«Jewish Observer»
ANTI-SEMITISM
23/42
December 2002
5763 Tevet

BEAST RETURNS
TODD GITLIN
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An E-mail letter by Lori Zolot, head of the Judaic studies department of San Francisco University, sent shivers down my back.

"I cannot tell what it is like: to daily walk through the campus past the Middle East maps lacking Israel, past posters with tinned soup cans having labels with drops of blood and dead babies and inscriptions "tinned meat of Palestinian children killed in compliance with Jewish rites and after the American license", past a row of posters crying Zionism equals to racism, and Jews - to Nazis", - she wrote. Since then the details were growing yet more depressing. Zolot's letter terrified me but, alas, did not become a total surprise. Eleven years ago, during the Gulf war, on the other side of San Francisco bay in Berkley a head of a student grouping maliciously cried out in the room crowded by lecturers and students protesting against military actions, "Hey, you, Jews, I know each of you by name, I know where you live!"

None of those present moved, said a word. What was it? Confusion? Fear? Or worse: the thought that this question is beyond discussion, that it is not on the agenda, that this theme may cause embarrassment?

Another case, quite a recent one: two of my students from New York University asked at the top of their voices whether it was true, as they heard, that 4,000 Jews hadn't shown up at their work in WTC September 11, 2001. The students didn't doubt that this totally absurd accusation is rather convincing and may become ground for a thorough investigation. It even didn't occur to them to look through the list of victims.

Belligerent anti-Semitism returns. Worst of crazy ideas from the embittered Middle East have penetrated into America, and not only that: students indulge in spreading this nonsense. Namely students! The community we have long considered a source of intellectual non-conformism as if decided to defy claims on morality. A student movement is more that simply a movement. Students, be them progressively minded or not, should know to think and understand, should study. A student movement should defend highest moral principles; it shouldn't blindly follow stereotypes of the elder and compete with them in bitterness.

That's why progressively minded people all over the world should be concerned about the fact the students of San Francisco University calmly talk anti-Semitic nonsense. The very fact the student movement - be it a small part of it - has sunk into reproducing the words of hatred let forth by others should seriously alarm those whose moral principles are not confined to simple nationalism - that is everybody belonging to the "left" movement. It is not difficult to guess whose ravings the students of San Francisco University fecklessly reiterate. In the bloody Middle East of Yassir Arafat and Ariel Sharon, in the polarizing Europe of Jean Mari le Pen undisguised anti-Semitism is substituting reasonable criticism of Israel and its foreign policy.

Even when Lori Zolot's letter flew around the entire world, when several influential European newspapers maliciously but justifiably criticized Israel's attempts to hamper investigating the consequences of its operation in Jenin, a famous Portugese writer Hose Saramago called Israel's invasion into Ramallah a "crime equal to Auschwitz". This is one of his long, well-rounded sentences of the article published by the Madrid newspaper "El Pais" (and re-published May 24 by "The Forward" in the translation of Paul Berman). "Stupefied by the Messianic idea of Great Israel which will finally actualize expansionist dreams of most uncompromising Zionism, infected with a monstrous unshakable "confidence" there exists the chosen by the God nation in this crazy, absurd world and, consequently, any actions of extremist, pathologically selective racism are justified, brought up on the idea any sufferings caused to any other nation, Palestinians in particular, will never come up to theirs in the times of Holocaust, Jews endlessly tinker in their wound for it to continue bleeding, to remain fresh and demonstrate it to the entire world as if a banner". Pay particular attention to the subject of this sentence, which so effectively appears nearer to the end - "Jews". Not rightist Jews, not militaristically- minded Israelis, but namely "Jews". All Jews are unexpectedly confined to one caricature image of such idol (should we add here he has a hooked nose?). We are drawn into the abyss of a senseless, destructive iconography which nightmares make every sober-minded person shudder.

A German socialist August Babel once called anti-Semitism "socialism of fools". What we observe now is "progressivism of fools". This is a relapse of what may deprive the leftist of their moral advantage. It is awful that students-anti-Semites from San Francisco University fecklessly reiterate namely these thoughts.

No, we haven't approached close to a "new Auschwitz", to think so means to exaggerate the danger. This danger exists and it is quite concrete though doomsday doesn't threaten us. Blasts in synagogues can't be called an incorporeal nightmare, including the one on the Tunisian island of Jerba known for its religions tolerance. To all appearances, a bomb explosion in the truck there was carried out by the terrorist organization "Al-Qaeda". This is an actual fact. We can't refer to the deaths of hundreds of peaceful Palestinians in the result of Israel air raids onto the Western bank of the Jordan river as the incorporeal nightmare. This is also an actual fact. The nightmare is when they use the latter to justify the former.

In her letter Lori Zolot wrote, "Let me remind you that our department of Judaic studies is only one of similar centers in this country. They have committed themselves to the cause of peace, justice and national diversity".

Anti-Semitism doesn't care about this. Like any other form of psychosis affecting a restricted mind, anti-Semitism is perfectly aware of whom it hates. This is not an isolated problem, not a petty quarrel. If you are concerned about the problem of human rights, you cannot calmly observe the entire nation being systematically offended - whatever your attitude is towards a foreign policy of Israel or any other country.

The student movement - if it aspires to be worthy of its name - should look into the face of the ugly past which long ago made anti-Semitism an acceptable form of racism and break away with it.

If a tireless struggle against it is not a "progressive" cause, then what does the progressive mankind mean by "progress"?

Translated by Olga Yurchenko
"Russian magazine", Russia
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