Free speech not extended to those vocalizing anti-Semitism


(re: “Teacher’s criticism of Israel leads to dismissal,” Jan. 16)

We live in a time of code words. Only the ignorant these days will stoop to saying some version of “you (expletive) Jew.” But the intelligentsia has elevated just this form of communication into an art form.

The most obvious anti-Semitic code words are words for “Israel,” “settler” and “colonialism,” although for the purposes of the issue at Ethical Culture Fieldston School, they include “conservative” and “donor.” I’m sure there are many more, but this is a good sampling.

When minority students felt aggrieved at the Fieldston School, good people quickly saw their point of view. Human beings suffer severely when bullied, and racism is a form of extreme bullying. To anyone paying attention, anti-Semitism has been making a comeback, but lest you think it is recent, I have been watching it since my college days in the mid-1960s.

To our consternation, this originally low-level of anti-Semitic abuse — comments and nasty generalizations — was effectively ignored by those in authority. Much like the identical and negligent responses to female allegations of varying degrees of harassment, it has grown until it is now widely accepted, but it is equally devastating.

Perhaps it pays to point out that Jewish students are generally paying full tuition, but do not riot, close down educational institutions, make onerous demands. They just want to pursue their studies in a quiet and stable environment.

While Jewish students generally support the rights of most aggrieved groups, the same is not true in the reverse.

The recent March Against Hate in New York City drew few non-Jews or minorities. And using members of Jewish extraction as a shield against criticism by anti-Semites is deplorable. Many of these people have never had any level of Jewish education or Jewish involvement, and have never met a practicing Jew who they did not hold in contempt.

The First Amendment is of unquestioned importance, but just because there are two positions on a topic does not mean there is a level playing field. Unfortunately, BDS (“boycott, divestment, sanctions” movement) and its ilk are operating in an atmosphere that has been tainted for years by the acceptance of anti-Semitism. It would do everyone a world of good to actually have a “fact check,” such as The New York Times uses to elucidate Trump’s various pronouncements, when these anti-Jewish speakers and demonstrators clothed as anti-Zionists make their case.

Jews have been the universal scapegoat for far too long, and it is unacceptably naïve to think that education alone will solve the problem. Unfortunately, since education has proven itself a poor tool, perhaps a return to a more behavioral approach could be more persuasive. Consequences of such should be spelled out to all employees. Employment always comes with certain caveats.

These caveats may include:

• Firing without recourse.

• Continued employment, but with a full record of the event in their personnel file of which will be seen by the plaintiff (and signed by the plaintiff), and which will subsequently be open to all others in the event of future disruption.

• A public apology in the form of an address to the entire student body, plus a letter to the entire parent and administrative body. If another such event occurs, immediate firing without recourse.

• A stipulation that anything which will be demeaning if said on school grounds will be considered equally demeaning if it appears on social media. Employment always comes with certain caveats.

Remember that the German intelligentsia had no problem with Nazi propaganda. We would like to believe that the world has advanced enormously in social and cultural terms since World War II. Now, we have come to a critical moment to prove that this believe is more than lip service.

Support the Fieldston School’s decision.

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Sura Jeselsohn,