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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

Letter to the editor

To the Editor of The Spectrum:

Many Americans do not understand anti-Semitism, thinking of it as just another form of prejudice. The truly dangerous thing about anti-Semitism is not merely the dislike of Jews. It is, rather, the belief that Jews are cosmic evildoers, ready to commit the worst crimes we can possibly imagine, whether to kill God on earth, try to lord it over non-Jews, or heedlessly exploit. It is such beliefs about Jews that have led to the Spanish inquisition, numerous expulsions, pogroms and then the Holocaust.

 It is because of my understanding of anti-Semitism, that I joined four other UB faculty members in a letter that deplored the recent appearance of Professor Angela Davis as UB Distinguished Speaker.

 Consider this statement she made in a public talk in 2009: "We should ... be cognizant of the extent to which the appalling Nazi genocide continues to be evoked by some people as an excuse for genocidal policies on the part of the state of Israel ." Genocide is the worst of human evils. To say so about Israel is to follow the strategy of the “big lie,” a lie so outrageous that many are startled into believing it. Just one reflection of the claim's absurdity is that Palestinians, the supposed victims of Israel’s genocide, have had among the world's fastest population growth rates, in part because of Israeli medicine. Should it really be a surprise that David Duke and the neo-Nazi websites push the same anti-Semitic lie?

 Left-wing extremists (who think they are “progressives”) and neo-Nazis have spread the lie over the same that time that the Syrian regime, Iran-commissioned mercenaries, Hizbullah troops, and Russians have presided over a real genocide of Sunni Arabs, killing about half a million, including thousands of Palestinians, and turning additional millions into refugees. Many of the victims found medical care only in Israel. Since it is expedient to identify Israeli Jews with transnational evil, there is no room in the extremist’s conscience for Syrian sufferers, because Israelis (and Americans) could not be blamed for the atrocity. 

 In her book, Freedom is a Constant Struggle, Professor Davis claims that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians somehow links to US police agencies’ operations in inner cities, as at Ferguson, Missouri. What’s the evidence? Of equipment sold to U.S. police forces by some 400 American distributors, representing thousands of suppliers, including Canadian ones, some equipment comes from a handful of Israeli companies. To say on those grounds that Zionists oppress the US inner city resembles the conspiracy theory that Zionists bombed the World Trade Centers. It is another big lie, meant to depict Israeli Jews falsely as the causes of African-Americans’ suffering. American neo-Nazis use similar accusations about Ferguson to once again paint Jews as evildoers.

 Asked after her speech last Wednesday about accusations that she was anti-Semitic, Professor Davis laughed it off , saying that the label is just another Zionist strategy. “I think it has been a strategy, a distinct strategy,” she said, “to dissuade people from becoming involved in the movement for justice in Palestine to argue that if you criticize the State of Israel that you’re anti-Semitic. Now, I thought we had the right to criticize all governments!” That last statement got applause, because the students who were present do not understand anti-Semitism. 

 Everyone criticizes Israel, including Israelis and including me. But the claims that Israeli Jews commit genocide or are causes of American urban misery—these are not criticisms. They are big lies. They are hate speech meant to persuade people that Jews are the satanic perpetrators of cosmic evil.

In our letter to the administration about Angela Davis’s visit, fellow professors and I stressed that “Professor Davis warrants the rights of free speech that our university has long protected” and that “the UB administration should protect even ugly and offensive speech.” We are proud of our university’s commitment to free speech. Now we also need to hear from speakers who can tell us about anti-Semitism’s ugly history and how it is arising again, disguised as hatred of Israel.

Ernest Sternberg


Urban and Regional Planning



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