As Anti-Semitism continues to grow unchecked on colleges campuses, and within a small cohort currently serving in the United States Congress, Belgium offers a glimpse into a frightening future for us if the hateful rhetoric is allowed to escalate. During the same week that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) complained about undue Jewish influence in this country and the Jewish “allegiance to a foreign country,” a Carnival parade in the city of Aalst, Belgium on March 3rd, featured anti-Semitic floats with vicious caricatures of stereotypically Jewish figures.
According to The Observers (a collaborative site published in four languages including French, English, Arabic and Persian, which covers international current affairs by using eyewitness accounts from observers, “The float is fronted by two giant models in pink suits, wearing sidelocks and shtreimels—the fur hat traditionally worn by Hasidic Jews—and with large hooked noses. One of them has a rat on his shoulder. Both are standing on piles of gold coins and are surrounded by bags of money.”
While the float was widely criticized on social media, the town’s mayor, Christoph D’Haese, published an op-ed in Dutch media HLN denying that those who participated were anti-Semites, and defended the “freedom from censorship” for the parade organizers. The parade has a history of escalating anti-Semitism. In 2013, there was a float filled with men dressed as Nazi SS officers.
Those who think such anti-Semitism could never happen here may not be paying attention. Rep. Omar has drawn on some of the same virulent stereotypes depicted on that float in her campaign against Jewish influence in politics. Worse, the anti-Semitic rants by Omar have been defended by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who has said that she is confident that Omar is not anti-Semitic. Pelosi’s defense continued even after Omar’s February Tweet that “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” when describing the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)
Omar still serves on the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee where among other issues, she helps to decide all foreign assistance, national security developments affecting foreign policy, strategic planning and agreements, war powers, treaties, executive agreements, and the deployment and use of the United States Armed Forces. As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Omar has access to secret intelligence—much of it garnered from Israel. This is information that is vital to American interests and the interests of our allies.
When Congressional leaders attempted to condemn Omar’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, House Speaker Pelosi rejected that and instead, helped to pass a resolution that included a condemnation of anti-Semitism under a long list of other bigotries including racism and Islamophobia. It is clear that Omar is above all criticism.
Chelsea Clinton learned that lesson at New York University last week when she was loudly denounced by students at a campus vigil for the 50 Muslims killed in New Zealand. The angry students were responding to a tweet by Clinton which attempted to criticize Omar’s “all about the Benjamins tweet” by saying that “We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.”
In explaining their anger at Clinton, the students—who met through a campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine—wrote in an op-ed on BuzzFeed that they were “shocked” that Clinton would come to the vigil “given that she had not yet apologized to Rep. Omar for the public vilification against her. We thought it was inappropriate for her to show up to a vigil for a community she had so recently stoked hatred against.”
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a network of pro-Palestinian student groups across the US which disseminate anti-Israel propaganda often laced with inflammatory and at times combative rhetoric. In a report on the activities of SJP, the international Jewish Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has issued a report that reveals that although many SJP chapters state that they reject anti-Semitism, they also regularly demonize Jewish students who identify as Zionists or supporters of the State of Israel: “In one instance an SJP chapter called for the expulsion of the Jewish student group Hillel from the campus.
Beyond NYU, the ADL has documented an escalation of vicious rhetoric from SJP events: Beginning in 2012, the Cornell chapter of SJP published a newspaper which described Israel as a “white supremacist state” and claimed that Cornell University administrators took orders from the Zionist groups on campus regarding programming. In 2013, San Diego State’s chapter of SJP presented a slideshow that compared Israeli policy to the Holocaust. At an SJP event in 2017 at the University Illinois Urbana Champaign, Lila Sharif, an Assistant professor of Asian American Studies warned of an ideology of white supremacist Jewry that was going to take citizenship over in historic Palestine.
In November 2017, Eman Abdelfadeel, the Georgetown chair of SJP, called for SJP activists to “break the relationship between Judaism and Zionism,” denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination. In early 2018, a speaker at an SJP event said that all communities have “elements…that are harmful” and that “for Jewish folks, that’s Zionists.” And, in March 2018, at an SJP talk at Columbia University, Steven Salaita said that Zionism is “a category that pretends to be ethnic and pretends to be religious, but it’s a political identity.” SJP put up posters on campus to advertise Israeli Apartheid Week at the University of Toledo
Beyond SJP activities, there have been several examples of campus-based anti-Semitism. In just the past few weeks, the AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization dedicated since 2015 to investigating and combating anti-Semitism on college campuses, has documented that such incidents have increased dramatically. Looking only at incidents throughout the month of March 2019, Wake Forest University Palestine Solidarity Coalition released a statement to the community that demonized Israel and supported the right of return for Palestinians which would effectively eliminate Israel as a Jewish state and deny Jewish self-determination.
Oberlin Students in Solidarity with Guatemala formally endorsed Students for a Free Palestine’s campaign to remove Sabra Hummus from the campus dining facility in a statement that also explicitly called for a dismantling of the state of Israel. The Oberlin statement read that the student group “firmly believes that the liberation of indigenous peoples in Guatemala is tied to the liberation of Palestinians and the dismantling of the state of Israel.”
An op-ed in the Aggie school newspaper at the University California Davis argued for divestment and blamed Israel for “demolishing homes and killing innocent children” of the Palestinians. Columbia’s chapter of SJP issued a statement demanding that Columbia “divest from companies that perpetrate crimes against Palestinians.” The University of Michigan column in The Michigan Daily accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and encouraged divestment—claiming that “Israeli authorities have also been found to allow pharmaceutical companies to test weapons and drugs on Palestinian and Arab prisoners and children.” And, the University of California Berkeley’s newspaper published an op-ed by NYU Professors Andrew Ross and John King that promoted an academic boycott against Israel claiming that taking a position against divestment is due to Jewish donor pressure.
The Chelsea Clinton fiasco at New York University is just the most recent example of a high profile anti-Semitic rant against an individual simply for defending Israel from an ugly attack by Omar. As the twitter feed of the NYU chapter of SJP demonstrates, a main goal of SJP is in organizing the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. The movement is gaining traction and although some of those promoting the divestment movement claim they are not anti-Semitic, only anti-Zionist, there really is little difference. While the anti-Zionists claim that they are at war only with those Jews who affirm Jewish nationhood, the truth is that anti-Zionists are at war with every self-identifying Jew.
The destruction of the people of Israel—and the U. S. supporters of Israel—is very much the goal of much of the anti-Semitism we see today on college campuses and beyond. It is important to take it seriously. No one predicted in 1900 that within fifty years more than 6 million Jews would be murdered in Germany. Germany had been a place where Jewish families had enjoyed the greatest degree of assimilation, upward mobility, access to higher education. Jewish men and women enjoyed highly respected careers in business and the professions of medicine, the law, and the professoriate. But, the envy and the hateful resentment of a small number of powerful people changed all of that. It can happen again. On some college campuses in this country, it is already happening.