Thursday, May 2, 2024

Some Basic Thoughts About Anti-Semitism, University Protests, and the Far Right BS Machine

 Watching students getting arrested and expelled was bad.  Watching them get pummeled by right wing assholes (Zionists or far right provocateurs) with the cops' permission and watching cops use "rubber" bullets that are super dangerous has been even worse.  I have many thoughts about all of this so let me spew a bit to figure some of this stuff out.

Some really basic stuff about identity and anti-semitism:

  • No individuals or groups are actually acting on behalf of entire ethnic groups despite, oh my, all of the assumptions and data I used when I was an ethnic conflict scholar.  This means:
    • Not all allies of Israel are Jews.  
    • Not all pro-Palestinians are Muslims.  
    • Not all Jews are pro-Israel at this moment. 
  • What is anti-semitism?  Hatred of Jews.  Criticism of Israel can be anti-semitic but is not necessarily.  Israel is a country, and it has a government.  All governments can and should be criticized when they abuse people and engage in bad policies.  Identifying Israel with all Jews can be anti-semitic because it is generalizing about an entire group.  Not all Arabs or Muslims are pro-Saudi Arabia AND criticism of Saudi Arabia is not always Islamophobic.  

Are these various encampments and anti-Israel protests anti-semitic? It depends.  Sorry, but it is not clear--it depends on their demands, their statements, their treatment of Jews.  If they happen to have a bunch of Jews within them, then they are probably not anti-semitic. 

Back to basic stuff, this time about punishing students:

  • Any punishment of students should involve some kind of due process.  No student should be evicted without a big hunk of due process.
  • Students should not be suspended or expelled or evicted for engaging in collective dissent as long as it is not violent.  Universities are supposed to places where speech should be at its freest.  
  • Such protests can be inconvenient and/or annoying--that is how they make themselves known. When I mentioned this on social media, someone raised the John Lewis line about good trouble.  
  • What protests should not do and protestors can be punished for is threatening other students. But that raises two important distinctions:
    • individual punishment, not collective punishment.  Entire groups of students should not be punished for the statements of individuals or actions of individuals especially if those folks happen to be off campus (see the non-students outside of Columbia)
    • Saying negative things about Israel may hurt one's feelings but does not count as threats.  Again, not all criticism of Israel is anti-semitic.  The actual words and actions matter.  It may suck for Jewish students to be on campuses where there are protests against Israel as insults of those sharing one's identity does hurt one's own self-esteem.  But hurt feelings are not tantamount to violence or assaults.  
  • No president of any university should be calling in the cops to arrest their students unless their students are engaged in or threatening to engage in violence.  Campuses need to be safe for all students, including those engaged in dissent.  Calling in the cops is an escalation that can and often leads to violence.  The students at many of these places have been harmed, way out of proportion to whatever their alleged crimes.  These universities have failed a very basic part of their mission--to protect their students.  Again, there are now cops on campus using rubber bullets and pepper spray.
    • Everyone should have learned by now that no one controls the cops in North America AND they like to escalate AND infiltration is probably too benign of a word to address how deeply the far right is embedded in North American police forces.  So, calling the cops is worse than throwing gasoline on a fire because the latter has no illusion of deniability.

Now, let's get to the far right bullshit of all of this: Republicans, Fox, and the rest of the far right apparatus complaining about "anti-semitic" students on college campuses is just bad faith bullshit.  These folks are not interested in protecting Jews, or they might have spoken up a bit with all of the anti-semitism whipped up by the far right.  Charlottesville?  Remember that?  Where were these folks who are so concerned with anti-semitism when the Nazis were yelling about Jews not replacing "us"?  Where were these folks when George Soros was being used to incite anti-semitism?  Oh wait, many of these folks were doing precisely that.  Fuck all of them.  

Ok, one last thing: to put this into context, if Nazis have the right to march into Jewish neighborhoods, like Skokie, Illinois, then even if the students were all anti-semites, they have a right to protest.  So, again, why is it ok for far right anti-semites to protest but not far left?*  To be clear, I am not saying that the students are all anti-semites, but just making the point that if they were, they would still have a right to protest.  On college campuses?  I am not so sure since many have hate speech regulations.  

All I do know for sure is that the college administrators have failed their students and have also abetted the far right in undermining higher education. The urge to do something should have been ignored  The semesters in these places were winding down--they could have easily outwaited the students.  Move graduate ceremonies if you must, but for fuck's sake, don't invite cops onto campus to beat your students and professors!

* I fear far right anti-semitism more than far left.  Why?  First, the far right has far more power.  Second, if one did the math, I am pretty sure the far right anti-semites have killed far more Jews than the far left.  When Netanyahu and others hang out with ideological kindred anti-semites "since everyone out there is anti-semitic," they are just giving those with the greatest ability and the most violent history more deniability. 


ems4019 said...

I do think that it is fair to ask the demonstrators who describe themselves as pro-Palestinian to explain what their proposed resolution of the conflict would mean for the 7.1 Israeli Jews (not to mention the 2 million others, including Palestinians who live in State of Israel not including the occupied territories). There are definitely some who support murdering and expelling Israeli Jews, which is the Hamas agenda, and I think that can be fairly described as anti-Semitic.
As the Hamas attack on October 7th was the largest loss of Jewish life since World War II, and Hamas believes itself the victor in this battle with the plan to continue to fight until Palestine is Judenrein from the river to the see, it is understandable that there are many Israelis and Jews who fear Hamas and its allies. (That is not to say that the Netanyahu government has pursued a path that conforms to international law or is morally justifiable).
Unfortunately, as every day passes, it is harder to envision a solution that will bring peace to the region and enable all individuals, both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, to live together.

Steve Saideman said...

that's quite fair although I will note that this almost certainly the largest loss of Palestinian lives since the formation of Israel.

The absence of solutions, alas, has been partly deliberate on the part of both Hamas and the right wing parties governing Israel.

I think a cease fire is a reasonable demand. What a free Palestine looks like and means for Israel, I have no idea. I wish the two state solution was still viable, but the extremists on both sides have been very effective at destroying that possibility.

ems4019 said...

Yes, it certainly is the largest loss of Palestinian lives in any of the wars, I believe. But I think that Hamas bears a great deal of the responsibility for the loss of Palestinian life. They knew that the Oct. 7th attack would provoke a vicious response from Israel and that many thousands of Palestinians would likely lose their lives if Israel went after Hamas. And I don't think that Hamas leadership cares at all that so many have died; they think that the more people who die, the more support they will get for their position.

I think that it is entirely reasonable for any ceasefire to include release of the hostages, as taking hostages is a war crime. IF the demonstrators were really a peace movement, they would be calling for freeing the hostages as well as ending the military acts of both sides.

As for the two state solution, I agree that it is difficult for it to be a viable solution, but it is hard to imagine any other solution that would be a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The problem is that the two state solution is unacceptable to many people. I suspect that's why Arafat did not make a counteroffer when Clinton was trying to negotiate peace.
And I think the Palestinians underestimated the danger posed by extremist Israelis. At one point, I think the Palestinians thought they would simply outnumber the Israelis by having more babies, but the ultra Orthodox Israelis are having lots of babies. And because the ultra Orthodox tend to be right wing, the growth of the Ultra Orthodox has meant the growth of the right wing, so that demographics among Israeli Jews have made it much more difficult to get support for peace. And the Second Intifada and Oct. 7th have really decimated the Israeli left. Many think the two state solution is a two step solution in which the second step is the destruction of Israel. And certainly Oct. 7th is going to make it harder to convince Israelis that a Palestinian state would not be a launch pad for attacks on Israel.
I do think that any way out of the conflict means having some Palestinian leader who can provide a vision for what a free Palestine means for all residents of the area they call Palestine, including Israeli Jews.

Steve Saideman said...

I get what you are saying. However, while Hamas set a trap with its own people, Netanyahu delighted to jump into that trap and has direct responsibility for how many Palestinians have died and which ones. Hamas has agency but so do Israeli leaders.

Anonymous said...

Two things can be true at once: far-right antisemitism and far-left antisemitism. Belittling the threat because the far-left have killed less Jews over the past several decades is not a strong argument. The repugnant hate exuded by many of these protestors is something we should all fear. A Jewish student at UCLA was beaten up by pro-Palestinian protestors last week; Jewish students who identify as Zionist (now co-opted by this movement to be a dirty word) have been stopped at barricades, unable to attend classes; and even here in Canada, instances of Jews being told to "go back to Europe" have been recorded. You will also NEVER hear any of these protestors condemn Hamas, ever.

Universities have a duty to protect the safety of ALL students. Given how more than 90 percent of Jewish students are Zionist, the protest does nothing other than create a climate of fear. The chants both call for the elimination of Israel and vilify Zionists by equating them to terrorists (plenty of evidence online if you did not come across this).

As a Jewish student, I have never felt less safe to be on campus. I have never felt more targeted. And I have never felt more worried for my future. There was plenty of hate at the convoy protests in Canada, however, I think in terms of antisemitism, the rhetoric paled in comparison to what we are seeing today.