Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Op-ed: Campus response to anti-Semitic postering leaves much to be desired

As a Jewish student, I am disappointed by the school’s lack of support for our community

Op-ed: Campus response to anti-Semitic postering leaves much to be desired

The response to the recent anti-Semitic attack on our campus has been utterly disappointing and disheartening.

On Tuesday morning, several posters were posted without authorization on a campus academic building with the caption, “No More Wars For Israel,” the hashtag #AIPACGoHome and a logo for Operation Homeland, a white supremacist group connected to Richard Spencer.

The posters, cleverly, did not explicitly mention Jews — only the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Israel. This was a way to target Jews and make them feel unsafe and unwelcome, but making it so that many non-Jews would not see that threat by portraying their message as anti-Israel.

The inclusion of the Operation Homeland logo is a key piece to this. Operation Homeland, formed in 2017 by Richard Spencer, espouses anti-immigration, anti-globalization and “identitarian” activism, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Their work has focused on preserving white purity. Members of this group chanted “Jews will not replace us” two hours away from D.C. in Charlottesville. Operation Homeland is comprised of members of the alt-right, which includes neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Because these posters came from such an explicitly anti-Semitic group, it is clear that they were using Israel as a way to target Jews — not to deliver good-faith criticism of Israel. There are ways to criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic, but this was not an attempt to do so.

But instead of our campus rallying in support of its Jewish students and community, very few organizations bothered to comment or report on it. And for those that did notice the event, very few outside of the Jewish community acknowledged the anti-Semitism and violence behind the posters.

I am utterly disappointed at our school’s lack of adequate response to this incident, especially when similar incidents have received much more community support and dialogue. A clear example that comes to mind is how the community has responded to anti-immigration posters in January. Are Jews not as worthy as other marginalized groups to receive support from our community?

The Eagle was the first publication to report on the posters at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the morning that they were hung. But, the original article did not once explicitly mention anti-Semitism, or the anti-Jewish rhetoric espoused by Operation Homeland. Even with further updates to the article, there is lackluster mention of the nature of the posters.

Student government has also given a disappointingly flat response, holding off their commenting until after a University memo had been sent out. Even after re-sharing a screenshot of the memo, they offered only two perfunctory sentences about the University’s response to the event, while also failing to mention the anti-Semitic nature of the posters. It’s pretty telling that, as a Jew, they have such little consideration for their Jewish constituents.

Which brings me to the University’s response. At 12:30 p.m., hours after the event took place, Vice President of Campus Life Fanta Aw sent a memo to the student body. I am pleased that enough consideration was extended to the Jewish community to call a spade a spade and name the event as anti-Semitic. But that is about all I can be happy about.

The University found the person responsible for posting the flyers and banned him from campus. He is not an AU student, but was able to simply walk on to our campus and post flyers. I am unclear on how banning him from campus is going to prevent him from returning without being caught. I am also unclear about how it would prevent another member of his group from entering campus as well.

The memo claims that “part of our response is to not give these groups attention” and will not name the groups or the people responsible for the postering. But here’s the thing about Nazis and white supremacists: even if you refuse to name them as such or specify their groups, they are still Nazis and white supremacists. Simply not calling them white supremacists does not make them any less dangerous.

The University’s memo also claims that “this will not divide us.” The reality is that it already has. I have already had to explain why this is anti-Semitic to other students. I have already had to describe why Jews would feel unsafe with Nazi rhetoric on our campus. And I have already had to explain that Jews need to be fought for as well in the struggle for social justice.

Don't tell me that this won't divide us when I, as a Jew, have literally had to argue that my humanity is worth fighting for. I am tired of having to explain to non-Jews that Jews do face oppression. I am tired of reminding so-called intersectional activists that anti-Semitism is a real threat. I am tired of having to reassert the humanity of the Jewish people as people worth fighting for. It shouldn’t have to come to this, at AU or elsewhere.

Steph Black is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is an outside contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are hers alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.

opinion@theeagleonline.com


Never miss a story.

Get our weekly newsletter in your inbox.