By: Jacob Carver
With recent reports of antisemitic activity in mind, Mark Weitzman was invited to campus to present his work on defining antisemitism.
Weitzman is the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization devoted to upholding Jewish human rights, according to their website. He was invited to speak on campus, Oct. 25, by a number of university offices, including the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity, and the Office of the Provost.
Weitzman’s main points centered around the working definition he helped to create with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international governmental organization focused on Holocaust research and education.
The definition states, “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.”
The goal of Weitzman’s presentation was to impact how Western views this issue.
“My hope is that people will recognize that the specific issue of antisemitism is something that exists and is a problem that should not be ignored,” Weitzman said.
Senior Calum Houston was happy to see an expert on the issue come to campus to explain it and give students a chance to educate themselves.
“It’s definitely a danger and it’s definitely a threat, but it doesn’t have the national dialogue that other forms of hate do,” Houston said.
Sandra Alfers, director of The Ray Wolpow Institute, had a major role in bringing Weitzman to campus and on the task force dedicated to recommended responses to antisemitism on campus.
According to a newsletter from the Equal Opportunity Office, the task force was convened in Spring 2016 and charged with reporting on antisemitic activities on campus, along with recommendations on how to combat those activities
The first recommendation from the task force’s report is to define antisemitism so that the definition can be used as a template for future efforts to address this issue on campus.
Alfers and her colleagues met last summer to plan the event and invite Weitzman to introduce the working definition of antisemitism.
“This working definition will allow our campus community – students, faculty, staff, administrators – to start engaging knowledgeably in critical conversations on antisemitism,” Alfers said in an email. “It will create a common vocabulary for our engagement.”
Alfers also encourages students to spend time getting to know the topic and to start a dialogue against antisemitism.
Near the end of his presentation, Weitzman praised Western for being forward-thinking in addressing antisemitism on campus.
Western may be the first university to create and adopt such a working definition of antisemitism before a crisis arises, Weitzman said.
Houston was heartened, but cautious about that possibility.
“It could help tip the scales, make Western look a little more equitable,” Houston said. “It seemed a little general to me, but you know, you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Going forward, Alfers said she hopes to see students participate in the prevention of antisemitism on and off campus.
“Antisemitism and any form of marginalized violence, prejudice and bias are unacceptable,” Alfers said. “Diversity is a strength, not a liability.”