CW: This article discusses antisemitism and violence against Jewish communities. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.
Filling out the identity questions on every application that comes my way, I pause.
The boxes overlap too much and not enough at the same time, somehow. I do not fit neatly into any of them, but I check “white” regardless.
Still, I question it. I look “white,” but Jews have hardly been considered “white” throughout history. So I’m not ready to give myself a designation that suggests I do not face discrimination, because, as a Jew, I do. And it’s not the kind of discrimination that activists often address, even those on Georgetown University’s campus. That needs to change.
The Georgetown community must address both explicit and implicit antisemitism in every instance to ensure that our Jewish members feel welcomed on campus — and that antisemites feel decidedly unwelcome.
It baffles me how hesitant people are to discuss antisemitism. I think people too quickly build a false connection in their mind that countering antisemitism is akin to supporting Israel’s existence. And then, they add on a second flimsy argument that to support Israel’s existence is to unquestionably support the actions of its government, which is faulty logic that puts the burden of a flawed government on its citizens.
I saw this hesitancy firsthand at a protest for H*yas for Choice, a student-led abortion rights group at Georgetown, earlier this year. The protest’s leaders denounced almost every imaginable form of discrimination, adamant that they are incompatible with Georgetown’s values. They listed racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, ableism, ageism — all things we should absolutely condemn.
But I waited for them to condemn antisemitism — to acknowledge with a single word that hatred and violence against the Jewish people was, in fact, bad. They never did. Maybe it was not a deliberate oversight, but it was an oversight nonetheless — a dangerous one.
Because when there are 10 national incidents of antisemitic violence a day, when Jews are the target of over half of the reported religious bias crimes in the United States, and when 11% of American adults have never heard of the Holocaust and another 11% of millennials and Gen Z believe that Jews caused the Holocaust, the Georgetown community cannot avoid discussing antisemitism any longer.
Georgetown must display its acceptance in obvious ways, like addressing antisemitism when condemning multiple categories of intolerance or holding accountable the vandals that entertain themselves by drawing swastikas in first-year dormitory halls — as they did just days after the H*yas for Choice protest — by doing more than just sending a mildly worded email.
It doesn’t take much to give people the impression that antisemitism is acceptable. My hometown of Montclair, N.J., demonstrated that in a terrifying way this past December. When Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, proclaimed that he sees “good things about Hitler” and that “there’s a lot of good Nazis,” the wave of support for the Jewish community I expected from my liberal New Jersey suburb did not materialize. Instead, my town was met with Nazi stars being found on a local train station and a swastika being drawn on a playground.
Though Ye did not directly call for such attacks, his prejudiced statements empowered antisemites to act. Evidently, the dam of public acceptance for antisemitism has burst — the vile thoughts that many antisemites have previously kept silent are now coming to the surface as antisemitism seemingly becomes acceptable.
We cannot combat this with silent apathy. Our voices must condemn antisemitism more emphatically than the voices that spew it.
Georgetown must also be mindful of the smaller instances of intolerance — those that send a more subtle message to Jewish students that we are less than enthusiastically welcomed on campus.
During Yom Kippur this year, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, I did not attend class. The Torah forbids Jews from working on Yom Kippur; I went to religious services instead.
I missed a class taught by a professor who graded students based on their in-class participation, a practice that automatically docks points for missed classes. I emailed the professor a few days in advance, asking if my grade could be spared for the class on Yom Kippur. Naively, I did not expect pushback.
My professor’s response was ungarnished: “not possible I’m afraid.” The explicit meaning was that it was not possible to excuse my absence. But the undertone was that it was not possible to accommodate my belief system — that a syllabus carried more authority than the teachings of my religion.
Months later, I hardly remember the make-up work I had to complete for class that day. But I sure do remember my professor’s answer.
Georgetown claims to uphold “community in diversity” as one of its several core tenets. But incidents like these, when layered, force Jews to instead attempt to find a community within animosity.
The sheer number of recent antisemitic incidents, whether overt or implicit, at Georgetown and across the country make it absolutely unfathomable to me that there is a hesitancy to address the issue. But we must actively begin to do so. Georgetown administration must punish antisemitic hatred on campus and implement flexible attendance policies for religious reasons. Student leaders must include antisemitism in their lists of battles to fight. And every single person in the Georgetown community must shut down antisemitic comments in everyday conversation.
No incident is too small to respond to with outrage — because a quick glance at the history books makes it crystal clear that we cannot normalize antisemitism through silence.
Eilat Herman is a first-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences.
Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-7080); to report an incident of hate or bias on campus, refer to the Georgetown University Bias Reporting website. Off-campus resources include the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). In the event of an emergency, dial 911. To report a hate crime, contact the MPD Hate Crimes Voicemail (202) 727-0500 or the Hate Crimes Coordinator ([email protected]).