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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

Panel discussion about Nazi regime turns into debate of anti-Zionism versus antisemitism

Definition+of+anti-Zionism+from+the+Jewish+Voice+for+Peace.+Definition+of+antisemitism+from+the+International+Holocaust+Remembrance+Alliance+%28IHRA%29.
Thy Vo
Definition of anti-Zionism from the Jewish Voice for Peace. Definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

A panel discussion at Wichita State over how the Nazi regime impacted the humanities fields turned into an argument about anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The history, anthropology and philosophy departments hosted the faculty-led panel on Oct. 25 to discuss the betrayal of humanities under the Nazi regime. 

The discussion started with the idea that the historical experience of universities under the Nazi regime still resonates with modern culture today. 

Jeff Hayton, associate professor of modern European history, discussed how the Nazis overtook every part of German societies through the process of Gleichschaltung, or synchronization. 

“German institutions, organizations and individuals were to be controlled, permeated and influenced by the Nazis and their ideas,” Hayton said. “The Third Reich was popular … Germans enthusiastically set about fashioning the Nazi regime.” 

In the mid-1940s, several students and professors in Germany subscribed to the Nazi belief system and put pressure on universities to conform. Hundreds of Jewish, communist, and socialist professors were chased from their profession, with little to no outcry from others. 

“About 15% of professors were immediately forced out, about 1,100 or so,” Hayton said. “Those who stayed either stayed silent or enthusiastically supported the Nazi regime.” 

The new structure of universities taught the racial sciences of the Third Reich, ignoring theories or subjects that were considered “Jewish.” 

Associate professor Rannfrid Thelle brought up that many of the Nazi race theories and hypotheses brought up in 19th-century humanities scholarship are still impacting current scholarship. Several books featured Jewish stereotypes perpetrated by Aryan nationalists, and some are still cited today. 

Jeffrey Hershfield, associate professor of philosophy and the final speaker, discussed how antisemitism is alive on American college campuses under the guise of anti-Zionism. 

“In today’s current academic climate, antisemitism masquerades as anti-Zionism or opposition to Israel,” Hershfield said. “When one out of five Jewish students is compelled to disguise his or her Jewish identity for self-protection, then I submit that we have a problem with antisemitism in American universities.” 

In his presentation, Hershfield discussed three cases that he said fit the definition of antisemitism as provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). The organization defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and those beliefs are “directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

According to Jewish Voice for Peace, which calls itself “the largest progressive Jewish anti-Zionist organization,” anti-Zionism is the “criticism of the current policies of the Israeli state, and/or moral, ethical, or religious criticism of the idea of a Jewish nation-state.” It emphasizes not conflating antisemitism with anti-Zionism.

Hershfield’s first case of antisemitism in his presentation was when Hamas, a Palestinian militant group, launched an attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7. 1,400 Israeli people were killed, many of them civilians. Hershfield calls himself a “firm and steadfast supporter of the state of Israel.”

When Israel was created in 1948, more than 700,000 Palestinians were displaced, and 78% of the region’s land was captured. After Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7, the Israeli government began bombing the Gaza Strip. The death toll in Gaza has reached over 8,000 Palestinians as of Oct. 29. 

The next case Hershfield discussed was the American Anthropological Association (AAA) voting to endorse a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions in July, making Israel the first and only country to be boycotted by the AAA. 

According to the AAA, the boycott is due to the Israeli government violating Palestinians’ rights, and it only refers to the Israeli institutions and not the scholars or students affiliated with them. Because the boycott is a response to the Israeli government’s policies and not to Jewish individuals, this does not fit the IRHA’s definition of antisemitism; it does fit with anti-Zionism.

Hershfield said the third case of antisemitism occurred at Stanford University after the events of Oct. 7, when an instructor had all Jewish students raise their hand, took the belongings of one student, had them stand apart from the class, and said that that was what the Israelis did to Palestinians. 

Following Hershfield’s presentation, the panel of faculty opened the floor for audience Q&A, and much of it was dominated by arguments of the definitions of anti-Zionists and antisemites. Many guests expressed concern with the attempts to conflate the ideas of anti-Zionism and antisemitism. 

“I’m very strongly opposed to the notion of discriminating against people because they’re Jewish,” an audience member said. “And I’m concerned that some in the academic community and Jewish community want to conflate those and prevent any discussion of Zionism or colonialism as something that has merit to discuss …. and I’m concerned you’ve done that just now.” 

Despite moderator and history professor Keith Pickus’ attempts to keep the Q&A on track with actual questions, arguments continued to break out. Hershfield insisted on responding to each commenter, defending his position. 

In a separate interview with The Sunflower, Pickus said that the history department doesn’t plan what any speakers will say during their events.

“We tried to provide an opportunity for people to speak,” Pickus said. “One of the things when you try to organize any talk, at least the way we approach it in the history department on campus, is we don’t dictate what people are going to say.” 

Peer Moore-Jansen, an audience member and anthropology department chair, commented on the arguments and the idea of antisemitism versus anti-Zionism.

“Are we back to the question of us versus them?” Moore-Jansen asked. “And it seems to be a question of humanity and how we deal with that question.”

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About the Contributors
Maleah Evans, Reporter
Maleah Evans is a second-year reporter for The Sunflower. They previously worked as a copy editor. Evans is a sophomore, majoring in history with a minor in anthropology. They plan to pursue a career as a museum curator.
Thy Vo, Advertisement/Design Manager
Thy Vo has been the advertisement manager and design director for The Sunflower for two years. Vo is a senior majoring in graphic design and minoring in marketing with hopes to pursue a career in graphic design after graduation. This is her third year on staff. You can alternatively contact them at [email protected]. Vo uses she/they pronouns.

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    EastonNov 9, 2023 at 2:21 pm

    As someone who attended the discussion panel on October 25, I find it so ironic that the words by Dr. Jens Kreinath weren’t mentioned in this article as they perfectly reflect the exact phenomenon that led to this eruption in the room. The claim made by Jeffrey Hershfield, “In today’s current academic climate, antisemitism masquerades as anti-Zionism or opposition to Israel” is a very misleading and dangerous sentiment to spread. As someone who loves the study of history and is currently in my his third year of anthropological studies, I understand what Dr. Kreinath was trying to say when he described the weaponization of linguistics being used as an ally for rising fascism and nationalism in reference to the book being reviewed in this panel. When words are used so frequently and often, they tend to lose their original meaning and can be twisted for the use of abusive authorities. Many concepts are too layered to simply be reduced to one single word, and risk losing all of its context entirely. The purpose of the panel was to discuss a book, The Betrayal of the Humanities: The University during the Third Reich, which gave the panel its title and which argued that scholars of the humanities and related disciplines under the Nazi regime had betrayed their profession, and it was up to the speakers to give their opinion on the lessons that could be learned from this historical case. It is just astounding to me that after Dr. Kreinath’s articulated his position on that matter, Hershfield in a way directly proved his point. One of the main arguments made by the anthropology professor was that many scholars in Germany greatly stood against the antisemitism that was rising in the nation, but they were punished greatly for doing so. Censorship and misinformation from the state had helped a fascist regime, which, although, was the minority population, they took over due to propaganda of a biological race theory which vilified Jews and justified Hitler’s actions. So, it is here that I must criticize the claim by Hershfield. By comparing criticism of Israel and anti-Zionism to a disguised form of antisemitism, he gives power only to the oppressive nation which is currently engaging in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, by making it impossible to call out their violence in fear of being accused of antisemitism, which isn’t even accurate to the situation at hand which has nothing to do with religion, but rather ethnicity. The timing of Hershfield in making this insensitive claim is also very telling, because under the subject of discussing Nazi held Germany, he is implying that those who call out Israel’s war crimes are acting in the same hateful rhetoric that Nazi’s used to dehumanize Jews. I would argue the exact opposite, I’d say that those who try to blur the lines between anti-Zionism and antisemitism are attempting to remove the context in which Palestinians have been brutalized for generations and use the pain of millions of innocent Jews for their own benefit, when many have made the exact same critiques of Israel. I’ll end with a quote from a famous German scholar on the topic of Israel, Albert Einstein, who once co-wrote in a 1948 letter to The New York Times, the very year the State of Israel was founded, that, “Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the “’Freedom Party’” (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.”

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    Alex Dyer OwensNov 3, 2023 at 9:58 am

    Oh this sounds like quite the flare up, did anyone happen to keep a full transcript of the event by chance?

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