Not All Antisemitism is Created Equal

GUEST COMMENTARY - Antisemitism in any form is deeply offensive. In recent weeks, however, we’ve seen examples of two types of Jew-hatred that represent different kinds and levels of threat.

It’s important to understand the difference and not mix up the two. When Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, spewed vile language by invoking classic antisemitic tropes, he did something offensive but familiar. Just like so many before him, he went public with bigoted remarks. This is so familiar that the condemnations from our community erupted swiftly and naturally.   

But when nine student law groups at UC Berkeley changed their bylaws to eliminate any Zionist speakers, it was a different type of antisemitism, and it caught much of the community off guard. Unlike Kanye’s loud and poisonous pronouncements, this was subtle and sneaky. The point was not to verbally attack Jews but to erase them. It essentially said to supporters of Israel: “You’re so beneath us that we’ll never invite you to speak. If you’re a Zionist, we want nothing to do with you.”   

This is not just offensive; it’s humiliating. What made it even more humiliating is that no other group got this treatment — not Nazis, not homophobes, not transphobes, not Islamophobes, not racists. The only ones who weren’t allowed to speak were the dreaded Zionists.   

This is an insidious form of antisemitism. It hides in the shadows. Instead of yelling at Jews, it quietly tells them, “If you believe in Israel, do not enter.” Given that 90 percent of Jews identify with Israel, that’s a whole lot of Jews who are made to feel unwelcomed.   

Perhaps that’s why the Berkeley story struck such a nerve. Yes, the nine student groups represent only a tiny fraction of Berkeley’s student body, but the strain of antisemitism they represent is lethal. It seeks to undermine not just Israel but also any Jew who associates with Israel.   

Up until now, when we’ve responded to such calumnies, we’ve argued that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” While noting that criticism of Israel is not antisemitism, we’ve used Natan Sharansky’s Three D test — demonization, double standard, and delegitimization — to identify when that criticism crosses into antisemitism.   

The problem is that we’ve failed to identify what kind of antisemitism has arisen from this anti-Zionist strain. It’s not just the antisemitism that insults Jews, it’s the antisemitism that erases Jews, the kind that says: “If you’re a Jewish Zionist, you’re not just bad, you’re out.” This is antisemitism on another level.   

And Berkeley is hardly an exception. According to a recent report in Times of Israel, “Jewish students across the United States report being excluded from campus organizations… [with] buildings plastered with flyers that equate Birthright trips to Israel with genocide and call for Zionists to “f–k off.”   

While diversity, equity, and inclusion are the near rallying cry on college campuses across the nation, that mantra is exchanged for Jewish rejection, inequity, and exclusion when connected to the Jewish homeland: If you believe in Israel’s right to exist, you’d better check your Zionism at the door if you want to feel part of the club and join progressive causes.   

This rise of “you’re out” antisemitism doesn’t get the media attention of Kanye West or Rep. Ilhan Omar blurting out antisemitic tropes, but that’s precisely why we must make an extra effort to expose it. The silencing and exclusion of Jews is an alarming development that demands we make a lot more noise.   

As a lover of connecting dots, I couldn’t help noticing that last week Israel announced the building a museum in Jerusalem in honor of Albert Einstein. Talk about two dots: As a movement that wants to erase Zionism accelerates on college campuses, that same Zionist state is building an edifice to commemorate a supreme example of a Zionist Jew giving back to the world.   

Indeed, we’re living in an upside-down world. Not only should Israel and Zionists not be boycotted on college campuses, they ought to be embraced by any group who can appreciate how to succeed against all odds. And if you consider that a stereotype, guilty as charged. 

(Miran Kalaydjian, Vice President Chair Education Public Health / Homelessness Committee, Woodland Hills Warner Center Neighborhood Council - [email protected])