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Navigating Anti-Semitism in the US - A Conversation with Jasmine Hubara and Benny Winkelmann

Jasmine Hubara, Charleston SC, and Benny Winkelmann, Richmond VA, both lived and volunteered in Pardes-Hanna Karkur for a gap year (2021-2022) as the P2G Hadera-Eiron Southeast Fellows (Shlichim). Following their meaningful experiences in Israel, both have taken distinctive paths since their return to the United States. Jasmine serves as the Regional Coordinator for the NY/NJ office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), while Benny is a law student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We recently had the opportunity to connect with Jasmine and Benny on Zoom to gain insight into their post-gap year experiences and to understand the challenges faced by Jewish individuals in the United States since October 7th.

Jasmine has been at the forefront of the battle against anti-Semitism as NY/NJ Regional Coordinator of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). With almost a year of experience in this role, she has witnessed significant shifts in the social and political climate regarding anti-Semitism in New York City.

"How are you?"

Jasmine's response to this simple question unfolds into a profound conversation about her life and work, highlighting the deep impact of anti-Semitism on individuals and communities. Her reply, "I'm hanging on," captures the emotional toll of perpetually grappling with this issue. Despite the difficulty, she remains grateful for the opportunity to work for the ADL, an organization closely aligned with her values.

A Multifaceted Role in the Fight Against Anti-Semitism

Jasmine's role is multifaceted, involving support for the regional director, administrative responsibilities, and contributions to the regional operations team. Her insights provide a glimpse into the vital work carried out by those dedicated to combating anti-Semitism.

"Since October 7th, our caseload has increased by almost 400%."

Jasmine describes the process through which the ADL addresses anti-Semitic incidents in the NY/NJ region. Constituents report incidents such as graffiti, harassment, assaults, and hateful social media posts, and the ADL tracks and evaluates each case to determine if intervention is warranted. Notably, they have seen a staggering 388% increase in anti-Semitic incidents reported to the ADL since October 7th in comparison to this time last year.

Challenges and Complexity: Navigating Free Speech

Jasmine sheds light on the nuances of handling anti-Semitism-related incidents, emphasizing the ADL's commitment to addressing these issues. She points out the organization's challenge of distinguishing criticism of Israel from anti-Semitism, while also dealing with the fine line between free speech and hate speech concerning Israel.

Focus on Campus and Safety

For the ADL, there has been a major shift in focus to college campuses and the safety of Jewish students. Due to the increase in antisemitic incidents reported from college campuses, Hillel International, ADL, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP announced the Campus Antisemitism Legal Line (CALL), a free legal protection helpline for students who have experienced antisemitism.

"Do you feel safe?"

Jasmine's emotional response reveals the complexity of her experience. She vividly recalls a day that has been referred to as "the day of resistance," when she felt nervous to go out. It reminded her of the first anti-Israel rally she witnessed on her college campus as an undergrad, where she first encountered anti-Semitism and saw her friends treating her differently upon discovering her Jewish and Israeli background.

Navigating Complex Conversations in the Age of Social Media

Jasmine highlights the difficulties of having meaningful conversations, particularly in the era of social media. She stresses the challenge of discussing a topic as layered and complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which many Americans want to paint with broad strokes and leave little room for nuance. Post-October 7th, she notes that many people have revealed their clear-cut opinions, associating all Jews with the actions of the Israeli government.

A Unique Perspective: Life in Israel

Jasmine's time in Israel has provided her with a profound understanding of the diverse experiences of people living in the region. She dispels misconceptions and emphasizes the significance of coexistence, diversity, and the constraints of limited space.

Personal Struggles and Organizational Values

Jasmine acknowledges the challenges of balancing personal beliefs with her work and the United States’ protection of free speech. While she personally believes that lots of criticism of Israel is unconsciously rooted in anti-Semitism, she underscores the difficulty of distinguishing between free speech and hate speech in her line of work, especially when the lines are often blurred.

Her journey is a testament to the complexities of confronting anti-Semitism in an ever-evolving landscape. Her experiences shed light on the emotional and intellectual struggles involved in the fight against hatred, while also emphasizing the importance of resilience and unity within the Jewish community.

Benny is a law student hailing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where Jewish students constitute a significant percentage of the school's population. On his campus, organizations like Chabad and Hillel are typical fixtures, providing a sense of community and support for Jewish students.

Campus Climate: A Complex Reality

Benny offers a candid view of the campus climate, describing how the rhetoric surrounding the war and the incidents of October 7th has been framed as a political issue. The situation profoundly upsets him, as he witnesses individuals in kafias, a Muslim headwear, tearing down signs advocating for kidnapped Israelis, and hanging signs calling for Jihad and Intifada.

Safety Concerns: A Delicate Balancing Act

When asked about his sense of safety considering these recent events and the broader U.S. context, Benny offers a nuanced perspective. He acknowledges feeling relatively safe but accompanies this admission with the candid observation that his perceived safety is often contingent on not outwardly appearing visibly Jewish—a statement that carries significant weight.

The Dilemma of Free Speech: Loopholes and Hate Speech

Benny delves further into the issue of free speech in the United States, underlining the nation's robust protection of this fundamental right. He underscores that this climate has created opportunities to exploit the gaps in free speech, allowing for absurd protests targeting entire nations, including the Jewish community. Nonetheless, Benny remains skeptical about the potential traction these protests may gain, as he believes that the constitutional framework ultimately curtails their impact.

University Funding and Government's Role

Benny points out a critical element: many U.S. universities receive substantial funding from Jewish individuals. The government, while making efforts to address the issue, is bound by the constraints of free speech. This, he laments, is particularly disheartening when anti-Semitism infiltrates educational institutions like schools and day-cares, compelling them to ramp up security measures.

Maintaining Resilience in the Face of Fear

In the face of these challenges, Benny refuses to operate out of fear. He firmly believes that yielding to fear would be a victory for those who perpetrate hatred. Instead, he advocates for vigilance and maintaining a sense of normalcy while staying aware of the evolving situation.

Both Jasmine and Benny provide valuable insights into the complex reality Jewish individuals face in the United States, underscoring the delicate balance between free speech and combating anti-Semitism. Their perspectives emphasize the importance of resilience and unity within the Jewish community, even in the face of adversity.

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