Last winter, I had the privilege of returning to Israel for the first time in over five years. During the trip, my group paid a visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust museum. As we entered the museum, we zigzagged around the story of European anti-Semitism, how Hitler acquired his influence, got into power, and slowly carried out genocide against eleven million people. We saw how society stood by quietly as the Nazis rampaged through Europe, and how it failed to stop the round up of Jews from the mass graves of Babi Yar to the death camps of Treblinka. It served as a warning against silence in the face of bigotry.
Today, I walk around campus vigilantly, worried that I will face scrutiny or attacks for my beliefs. Recently, anonymous students targeted Claremont Students for Israel, a pro-Israel campus group over which I preside, via Yik Yak. When I was informed of the commentary spewing around Yik Yak, including: “it was time to fire up the ovens” and “Heil Hitler,” I instantly had flashbacks to the imagery I saw at Yad Vashem. I closed my eyes and saw the abandoned shoes of the nameless victims of state-sponsored genocide. I saw the scrolls of the Torah destroyed and desecrated. I recalled the photographs of my people heaped in a mass grave as soldiers shot them in the head. But here I was, in Claremont of all places, experiencing the same gut-wrenching feelings that I did in a Holocaust museum.
This is not the only instance of anti-Zionist and/or anti-Semitic bigotry I have seen over the course of my four years in Claremont. Earlier this year, three mezuzot were ripped off the doorposts of proud Jewish men at Claremont McKenna College. During the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration night at Garrison Theater, we heard Marc Lamont Hill refer to Israel as an “apartheid state,” one of the most factually inaccurate and libelous charges against the Jewish state. The Student Life included a problematic article in its news section calling for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which holds a double-standard against Israel rather than condemning the rest of the Arab world for oppressing Palestinian-Arabs. Claremont Students for Israel had event flyers ripped off from buildings across campus. Finally, we have people posting anti-Semitic comments on Yik Yak.
Anti-Semitism takes various forms. Unfortunately, this includes rhetoric from people who criticize the State of Israel who cross the line and foment anti-Semitic commentary. As President of Claremont Students for Israel, I cannot help but notice the connections between rising levels of Israel hatred and rising levels of anti-Semitism over the past decade. The metastasis of this anti-Semitic cancer in Claremont started with an Israeli flag being ripped from a windowsill. An anti-Israel divestment resolution was passed at UC Davis, and the Jewish fraternity had swastikas on their house two days later. At Northeastern University, Students for Justice in Palestine hijacked a Holocaust commemoration event waving a PLO flag chanting the genocidal chant, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” SJP chapters have also been known for posting Nazi-era cartoons directed toward the Jewish state. It does not surprise me that after my group’s flyers were ripped down from the Hoch-Shanahan dining hall, we had to hear Nazi sympathizing comments and anti-Jewish rhetoric from either trolls or Jew-hating cowards hiding behind Yik Yak. Whether or not the administrations or the student body wants to admit it, Claremont faces an anti-Semitism problem.
Claremont cannot stand silent on this issue anymore. As Yom HaShoah approaches, the Jewish community will honor the six million Jewish lives brutally lost under the Nazi’s regime once more. Over that period of time, I expect the Jewish community to put aside their differences and unite to make a statement against anti-Semitism and against unreasonable bigotry. During that time, we cannot, and we should not, allow these anti-Semitic events to instill fear. We should not allow people and/or organizations to hijack the Jewish community’s attempts to live peacefully in a diverse college environment without facing hatred. Messages of peace, love, and unity should not be met with calls for separation, violence, and hatred. This is something that our entire community should theoretically stand with us on. I hope to see us all there.