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Inclusivity includes Jews, too

| Wednesday, April 7, 2021

As a Jewish student, something I’ve noticed during my time at Notre Dame is that most people don’t know much about Judaism. That makes sense, considering we’re a Catholic university, but it also means a large portion of our community has likely not been exposed to anti-Semitism. The purpose of this column is not to chastise anyone; in fact, it took me years of Catholic education to understand Catholicism and Christianity (and I’m still learning). We can always learn more. My intention here is to explain an important issue for a community often neglected in the Notre Dame family. I hope that readers learn about the dangers of anti-Semitism and the importance of demonstrating solidarity with your Jewish classmates, faculty and staff.

Anti-Semitism is alive and well. Last week, a Hasidic Jewish family in New York was slashed by a man with a knife in broad daylight. In Australia, a Jewish woman was harassed with anti-Semitic language while walking out of services. Argentinian soccer fans chanted “killing the Jews to make soap” to their opponent’s historically Jewish populated fanbase.

Beyond those isolated instances, consider the following statistics. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), over 2,100 anti-Semitic incidents of violence and harassment were reported in 2019, a 12% increase from 2018. Globally, over a billion people are estimated to hold at least one anti-Semitic belief.

There’s no denying that anti-Semitism has a significant footing in the world, and that is especially true on college campuses. In a 2015 survey of Jewish undergraduate students in the U.S., 32% reported being verbally harassed for being Jewish and 39% reported witnessing such an event. According to a survey conducted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 2020, 43% of American Jews from ages 18 to 29 reported having seen or experienced an anti-Semitic incident on a college campus in the past five years.

In this academic year alone, there has been a startling number of anti-Semitic incidents at colleges and universities. Last semester, the vice president of USC’s student government resigned after being subjected to anti-Semitic bullying online. The Jewish center at the University of Delaware was set on fire. Nazi posters could be found all over Arizona State University’s campus. This semester, a fraternity at UT Austin was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. An office building at UNC shared a similar fate. Swastikas could be found at John Hopkins University and NYU. The list continues, but it’s clear that college campuses are increasingly becoming an unsafe place for Jewish students.

Notre Dame is not an exception. Just last semester, organizers of the event “Peace in Absentia: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Voices on Arab-Israeli Normalization” hosted a panel discussing paths to peace for the Israel-Palestine conflict. Now, I applaud their initiative to work towards a peaceful resolution between Israelis and Palestinians. Regardless of my opinion, I do not take issue with their criticism of Israel. The panelists have every right to criticize the Israeli government, as freedom of speech and dissent are key elements to a productive democracy. What I take issue with, however, is the anti-Semitic elements of the discussion.

Panelists accused Israel of being a settler-colonial state, suggesting it has no right to exist. Denying the right to self-determination of Jews is anti-Semitic. Such a statement insinuates that Jews have no homeland, as Israel is the only Jewish-majority country in the world. At a time when Jews face persecution in nearly every country they live in, a Jewish state is necessary for their security. When one recognizes the autonomy of other groups and supports their efforts for self-determination, it is a double standard grounded in prejudice against the Jewish people. Moreover, according to the AJC, 84% of American Jews believe the statement “Israel has no right to exist” is anti-Semitic. When a group of people overwhelmingly designates something as dangerous, their concern must be noted.

The event also expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, even saying that Jews “have a religious imperative” to support BDS, despite the movement’s anti-Semitic character. The leaders of the movement call for Israel to cease to exist, furthering anti-Semitic attitudes.

Now, let me be clear: I am not expressing unequivocal support for Israel. People have a right to criticize any government, and I agree with some points regarding the treatment of Palestinians. My concern lies when one calls for Israel’s destruction and the abandonment of the Jewish people. This anti-Semitism must be fought.

As a community that prides itself on diversity and inclusion, Notre Dame has a responsibility to act against anti-Semitism. The Catholic Church has done wonderful work towards building a positive relationship between Jews and Catholics. Pope Francis condemned the rising violence against Jews and the Vatican instructed Catholics to not attempt to convert Jews, a practice often associated with anti-Semitic attitudes.

My point is not to condemn our community. Notre Dame has already done some good work. After the 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting, a prayer service and discussion on anti-Semitism was held. Many of my interactions pertaining to my faith have been positive, as I have found friends, professors and staff embracing my Judaism. Student organizations have been helpful in supporting the Jewish community here. My purpose for this column is to help our community be more aware of the prejudice against some of its members, and inviting readers to take part in a larger initiative against hate.

Blake Ziegler is a sophomore at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He loves anything politics, especially things he doesn’t agree with. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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