While panelists agreed Monday that Jewish activism on college campuses is growing, they noted there is a trend that shows countries across the world have a rise in anti-Semitism.
Robert Isaacson, a doctorate student at George Washington University, said anti-Semitism has been increasing in countries because it “does not exist in isolation.” The digital era allows for a faster sharing of ideas, he said, which allows for the messages to be spread “faster, and further and in fewer characters than ever before.”
At the Rising Antisemitism in the Western World panel discussion in Stamp Student Union Monday night, four panelists convened to discuss how anti-Semitism is on the rise predominantly in the West. There was about 35 people in attendance and the event was sponsored by Ometz, with co-sponsorship by MICA, Kappa Lambda Xi, Hillel Kedma and Ruach.
Benjamin Weinthal, a European correspondent with Jerusalem Post, also served on the panel after holding a Q&A session with students at Maryland Hillel that afternoon.
Weinthal’s 16 years reporting with the Jerusalem Times in Berlin gave him a first hand experience with one of the major themes of the panel — the difference between anti-Semitism in Europe and in the United States, he said. The two countries have different takes on the BDS ideology, a movement referring to the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israel, and these differences contrast the two regions.
“Nearly half the states in the [United States] have proposed or passed anti-BDS resolutions or laws,” Weinthal said. “In Europe, BDS is largely state-sponsored … it would be the equivalent of the state of Maryland’s legislature to hold a BDS panel on why it’s important to boycott Israel.”
Jeffrey Herf, a history professor at this university, explained the definition of anti-Semitism in the modern age and how it blends with anti-Zionism efforts of the past. During the Cold War, Herf said anti-Zionism was a mask for non-Muslims to hide behind while attacking Jewish people.
“One distinctive feature of the Soviets, and the communists and the radical left in the West was that they attacked Israel and insisted they were not anti-Semites,” he said. “Anti-Semitism was something the Nazi’s did — the Islamists, on the other hand, were proud of their hatred of the Jews.”
The discussion turned to the subject of recent protests on this campus that occurred at Israel Fest on April 19. Students for Justice in Palestine on the campus held a “lie-in” in the middle of McKeldin Mall, where the Jewish Student Union held the event.
Rachel Zemel, a junior physiology and neurobiology major, said while this campus has a much more “robust Jewish life,” there is still an issue that needs to be addressed.
“In specific areas and in specifically in some universities, [anti-Semitism] is more problematic than in others,” she said. “But it is never not a problem.”
The assistant director of the Maryland Hillel, Maiya Chard-Yaron, said she saw the situation as a “tale of two campuses.” But while there are some anti-Israel episodes on the campus, there are also pro-Israel programs taking place on college campuses throughout the country.
“Two words we might use when we think about anti-Semitism on campus and the current state on college campuses is that there is the ‘bleak’ and the ‘promising,'” Chard-Yaron said. “It’s hard to say that it’s a completely bleak picture, when in reality, Jewish life on campuses is flourishing.”