normative. While I would take exception to your characterization of Moses as nothing but a “sadistic warlord” (after all he lead one of the first successful rebellions against the endemic ancient institution of slavery), the fact is that Judaism has evolved completely, and no longer can in truth or in relation to the facts be painted with that brush.

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