Serling Institute Statement of Anguish, Mourning and Prayers for Peace
We in the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel write to express our horror, grief and anguish in the wake of the unprecedented wave of terror unleashed by Hamas targeting Israeli civilians in the last two days. With over 4,400 rockets fired over two days, over 700 reported Israeli deaths and over 2,300 wounded, the majority of whom are civilians, and dozens having been taken hostage and held in Gaza and Israeli communities still under attack, the scale of the loss and pain is immeasurable. Our hearts are with the families and friends of the many Israelis who have lost their lives; we pray for the hostages that have been taken, and for their safe return. Our hearts go out to the large numbers of Palestinian civilians who are suffering and have died, and to the Israelis and the Palestinian civilians who will be in further danger in the coming days. We pray and hope for a better future and for peace. We call on the MSU community to recognize that many Jewish, Israeli, and Palestinian students and community members are deeply affected by these events, and ask that we show our students, and one another, compassion and respect.
Serling Institute Statement in Support of Israeli Democracy
March 27, 2023
The Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel supports Israel’s democracy and stands with those who are peacefully protesting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to pass legislation that will eliminate the ability of the High Court to act as a check on the government. We stand with those many groups and individuals from Israeli civil society and state institutions who are calling for a stop to the judicial overhaul proposals. We stand with the several hundred thousand Israelis peacefully protesting for the past three months against the government’s efforts to weaken Israeli democracy. We stand with the leaders of Israeli universities and colleges who officially oppose “the continuation of the legislative process that undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy and endangers its continued existence.”
We join with the Association of Israel Studies in “view[ing] with grave concern the recent developments in Israel, including the looming changes in the state’s political and legal system, and the growing support for racism and incitement. As an academic association, we are committed to intellectual integrity and academic freedom—necessary foundations for any healthy and free society, and to the values of freedom, equality and pluralism, which must exclude any discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, or gender. We believe that all efforts should be made to ensure that the rights and responsibilities upon which freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas are based, and the checks and balances that are the underpinning of democracy—the precondition for free academic discourse—will continue to flourish in the academic study of Israel, in Israeli society, and in the Israeli body politic.”
The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel Statement in Response to Recent Antisemitic Incidents Impacting the MSU Community
We regret to inform you of three antisemitic incidents that happened this past weekend on and around our campus. These incidents make clear that antisemitism is a real problem that we need to address to realize our vision of MSU as an inclusive community for all its members. At the same time, we are heartened by the way students involved in the incidents stood up against the perpetrators and reported the incidents to the university.
In one incident, an individual joined a biology class group chat using a Nazi swastika as a profile picture claiming that they study biology to prove that “Jews are scum.” The other students in the chat denounced those statements and removed the perpetrator from the chat. One student reported the incident to the class professor and to a number of campus units, including the Serling Institute. MSU is currently investigating whether the perpetrator is a member of the MSU community. Regardless of whether such perpetrators are affiliated with MSU or not, their actions harm the campus community.
An individual using the same screenname also made antisemitic comments in the group chat of a local apartment complex, responding to another resident’s message with, “Shut the hell up Jew boy.” When asked to leave the chat by other participants, the perpetrator answered, “This is why you don’t trust Jews.” We applaud the students in this group chat for censuring these statements and commend the university for investigating these incidents.
Also, this weekend, for the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, a campus student organization painted the Rock with an American flag, with the caption “Never Forget,” and the number of victims lost in the 9/11 attacks. At some point over the weekend, the word “Israel” was spray painted over the American flag, and the word “never” was painted over. The graffiti evokes the antisemitic conspiracy theory that Israel was responsible for the 9/11 attack. This is a modern iteration of the centuries-old trope that Jews control world events. Students have since re-painted the Rock.
These events on campus are not isolated. In the last several years, students at MSU have shared more than 75 incidents of antisemitism ranging from “jokes,” to verbal attacks, to destruction of property. In the United States there has been a significant rise in antisemitism over the past four years, from neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville in 2017, to the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh in 2018, to violent attacks on the streets of New York City, Los Angeles, and Boston in 2021.
The Serling Institute is an important resource on campus for education about antisemitism. We
are currently crafting a guide to understanding antisemitism, we always offer a variety of courses that address antisemitism, and we encourage the MSU community to join our virtual symposium on antisemitism on October 8. Please click here to register. We urge the MSU community to join us in condemning antisemitism, in investigating reported incidents in a timely and transparent fashion, and in supporting further education on antisemitism on campus.
These are some important resources on campus for education on antisemitism and for support for students who experience antisemitism.
Also, to report incidents see https://civilrights.msu.edu/file-a-report/index.html and OIE: email@example.com
Serling Institute Faculty Statement of Solidarity with Asian Americans
We, the faculty of The Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel, want to express our horror and devastation at the brutal murders in Georgia this past week, of Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels. Six of the victims were Asian American women. We recognize that these events are a part of a long history of discrimination against Asian Americans, and the intensification of violence against Asian Americans during the covid-19 pandemic. The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Hate Reporting Center has tracked over 3800 anti-Asian incidents since March 2020 (New York Times, 3/17/21).
The white supremacy that led the Atlanta killer to view Asian women as dangerous and exoticized symbols of temptation has led other murderers to perceive Blacks, Latinos, American Indian and Indigenous peoples, and Jewish people as threats to their imagined superior civilization. As scholars of Jewish studies, we recognize the linked dangers that white supremacy poses to our nation and our world. We stand committed to fight against white supremacy, and express support for and solidarity with our MSU students and colleagues who may be fearful of even daily engagement in public spaces as a consequence of this hatred.
As scholars of Jewish experiences throughout the world, we reach out to all Asian Americans at this time, including Asian American Jews. They are especially affected by white supremacy’s attacks upon Asian Americans and Jews, and we grieve with them and share their fears at this moment. Yet Asian American Jews are frequently marginalized or ignored as members of the American Jewish community. The Serling Institute commits itself to do more to listen to Asian American Jewish students and colleagues, to learn and to teach more about the experiences of Asian and Asian American Jews.
We have written too many of these statements in the past several years, as white supremacy and hatred have become more emboldened and virulent in our country. Some may become weary and jaded in an atmosphere of hatred and anger. As scholars of Jewish life, we recognize the particular dangers that cynicism and weariness can cause in people of good faith in a threatened democracy. We pledge ourselves to fight this weariness, to ally with others on campus and in our community, to redouble our fight against the hatred so visible in our nation, and to work to repair and finally realize the ideals of equality in our democracy.
The Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel Statement of Solidarity with the Black Justice Movement
The faculty of the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel at Michigan State University voices solidarity with the movement that has erupted in direct response to the recent police murders of Black people, including those of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Tony McDade. Their murders are just the most recent manifestation of 400 years of anti-Black violence in this country, from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration.
As scholars of Jewish studies, we have many inter-connecting responsibilities to stand against such discrimination and violence. Systems of white supremacy in America have perpetuated inequalities for Black people throughout our society – inequalities that have only become more starkly evident in the unequal impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black communities, and in the documentation of these recent instances of ongoing violence against Black people at the hands of the state. We must come together as scholars in higher education to create classrooms, campuses, and scholarship that are not only inclusive of all communities, but actively combat anti-Black racism.
Our connection to Jewish studies and the Jewish community mandates that we combat such racism outside the Jewish community and within it. We must particularly center Black Jewish voices at this time, and the racism of some Jews against Jews of other origins. We must also consider the ways that American racism has allowed many Jews to benefit from white privilege.
Doing so affirms a continuity in American Jewish community support for the ideal of equal rights for all and for firm opposition to discrimination in access to voting, housing, jobs, education, public accommodations, and public transport.
Finally, as scholars of Jewish history, we are attuned to the dangerous consequences of states using militarized law enforcement to abuse any minority population. It is our responsibility to speak out against these injustices, and act in ways that combat anti-Black racism and violence wherever it occurs. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “in a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.”
These responsibilities require us not to just speak, but to act. In order to actively support our Black brothers and sisters and combat anti-Black racism, we faculty in Jewish Studies at Michigan State University commit to do the following:
Listen with empathy to Black members of our communities, as they tell us of their experiences, and what they need from us in order to support them.
Redouble our efforts to collaborate with other programs and units on campus in ways that enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.
Focus this year’s programming (and incorporate an ongoing dedication to this type of programming) to the historic and current relationship between the Jewish community more broadly, and other non-Jewish minority communities, especially Black Americans and other non-Jewish communities of color. This will include histories of cooperation and collaboration, as well as histories of tension and conflict. In addition, we will endeavor to highlight diversity within the Jewish world – particularly on the experiences of Black Jews – including the historic and oftentimes difficult relationship between these Jewish communities.
Open Letter Regarding Act of Terror Against Congregants at the Tree of Life Synagogue
October 29, 2018
Our hearts go out to the victims of Saturday’s horrific attack at the Tree of Life synagogue outside of Pittsburgh, and their families, fellow congregants, friends, and the entire community. We live in dangerous times. Individuals radicalized by the rhetoric of hate groups on social media are emboldened to act on their prejudice, in part through the inflammatory comments made by mainstream politicians. Antisemitic rhetoric is gaining greater legitimacy. It is therefore even more incumbent upon all of us to take care of one another, watch out for one another, treat one another with respect, empathy and kindness, while standing firm against hatred and prejudice of all kinds. This is likely to be one of the worst antisemitic attacks in U.S. history.
Early indications are that the perpetrator’s violence was triggered by long-standing antisemitism, combined with anger about the work of Jewish groups to show compassion and support for refugee communities – demonstrating the way in which prejudice and hatred for one group should not be separated from prejudice and hatred for other marginalized groups, and that people of good will must stand up not only for the rights, dignity, and safety of their own communities, but for the rights, dignity, and safety of others. The Anti-Defamation League reports that there was an almost 60% increase in antisemitic incidents in the United States in 2017 from the previous year (almost 2,000), which is the highest number of incidents since the ADL started reporting incidents in the 1970s. These include antisemitic incidents in schools and college campuses that nearly doubled in number for the second year in a row, in addition to bomb threats, vandalism, and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia.
We in the Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel will continue our work to educate ourselves and others about the history and ongoing presence of antisemitism and prejudice more broadly, and work to combat prejudice locally, nationally, and internationally.
We have organized a Teach-In on antisemitism on Monday, Nov. 5th at 5pm, Club Sparta, Case (James Madison College). All are invited to attend and participate in the discussion led by six faculty from the Serling Institute, and a Board member of the Institute who knew those that were murdered on Saturday.
Director, The Michael and Elaine Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel
Michigan State University
MSU Jewish Studies Program Statement on Muslim Ban
February 1, 2017
We, members of the Jewish Studies Program at Michigan State University, strongly condemn the executive order issued by President Trump, which suspends the entry of all duly screened refugees for 120 days, and indefinitely suspends the resettlement of Syrian refugees, as well as denying immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries entry into the United States for the next 90 days. The executive order has arbitrarily thrown the lives of innocent people across the globe into disarray, among them in all likelihood, members of the MSU community. The President added further insult to injury in issuing this order on, of all days, International Holocaust Remembrance Day – a day on which we remember, as part of the horror of the Holocaust, how many Jews were barred from entering countries in which they sought refuge from Nazi persecution, including the United States, only to be returned to Europe where many met their deaths. The issuing of these executive orders on such a day underscores the way history is in danger of being forgotten, and thereby repeated. Conscious of the course of Jewish history, punctuated by expulsion, persecution, and the search for refuge, we oppose discrimination of any kind, and particularly the denial of entry into the United States to fellow human beings fleeing persecution and war. We welcome them into our midst as our brothers and sisters, immigrants as so many of us were once, in the spirit of our great American tradition. We strongly urge that the United States Government end this inhumane and imprudent policy immediately.