Following a moment of silence for the 11 lives lost in a Pittsburgh synagogue, Neil Lazarus spoke at Texas Hillel regarding the perpetuation of hatred and anti-Semitism on American campuses on Tuesday.
Organizations such as Birthright Israel, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hillel International hire Lazarus to speak on behalf of the state of Israel and Jewish identity to over 30,000 people a year. At UT, Lazarus presented different visuals to portray contemporary anti-Semitism to a room of around 100 students. The discussion was followed by a vigil at the turtle pond for those who died in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting last week.
“Listen carefully: If you want to fight hatred, whether it’s violent hatred against Muslim immigrants as we saw in Europe, whether it’s violent hatred we saw against Jews in anti-Semitism, part of the way of defeating it has to be creating environments on campus that are tolerant,” Lazarus said.
While discussing clear acts of hatred, such as the shooting in Pittsburgh as well as anti-Semitic fliers on the University of California, Berkeley campus, he said less explicit forms of anti-Semitism occur in the ways where Jewish students are connected to Israeli policies.
“Being critical of Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic,” Lazarus said. “The question is, ‘What is the atmosphere that is being created on campuses, and is it enabling an open environment for discussion?’”
Lazarus asked if the students were ever questioned for their stance on the Israeli state. Almost everyone raised their hand.
Samuel Samson, government and Plan I sophomore, attended the discussion and said although he is not of the Jewish faith, he has been a victim of anti-Semitic slurs for his position as a fellow with the Zionist Organization of America.
“More than ever, there needs to be some sort of relationship between Christians and Jews to show that anti-Semitic acts can’t happen and show that we are here for each other,” Samson said.
Event organizer Ashira Boxman said she hopes the anti-Semitic events described in the presentation don’t leave Jewish students feeling defeated.
“I hope that their take away was that they leave here being comfortable in their Jewish identity,” Boxman said.
Lazarus said hatred is a two-way street that does not discriminate. In order to reach a welcoming environment where a productive conversation can occur, prejudice must be confronted head-on. He said to not let the violence in Pittsburgh silence members of the community.
“Don’t light candles in memory of people,” Lazarus said. “Light candles which give light to a higher standard of discussion and debate.”
Public health sophomore Grace Gilbert said she felt empowered by Lazarus’ remarks regarding the events in Pittsburgh because she will use it as a motivating factor to keep the conversation going.
“As a person that lives on this planet together with you, what we saw in Pittsburgh is an alarm call because (anti-Semitism) has to be united, it has to be fought and we have to stand against it,” Lazarus said. “And this idea of ignoring hatred, whether it is against Jews, whether it’s against any minority, religious, ethnic, gender oriented, I think that is our duty not to be silent.”