Members of the Columbia Jewish community asked MU faculty members to adopt the U.S. Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism during an hour-long meeting Tuesday.
The State Department defines anti-Semitism as a negative perception of Jews, expressed with hateful actions or speech toward Jewish individuals, communities, institutions, religious facilities or property. It categorizes anti-Semitism into three categories: demonization of, double standards for and delegitimization of Israel.
No consensus was reached by the end of the meeting, but this was the first step administrators and community members took toward deciding whether the campus should have an official definition of anti-Semitism.
“I think most people, they don’t see these micro-aggressions; they don’t see signs of anti-Semitism because it’s hard when you just don’t know. You just don’t know what it is, you just don’t know what to look for,” said Destiny Albritton, central field organizer for Christians United for Israel. “But having an objective definition adopted by the university, I think that would make things clearer, it would help them understand what the problem is.”
The closed meeting was initiated after Israel supporters heard about the implementation of an MU Extension course “A Window into Palestine,” which they feared would have an anti-Semitic bias. The meeting included Albritton, Christian minister and daughter of Holocaust survivors Maja Hill and Israel advocate Daniel Swindell, along with five faculty members including Andy Hayes, interim assistant vice chancellor for civil rights and Title IX.
MU spokesman Christian Basi said that after the conclusion of the meeting, the “conversation is definitely continuing.”
“We want to make sure that when we’re reviewing the requests and the concerns that they brought to us, we want to make sure that the right people who have the appropriate expertise are involved,” he said.
Basi also highlighted the importance of freedom of speech on campus.
“One of the main reasons why universities exist is to uncover new knowledge, which in some cases can be done in respectful debate,” Basi said. “So that means, some times, there will be info presented or speech that is proclaimed that many could have difficulty with, and it’s important for us that the university system allows all forms of debate to take place, and not to silence that speech.”
The four-week-long class, “A Window into Palestine,” begins Wednesday, and 49 people over the age of 50 have signed up. Albritton said the class sparked concern because one of the teachers, MU emeritus professor of biological sciences George Smith, had “experience as an anti-Israeli activist on campus.”
“When we caught wind that he was using his activism to teach an academic course, we were concerned about that,” Albritton said.
Smith defines himself as a Palestinian activist, and said his class teaches about the historical background of Palestine and its art. One film will be watched each class, and then discussion will follow. The films are “The Idol,” directed by Hany Abu-Assad; “When I Saw You,” by Annemarie Jaci; “The Wanted 18,” by Amer Shomali and Paul Cowan; and “The Occupation of the American Mind,” by Loretta Alper and Jeremy Earp.
Smith described anti-Semitism as “odious.” He also said he is “absolutely against this definition of anti-Semitism” proposed to administrators.
“This would be shutting down completely legitimate political debate by mislabeling it as anti-Semitism, so we are totally against this,” Smith said. “It’s an attempt to shut down trenchant criticism of Israel on campus.”
Smith attempted to create an MU Honors College tutorial course in 2015 about the history of Zionism, and 16 Jewish organizations responded by calling for its removal. The class was canceled due to low enrollment.
In 2017, an MU freshman reported anti-Semitic bullying, and Gateway Hall was vandalized with anti-semitic graffiti in 2016. There have been no reports of anti-Semitic action since.
Article originally published on the Missourian.
Photo Credit: One Class