Oppose Anti-Semitism in All its Forms
By Jewish Law Student Association (JLSA) Board
This letter was written prior to the mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed eleven Jews. The victims were gunned down while reciting their Shabbat morning prayers. Many of those killed were elderly. Their deaths tragically reinforce the need to condemn anti-Semitic and bigoted rhetoric before it metastasizes into acts of violence. This letter is dedicated to the memories of the victims—may their memories forever be a source of blessings.
As Jewish students in Charlottesville, we feel a particular duty to identify anti-Semitism both on the political left and right. While Jewish law students and the broader Charlottesville Jewish community experienced right-wing anti-Semitism directly in August 2017, we also feel a strong need to point out the degree to which anti-Semitism has been normalized on the political left in the form of virulent anti-Zionism. It is with this educational goal that we write this piece.
Anti-Semitism on the right is relatively easy to see. It comes in the form that we saw last August: swastikas, chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and the specific targeting of Congregation Beth Israel in downtown Charlottesville. This anti-Semitism fits into Prince William County Supervisor and U.S. Senate candidate Corey Stewart’s broader white nationalist worldview. Stewart has engaged in inexcusable racial dog-whistling for years. He has repeatedly downplayed the role of slavery in the Civil War and the prevalence of racism today. In 2017, at the Old South Ball in Danville, Va., he spoke about the importance of Virginia’s Confederate heritage and identity at great length. In his sordid courtship of neo-Confederates, he never paused to mention the evils of slavery and racism that have played such a tragic part in Virginia’s history.
Stewart has sought support from Jason Kessler, the white nationalist leader who helped organize last year’s Unite the Right rally. Kessler paid UVA Law multiple unwelcome visits last semester, ranting about the “Jewish-looking” students who were following him. After getting banned from UVA following his visits, he bemoaned UVA Law’s receipt of its largest ever donation from “Jewish” investors Bruce and Marsha Karsh as evidence that “our rights can be sold to the highest bidder.”
In early 2017, Stewart attended an event hosted by Kessler and his organization, Unity and Security for America. He listened as members discussed the importance of allowing immigrants from Western countries and excluding Middle Easterners. He also held a press conference with Kessler to support Kessler’s efforts to retain Charlottesville’s Confederate statues, praising Kessler’s group for standing up to “real racism” while Kessler declared that the statue of Lee held “ethnic significant to Southern white people.” Kessler rewarded Stewart for his courtship by endorsing Stewart during his failed 2017 gubernatorial bid.
Almost a year later, about a week before this year’s June primary, Stewart finally repudiated Kessler, claiming “I didn’t know who he was when I met with him.” This should be convincing to no one, since it is far from Stewart’s only dalliance with white supremacists. In January 2017, he appeared with Paul Nehlen, an unsuccessful candidate in Wisconsin’s First U.S. Congressional District’s last two primaries. Stewart told Nehlen that Nehlen was “one of my personal heroes . . . I can’t tell you how much I was inspired by you.” Nehlen has supported considering deporting all Muslims from the United States, and became notorious for attacking the “Jewish media,” as well as bizarrely tweeting, “Poop, incest, and pedophilia. Why are those common themes repeated so often with Jews?”
Most pertinent to the Jewish community, Stewart was quick to attack Republicans who denounced racism in the wake of the Unite the Right Rally. In our eyes, he crystallized his sympathy for anti-Semites when he said that those who denounced the rally were “weak . . . they couldn’t apologize fast enough.” Stewart’s anti-Semitism is situated firmly in his broader white nationalist views. For people like Stewart, Kessler, and Nehlen, the centrality of anti-Semitism to their worldview cannot be overstated.
It is also incumbent upon us to point out the ways in which anti-Semitism manifests in the political left. While it does not usually come in the easily-identifiable form of Nazi imagery and outward racism, its underlying principles are still insidious. Unfortunately, U.S. Congressional candidate for Virginia’s Fifth District Leslie Cockburn has a troubling track record of propagating anti-Semitic canards that have disturbing historical origins. While we are aware that Cockburn in no way exhibits the outward anti-Semitism that Corey Stewart seems to be comfortable with, we feel uncomfortable with the degree to which anti-Semitism has been normalized on the political left.
Much of the Jewish community (though not the entirety) is deeply concerned about Cockburn’s 1991 book Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.–Israeli Covert Relationship. In the book, Cockburn describes Jewish control over U.S. foreign affairs in ways that mirror the narrative of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Protocols, published in the Russian Empire in 1903, is a fabricated text that purports to describe Jewish schemes for world domination. Anti-Semites have used its core theme ever since to peddle conspiracy theories about Jewish domination of finance, the media, politics, and the international system. Protocols’ ideas were used by the Tsars to instigate pogroms and by the Nazis to justify genocide. Today’s anti-Semites use Protocols to accuse Jews and Israel of causing everything from 9/11 to the 2008 financial crisis.
In Dangerous Liaison, Leslie Cockburn offered her variation on the Protocols theme, including accusing Israel of helping Saddam massacre the Kurds, training a Colombian drug cartel, and dominating U.S. politics. The New York Times published a review excoriating the book for being “largely dedicated to Israel-bashing for its own sake,” and for suggesting “win or lose, smart or dumb, right or wrong, suave or boorish, Israelis are a menace . . . the Israeli-American connection is somewhere behind just about everything that ails us.” Many of us see Cockburn's book as part of a long tradition of scapegoating Jews for social problems and believe her use of the terms “Israel” and “Zionists” instead of Jews should not give her cover. Importantly, we acknowledge that not all criticisms of Israel constitute anti-Semitism. But sometimes the demonization is so strong and the conspiracy theories are so potent that Jews realize that criticism of Israel is a thin veil for well-known anti-Semitic tropes.
To her credit, Cockburn has reached out and received the support of some in the local Jewish community. While her outreach is laudable, she has yet to fully repudiate her book or even acknowledge why Jewish individuals feel that her book touches a nerve in ways that Jewish individuals uniquely understand. Our group has a wide range of viewpoints, but some of us feel that she treated her meetings with the community as a perfunctory campaign stop, aiming to secure support from a key constituency rather than deeply engage with concerns about her problematic book.
To be clear, this article is not a call to take political action against Leslie Cockburn. Despite the problematic nature of her book, some Jewish students, including some of us, continue to support Cockburn. Some of us believe her commitments to progressive values will better serve the minority communities of her district. Nevertheless, as a whole, we are deeply troubled by the way in which anti-Semitism has gone unquestioned in the political left, not just in the United States but globally within liberal democracies. We hope that we can help educate others so we do not reach the point that the British Labour party has, where politicians including the leader of the party, Jeremy Corbyn, have proven worryingly tolerant of widespread anti-Semitic themes and stereotypes.
We feel a moral responsibility—especially after August 2017—to identify anti-Semitism on the left and on the right. While Nazi imagery from the right is easy to identify, anti-Semitism from the left is often intertwined with virulent anti-Israel sentiment.
We write this piece fully aware of the complex, multi-dimensional political world in which we live, vote, and advocate. But we also write this piece inspired by the words of the great Rabbi Hillel, who said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
Keep Campus Speech Open
By Virginia Law Republicans
Say someone were to pen an op-ed in this paper discussing some of the terms surrounding the immigration debate. Say this were to spark outrage, resulting in some students removing all copies of this paper from its places of distribution. What ought to be the consequences of doing so? Is the removal of copies, preventing students from exposure to such expression, a violation of campus free-speech rights or an expression of them?
This Thursday, November 1 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Purcell Reading Room, the Law Republicans will co-host a debate with the Goldwater Institute, beginning a conversation on some of these questions.
In early January of 2017, the Goldwater Institute issued model campus free-speech legislation which has been adopted in whole or part in over a dozen states, including Virginia in 2018.
The model provides that campus administrators cannot disinvite speakers, no matter how controversial. It sets up disciplinary sanctions for students who interfere with the campus free speech rights of others and, interestingly, permits students whose rights were improperly infringed by the university to recover court and attorney’s fees. For many, this seems like a step in the right direction—an indication that campuses will be legally required to take the free speech rights of all students, no matter their political affiliation, seriously. Goldwater Institute Senior Fellow, Heritage Foundation Senior Educational Policy Analyst, and co-author of the model legislation Jonathan Butcher believes that turning to the law to protect students’ rights on campus is the best solution to the current free speech crisis.
Some, however, like Professor Michael Behrent of Appalachian State University, view laws of this kind and the campus free-speech movement as “false friends,” undermining the fundamental values and benefits of free speech with political ends. By emphasizing punishment, the fear is that genuine freedom of expression will be chilled.
So, are campus free-speech laws a help or hindrance to the free speech cause?
I welcome you to join the Law Republicans for what will be a totally non-partisan and nuanced debate about an issue that impacts every student on Grounds and beyond. If we believe that freedom of expression is a good, then how ought we to go about protecting it for all students on campuses across the country? Let’s debate!