On October 8, UConn Hillel’s Instagram account reported an antisemitic incident that happened in South Campus’ Rosebrooks Hall. According to the post, references to the Third Reich were found by an RA on the whiteboard of a student’s door. That was pretty much all of the information given on the event, except the added assurance that ResLife and UCPD were investigating further and that it would be officially filed as a bias incident.
Now, there is very little context for what actually happened, but Hillel summed it up perfectly in their statement by saying that “incidents like this, whether born from malice or ignorance, should never be tolerated.” For obvious reasons, malicious intent should never be tolerated against any group, but the “ignorance” part of that statement is what brings me to the second event that’s happened in the past few weeks.
Since July, Instagram account @jewishoncampus has been taking testimonials from college students about their experiences with antisemitism at their schools, and with over 200 posts since then, some of the accounts are horrifying. Last week, it was UConn’s turn to be featured, as an anonymous student said this:
“During a philosophy lecture about Plato, the professor used the statement ‘Germany was as bad to the Jews as the Israelis are to the Palestinians now.’ This had nothing to do with the lecture and he moved right past it. No one in the 200 person lecture said a word.”
This was far from the most serious allegation the account has presented, with many falling squarely into the malicious intent category of antisemitism, including calling Jews dogs, denying the Holocaust and issuing physical threats, but this statement is still noteworthy because it was a thoughtless statement made by a professor which no student dared protest.
Don’t get me wrong, the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians is atrocious. The so-called “settlements” are examples of colonization, and I believe that the rest of the world needs to step in and take a stand against what Netanyahu and Likud are doing. However, this does not give anyone the right to invoke the Holocaust as a comparison. Both what the Nazis did during WWII and what Israel has done to the Palestinians are widely considered genocide, but the conflation of the Jewish people and the Israeli government made by the professor is the problem here. Netanyahu is not representative of all Jews, or even of all Israelis, and saying so would be akin to saying that all Americans support Donald Trump.
The problem of generalizing and compartmentalizing groups is a problem that affects many worldwide, and is one of the problems I’ve seen the most among those highlighted by @jewishoncampus and similar accounts. There are many ways to criticize the Israeli government, and it’s a necessary thing to do, but people need to be careful in how they do it so they don’t come across as antisemitic. If the professor had worded his statement slightly different, it most likely wouldn’t have had to show up as a complaint.
Whether the incident in question is a professor making an offensive statement to a large group or “the Third Reich” being written in a dorm, there are reasons to be alarmed. What’s important to stress is that there are two separate issues here. Good people can make mistakes, it happens all the time, and if someone says something that they don’t realize is antisemitic, such as the professor’s statement, the solution for this is simply to educate oneself. We live in the age of information, and it’s the responsibility of people wanting to make positive change in a global community to seek out this information. It’s not those who are simply uneducated on the matter who worry me though, as malicious acts against many different groups happen every day. Hopefully, in a future where the people wishing to do good in the world are all more educated, we can work together to decrease the malicious acts and comments that are spewed all over the place.
It’s important to recognize and commend that UConn did a good job in taking appropriate action in the Oct. 8 event, but also crucial to note that progress is never done. Many bias incidents go under the radar, antisemitism or otherwise, and that is unacceptable.