LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A virtual symposium organized by the Chabad at UK Jewish Student Center Sunday aimed to educate attendees on the growing tide of antisemitism on college campuses across the country, including the University of Kentucky.
The event, which was sponsored by several organizations including the UK Student Government Association and the New Zionist Congress, came in the wake of a series of antisemitic incidents reported around the University of Kentucky.
Late last month, for example, the student center captured surveillance video of a group of people throwing bottles at the center.
A report released last week by the Anti-Defamation League found that 19 incidents of antisemitism were reported in Kentucky in 2020, an increase from two reported the previous year.
Overall, the ADL recorded 2,024 antisemitic incidents in the United States, the third-highest year for incidents against American Jews since the ADL started tracking this data in 1979.
Rabbi Shlomo Litvin, the director of Chabad, noted that antisemitic sentiment is as old as Judaism itself. He said many antisemitic tropes that still exist today have been tied to atrocities against Jewish people in the past.
"When Nazi Germany rose, they said the reason that Germany as a whole was doing poorly financially, the reason that Germans are suffering is because the International Jew is responsible for that demise," Litvin said.
One speaker who represented the New Zionist Congress said that antisemitism can be masqueraded as critiques of Israel, especially when the criticism touches on any of the three corners of the antisemitism triangle: tropes about blood, money, and conspiracy.
"You can explain to them that was antisemitic, that was offensive, and that was insulting," Blake Flayton advised. "If they come back and say, 'I was just criticizing Israel,' say, 'Which specific actions by the government were you criticizing?'"
Flayton encouraged people who find themselves in that situation to be direct.
"[Say] 'What you just said was not criticism, was not valid dissent, and had nothing to do with what is actually happening on the ground with Israel and Palestine," he said.
As for actions that institutions could take, Flayton and Rabbi Litvin believe it is imperative that universities and state governments follow the lead of Kentucky, which became the first state in March to adopt the working definition of antisemitism developed through the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The definition is as follows, according to the IHRA website:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”