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How to stand up to campus antisemitism

Student blogger Orli West on an issue facing every Jewish undergraduate

    Recently, I had a conversation with a non-Jewish friend from uni about the rising tide of antisemitism.

    I pointed out that that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a report on Thursday 2nd November that detailed an almost 70% increase in antisemitism in America in the last year.

    In response to this information, they commented “yeah; but you’re just one person. What are you supposed to do about that?” and it got me thinking.  What are we supposed to do about that?

    It is no coincidence that last week, on the anniversary of the Balfour declaration, there were anti-Israel flyers being handed out at multiple stalls around campus.

    It is no coincidence that a friend, who was wearing a Magen David necklace had a swastika drawn on his pizza when he asked for sauce on it.

    And it is certainly no coincidence that a separate friend of mine who, when wearing a kippah, got called a “dirty Jewish bastard” whilst standing outside Birmingham City University on Holocaust Memorial Day.

    In an age of rising antisemitism and anti-Zionism, we are constantly faced with the options of being a bystander or an upstander.

    Do we watch from the sidelines, or do we rock the boat and speak out? I have always been a firm believer in standing up for what I believe in. I am the first to debate with those who are antisemitic and against Israel.

    One of my most vivid memories from secondary school was being ordered out of a GCSE art class for arguing with three non-Jewish girls who refused to stand up for the Hatikvah during a holocaust memorial assembly.

    Maybe don’t go quite that far, but you get my point!

    Now, it would be naive of me to think that standing up and speaking out is always the best option. Even though I come from a university that is a supposed “Zionist outpost” (Malia Bouattia, 2011), the three incidents above are enough to show that we are not short on anti-Semitism.

    And wearing an ‘I am a Zionist’ badge everywhere you go is not necessarily everybody’s way of standing up for what they believe in. Most people are aware that you aren’t going to change someone’s beliefs through one conversation or debate.

    But there are still ways to show your support; share the Facebook posts that show the positive side of Israel. Explore Israel and Judaism in whatever way you see fit. Attend events for Yom Ha’atsmaut, for Holocaust Memorial Day, for Chanukah.

    So, as I was asked above, what are we supposed to do about that?

    As is written in Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14; "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"

    For me, this sums it up. I think we are supposed to ensure that we stand up and be counted, whatever our method. Whether you are someone who is ready to argue with the naysayers, or someone who prefers to show your support through quieter methods.

    What are we supposed to do? We are supposed to we leave our mark. 

    Orli West is just going into her second year at Birmingham University where she is studying Education.

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