Wednesday, September 25, 2019

  • Wednesday, September 25, 2019
  • Elder of Ziyon
A couple of weeks ago, Leilah Abelman, a Hofstra University student who is also a religious Jew, listed some outrageous stories of how she was a victim of antisemitism both by students and by professors.

After telling a professor I would need to miss class for the Jewish high holidays, I was told I needed to re-evaluate my religious beliefs. That same professor told the class to imagine a world without Jews in it.

Later, a student compared the Jewish tradition of marrying within the religion to Nazi eugenics. When I approached the aforementioned professor after class to tell her how uncomfortable the comments had me feel, I was essentially told to be less sensitive.

Then, just three days after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in which 11 Jews were shot attending services, another professor asked the class to discuss whether the shooter was “truly evil.” Many students expressed the belief that the shooter, who murdered 11 innocent Jewish people, could not be considered evil as he did what he believed was right.

I confronted this professor too, and while he did apologize to me personally, he never brought the issue up with the class. Students left thinking they had said nothing wrong.
There were plenty of other anecdotes from just a single year on campus, mostly involving students. But these examples are from two professors on campus.

Now a Jewish professor at Hofstra, Alan Singer, has responded to this article as well as to Bari Weiss' book on antisemitism in a fashion that is almost too offensive to believe.

Like Bari Weiss, I consider myself a proud Jew who recognizes the need to combat anti-Semitism. However, I think she makes a serious mistake by conflating two different phenomena. Right-wing white nationalism abetted by the Trump administration is a grave threat to Jews and to democracy in the United States and must be vigorously challenged. Urban tension in gentrifying communities where racial and ethnic minorities are being displaced by gentrification and in Brooklyn, New York, by an expanding orthodox religious group has led to anti-Semitic slurs and physical assaults on religious Jews, but they are not an attack on Judaism as a religion and on the Jewish people as a whole. This behavior can best be addressed by building an inclusive community.
Yes, Singer is excusing blacks attacking Jews in Brooklyn - often with antisemitic slurs. The Jews of Borough Park or Crown Heights, who have been there for many decades, are "expanding" and other white people are gentrifying the areas so blacks attacking identifiable Jews is a natural response for frustration - nothing antisemitic about it! The attackers aren't screaming about their philosophical issues with Judaism, they are just hitting religious Jews with bricks while yelling "Jew! Jew! Jew!" That isn't antisemitism!

 If only the religious Jews wouldn't be so insular, if they cared about the blacks more - if they were more inclusive - then there would be no problem. The attackers aren't at fault, but the victims are.

This is astonishing. But it gets worse:
The author cited a series of microaggressions by what she considered to be insensitive students and non-supportive faculty and administrators and called on the Hofstra community to “confront this issue now to curb the rise of anti-Semitism, before it’s too late.”

I don’t dispute the student’s feelings, but I disagree with her accusations of anti-Semitism on the Hofstra campus. As a teacher, I distinguish between bias and racism or anti-Semitism. Everyone has biases. They are products of culture, what we are taught and our understanding of experiences. But everyone does not act on biases to restrict or hurt other people. Biases can be examined based on evidence and new experiences and be dismissed, or at least controlled. Racism and anti-Semitism belong in a separate category. Racism and anti-Semitism mean acting on biases and even promoting biases to justify discrimination against and exploitation of groups of people to achieve economic, political or social advantages. It can be a slippery slope from bias to racism when groups are pitted against each other for political power or scarce resources, but the transition is not inevitable. 
Would Singer be as indifferent if professors said to their students to imagine a world without black people? If they allowed students to compare black people to slave-owners? If they asked students whether the white supremacist murderer of nine black people in a Charleston church was "truly evil?"

Singer has the right to distinguish between bias and antisemitism if he wants. But he cannot define away that at least two Hofstra professors allowed or introduced anti-Jewish bias in their classrooms. Moreover,  no matter how much Singer tries to excuse these incidents as mere "bias" that does not rise to the level of antisemitism, Hofstra has policy that says "Behavior, whether physical or verbal, or in-person or through the use of electronics or by any other means, ...that is motivated by bias based on actual or perceived race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, age, national or ethnic origin, physical or mental disability, or marital or veteran status, that has the effect of intimidating, taunting, humiliating, or otherwise impeding on the rights of another individual" is grounds for disciplinary action.

Not coincidentally, Professor Singer is a fan of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Most worryingly, someone who is so obviously anti-Israel has written a book on how to teach global history. In his section on how to teach about the Middle East, he writes:

Notice how he frames the conflict as between Israel and "the occupied territory of Palestine," and not as the Arab-Israeli conflict. That is bias that ignores context - to the detriment of proud Zionist Jews.

He "sought out" Israeli sources that are critical of Israel, and of course Palestinian sources that are critical of Israel. He didn't seek out any Zionist perspectives, nor does he mention Benny Morris' revised positions - based on newer archival findings - that often justify Israeli actions. That is bias.

For the other side, he uses Khalidi's "The Iron Cage." But Singer will not ask his students to look critically at that book as he asks them to look critically at the Zionist perspective. That is bias.

Singer claims that mere bias doesn't hurt people. However, generations of students indoctrinated with his form of anti-Zionist teachings, where the Israeli perspective is ignored and critics amplified, does have lasting results. Students who learn such one-sided lessons bring them into the world - they become diplomats and politicians. These lessons affect actual human lives. Teachers have a responsibility to root out their biases, not to excuse them as something that everyone has.

Singer does seem to have a particular bias against not only Zionist Jews but also religious Jews. As mentioned, Abelman is religious and her concerns are downplayed. A couple of passages in his book about the Holocaust, where he argues that traditional German antisemitism is not adequate to explain why Jews were targeted in the Holocaust, betray similar anti-religious bias.

He shows that there were prominent Jews in Germany - and points out that they were assimilated, subtly excusing bias against Jews who were not assimilated:

This is more explicit in this passage where Singer seems to unconsciously argue that if just those Jews would stop being so obviously Jewish, they might have been saved:

I do not think even Singer quite realizes the depth of his own bias. He considers himself a proud Jew, and he lost relatives in the Holocaust as well. He is certainly aware that assimilation didn't save the Jews of Germany. But there is a pattern here, where Singer seems very uncomfortable with Jews - whether Orthodox or Zionist - who do not meekly fade into the larger society, and who stubbornly hang onto their beliefs that are at odds with the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. I do not know if he has the same issues with, say, native Americans, the Amish, devout Muslims, Sikhs or any other distinctive group that hangs onto its traditions. It appears that only proud Jews are the ones who make him uncomfortable.

Perhaps Singer is willing to excuse bias against religious and Zionist Jews because he has so much of it himself.

(h/t YMedad)

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