The BLOG: Voices

Assumption lecture focuses on anti-Semitism on American campuses

WORCESTER — On Oct. 5, Assumption College held a lecture entitled “Anti-Semitism: On Campus and in America.” The lecturer was Dr. Suzanne Garment, former chief officer for the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. Dr. Garment also helped UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan in his opposition to UN General Assembly Resolution 3379, which declared Zionism to be a form of racism.

After a brief introduction by Assumption professor of political science Dr. Greg Weiner, Dr. Garment began the lecture. She opened with a recent incident at the University of California-Berkely where authorities found posters proclaiming, “Jewish Bullies smash free speech at CAL and are pledged $38 million,” and “Attention non-Jews: PAY UP and SHUT UP.” The posters were hung in a response to recent U.S. military aid to Israel. At the same time, many Jewish groups were complaining of a course recently introduced to the university entitled, “Palestine: A Settler Colonial Analysis,” which portrayed Israeli citizens as colonialist occupiers from Europe. This course was seen as anti-Zionist and ultimately anti-Semitic.

Garment used these examples to illustrate the difficulties in campus anti-Semitism; it can be hard to disentangle legitimate criticism of Israel, anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism. Many groups will criticize U.S. aid to Israel, certain Israeli military actions, or the occupation of the West Bank, but will do so using anti-Semitic images and slurs. These groups will also hold Israel to an impossibly high moral standard when compared to other nations. The difficulty is in halting the spread of anti-Semitism while still allowing those who have legitimate criticisms of Israeli policy to freely do so.

Dr. Garment then turned her attention to Europe, where there has been a disturbing resurgence of anti-Semitism. Eastern Europe is one particular troublespot, where traditional European anti-Semitism never truly disappeared. During the Russia-Ukraine conflict, websites on both sides blamed the Jews for the crisis.

Muslim migration has also been a cause for the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe. She cited the research of Dr. Daniel Rickenbacker from the University of Zurich, who noted that at a recent anti-Israel protest in Zurich, Turkish migrants waved more caliphate flags than Palestinian flags, signifying the rise of Islamist ideology and its contribution to a more rigid form of anti-Semitism.

Garment made the case that many Western Europeans have used criticism of Israeli policies as cover for their anti-Semitism. Garment gave the example of Gunter Grass, a former SS member who wrote an acclaimed poem accusing Israel of planning a nuclear strike on Iran. A Labour member of Parliament in Britain made a Facebook post advocating that Israelis be forcibly located to the United States, accompanied by a picture of the state of Israel in the United States.

Re-focusing on America, Garment claimed that while much less anti-Semitism exists in the broader public, there is a rise of anti-Jewish attitudes on American campuses. Like Western Europe, much of this is tied to groups that criticize Israeli policies, such as the BDS movement. At the University of California-Irvine, a group of protesters angrily interrupted a showing of an Israeli film while shouting “Long live the Intifada!” Even groups that have nothing to do with Middle East policy, such as the Black Student Union, have acquired anti-Israeli attitudes.

Dr. Garment’s final point was that current anti-Semitism has its origins in the Muslim World and in Europe, and has from there transferred to the American campus, which has much contact with Europe.

Dr. Garment repeatedly invoked the courage and moral clarity of Senator Moynihan, who fought against the idea of anti-Zionism in the 1970s and exposed it for what it was: An act of Soviet manipulation. She said that American exceptionalism can defeat this new wave of anti-Semitism.

The lecture was very well received. “[It was] a nice evening…but not a topic to be happy about,” said Dr. Daniel Maher, professor of philosophy at Assumption College and head of the college’s Ecumenical Institute.

“It was eye-opening,” said Julie Dunn, a junior at Assumption. “I didn’t know how much the world hated Israel as much as they did. I was very educated by this lecture.”

Shant Eghian

Shant Eghian

Shant Eghian is a current history/political science double major at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.