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Wednesday, December 06, 2023 — Houston, TX

Students’ silence on antisemitism scares me

By Louis Scheinfeld     10/3/23 11:55pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

There has been a lot of discourse regarding Rice Pride’s decision to cut ties with Houston Hillel. Yet, throughout this controversy, I’ve noticed an unsettling sense of reluctance to denounce this underlying fact: The precipitating resolution is itself antisemitic. 

Among others, I contend that Rice Pride’s decision holds all Jewish students collectively responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, applies double standards exclusively to a Jewish organization and disguises contempt for Jews as contempt for “Zionists.” These acts are all problematic and fall under the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. The full IHRA definition is much more extensive and a vital resource for detecting antisemitism. Moreover, the “Three D’s” of delegitimization, demonization and double standards clarify when rhetoric surrounding Israel becomes antisemitic.

How could anyone disagree with Rice Pride’s objective of increasing inclusivity? But there are methods to accomplish this without alienating queer Jewish students. Merely stating “We [Rice Pride] have no intention of excluding Jewish students” doesn’t absolve this decision of its impact on Jewish students, and seems more than anything to serve as a shield for Rice Pride against any claims of antisemitism. 

In reality, the effects of Rice Pride’s decision are far more foreboding than they claim. The statement ostracizes the Jewish community. It falsely paints Jews as privileged aggressors, as hateful, as against the LGBTQ+ community. It conflates Jewish institutions with oppression. The consequences of this are devastating: It may keep others from interacting with Jewish organizations and from learning about Judaism. 

Rice Pride's decision likewise depicts Jews and Jewish spaces as unsympathetic to the individual and collective experiences of Palestinian students. Yet, being “pro-Israel” does not inherently mean being “anti-Palestine.” Claiming otherwise grossly reduces the situation and preys on an upholdance of ignorance. I understand why this may feel difficult to grapple with to many people, but the false binary silences people and inhibits us from understanding one another. To me, the specific grounds provided by Rice Pride for cutting ties with Houston Hillel were inconsistent, uninformed, distorted and discriminatory. 

I imagine that if a Rice organization had cut ties with any other affinity group, by virtue of their own affinity, the entire university population wouldn’t hesitate to denounce such actions. People wouldn’t be content with merely decrying the decision-making process or the timing of the announcement; they’d condemn the reprehensibility of the action itself. So, why is this not the case here? 

The extreme backlash the board of Rice Pride has faced is reprehensible. It is important to acknowledge that the threats they received are unjust, while not distracting from the underlying problem. It shocks me how purportedly caring, intelligent individuals can have such little regard for the impact of their conduct on Rice’s Jewish community. The antisemitic sentiment rooted in their reasoning likewise frightens me. The board’s decision reveals their lack of consideration and knowledge about the issues and community they sought to make a statement on. This highlights why they should never have cut ties with Houston Hillel in the first place; clearly, more dialogue between the two groups is necessary to better understand each other, not less. 

Antisemitism is not just swastikas, stereotypes and Kanye West tirades. What most Jews know, and perhaps non-Jews do not, is that antisemitism is often much more inconspicuous. Antisemitism, really just a fancy term for “Jew hatred,” has endured throughout history because of its adaptability and discreteness. 

“Jew hatred” is unambiguously bad. But call it something else, such as anti-communism (historically) or anti-Zionism, or hide it behind a positive goal, such as an effort toward greater inclusivity, and the lines of loathing seemingly blur. 

The more you can ostracize us, the more you can stereotype us, the more you can blame us without backlash, the stronger antisemitism becomes in a society. Ignorance feeds into this. Antisemitism does not just pop up out of nowhere. To fight it, we need to identify it, and we need to have the courage to disavow it. 

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