Time to shame those who spread prej­u­dice

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Times

UNI­VER­SITY AN­TISEMITISM is a se­ri­ous and grow­ing prob­lem. Jewish stu­dents in­creas­ingly say they fear be­ing on cam­pus be­cause of an­tiJewish vil­i­fi­ca­tion or ha­rass­ment. Last year, an NUS study found more than a quar­ter of them had been sub­jected to per­sonal abuse on so­cial me­dia or other chan­nels. The uni­ver­si­ties min­is­ter, Jo John­son, made an im­por­tant speech last week at Lim­mud, the ac­claimed Jewish lear­nathon. While the uni­ver­si­ties had to de­fend free speech bet­ter than they were do­ing, he said, there could be no place on cam­pus for an­tisemitism.

A wel­come state­ment; but the im­pli­ca­tions are un­clear.

The di­vid­ing line between ob­nox­ious speech that must nev­er­the­less be pro­tected and speech that is truly beyond the pale is a dif­fi­cult one to draw.

An­tisemitism isn’t just a cam­pus prob­lem. It cour­ses through the Labour Party and the broader political left. Tack­ling it is be­dev­illed by the fact that much of it takes the form of an­tiIs­raelism.

The left shel­ters be­hind a con­ve­nient dis­tinc­tion. While an­tisemitism is con­sid­ered beyond the pale, anti-Is­raelism is deemed en­tirely le­git­i­mate. In fact, the two are joined at the hip.

An­tisemitism is not just a prej­u­dice but a unique de­range­ment of mind: sin­gling out the Jews alone to meet stan­dards ex­pected of no one else, ac­cus­ing them of be­ing a ma­lign global con­spir­acy, hold­ing them re­spon­si­ble for crimes of which they are not only in­no­cent but are the vic­tims.

Ex­actly the same unique de­for­mi­ties are char­ac­ter­is­tic of the anti-Is­rael dis­course found on cam­pus and the left. Which is why ob­ses­sive anti-Is­raelism is a mod­ern mu­ta­tion of the old­est ha­tred. The spe­cious dis­tinc­tion between anti-Is­rael and anti-Jewish ac­tiv­ity is be­com­ing ever more thread­bare. Jews are be­ing tar­geted for ex­plicit anti-Jewish abuse and barred from pro-Pales­tinian meet­ings just be­cause they are Jews.

Jew-ha­tred also comes from the far-right. The all-party par­lia­men­tary group on an­tisemitism heard last Novem­ber that the swastika has be­come a “ca­sual sym­bol of fun” on cam­pus. The ma­jor­ity of such at­tacks, though, come from those pro­mot­ing the Pales­tinian nar­ra­tive on the left and in the Mus­lim world.

Jo John­son pledged to do more to fight all this, in­clud­ing ask­ing uni­ver­si­ties to adopt the In­ter­na­tional Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Al­liance’s work­ing def­i­ni­tion of an­tisemitism and spend­ing millions to fight ha­rass­ment of Jewish stu­dents.

That would be help­ful in stop­ping the most egre­gious an­ti­semitic big­otry, which should be as un­think­able as speak­ers in­sult­ing or de­fam­ing black peo­ple. It is shock­ing that uni­ver­sity au­thor­i­ties stand by while thugs dis­rupt pro-Is­rael speak­ers, as hap­pened in 2016 when Hen Mazzig, a gay IDF vet­eran, was pre­vented from speak­ing at Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Lon­don by a vi­o­lent mob.

But much ob­nox­ious ac­tiv­ity takes the form of false­hoods about Is­rael’s be­hav­iour or Jewish his­tory. These may be an­chored in an­tisemitism but they are not in them­selves ir­ra­tional. They are sim­ply lies and dis­tor­tions. Try­ing to pre­vent them from be­ing De­fend­ers of the Jewish peo­ple need to go on to the XÞNWûN ex­pressed, at all, risks cross­ing the line into cen­sor­ship. Aca­demic de­bate, af­ter all, in­volves test­ing pos­si­ble false­hoods to de­struc­tion in or­der to ar­rive at the truth.

The core prob­lem lies not with the stu­dents putting on these vile meet­ings but the pro­fes­sors and lec­tur­ers who teach cour­ses in which the nar­ra­tive of lies about Is­rael is pre­sented as aca­dem­i­cally sound — and then stand by while Jewish stu­dents are abused.

Ir­ra­tional prej­u­dice is immune to rea­son. False claims, though, can be dis­proved and those who pro­mul­gate them can be held up for pub­lic scorn. The fo­cus, there­fore, should be on uni­ver­si­ties and teach­ers who fa­cil­i­tate this. In­stead of protest­ing from the back foot against these meet­ings tak­ing place, de­fend­ers of the Jewish peo­ple need to go on to the of­fence.

They should be stag­ing their own meet­ings set­ting out the facts that these uni­ver­si­ties are deny­ing. They should be call­ing out spe­cific uni­ver­si­ties and named pro­fes­sors and lec­tur­ers for in­com­pe­tent schol­ar­ship, dis­crim­i­nat­ing against stu­dents for telling the truth about the Mid­dle East, sub­sti­tut­ing false­hoods for facts, fa­cil­i­tat­ing in­cite­ment against Is­rael and Jews — and some­times be­ing funded thus to sub­vert aca­demic stan­dards by huge do­na­tions from Saudi Ara­bia and other Arab states.

The uni­ver­si­ties are tem­ples of rea­son which, on Is­rael among other is­sues, have been hi­jacked in or­der to deny ra­tio­nal thought and pro­mote in­stead hate­mon­ger­ing lies, pro­pa­ganda and prej­u­dice. We there­fore need not less but more and dif­fer­ent speech which can turn this big­otry into a boomerang.

Me­lanie Phillips is a colum­nist

Jo John­son speaks at Lim­mud

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