The question came from the audience about 45 minutes into Dr. Perry Brickman's talk.
"You allude to the fact that you believe you could learn lessons from your experience about the rampant anti-Semitism that continues on college campuses today. Can you talk about that for a moment?"
Brickman, a retired oral surgeon and author of "Extracted: Unmasking Rampant Antisemitism in America's Higher Education," had spent the previous hour at the Jewish Federation on Nov. 18 detailing his own struggle against religious persecution at the former Emory University dental school in the mid-20th century. His work, documented in his book, exposed a coordinated effort by university leadership to fail the Jewish students out of the program.
With the failing grades, many could not get into other dentistry programs, Brickman said. There was anger and shame among the students. They did not talk about it. One killed himself, he said.
"We were so humiliated that we just turned our backs on each other and didn't speak for over 50 years," he said.
Brickman's work has received numerous awards and brought a formal apology from Emory University in 2012.
Some 67 years after Brickman was pushed out of Emory, after the Jewish quota system in higher education was abolished, Brickman was asked if he thought anti-Semitism was worse on campuses today than when he was a student.
"I think it's much worse today," Brickman said. "There's no question about it. It's terrible. Students are having to face [anti-Semitism] from other students, from faculty, from the universities who won't back them up."
By the accounts of professors and religious freedom advocates, Brickman is correct. And the prejudice is not just coming from students but from institutions.
The previous two years were among the highest annual numbers of anti-Semitic incidents in the Anti-Defamation League's 40 years of doing audits. There were 10 incidents in Tennessee in 2018 and 30 in Georgia. Acts of anti-Semitism on college campuses spiked after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018. In September, the Rock at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville was covered with a message stating Jews were responsible for 9/11.
David Hoffman, ADL southeast associate regional director, said the normalization of hate speech in the country has led to people feeling more comfortable in acting out on hatred.
"The fact that there were more incidents of assaults and harassment and less of vandalism show that people feel more emboldened to take direct action against victims as opposed to doing something that they can do undercover," Hoffman said.
Pro-Israel groups point to a number of recent shifts in higher education to move away from supporting Israel as a sign of bias against the nation. Some professors said voicing support for the country, especially in Middle East studies programs, is no longer tolerated and doing so can result in academic and social ostracization.
In its critique of anti-Semitism on campus, the ADL wrote colleges are so focused on maintaining the appearance of free speech that "many students — and sadly, school administrators as well — in their idealism and naiveté, fail to distinguish adequately between debate that enriches and elevates the mind and speech that lowers the level of discourse to name-calling and lies."
The ADL is one of several organizations preparing students to face anti-Israel bias on campus. People need to recognize the dangerous link between being anti-Israel and being anti-Semitic, Hoffman said. There is a difference between a legitimate critique of the country and questioning its legitimacy or demonizing the nation, he said.
Much of the campus-led support of Palestine centers on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which advocates removing economic and social support for Israel until people living in the West Bank and Gaza are recognized as full citizens and Israel complies with several international laws. Groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, argue the Israeli-occupied lands in the country amount to colonialism and mirrors apartheid in South Africa.
Groups supporting BDS regularly emphasize criticisms of Israel are not automatically anti-Semitic. For example, the advocacy group Palestine Legal states in its materials that the Jewish people are not the same as the nation of Israel and the Israeli government does not represent the Jewish people since the government is made up of people of multiple religions and the majority of Jews live outside the country.
In July 2018, more than 40 Jewish groups from around the world signed a letter against equating criticism with anti-Semitism. The letter said, in part, "This conflation undermines both the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality and the global struggle against antisemitism. It also serves to shield Israel from being held accountable to universal standards of human rights and international law."
Critics of the BDS movement say supporters demonize Jewish students who support Israel and deny Jewish connection to the area. BDS is often less about helping Palestinians and more about hating Jews, said Victor Styrsky, national outreach director for Christians United For Israel. CUFI lobbies in Washington, D.C., such as blocking any legislative support for the BDS movement. One of the arms of the group focuses on organizing pro-Israel support on campuses, where Israel is a "white-hot" issue, Styrsky said.
Appealing to young people requires presenting what is happening in Israel less than providing a number of biblical scriptures about the importance of Israel to the Christian faith, Styrsky said. There is a lot of misinformation about life in Israel, especially involving Palestine, he said.
Any acts of anti-Semtism affect more than just the Jewish community, Hoffman said. Like racism, entire communities are affected and hurt by acts of hatred. All sides need to join the fight, he said.
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