While modern anti-Semitism reached a deadly pinnacle in the Second World War, it continues to have serious — and sometimes even fatal — consequences for Jews.
In recent years, anti-Semitism has grown more widespread and threatening, becoming a prominent aspect of some national governments and increasingly accepted in everyday life. For instance, anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. surged nearly 60 percent in 2017, according to the 2017 ADL Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.
The rise in anti-Semitism, however, shouldn’t only be concerning to Jews and people who care about them; the history of anti-Semitism shows that where Jews are targeted, other vulnerable groups, such as people of color, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims and political dissidents, will be, too.
Swarthmore College is a historically Quaker institution and one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Students come to pursue a rigorous and broad education with the goal of not only preparing for a career but also preparing to be responsible local and global citizens. To this end, they learn about power and its abuses, many forms of prejudice and the harms they cause.
In this spirit, we both agree that our students need to learn more about anti-Semitism, and we are working together to organize the symposium “Resisting Anti-Semitism: Past and Present, Local and Global,” which will take place Sunday, Sept. 16, on Swarthmore’s campus.
The goal of the symposium is to give participants a deeper understanding of this form of prejudice and violence, an enhanced commitment to opposing it and a strengthened ability to do so. We will face head on the disturbing history and present-day reality of anti-Semitism in the United States, Europe and the broader Middle East/North Africa region and will also highlight the hope embodied in the struggle against anti-Semitism, which has existed as long as anti-Semitism itself. The day will consist of three panels each focused on one of the aforementioned regions and made up of scholars, nonprofit leaders, rabbis and others. The day concludes with a keynote presentation by Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum.
Given the breadth of anti-Semitism’s impact, why isn’t it being adequately discussed on more campuses? One reason, among many, is that efforts to discuss anti-Semitism are often swiftly subsumed into the larger, more heated debate on Israel/Palestine. This occurs because criticism of Israel has been passionately denounced by some as anti-Semitic, a claim which has been just as passionately rejected by its opponents. We believe that critical examination of this question regarding anti-Semitism and Israel/Palestine is invaluable. We have been and will continue to be supportive of efforts to create spaces for respectful engagement in that domain.
Yet in our symposium, we will explore a different model that leaves this question off the table in an effort to ensure that participants will have the space to address all-too-often neglected aspects of anti-Semitism. And while there will certainly be critiques of this model from the right and left, we do not purport that it is perfect but rather one part of a larger mosaic.
We are truly excited for the opportunity offered by this symposium and we hope many from outside the Swarthmore community will consider attending since it is free and open to the public. For further information on the symposium, visit resistingantisemitism.wordpress.com and feel free to contact us.
As so many forces are trying to drive a wedge between Jewish and Palestinian communities, we hope that by co-organizing this conference, we, a Jewish American and a Palestinian Quaker, can further demonstrate the beauty and power of collegiality, friendship, community-building and solidarity.
Atshan is an Assistant Professor Peace & Conflict Studies at Swarthmore College. Ramberg is a rabbi and the Jewish Student Advisor at Swarthmore College.