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Jews must stand with Muslims

in Campus Journal by

On March 6, President Trump signed his second executive order pertaining to a travel ban, which bars migrants from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan from entering the United States. Iraq was removed from the first travel ban, prior to its overturning those traveling from there will still be subjected to supplementary security procedures before permitted entry.

Although this ban was frozen just last night by a federal judge in Hawaii, the fact that it is the second ban targeting predominately Muslim countries is just one reflection of underlying prejudices the oval office unfairly perpetuates. This, coupled with the pre-existing culture of ignorance surrounding the Muslim faith has normalized a set of behaviors that directly contradicts the ideals of non-discriminatory freedoms for which basic human kindness should stand.  

The hijab has become a target for violence and racial slurs, mosques are routinely defaced, and peaceful Americans are continuously classified as terrorists. In 2016, the year that saw Trump’s rise to political influence, anti-Muslim hate crimes surged 67 percent, reaching an unprecedented level of violence not seen since the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Along with the spike in Islamophobia, anti-Semitic acts have recently been making headlines. According to the Jewish Community Center Association of North America, the first two months of 2017 saw over 100 bomb threats against Jewish community centers, schools, and other institutions. This frightening statistic, combined with the recent desecrations of Jewish gravestones, proves that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States.

Our president may claim to be a friend to the Jews, but the faction of extremists he has emboldened through his candidacy are clearly not. Additionally, members of Trump’s cabinet have openly expressed frightening anti-semitic views on multiple occasions.   

Last Monday alone, the JCC reported that 31 more threats were reported against Jewish-affiliated centers, and a gunshot was fired through the window of an Indiana synagogue during a Hebrew school class.

The reaction to these events was a slew of tweets from Muslim Americans showing their support for the Jewish people, condemning the violence, and offering their services in protection of our synagogues and graveyards. One such tweet came from Tayyid Rashid, a former member of the Marine Corps who vowed to “stand guard” at Jewish institutions if necessary, proclaiming that “Islam requires it.”  

Although these acts of violence are horrifying, this outpouring of support from Muslims for the Jewish community exemplifies this country’s best attributes: the ability for people to reach across lines that traditionally divide us to help each other, and to view each other as friends despite our differences.

In light of the travel bans, it is imperative that we as Jews stand with Muslims against this onslaught of religion-based discrimination that we know all too well.

In the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East are programed to hate each other, taught to see each other as the enemy.  However, in America, we are bound together by a shared endurance of persecution based on religion and a common understanding of fear. It is for these reasons that we should be each other’s greatest allies and the first to step in when injustices arise. College campuses can function well as incubators for generating this alliance.

The Holocaust began with words, words that evolved over a ten-year period from hostility to statelessness to violence to mass murder. I do not pretend to predict the future and have no idea how far this discriminatory behavior will go, but regardless, it is imperative that we put a stop to it before the potential for the unfathomable becomes a reality once more. Morally obtrusive words cannot seep into our policies without detection and immediate protest.

American Jews, starting with those of us at Swarthmore, have an obligation to stand up to this Muslim ban because we know the horrors that stem from complicity. We have a responsibility to hold those in power accountable for their actions, because we know the horrors that stem from silence. Sitting idly by and watching horrific promises to persecute people on the basis of religion has never been an option for us. Just because we are not the ones personally affected by the ban does not permit us to be passive. Being on the front lines of this fight isn’t an option — it’s a necessity.

Acts of anti-semitism indicate need for improvement

in Opinions/Staff Editorials by

Since August 31, five swastikas have been found on or near Swarthmore’s campus. The discovery of offensive, hateful, and bigoted symbols and speech at Swarthmore is nothing new. The history of our institution is rife with examples of bias incidents, graffiti, and actions and hateful symbolism that hurt large swaths of our student population. This academic year has begun on a sour note, one in which students at the college not only feel that the political climate is divisive and dangerous, but that such danger has punctured our “bubble.”

The menace of these swastikas no doubt stems from their historical significance as a symbol of anti-semitism, its 20th century association with and cooptation by the German Nazi Party, and its meaning within neo-Nazi, anti-semitic, white supremacist movements, and the KKK in the United States and elsewhere.

Some debates on the incident on campus have touched on the topic of whether these acts might have been committed by a member of the campus community; we at the Phoenix believe this question does not add to the conversation in a productive way. What is more important is the fact that these acts of hate can and have happened on our campus, and that members of our community have been hurt and their safety threatened.

We at the Phoenix are, again, appalled and offended and stand in solidarity with all students on campus who feel personally targeted or hurt by not just one incident, but by this aggressive and repeated act of hate. We want to amplify the voices and stories of people who this symbol and its associated groups and aggressors aim to destroy. Using the tool of journalism—which is itself under attack by the far right, white nationalist, and anti-semitic groups that are gaining not only popular but also political ground—we will protect those who feel marginalized or dehumanized by the swastika.

Perhaps the lesson to learn is that this is less of a bubble than we thought. The repeated swastika graffiti indicates to us that there is much work to be done in working on campus to build safe communities of solidarity, and to make sure that the hate of the world has no place, symbolically or otherwise, on Swarthmore’s campus.

Swastika incidents prompt further discourse and education

in Around Campus/News by

One month ago, the Phoenix reported on bias incidents of swastikas that were found spray-painted on campus and detailed the college’s plans to address these concerns. In the article, one student, Jonathan Cohen ‘17, said he believed the Dean’s office did not fully recognize how severe the issue of anti-Semitism is to students.

In response to feedback similar to Cohen’s, the Lang Center and the Intercultural Center teamed up with many of the college’s social sciences departments to address anti-Semitism in the college’s community and around the globe.

The talk, which was initially held only for Professor Sa’ed Atshan’s Israeli-Palestinian Conflict class, was opened up to the general public in response to the recent occurrences.

Rabbi Alex Weissman was featured as the guest speaker, and over 50 students and ten faculty members attended to hear his thoughts.

To begin his presentation, Weissman asked all of the Jewish people in the audience to come stand at the front of the room. After giving everyone a few moments to register this request, he proceeded to ask everyone how they felt. Some responses included “terrifying” and “I feel singled out for something beyond my control.” The activity served to give a notion of what it is like to be targeted based on some aspect of one’s identity.

Weissman then spoke in great detail about the history of anti-Semitism. Even as a child, he recalls that the early Jewish texts included some acknowledgement of religious persecution. For him, the idea of persecution was, and always has been, a part of Jewish tradition. He then proceeded to trace the different stages of anti-Semitism throughout the ages, from the pre-Christian to the modern era.

In order to reinforce that discrimination against the Jewish community has always existed, he asked the non-Jewish people in the room for early perceptions of Jews that they received from media and their schools, while asking those in the room who identified as Jewish for their first experiences with anti-Semitism. The audience then broke into small groups to discuss their individual answers to the questions posed.

Most of the people in the room first learned about Jews and the concept of anti-Semitism through their studies of the Holocaust and religious persecution. Weissman found it to be disheartening that this tragedy is the extent of our knowledge of Jewish history in the past 2,000 years.

In order to connect the history of anti-Semitism with the discrimination against Jews in the present day, Weissman described the four ways that he believes Jewish people are used. The first way is the Jewish function as the “middle-person.” He states that he has seen many Jews involved in careers like social work and teaching, which causes them to become the face of the state that oppresses poor people and people of color. Secondly, Jews can be used as “buffers,” forced to live in dangerous places that are susceptible to outside attack. They are also used as “pressure valves” to alleviate the pressures of the economy through their personal successes. Finally, there is the “Court Jew,” who Weissman sees as a  Jewish person with some power in government, who, despite this privilege, is ultimately expendable.

Rabbi Weissman ends his talk by urging the audience to affirm that Jewish rights are basic human rights. “Fighting anti-Semitism is not about whether you’re a good Jew or a bad Jew. It’s about human dignity and justice,” said Weissman.

In terms of overall effectiveness, some felt that this space was extremely conducive to fighting the anti-Semitism that has appeared on the school’s campus, while others found it to be less productive.

Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, Dr. Joyce Tompkins, who was present to support the Jewish community and to learn more about the issue of anti-Semitism, believed her expectations were met.

“I’m hearing from students about different experiences, and it wasn’t just a lecture; there was a lot of sharing back and forth,” said Joyce. “I learned a lot, and felt privileged to hear the deep personal sharing that students were willing to divulge.”

In response to the swastika incident, she responds, “We don’t know a lot about who did this, but we’re clearly not a perfect community. This can be a learning opportunity. We have a lot more learning to do about how anti-Semitism impacts people personally.”

Several students felt that this event helped them to better understand and analyze the problems of discrimination and injustice at the college. Christian Galo ’20 said that he had become desensitized to anti-Semitism as it was so apparent throughout his middle school, but recently, he has become more aware of sensitivity to these issues.

“I had dismissed the swastika incident as childish vandalism, but when I talked to other people, I realized many were very offended and had strong emotional reactions in regards to the incident,” said Galo.

Some, however, found the talk to be less helpful than they had originally anticipated it to be. Ben Stern ’20 believed that the event focused too much on painting a picture of oppression and not enough average Jewish experience.

“Growing up as a Jewish person in the U.S., I felt that I didn’t really have that experience of oppression and emotional trauma,” said Stern.

Despite the varying opinions on the overall effectiveness of Rabbi Weissman’s talk, the key takeaway, according to several students who were interviewed, was that anti-Semitism does exist and as students of a school that prides itself on diversity and understand and address, as members of a global community, it is essential that we do our part in staying aware of these issues.

“We are like fish in water. Fish don’t take note of the water around them,” said Weissman. “We breathe and live in a water of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism, but it’s hard to see the thing surrounding us sometimes.”

Throughout the various attempts to provide safe spaces for learning and discourse, it is important to note that the school does not take student feedback lightly.

Spray painting incident prompts response from Dean’s Office, Bias Response Team

in Around Campus/Breaking News/News by

On Tuesday, August 30, Public Safety responded to the report of a student seeing two swastikas spray-painted on the wall of the gender-neutral bathroom on the second floor of  McCabe Library. The Dean’s Office and the Bias Response Team then met to discuss the incident and decide on the appropriate course of action.

The Bias Response Team decided that the incident reached a critical level and it was therefore necessary to notify the entire Swarthmore community. The Bias Response Team was formed in fall of 2015 and is comprised of Mike Hill, Director of Public Safety, Zenobia Hargust, Director of Equal Opportunity and Engagement, Shá Duncan Smith, Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Development and Liz Braun, Dean of Students. The team is charged with the task of evaluating each reported bias incident and determining the appropriate response.  Last year, the team received and responded to four reports of bias. Due to privacy reasons, they are not allowed to disclose all of the incidents reported to them.

The morning after the swastikas were discovered, President Smith sent an email to the entire community detailing the event, gave a history of the symbol, and encouraged people to contact Public Safety with any additional information.  

Jonathan Cohen ’17, a Jewish student and member of the Jewish Community, Kehilah, first found out about the incident from President Smith’s email. He thought the language used in the email did not accurately portray the severity of the event.

“The swastika is just a little symbol, its just eight right angles, six lines, but what’s in that symbol is more than bias. What’s in that symbol, when you write that symbol on the wall of that bathroom stall you’re putting a picture of the death of six milion of my people on that bathroom stall. You’re putting a picture of the fact that there were more Jews in the world in 1938 then there are today. This is not a bias. This is blatant racism and anti-semitism. If you’re going to just call this a bias than I don’t know what else can be more than bias,” said Cohen.

Jamie Starr ’19 is a leader in the Swarthmore Jewish Community Kehilah which aims to help Jewish students connect with their heritage and participate in Jewish traditions.

“I was a little shocked. You don’t expect these things to happen at a community like Swarthmore, which I think makes it harder to deal with. It’s less expected,” said Starr, “If we had heard about something like this happening at a larger university or a big southern state school where there’s more of a precedent for this type of hatred, I think it would have been less shocking than to have it at Swarthmore which not only is my home but also just this small intellectual community where you don’t expect things like this,” said Starr.

Kehilah’s Wednesday meeting changed its pre-planned agenda to discuss the incident. They saw an immediate need to provide a space for those who were having strong emotional responses. They sent an email to members of Kehilah and opened the common worship room on Thursday to allow students to express their feelings about the incident.

Duncan Smith said the administration is still in the process of responding to the event, and the emails are not the last of the Dean’s office’s actions. The school dedicated a portion of the previously-scheduled collection on Friday to a discussion about the incident and hate on campus. She also expressed concern about reaching everybody who needed help on campus.

“You’ve got 1,500 students you send an email out to all of them to say that we’re here to support you but if you don’t know who needs [support]… I would love to just figure out who those students are and really meet them where they’re at but it’s really hard to reach out just to a specific population of students when I feel like so many people are hurting over the situation,” said Duncan Smith.  

Many different organizations on campus such as the Intercultural Center, Black Cultural Center, Muslim Students’ Association, interfaith leader, and the Deans’ Office, have expressed a concern about the issue and wish to offer support to those who need it. Duncan Smith encourages students to reach out to the above resources on campus to find the support they need.

There have been several incidents of anti-semitism on Swarthmore’s campus in the past couple of years. This includes anti-semitic remarks on Yik Yak after a Menorah was stolen from Sharples last year.

Cohen believes the Dean’s Office is adequate in supporting the existing on-campus Jewish communities, but that it does not recognize the severity of the anti-semitism on campus. He also worries about how this incident and other similar occurrences will affect how Jewish students feel on campus. He expressed particular concern for freshmen who are just adapting to the new environment.

Duncan Smith, who started at the college over the summer, hopes to include more people in the conversation about campus inclusivity and community building.

“I’m not here to impose my vision, I’m here to inspire a shared vision,” said Duncan Smith, “I think that the biggest thing is to bring, [… ] students, bring faculty, bring staff to the table to talk about, […] how we are handling our bias incidents and really think about, are there ways that we enhance the different policies that we have.”

She stressed the need for the community to work together to discuss what the community should look like and how to reach that goal.

Public Safety is currently investigating the incident. If the person responsible is found they will be held accountable for their actions through the student conduct system.

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