Educational institutions are among the main battlegrounds against hatred but also incubators of growing trends in anti-Semitism, said Etzion Neuer, head of the New Jersey region of the Anti-Defamation League.
Neuer will explore the topic of "Hate: The Realities and Ramifications" with the Teaneck/Hackensack chapter of Hadassah on Monday, April 16, at Temple Emeth in Teaneck. He said last week that he intends to look at "the common thread" linking international and local expressions of hatred. According to a recent ADL survey, anti-Semitic incidents in New Jersey as a whole decreased last year but the organization reported a rise in the north of the state.
In particular, Neuer will look what he called the delegitimization of Israel in academia through the rise of academics like Harvard Prof. Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Prof. John Mearsheimer who wrote a paper last year accusing the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee of having too much influence in government affairs. The paper is a broader sign of the growing acceptance of anti-Israel attitudes, Neuer told The Jewish Standard.
"Some issues that have traditionally been on the fringes have crept slowly into the mainstream in acceptable conversation," he said.
For this reason the college campus has become an area of concern for the ADL. Anti-Semitic sentiment can often be masked as speaking out against the Israeli government, and the target becomes local students instead of a foreign government.
"It’s not just Israel that is being delegitimized but its supporters; American Jews and non-Jews who want to advocate for Israel’s security now find themselves being second-guessed and may be reluctant to speak out for fear of being demonized," Neuer said.
In addition, individuals often do not speak out because they expect organizations, like the ADL, to step in and do it for them, Neuer said. But people need to educate themselves to recognize hate when they see it and act against it, whether that be through writing a letter to the newspaper or organizing local forums.
"It’s easy to be overwhelmed and cry out at the world and play the part of the victim," he said. "It’s critical for people to realize being educated and being outspoken can have important results."
Efforts in Holocaust education need to be doubled as well, he said. The Standard recently reported on a high school student in Paramus who got a tattoo of a swastika. Last year, the Standard reported cases of swastika graffiti at Ramapo College in Mahwah.
Despite these incidents, Neuer said Holocaust education is working but needs "to be revisited."
"It’s very important to maintain the Holocaust and genocide education in the schools," he said. "What’s unclear to me is if our teachers are doing a good enough job or have the skills to integrate that message in the classroom setting so students can learn practical examples."
Neuer said the persistence of hatred in schools is a cause for concern and needs to be countered by constant reinforcement with the students. Each year students and teachers should revisit earlier lessons about the Holocaust and genocide and adapt those to current studies. Teachers will often fall into the trap of teaching the Holocaust as just an historical event, something in the past that has no meaning for the present, he continued.
"There is something unique when it comes to Holocaust and genocide education. There are critical lessons to be gleaned," he said. "It’s about stopping hate at its earliest signs. It’s about not being a bystander."
Neuer said that teaching against hate can start in pre-school, with children learning to respect each other.
"Just as hate can be learned, it can be unlearned as well," he said. "We do believe that people can change and people can learn lessons. It’s not just about releasing reports and talking about [the problem], it’s about fixing."
For more information on Neuer’s upcoming talk, call (’01) ‘6’-7’55.