The first three parts of this series have explored recent expressions of anti-Semitism by Michael Chikindas of Rutgers University and and Hatem Bazian at UC Berkeley, and the defenses raised on their behalf by other scholars. This post will expand on the phenomenon of trivialization, which occurs when anti-Jewish bigotry is treated as a nothing more than an annoyance or a slip-up, as opposed to the seriousness with which other forms of racism are addressed. I am not arguing here that Chikindas or Bazian should be disciplined, but rather that faculty anti-Semitism has been treated with far too much complacency.
Both Bazian and Chikindas circulated cartoon figures that mocked Jews and Judaism (included in Parts One and Two) while repeating venerable anti-Jewish slanders. For centuries, similar images have served as both the motive and excuse for violence against Jews. As the author Neil Gaiman has pointed out, “all images, particularly images of people, go straight into our heads and create empathy, create disgust.” That is why they need to be taken seriously. If the defenders of Chikindas and Bazian do not recognize the historical power of anti-Semitic images, the neo-Nazis at Stormfront understand it all too well, as explained in their “Style Guide”:
Packing our message inside of cultural memes and humor can be viewed as a delivery method.
Writing on the AAUP’s Academe Blog, however, John Wilson dismissed Michael Chikindas’s posting of Nazi-like anti-Jewish caricatures as idiocy that amounted to nothing more than “uncomfortable” views. Following Hatem Bazian’s retweet of equally vile memes, San Francisco State’s Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi brushed it off as merely an inadvertent “mistake” that led to an overreaction by the “Zionist establishment.”
Both Wilson and Abdulhadi – out of either naiveté or zealotry – miss the point. Anti-Jewish caricatures and internet memes have harmful consequences in the real world. Anti-Semitism is not an unpleasant artifact of the past, but rather a present danger, as we have seen in recent violent attacks on Jewish institutions including synagogues, day schools, community centers, and museums. Moreover, there is a clear relationship between the circulation of hateful images and the spread of dangerous anti-Semitism.
Hatem Bazian, for example, is a founder of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and a well-known BDS advocate with over 16,000 followers on Twitter. Here are some tweets that have been posted by members of an autonomous SJP affiliate chapter (all punctuation and orthography original):
Hitler should have took you all.
I honestly wish I was born at the time of the second world war just to see the genius, Hitler, at work.
Where is hitler when u need one?’ I literally ask this every day.
the reason i kept some jews alive is so i can show you why i killed them in the first place. –Hitler
I suspect my french teacher of being a jew cause I saw her picking up a penny off the floor yesterday.
Zionists don’t count as human beings. I would say they’re cockroaches, but that’s offensive to the cockroaches.
I keep saying, we need to cleanse the world of creatures such as these dirty white Americans.
Bazian and Abdulhadi will surely express abhorrence of the on-line Hitler-fest, but how many of the bigoted students are followers of Bazian’s twitter feed? How many of them felt encouraged or reinforced in their hatred by Bazian’s retweet of the charge of Jewish “organ smuggling”? Both of Bazian’s memes included derision of Jews as the “chosen” people (which in Biblical terms, of course, means chosen for a task and does not imply superiority), which is echoed in one of the more foul tweets of the young BDSers:
‘Gods chosen people’ lmfaoooo oh you mean god chose you to kindle hell fire with.. Tru.”
However innocent their intentions, Bazian, Abdulhadi, and others have played a role in producing a generation of activists at ease with the idea of genocide. Nor are those sentiments unrelated to the murder of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse and Sabbath-eve shoppers in Paris. Quoting again from the Daily Stormer Style Guide:
There should be a conscious agenda to dehumanize the enemy, to the point where people are ready to laugh at their deaths.
Against that backdrop, Bazian’s retweet of blatantly anti-Jewish images – especially in the guise of humor – must be recognized as something far more troubling than an inadvertent mistake.
Chikindas does not have the same broad constituency as Bazian, but his Facebook posts included even more anti-Jewish caricatures, complete with hook-noses and greedy leering. His appeal seems more directed to the Alt-Right than to the campus left, although he also frames his bigotry in terms of anti-Zionism. More characteristically, Chikindas says that Jews control the Federal Reserve, Wall Street, Hollywood, the law courts, pornography, sex-trafficking, and something he calls “the cancer industry.” The Daily Stormer agrees (boldface original):
Prime Directive: Always Blame the Jews for Everything:
As such, all enemies must be combined into one enemy, which is the Jews. This is pretty much objectively true anyway, but we want to leave out any and all nuance.
So no blaming Enlightenment thought, pathological altruism, technology/urbanization, etc. – just blame Jews for everything.
Wilson’s post on the Academe Blog discounted such stuff as idiocy and “personal opinions,” but there is more at play here than quirkiness or eccentricity. The white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville marched past a synagogue shouting “Jews will not replace us.” The next day, Heather Heyer was murdered, and 19 more people were injured, when one of the white nationalists drove a speeding car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators. The alleged driver, James Alex Fields, was a known Nazi sympathizer. What sort of caricatures and “personal opinions” do you think he encountered at the neo-Nazi websites he had frequented for years?
Chikindas did not draw the anti-Semitic caricatures himself. He found them on the internet and posted them on his Facebook page, in a move that was directly out of the Daily Stormer playbook. That is just how anti-Semitism spreads, as seemingly respectable figures such as university professors endorse its memes. The results are sadly predictable and not the work of idiots.
[Note: I have not linked to the sources for the above-quoted anti-Jewish tweets, because they identify the individuals, most of whom are undergraduates, by their names, photographs, and twitter accounts. My intention is to use their tweets as exemplars, but not to encourage anyone to threaten or troll the students.]