Dr. Neil Orlowsky closed the Equity Workshop for Educators & Parents seminar with powerful remarks
Unpacking Antisemitism and Antizionism in our Schools and Campuses
The Imperative of Fighting Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism
I want to begin by thanking Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights for organizing today and to bringing us all together. So too, I want to thank the Honorable Linda Frum for her opening remarks, to my fellow educators, colleagues, and friends, Cindy Tobias and Beth Akler who over the years have taken up the challenge in not just unpacking antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but in leading the way for the next generation of Maccabees to follow suit. So too I want recognize and thank someone I have had the opportunity to collaborate with and engage in a shared journey of dismantling antisemitism in schools, society, and beyond, Lisa Klug, thank yuo. Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank you, who have taken time away from your families to join us to today in hopes that you can learn some, and take some, and share some, and live some of the work that needs to be done.
Whether we look at Antiochus or Haman, or understand antisemitism through the story of Hanukkah or Purim, antisemitism has always been called the oldest form of hate. While the explicit targeting of the Jewish people may have become veiled in recent years through a shift in narratives and lexicon, there is no doubt that anti-Jewish hate, and antisemitism, and anti-Zionism have once again emerged and have seemingly become normalized and even more troubling, tolerated through conflation and false equivalents within politics, and education, and within mixed society.
Today, explicit hate against Jews remains taboo, as seen in the recent tirades by Hollywood celebrities, athletes, and musical artists, yet the Jewish communities remain targeted and traumatized by it again and again, and again. And so, to circumvent this, antisemitism has evolved and shifted focus from Jews to the State of Israel – this is the new antisemitism, what I call the third incarnation of an old hate.
In the Middle Ages, Jews were outed, hated, and subsequently murdered or exiled for the religion and their beliefs. In the mid 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews were outed and hated for their race which bore the label antisemitism and brought Hitler's “Final Solution”. Today, from the mid 20th through 21st century, Jews are hated for their creation of, belief in, and support for the State of Israel, the land they were exiled from and have now fought to return to. We, as Jews are told this is apartheid, an occupation, an act of insidious settler colonialism, and ethnic cleansing. On the 84rd commemoration of Kristallnacht, this past Thursday, gathers who came together between the Levet-zow-strasse Memorial and the Put-litz-brücke Deportation Memorial in Berlin, Germany in hopes to peacefully mark this event were met with chants to Free Palestine. Students in Toronto staged a walk out holding placards and shouting “From River to Sea”, while equity consultants, board approved equity keynote speakers, and those in education who work to champion and amplify the need for greater, safer and inclusive school spaces have claimed that creating such spaces, inclusive of Jewish students and their voices, is somehow anti-Palestinian.
Contemporary antisemitism is more than a Heil Hitler, a swastika drawn on a chalk board, or a student giving the Sieg Heil salute though this, and fourteen other incidents have plagued the York Region Board of Education since September. Contemporary antisemitism takes tact, it’s covert and coded, making it a complex and controversial phenomenon that has muted many overtime. Can you identify every intentional antisemitic trope? Can you identify three? And yet the changing geopolitical climate, the rise of and emboldening of the left, those who have historically stood for equality and human rights, have seeming forgotten that universal doesn’t end at a country border, the colour of one’s skin, or the God we choose to pray to. Coded in conversations about whiteness, privilege, and supremacy, is askenormativity, the white masked Jew, and a failure to recognize what many EDI (Our Equity, Diversity, and Inclusivity) consultants call, our intersectionality. But so too there is the influence of the new media environment which has led to a situation where open antisemitism is no longer confined to extremist circles but rather has become increasingly mainstreamed and far reaching – this was demonstrated with Kanye, whose recent set of incoherent antisemitic tweets and posts were justified by others as Kanye suffering from another Mental Health episode, negating the fact that Kanye has 18 million plus followers on Instagram and 31 million plus on Twitter. Remember it only takes one to ack on his words for the world to act astonished and say, how did this happen? Remember Colleyville, Chabad of Poway, The Tree of Life Synagogue? Tell me Jews are safe, and I will continue to list the 43 targeted American mass shooting of Jews, within their communities, within their places of worship in the last sixty years, less we forget Europe, South America, and here at home.
While I commend the announcement made earlier this week by our Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce whereby the Ontario government is moving to introduce a mandatory learning requirement on Holocaust education to the provinces grade 6 curriculum, it is not an adequate substitute for education that aims to prevent the old and new faces of antisemitism. Strong policy guidance is necessary to ensure that educators recognize, identify, and properly address the new face of antisemitism at both the explicit and implicit levels.
As an educator I see our classrooms becoming battlefields, where a small number of educators are radicalizing our children into Jew hatred. The problem is not just one of today. Today, we blame education, wokeness, and critical race theory for the rise of, and institutionalization of antisemitism, but what was the reason 5, 50, or 500 years ago? Antisemitism is a persistent, ever evolving, shape shifting hate. Though it may be a small percentage who hold these truly radical views, it is the impact they have when disseminating information to other educators who, unfortunately, have little to no knowledge on in the history within, and geopolitics of Jews and Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa. Because many of our colleagues don't share our knowledge or lived experiences, they are easy to manipulate. Sadly, for those who do try to speak up, they are often trolled, shouted down, or made to feel unsafe, thus others who may want to speak out, to be an ally, they bear witness to workplace and school bullying, and through intimidation, are made to feel, and remain silent.
And so, who's to blame? Donald Trump? Elon Musk? It is easy to blame the messenger and the platform, but radicalization takes place the same as it always has. Yes, social media has created social acceptance of othering marginalized bodies, and through greater exposure, normalizes their hate, and builds a minion army who's lived experience is limited to regurgitating talking points and footnotes, void of any real arguments or content.
We are at a crossroads today, a tipping point where we are not just fighting to further decolonize a land that we were displaced from, but fighting to tell our story, a story of 2000 plus years of religious persecution and discrimination that did not start with the Shoah, nor ended there. A story of the underdog that refuses to give up the fight. The story of David over Goliath, a need to defeat the newest of the Amalek from not just telling our story but erasing us from its pages. Israel, Zionism, is not a racist ideology as some will trumpet. Zionism is not a colonial enterprise as UN Resolution 3379 set out to define and later refuted. Zionism is not apartheid but rather a movement of decolonization, a movement of return to a land Jews were exiled from. To be anti-Zionist is to subjugate Jews, to say that the Jewish people do not have the right of return to a land that was taken from them. Israel's right to exist is not based solely on a religion but rather centres Jews as indigenous people, rooted in the Middle East and North Africa. Jews were expelled by empire over empire and they have yearned to return ever since. One only needs to turn to Passover to hear the words L’Shana Haba’ah B’Yerushalayim, next year in Jerusalem.