Before you read this article, please ask yourself the following question: Do you ever feel threatened, scared or at risk on your college campus? If you answered yes to this question, ask yourself a follow-up: Do you ever feel threatened, scared or at risk, and simultaneously, confused?
Confusion is an interesting interjection to the reaction that comes from feeling threatened. We could be confused at a later point during reflection, but our fear is first and foremost when danger appears. On March 11, 2015, I happened to drive my roommate to class when I was on my way to the supermarket. I drove all the way to the entrance of Ballantine Hall and made a U-turn up the street to leave. To my surprise, as I drove around the corner, I came across a large crowd outside of the Indiana University Memorial Union.
In front of me I saw, first, a police line, second, some large signs moving around and a crowd of students and other Bloomington residents, and third, I saw brown outfits similar to what park rangers wear. But these were not park rangers. As I drove closer and closer to the crowd, the voices grew loud and the words became clearer. "What the hell is wrong with you?!" was the first phrase that I could accurately understand. I stopped in front of the crowd and observed.
The brown outfits that I saw were mimicking that of the German SA, or "brownshirts," the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party. Sitting in my car watching these men in their late 20s to mid-50s, rallying for notions such as ending "white genocide," as well as complete intolerance to racial minorities and members of the LGBT community. Naturally, because this group is the successor to World War II Nazism, Jews are included on their list of undesirables. I self-identify as Jewish, and although I do not strictly observe the religion, I still believe in God, and I still think that the values I have learned from Judaism have shaped me tremendously.
If you have been reading or watching the news lately, there is a steady increase of anti-Semitism on college campuses nationwide. Here are some examples:
- In January 2015, the University of California, Davis chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity, awoke to their house vandalized by swastikas.
- In February 2015, UC Davis experienced another blow to the Jewish community with the passing of a divestment bill by the student government. Boycott Divestment Sanctions are essentially pieces of legislation that are passed in effort to de-legitimize and destroy Israel and its people through tactical legislation in the following: Israel's economy, military, extended peace efforts and overall right to exist.
- At UC Santa Barbara, student Margaux Gundzik explained that during an April 2015 divestment meeting (in which a decision to divest in Israel was narrowly defeated) that “In those eight hours, I was told that Jews control the government, that all Jews are rich, that Zionism is racism, that the marginalization of Jewish students is justified because it prevents the marginalization of other minority groups, that Israel sterilizes its Ethiopian women (this is obviously not true), and that Palestinians in America who speak out against Israel are sought out by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and denied entrance into Israel (also a ridiculous conspiracy theory)."
- Last August, at Temple University in Philadelphia, a Jewish student was viciously attacked by members of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that is active in various BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)movements and many other anti-Semitic activities. Verbal and physical abuse towards Jewish students and others who openly and actively support Israel are typical for their members to commit on college campuses across the U.S.
This is why I was confused. I was aware of anti-Semitism's revival on college campuses before witnessing this particular event. However, I never expected to see hatred being displayed in such a prominent manner, especially on my campus. President McRobbie has rejected BDS legislation in the past and is, in fact, a known supporter of Israel. (For more information on these particular events, the Indiana Daily Student published an article outlining the events on January 12, 2014 http://www.idsnews.com/article/2014/01/iu-responds-to-israeli-education-boycott ) In short, Indiana University does not tolerate hate; however, the First Amendment protected the protesters.
As I sat in front of the scene for the next 20 minutes, I contemplated blasting Lily Allen's "F*** You" from my car stereo. Obviously, I was not looking to provoke these people. Neo-Nazi organizations are known to be extremely violent. The only apparent reason why they were not acting violently in this moment was because the Bloomington police was protecting them from the enraged and growing crowd. The violence that the group promotes is not the only thing to fear. There are two specific reasons:
- This type of hateful presence is happening on my college campus
- The ideology promoted by this group is directed at myself and any other person who is Jewish
Instead of blasting Lily Allen, I called my dad. I felt that he would eventually find out about the event even if I did not tell him immediately. While I described the scene in front of me, I observed several people step dangerously close to the police line and berate the crowd. The only brownshirt that I could see from my vantage point was actually fairly young, maybe 30 years old, silently smirking in his tall black marching boots. Some of the older men wore leather jackets, looking like a biker gang almost, sitting around and talking jovially with one another while some of the younger ones were holding a large sign. I could not make out exactly what the sign had said, but was intrigued that it was obviously professionally printed. I wondered which sign-making business provided them with their paraphernalia. My dad was not surprised at all by what I was telling him during the phone call. He said that this was only the beginning for us, meaning Jews, in the country. I cannot shy away from the fact that they were targeting many groups that night. While I wholeheartedly feel compassion and tolerance towards the other people targeted during the protest, I was more immediately concerned with the Jewish-American community.
I sat in my car, observed the crowd, shook my head several times and drove off. Of course there was nothing more to do. The greatest and worst thing about this country is that people can more or less say whatever they want. The words were not what hurt me the most. I will never feel slighted by a group of uneducated, and most likely inbred, bigots. While driving to the market, the only thing I could think about was what it meant for the country as a whole. Last year alone, over 5,000 Jews left France and immigrated to Israel due to the dramatic rise in anti-Semitic violence. Was America going become the next place of diaspora for related reasons?
There is no immediate reason to write about an event in which no individuals were physically harmed, no police officers were attacked and that only received scant news coverage. Through and through, nothing here was particularly interesting. Just some backwards people making some backwards statements that don't carry much weight on a progressive-leaning college campus such as mine. Moreover, there is no way that I will ever be able to personally sway the opinions of the masses with my narrative alone. I am merely writing to inform the public of what I saw and how it feels to know that you are not welcomed or even granted the right to exist.
The aim is to give facts, which I have done, accompanied by a story, which I have also done. I cannot think of an obvious way to say what I really want to say without being considered too blunt. If you have, in fact,made it to the end of my article I'll leave you with this notion: There is no way I will ever leave American out of fear. Seeking safety in Israel is not and should never have to be the immediate choice. Living in America offers me unparalleled opportunity, as would living in Israel, however my home is my home, and I cannot stand to be driven out of it because people with the IQ of seven were protesting on my college campus. Before I let the bullies chase me out, I'd at least like to put up a fight. I believe that to preserve certain ideological notions and promote the principles by which this country was founded upon—the pursuit of life, liberty, and property—is more important now than ever before. If you feel compelled to, go further with your determination to stand up to those who wish to defile democracy. Do not be a passive bystander to the problems that we as a nation face in terms of race, religion, gender or any other self-identification platform.