According to activist Cherie Brown, the first Jewish-American Princess didn’t have a Canada Goose jacket or a Love Your Melon beanie — she was a woman named Marjorie Morningstar, from a book published more than half a century ago.
“It was during a period in the 50s after the Holocaust, where Jews had had a third of their people decimated,” Brown said. “There was a feeling that upward mobility could be a vehicle for security. The JAP stereotype is the blaming of Jewish women for the upward mobility of the Jewish community in the attempt to try to escape anti-Semitism.”
Brown, founder and CEO of National Coalition Building Institute – an organization that promotes social change and offers training in diversity, equity and inclusion – hosted a workshop titled “What is Anti-Semitism and Why is it Everyone’s Concern?” with a group of about 20 students Wednesday at the Michigan Union. Student Life and Michigan Hillel co-sponsored the event.
Brown discussed three primary signifiers of anti-Semitism. The first, she said, was the unfair targeting and blaming of Jewish people.
“All kinds of things are going on – all kinds of issues – but you’re singling out the Jewish people, saying, ‘It’s your fault.’ The history of anti-Semitism is Jews being singled out for blame,” she said.
The second was a strategy of division, what Brown called “diverting the attention of people from the oppression around them” to focusing and fixating on Jewish people. The third signifier was isolation.
“Jews were ghettoized and not allowed to participate in the rest of society,” Brown said. “Any time Jews get isolated out, that is anti-Semitism.”
Brown also illustrated what she called the hook, a self-fulfilling cycle of anti-Semitism and racism. In her diagram, a fear of anti-Semitism makes Jewish communities “scared active.”
“The fear propels us to action,” Brown said. “We might interrupt things, we might try to take charge of things. You do that particularly around people of color and what’s it called? That’s racism. It’s a hook. It’s the intersection of racism and anti-Semitism. It’s a dynamic.”
Conversation turned to the Central Student Government resolution to divest from companies that operate in Israel. The resolution passed for the first time in the University’s history last November.
CSG representative Izzy Baer, an LSA sophomore, said she authored the resolution for Brown to speak to CSG after the vote.
“I was an outspoken student during the divestment resolution, more on the side of I don’t think that this should be in the hands of CSG because we’re students and we’re not experts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overall,” Baer said. “I think a lot of Jewish students talked about how they felt targeted from this because they felt it was direct target on the state of Israel. There’s so much nuance to anti-Semitism as a form of oppression and it’s really complicated and it’s not really talked about.”
LSA senior Joe Goldberg also attended the workshop. Goldberg serves as chief of staff to CSG president Anushka Sarkar, and was the center of controversy during #UMDivest for alleged ethics violations. Goldberg previously served as Hillel’s External Relations chair.
“Contemporary anti-Semitism I think is a very interesting topic for a lot of reasons, mostly because it’s so ambiguous,” he said. “There isn’t really a defined answer of what it is. As a senior, I started to feel it for the first time on campus, and when I look back at my time at Michigan and my time in internships and communal activities, I realize I’ve experienced much more than I’ve ever given myself credit for.”
Throughout the workshop, Brown asked students to discuss their own personal experiences with anti-Semitism and offered techniques to combat it, pushing participants to try to understand the people who make offensive remarks rather than attacking them, saying that “oppression works by setting people against each other.”
Brown said the nature of that oppression, however, varies.
“Anti-Semitism is cyclical,” Brown said. “It goes from periods where it’s very visible, it’s overt, to periods that it’s not. In periods that it’s not, the assumption is that it’s not there, but it’s just in a different stage of the cycle.”