Holding Antisemites Accountable.

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Opinion: SDSU’s Response to Poster Incident Shows Jews Face a Double Standard on Campus

On Nov. 9, StopAntisemitism.org posted a video of two women on the San Diego State University campus ripping down posters of kidnapped Israeli children. The woman closest to the camera has no shame at all about what she is doing. When she notices she is being recorded, she tilts her head, grins, flashes a peace sign, walks over to the poster, and tears it off the wall.

Her companion is more camera shy. She turns her back the moment she realizes someone is recording her, but at the nine second mark, you can see her ripping another poster down. A third person accompanies them, but does not, it seems, participate. Once they are done, all three saunter away.

This event was hardly unprecedented. After Hamas went on their killing spree on Oct. 7, they returned to Gaza with over two hundred hostages, including children and the elderly. Shortly afterward, posters went up across the world memorializing these victims, and shortly after that, Hamas sympathizers across the world started ripping them down.

Tearing down posters of kidnapped children is a despicable act, and you have to wonder how someone could have so little empathy that they would commit such a hateful deed.  If the purpose of education is “to impart an appreciation and broad understanding of the human experience,” to build bridges and eliminate bias, then SDSU has clearly failed with these people.

In addition, tearing down these posters is a deeply antisemitic act that denies Jewish children their humanity; the act says that kidnapped Israelis do not matter, that as Jews, they are not worthy of sympathy. It’s not a protest against Israel’s war against Hamas because the people whose faces appear on the posters are not soldiers.

The posters are not intended to be political. You cannot even find the Israel flag or Star of David or a menorah. Their intent is to draw attention to the tragic reality of families held hostage. All you can see in these posters are the faces of kidnapped children, their families, their names, and their story.

The response, however, to these posters tells a very different story.  As Nitzan Mintz, one of the artists who created the posters says, “By accident this campaign did more than bring an awareness of the kidnapped people. It brought awareness of how hated we are as a community.”

SDSU’s administration tweeted that they are “aware of a video circulating on social media capturing an individual removing posters on campus. The reported actions do not align with the university’s principles and may violate CSU anti-discrimination policies.”

This is a remarkably bland description of what happened, and note that “removing the posters” may violate CSU policies, not that it does violate them.

Compare this response to how the administration dealt with another incident. After a racist video targeting SDSU’s Black community appeared on Snapchat, the university tweeted: “This is completely unacceptable and not reflective of SDSU, our campus culture or the values we uphold.”

This is a perfect example of the double standard when it comes to Jews on college campuses. Rhetoric and actions that would be unambiguously condemned if applied to one or another group are excused when it comes to Jews. 

To properly register disgust for this act, and to assure Jewish students at SDSU that the university had their back, a group of 18 professors (including the author) brought a resolution to the University Senate reaffirming and reiterating “its condemnation of antisemitism, especially in light of the surge of antisemitism” following “the Oct. 7 massacre … the most lethal assault against Jews since the Shoah.” We thought this resolution would easily pass, given the university’s past condemnations of bias generally and antisemitism in particular.

We were wrong. Instead, we ran into a buzzsaw of opposition.

 The chair of the University Senate’s DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Committee moved that all the “whereas” clauses concerning the poster incident be deleted because, he claimed, notwithstanding the video evidence, there are “contending viewpoints” as to what happened. He asserted that tearing down these posters was not an antisemitic act, which is astonishing. Imagine that someone tore down posters memorializing George Floyd. Would anyone hesitate to call this act racist?

Finally, he proposed that the final reference to the Hamas massacre of Oct. 7—”the most lethal assault against Jews since the Shoah (שואה)”—should be removed.

Then another party chimed in. Echoing the presidents of Harvard, Penn, and MIT telling Congress that determining whether calling for genocide against Jews constitutes antisemitism “is a context-dependent decision,” this person asserted that “there is a lot of context to the flyer incident that is not clear.” Condemning this incident, they concluded, would be “incendiary.”

They even suggested that since the posters already violated university policy “because they weren’t posted correctly” (they were not in an area reserved for flyers and announcements), the two people who removed them shouldn’t be criticized for tearing them down. The implication was that they should be praised for enforcing university rules and keeping the campus neat and tidy.  

And yet, despite the obvious holes in the argument, the majority of the University Senate agreed with these edits. They ended up passing a very odd resolution, one that condemns antisemitism in the abstract, but refuses to mention the antisemitic act that inspired this resolution. Instead, the Senate voted to remove all references to the poster incident, Hamas, and the University’s tepid response.

And even then, antisemitism could not be condemned by itself.  Instead, the passed resolution ends with the Senate reiterating “its commitment to make this a safe and welcoming campus environment for all faculty, staff, and students, including Jewish faculty.”

To be clear, ripping down the posters is not a free speech or academic freedom issue. I am not talking about canceling someone because of their opinions. This is not even about the merits of the Hamas-Israel war and who bears how much responsibility.

Rather, ripping down the posters is a hateful act meant to demean Jewish suffering, and so, this act should have no place at SDSU.

But evidently, it does. So I don’t think Jewish faculty, staff, and students have any reason to feel safe or welcome on SDSU’s campus.

Quite the opposite.