April 26, 2024

HIRSCHMAN | The Real Threats to Jewish Safety Come From the Right

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Over the past week, peer universities like NYU and Columbia have cracked down on students, staff and faculty protesting for justice in Palestine. Many of these crackdowns have been initiated in the name of “the safety of Jewish students.” As Jewish members of Cornell’s community, we recognize the threat of antisemitism. We differ from the Presidents of NYU and Columbia — and, seemingly, Cornell — in where we locate that threat. 

Palestine Solidarity Encampments are not threats to Jews. Many Jewish organizations participated in these actions (and 15 Jews were among the 108 arrested at Columbia), just as many Jews participated in Gaza solidarity events here at Cornell. These protests have been non-violent, and targeted specifically at the genocidal actions of the Israeli state and its military, not at Jewish people as such. 

While Jews in general are wary of growing antisemitism, most Jews (61% in a 2022 poll) identify right wing antisemitism as its most dangerous source. We agree. Antisemitism is at the core of white nationalist ideologies. And right wing, white supremacist actors have engaged in brutal acts of violence against Jews in recent years, most notably the killing of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2019.

Trump’s statements about Jewish loyalties to Israel exemplify a specifically white Christian nationalist form of antisemitism. This movement lauds Jewish authoritarianism in Israel due to its specific apocalyptic religious beliefs about how Jewish dominance of Israel is a necessary precondition to a messianic return. At the same time, the movement strives for an America dominated by white Christians, which perceives American Jews as a threat to Christian supremacy, not least in abetting immigration. 

University administrators seem more interested in deflecting conservative criticism from Congress (including from the increasingly powerful white Christian nationalists there) than in actually protecting the Jewish members of their communities. These concerns explain why our peer institutions have been arresting Jewish protesters and banning Jewish groups (an antisemitic threat if ever there was one). Here at Cornell, the administration went out of their way to invite Ann Coulter to speak despite the explicit antisemitic statements she has made, and despite the safety concerns of community members.

We are worried about antisemitism. We are worried about the physical violence of right wing white supremacists. We are worried about the presumption of Jewish American loyalty to Israel, which treats American Jews as less-than-fully American. We are worried about the rise of white Christian nationalism and its dominant place in the Republican party. And we are worried that university crackdowns on nonviolent protests in the name of Jewish safety serve to prevent many Jewish voices from being heard on a critical issue and in doing so actively endangers Jewish and other students who are participating in protest. Growing right wing authoritarianism, not Palestinian solidarity, is the biggest threat to Jewish safety here at Cornell and across the United States. 

Dan Hirschman is Associate Professor of Sociology writing on behalf of Cornell Jewish Alliance for Justice and Jewish Voice for Peace at Cornell.

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