By Emily Schrader
Campuses have long been a breeding ground for radical, even completely illogical, anti-Israel bigotry. But as an alumna of the University of Southern California (USC), I always took solace in the fact that my alma mater had my back as a Jewish student and as a leader in the pro-Israel activities on campus. Unlike the University of California schools, USC was a stalwart for Jewish students. Not so anymore. The dramatic change in campuses like USC that were previously beacons of hope for Jewish students demonstrates how severe the situation is with rise in antisemitism. The toxic campus culture has become so radical it is targeting even people who are fighting for equality and social justice.
Last week, Rose Ritch, the (former) vice president of the university’s undergraduate student government, resigned from her position in a poignant letter after enduring a months-long online bullying and harassment campaign against her to “impeach” her. Ritch’s crime was nothing more that being a Jew and a Zionist – two things that have apparently become unsafe to be on USC’s campus today.
At the core of this harassment campaign was none other than the campus hate group Students for Justice in Palestine, which demanded Ritch resign for being a Zionist
. While it’s unsurprising the bigots in SJP made such absurd demands, it is appalling that others listened, and unacceptable that the administration did nothing during this smear campaign. Even during my time as USC, SJP was problematic, but the university had a zero tolerance approach to their harassment. I distinctly remember that when they protested our Independence Day celebration on campus, the head of student affairs left his office and demanded they leave the premises so as not to harass Jewish students with their hateful propaganda. Where is the accountability from the administration on this issue? Where is the education and promotion of tolerance for different ideas?
In Ritch’s letter, she explained, “I’ve been told that my support of Israel has made me complicit in racism and that, by association, I’m racist… Students launched an aggressive social media campaign to ‘impeach my Zionist a**…’ My Jewish and Zionist identity has helped shape every part of who I am, and they cannot be separated.” The targeted harassment of Ritch is nothing more than pure unadulterated antisemitism, and here is why: no other student would be canceled, harassed, bullied and pushed out of office for supporting any other country in the world. Even horrendous human rights abusing regimes like Syria, Iran, or China. There are no campus groups focused solely on combating human rights violations in Iran, on boycotting China or on holding Syria accountable. Only the Jewish state.
Furthermore, no other state is subject to the level of scrutiny and criticism that Israel is, despite the fact Israel has had a profound impact on the world for the better, being the first to respond with humanitarian aid in nearly every crisis of the last 20 years, even in states that are enemy countries such as what happened last week in Lebanon
. Yet time after time, we see that only the Jewish state is subject to such passionate hatred.
Similarly, no other liberation movement is subject to the level of fomenting rage and irrational criticism that Zionism is. Only Zionism, the movement for Jewish self-determination – which for the record, again, is not mutually exclusive and does not negate the right to self-determination for any other people – invokes fury from the Left and the Right.
How dare the Jews – the most systematically oppressed minority from all of human history – have independence? Today’s anti-Zionism is evidence that classic antisemitism hasn’t gone anywhere. The West, in particular, is quick to condemn antisemitism, but for a Jew to demand equality? That threatens the deeply rooted colonialist mindset of so many who believe they’re doing us a favor by condemning Jew hatred today. They will nod and agree that antisemitism is bad, discuss how the Holocaust was terrible, pay lip service to “Never Again,” but all of that is meaningless if they only support us when we are dependent on their protection.
There is a reason the majority of Jews support Zionism: Because the human drive for independence and self-determination is innate, and thousands of years of history prove that we are the only ones capable of defending our right to exist. Zionism demands that the Jews be treated as any other nation, no more and no less. As Ze’ev Jabotinsky wrote, “We do not have to account to anybody, we are not to sit for anybody’s examination and nobody is old enough to call on us to answer. We came before them and will leave after them. We are what we are, we are good for ourselves, we will not change, nor do we want to.” It is only someone with hate in his heart for the Jewish people who is threatened by Zionism, because to be anti-Zionist isn’t to dislike Israel’s policies, it’s to be against the Jewish right to self determination. That is antisemitism.
It deeply saddens me that a student leader at USC experienced abuse at a level that necessitated her resignation from a student group, to protect her own mental health and personal safety – and all for no other reason that she is a Jew who believes in the liberation movement of the Jewish people – Zionism. USC has already pledged to fight antisemitism, but the university must take action to correct the cultural hostility and ignorance surrounding anti-Zionism or antisemitism will only intensify.