We Need to Start Taking Anti-Semites at Their Word

By Eliana Rudee, originally published in New York Observer

When a University of Oklahoma fraternity sings a racist chant, we take them at their word. When LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling makes racist comments, we take him at his word. When racist emails of Ferguson officials are leaked, we take them at their word. As we should. Perpetuating racist discourse merely normalizes and reinforces racist behavior and structures. This is true for any system of prejudice and hatred.

Why, then, are anti-Semites so rarely taken at their word? Some Iranian officials broadcast their intention to use a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel off the map. But many still believe they will use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes if we negotiate properly. The Hamas charter states that it is each Muslim’s responsibility to kill Jews. But some still assert that Hamas terrorizes Israeli citizens merely as a political statement for their own domestic consumption. Last week, both Bosnian and Dutch soccer fans, on two separate occasions, sang chants about burning and killing Jews. Plenty dismissed that as “boys will be boys.” This week, two New York high school students were photographed underage drinking, wearing tee shirts with a swastika and the word “Auschwitz.” Just hooligans looking for attention.

On American college campuses and in the greater international community, those who espouse the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people are regarded as having humanitarian concerns. Their calls for violence are ignored. Campus champions of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel often chant, “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free!” demanding the expulsion (or worse) of millions of Jewish and Israeli citizens out of the land of Israel. But we are supposed to believe they are only interested in justice for Palestinians.

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