From BDS To Beastilization: The Campus Wars Are On
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From BDS To Beastilization: The Campus Wars Are On

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

As anti-Israel wars loom on college campuses nationwide with the start of the fall semester, embattled Jewish students will now be armed with a new weapon, thanks to the legal eagles at the Washington-based Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights — a top 10 list of age-old anti-Semitic canards that seems drawn from the pages of a 19th-century world history textbook.

The Center’s “Fact Sheet on the Elements of Anti-Semitic Discourse” — which lists anti-Semitic stereotypes such as ritual slaughter, carnality, the Wandering Jew and beastilization (the comparison of Jews to barnyard animals) — is intended to help university administrators distinguish between disputes over Israel’s policies on campus and downright hate speech.

The guide is necessary because recent virulent anti-Israel protests in Europe over the summer have blurred the line between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, explained Kenneth Marcus, the Brandeis Center’s president and general counsel. (The Center is a nonprofit that combats anti-Semitism on college campuses.)

“This upcoming year is going to be unusually difficult for Jewish students on university campuses,” Marcus said. “The vigorous anti-Israel, and in many cases anti-Semitic, protests in Europe will have an echo effect on American college campuses.”

The fact sheet will provide a tool to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, he said.

Still, the fact sheet seems antiquated. Well poisoning, the deicide myth (the trope that the Jews killed Jesus) and global conspiracy (Jews run the world) are found on the Brandeis Center’s top 10 list. As Jewish students battle mock eviction notices, mock checkpoints, reinvigorated efforts to boycott Israeli products, and, most recently, outright violence (a student at Temple University was punched in the face last week while standing at an information booth for Students for Justice in Palestine), is this list still relevant?

“Old-fashioned stereotypes are reappearing today in a new guise,” said Marcus. He gave the example of Jews being demonized during the Middle Ages as children of the devil. Today, demonizing Israel is the equivalent.

“We intended to cast a broad historical net with a wide range of stereotypes and defamations against Jewish people,” he added. “The guide will connect current incidents to their long history.”

Despite modern-day parallels to historical stereotypes, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, director of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at NYU, said anti-Semitism today doesn’t exist in such neat categories.

In other words, Jewish students on campus these days may have more pressing matters on their minds than accusations of poisoning wells.

“When it comes to criticism of Israel on campus, the more important issue is how to differentiate intimidation from discourse, and being part of the problem from being part of the solution,” Rabbi Sarna said in an email interview.

“Of course, there are occasionally instances of anti-Semitism,” Rabbi Sarna continued. “But I think we are not far off from every campus having organized groups of Jewish students promoting BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] of Israel. For that eventuality, we need to begin moving beyond the categories of anti-Semitism.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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