With protests against Israel occurring at many American universities, members of a faculty task force at San Diego State University organized a public discussion about the dangerous rise in antisemitism.
“Criticizing the Israeli government is not antisemitic. Denying Israel’s right to exist — that is antisemitic,” said Peter Herman, a professor of English.
Herman pointed out that the rallying cry of “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free” is essentially a call to eliminate Israel and its 7 million Jews — a call for genocide.
The panel organized by SDSU’s Presidential Task Force on Addressing Antisemitism took place in the Bernstein Theatre at historic Hepner Hall amid tight security. Bags and backpacks were prohibited, and campus security staff scanned attendees with metal detection wands.
Over 150 students and faculty attended, and there were no protests, despite reports that there would be.
Rabbi Scott Meltzer, who lectures in the religion department, opened the panel with a reminder that while over 1,400 Israeli civilians were killed and abducted by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, protests on campus have instead championed Palestinian rights.
“We here locally have seen the terrorism and the bloodshed celebrated. And we have seen it incorporate an increasing antisemitism,” he said.
Norah Shultz, chair of the sociology department, described antisemitism as an enduring hatred because Jews have been considered a religion, a race and an ethnicity at various times across centuries.
Today in the United States Jews are considered a privileged group and therefore targeted, even though they have been victims of a long history of oppression. This status “is making white supremacists very happy right now,” Shultz warned.
The speakers pushed back on the idea that Israel is a colonial power, pointing out that Jews have lived in the region for over 3,000 years while foreign powers from Rome to Britain actually ruled. The present state of Israel was created by the United Nations in 1948 to encompass Jewish areas as Britain ended its rule.
Amos Nadan, a visiting professor from Tel Aviv University, said educational institutions have a responsibility to balance freedom of speech with ethical considerations.
“Freedom of speech cannot endorse hate speech against a particular group of people. Universities should demand that freedom of speech and ethics coexist,” he said.
Sara Brown of the American Jewish Committee said there has been a 400% spike in antisemitic incidents across the United States since Oct. 7. She urged people to “speak loudly and clearly against all forms of antisemitism” and not tolerate it in others.
But Brown, who once taught political science at SDSU, held out hope that antisemitism could be countered at the university.
“This is an amazing place. Don’t lose hope even as we’re grieving. Together we’re going to build a better and stronger San Diego State and a better San Diego,” she said.