Seven decades later, anti-Semitism still makes national headlines

Anti-Semitism is on the rise in schools and we think we know why

Acts of hatred and violence perpetually infiltrate the lives of everyday Americans, although, more recently, acts of anti-Semitism seem to have become commonplace.

Many of these actions which support neo-Nazi ideals have been initiated by students; such acts are symptoms of teenage extremism and/or the desire to make a statement against the “Politically Correct Culture,” which can cause them to act without considering the consequences.

Individuals who are not educated about anti-Semitism and it’s true meaning have the potential to grow up and worship false ideals that end up harming others.

In early March, after posting a picture of red Solo cups arranged in the shape of a large swastika at an off-campus party, students from Newport Harbor High School were suspended and met with national outrage.

This is not the first time such an incident has surfaced on a high school or university campus. In Nov. 2018, approximately 50 students from Baraboo High School in Baraboo, Wisconsin, posed in a photo with their right arms extended forwards in the air. This position is reminiscent of the “Sieg Heil” salute used by the Nazi party. The photo was posted on a photographer’s website as part of an album of photos from the school’s junior prom; the entire album has since been deleted.

Many of these students learned about the Holocaust and read Anne Frank’s diary in school, and most, if not all, know that what they’re “jokingly” lending their support to.

Then, why did they do it? According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents were up 94 percent in our nation’s K-12 schools since 2017.

We at the Talon believe that the presence of anti-Semitism that has spiked in schools across America comes more from a place of ignorance, and less from a position of malice. We also believe this is willful ignorance and does not excuse their behavior.

After researching recent acts of anti-Semitism, we believe that a relatively new “meme culture” is partly to be blamed. Teenagers seem to find comedic value in “edgy humor,” which is paradoxical in that it is funny because it deals in subjects that are not actually humorous.

While the First Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens in their right to freedom of speech, press and assembly, there is a distinction between what is legal and what is ethical. Just because one has the power to say something, does not mean they should.

Hate speech is defined by Merriam-Webster as “speech that is intended to insult, offend, or intimidate a person because of some trait (as race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability.)” To simplify, it is discrimination against a group while claiming it falls under the entitlement “free speech.”

Especially recently, many have defended insensitive comments or “edgy” jokes with their Constitutional right to free speech. But it’s important to understand that free speech does not equal freedom from consequences.

Speech and actions do not exist in a vacuum.

If your speech makes someone feel unsafe or aligns with the systematic oppression of a marginalized group, it is unacceptable. Legality is not a guide for morality; while hate speech may be legal, it should not be tolerated by anyone who values justice and equality for all. There are consequences, whether they be legal, social or cultural. In its most heightened form, an example of this is what occurred in New Zealand at the Christchurch Mosque attacks March 15.

Combating hate begins with education, but culminates in action. For example, thinking before speaking and by remembering that just because something is not offensive to you personally, does not mean that it does not offend somebody else. And, just because you say it as a ‘joke,’ doesn’t mean that someone else might take it seriously and worse, see it as a confirmation that this type of speech or action is acceptable.

The responsibility falls to us, to fix the system of unintentional oppression and ignorance from the inside out. This means that even if all you do is speak up against your peers’ anti-Semitic or racist “jokes” or if you take a larger step like raising awareness of unjust persecutions, like the massacre of those in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, you are taking a stride forward in eliminating hate culture, regardless of its material form.

We, as a society, need to combat this problem head-on. The assumption that intolerance and bigotry erode over time is mistaken and dangerous. Rather than becoming complacent and waiting for someone else to make a change, we must all step up, speak out, and take action in order to transform our community into a more accepting and tolerant one.

In this world, just like at this school, there is no place for hate.