A California professor explained the difference between three problematic terms at UNC Hillel on Thursday following last week’s discovery of posters in Davis Library containing anti-Semitic messages.
Following an invitation from UNC Hillel leadership, professor Marc Dollinger stepped away from his book tour to give the speech, titled "Anti-Israelism, Anti-Zionism, and Anti-Semitism.” Dollinger, a contemporary Jewish historian, holds the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Endowed Chair in Jewish studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University.
Dollinger began with the definition of three terms — anti-Israelism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism — and said they reveal existing assumptions each person holds about American and Israeli-Jewish life.
“While anti-Israelism proves easy to define, anti-Zionism forces us to explore uncomfortable tenets in traditional Judaism as well as tensions between Jews and the modern left," Dollinger said. "Anti-Semitism, defined in modern eugenic-based terms, emerges less often than most observers think.”
Dollinger said anti-Israelism relates only to Israeli government policy, not Israel’s right to exist. The term anti-Semitism didn’t exist until 1879 during the eugenics movement, Dollinger said, which was a pseudo-scientific approach that held Jewish people as genetically inferior to other human beings. Anti-Zionism, he said, is the hardest to define, but it denies Jewish people their Zionism and also denies them of their Judaism.
Dollinger said he has four different lectures about anti-Semitism. For his presentation at UNC, he said he shortened the talk so he could answer student questions because of the anti-Semitic paraphernalia found in Davis Library last week.
One student asked about Dollinger’s reaction to the recent video that appears to show a Palestinian rapper expressing anti-Semitic ideas at a joint UNC-Duke conference about the conflict in Gaza. Dollinger advised independently checking the source before believing it, because doing otherwise would feed into something he called the constructed narrative.
The constructed narrative is what Dollinger calls the act of creating a personal version of history that people bring into their understanding of current events.
“Every bit of it’s true, and we tend to kind of emphasize the parts of our history, our narrative, that we like to,” he said.
Dollinger said the presence of anti-Semitism on campus makes students and the University community feel vulnerable. He said he was looking for allyship and empathy, which connect and educate people.
“So when these moments happen, it’s a chance for those who have been threatened to give voice to their fears and concerns and let everyone else listen to those and learn about them,” Dollinger said. "And as other groups face theirs, the same thing happens, and as a consequence, everyone learns about everyone else, everyone understands the underlying threats that these things pose, and everyone can rally against them."
The audience contained some students and people from the broader Jewish community. Harriet and Stuart Solomon attended with friends because they had heard of the incident at UNC and wanted to learn about the terms from an academic perspective. Stuart said he reacted to the posters with shock, disgust and disappointment, while Harriet talked about the need to hear all sides of a story.
“I think we must have an honest education, factual education, not one-sided education,” Harriet said.
Dollinger’s university has also experienced anti-Semitism recently. A little over a week ago, San Francisco State University agreed to a legal settlement after being sued for their lack of response to anti-Semitic events.
During the talk, Dollinger put the incident at UNC into the context of patterns of attacks.
“There will be anti-Jewish hostility in April of every year. There is a statistically significant jump in anti-Semitism in the world, over history, and on college campuses at Easter,” he said.
Dollinger said because Jews are blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus and the blood libel at Passover, the proximity of the two holidays causes conflict.
Because of recent expressions of anti-Semitism on campus, one Jewish student said he wants support from his fellow students. Senior Nick Rosenthal said the experience of hate strongly impacts how people feel welcomed and viewed in a community.
“It doesn’t have to be political,” Rosenthal said. “Just acknowledgement that this is something that happens, this is something that is happening, and that the rest of the UNC community supports the Jewish community.”
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