CHAPEL HILL — Earlier this month, Prof. Miriam Elman, Ph.D. gave a detailed lecture to an audience of 140 people on the rise of antisemitism on college campuses and across the country.
Elman, an associate professor of Political Science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, gave her talk as part of the current season of the ICON Lecture Series based in Durham. She is also the executive director of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN), an organization combating the BDS movement.
"Israel can be criticized without resorting to antisemitism and without resorting to the vicious tropes that have sustained the hatred of Jews across the millennia," said Elman. "Criticism of Israel can be intemperate, it can be impolite, it can be biting, it can be uncomfortable to hear, it can be plausible, it can be justified, it can also be plain out wrong."
Prof. Elman said of the "new antisemitism," that Israel is accused of "cardinal sins" and Jews are targeted as a proxy for Israel with prejudice against them that has both a "high and a low status." She went on to explain that Jews are depicted as both unclean and parasitic but also diabolical, wealthy and controlling.
Early in the lecture, Elman called out the Durham City Council over their 2018 involvement in the "Deadly Exchange" campaign created by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which made Durham the first city in the country to boycott the partnership and has resulted in a civil discrimination lawsuit against the city and police chief.
Elman questioned if city council with their alignment to the antisemitic stance of JVP on police training with Israel "unwittingly" opened the door for white supremacists to feel like their message is now acceptable.
"What happened in Durham last year, I think, is the next frontier of the anti-Israel movement," Elman said. "Which is moving off-campus and into municipalities, moving into city governments, moving into America's mainline churches and K-12 education."
Before moving on, Elman also brought up the letter sent to UNC and Duke officials from the U.S. Dept. regarding possible misuse of Title VI funds in relation to the UNC-Duke Middle Eastern Studies Consortium.
"This was a three-day conference featuring Anti-Israel content where Jewish students were snubbed and belittled by the guest speakers," said Elman "And where a rapper engaged the audience in an astonishing sing-along, telling the crowd, 'I can't be antisemitic alone. Try it with me together. Think Mel Gibson. Go that antisemitic.'"
"And this shameful conference earned you even more national and international coverage," said Elman, adding she knew that would be the case when she saw the conference's one-sided line up of speakers and presentations.
Under the new antisemitism, Elman said that Zionism is treated like an evil that must be dissociated from in order to belong to progressive groups on campus.
"It's also become painfully clear this past year that we are no longer in the realm of just Divestment and Sanctions resolutions by student governments," Elman said. "The landscape of so many campuses is changing dramatically and there is something much more insidious going on."
"There is really a new reality where Jews and Zionists, and that includes Christian Zionists, are being demoralized on campus," said Elman.
Elman said over the last year that Jewish organizations were being shunned and student activists were increasingly brazen and "cloaked their antisemitism in an antizionist veneer."
The BDS movement is well-funded, Elman told the audience. and noted there was a pattern between anti-Zionism taking hold on campuses or municipalities and an increase in antisemitic activities.
"It's as if expressions of anti-Zionism, virulent anti-Israel expressions, soften up a campus for the hardcore stuff," said Elman.
Elman went on to say that white supremacists off-campus then see those colleges as "ripe and fertile ground."
"I think it's important we find allies and partners," Elman told the crowd in closing. "Because what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews."