On Wednesday night in Brooklyn, Congregation Mount Sinai had a panel on the “new anti-Semitism,” featuring speakers from the American Jewish Committee, the Anti Defamation League and the New York Times. The speakers from the two Jewish organizations generally equated the BDS movement against Israel (boycott, divestment and sanctions) with anti-Semitism. The reporter for the New York Times was careful not to say a word about Israel.
Here are several interesting statements from the panel. The last one is the one in my headline.
Seffi Kogen, an official of the American Jewish Committee, said that college campuses have been “hijacked” by the “alt left.”
I wrote an op-ed for Haaretz about five or six months ago. The title they slapped on it was, “The Alt-right Promotes Hatred of Jews. The Alt-left: Hatred of Israel.” I think we have seen that problem become increasingly prevalent on college campuses…. Whereas the alt right has been finding political avatars, they would say in the form of Donald Trump, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen, and others in Europe and elsewhere, the alt left does not have those same political avatars. But they do have academic avatars. There are professors on campuses around the country– whole departments in fact, sociology, anthropology, women’s studies– that will be hijacked by this alt left, in a way that we’d never allow the alt right to hijack an academic discipline.
And of course there’s very little we can do about it within the bounds of academic freedom. But where we can address it is insure that the students that those people could teach, and who they could implicate into this deeply-problematic hatred of Israel– we can reach those students. So that’s what I primarily focus on.
Here are two efforts Kogen has undertaken to counter criticism of Israel:
Over winter break in December, I led a group of 17 non-Jewish student leaders from Brown University to Israel. All of them came in with the basic paradigm with regard to the Israel Palestinian conflict, that Israel is the villain, Palestinians are the victim. After a week they all realized, that that’s simply not true, there is far more nuance and far more complexity to the conflict than that and now we’re working with them to spread that knowledge around Brown University’s campus…
Just this last weekend, I was in Coral Gables, at the University of Miami, with a group of 30 students, Jewish students and Latino students, from 10 different campuses around the country. And we were there because we wanted to create a space where the students could learn one another’s stories and learn how to support one another’s advocacy. So when they return to campus the Jewish students are better equipped to stand up and speak out against immigration bans, against the Mexican wall, whatever they might be moved to align themselves with. And the Latino students are better equipped to speak out against anti-semitism and hatred of Israel.
Joseph Goldstein, reporter for the New York Times, on the alt-right’s view of Jews:
In terms of understanding how the alt right thinks about Jews, or why they think about Jews– I was at the notorious Richard Spencer conference last November. And some of the speakers were citing the Frankfurt School in their speeches. It was probably the first mention I had heard of the Frankfurt School since college. The alt right is quite literate and they have sort of, I mean you can call it a conspiracy theory or an alternative view of history, but they have sort of spun a narrative of how America got to this present moment in time, in which Jews play an outsized role.
And the alt right is obsessed with the notion that at some point in the not too distant future, America will not be a majority white country. I think there was a census estimate that it would happen 40 years from now. That’s a figure that gets cited an awful lot. And immigration is without question the number one issue for the alt right.
And understanding why we have open borders in the view of the alt right, and understanding American immigration history, they sort of look at the Ellis Island myth as they put it of America as a welcoming country as something that Jewish policies and Jewish influence have brought about. That if you take a look back, that the only ethnic group that has been seeking open borders and seeking a liberal immigration policy for a century now are the Jews.…
I was somewhat stunned by just listening to various alt right speakers. They trace the rise of multiculturalism and just the population shifts in America, as the result of a Jewish conspiracy to make America less white and Anglo-Saxon. And so one reason why the Jews do play a large role in sort of the alt right’s world view, is they sort of need the Jews and the antisemitism in order to make sense of what America looks like today.
Interestingly, Goldstein did not get the opportunity to express these ideas in his article at the time.
Evan Bernstein, New York regional director of the Anti Defamation League, says anti-Semitism is the “oldest form of hatred known to man,” but the U.S. today is the best place ever for Jews:
I spoke at a press conference on the arrest of Juan Thompson, and I said, Anti-semitism is the oldest form of hatred really known to man. There hasn’t been any kind of cure for it. It’s been in every single major society really since societies have been around. Jews have started in these communities and then thrived and been driven out, as quickly as they have thrived.
We have always, for whatever reason—we’re here in a synagogue– if you want to make it biblical, if you want to make it sociological, whatever it is– Jews are always the lightning rod for some form of hate in whatever society we’ve been able to be in…
Europe is a much less rosy picture. But in America, I’m very clear to say, this is still the best place ever to be a Jew in history. When I sat next to Governor Cuomo— my grandparents were first generation off-the-boat Russians. If they ever thought in two generations their grandson would be sitting next to the governor of New York talking about how the governor would be protecting the Jewish people and investing a lot of money–
Despite everything we see right now, this is a time where Jews are able to thrive financially, they are able to get educated at the best universities– two generations ago that was not the case. Maybe country clubs are still the one area where we are not the best in getting into.. But in general there is a freedom of movement and a freedom of religion that two generations ago we could only dream about.
We have to be very cognizant of that, but keep our eyes open to what is taking place and the trends in front of us.
Seffi Kogen says that some Jews he knows support BDS out of love for Israel:
We often fall into this trap of assuming that students who support BDS, the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction the state of Israel in an effort supposedly to end Israel’s occupation– they never of course say whether they’re referring to an occupation after the Six Day War, that is the West Bank and Gaza, or whether they’re referring to Israel’s very existence– we fall into this trap where we think that Jewish students who support BDS do so out of ignorance. I think that some do. I think that some simply don’t know that there is a case for Israel.
I also think that there are some, in fact, I know that there are some, anecdotally, who do so—and I think they are misguided– but who do so from a place of love. They were my classmates in day school, and my bunkmates at Jewish camp. They were on the year-program that I spent in between high school and college in Israel. These are people who don’t hate Israel. You would be hard pressed to pin a charge of antisemitism on them that would actually stick. And so when we create this kind of caricature of them, I think it prevents us from accurately dealing with the problem that actually exists on campus.
Yesterday I tweeted Kogen a sincere question. Don’t some of your former bunkmates who support BDS object to the very issue in Israel that Joseph Goldstein finds justly objectionable in the alt-right: endless rhetoric of losing a racial majority. Kogen did not answer my question.