Hanlon hosts anti-Semitism panel

by Andrew Culver | 11/8/18 3:00am

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by Arya Kadakia / The Dartmouth

There was standing room only in Paganucci Lounge as students, faculty and Dartmouth community members attended an anti-Semitism panel featuring College President Phil Hanlon.

In response to the recent massacre at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Hanlon hosted the open community discussion on anti-Semitism and its history and dangers with fellow panelists Chabad Rabbi Moshe Gray and Jewish studies professor Susannah Heschel. The Nov. 5 event began with opening statements from each of the panel members and then opened up to questions and discussion from the audience.

Hanlon began the panel by contextualizing the evening’s discussion in light of recent national events. His first response to these events, an email sent out to the campus community, was criticized by members of the community for its lack of specificity.

“We condemn anti-Semitism with clarity and resolve,” he said, adding that community members should “stand together and support one another.”

Hanlon then acknowledged Dartmouth’s history with anti-Semitism.

“Along with the other Ivies, Dartmouth imposed quotas on the number of Jewish students it would admit well into the 20th century,” he said. “It’s a harsh reality and part of our history that we should not deny or try to bury.”

Hanlon ended his speech by commenting on the divisiveness of the country’s current political climate and emphasizing the importance of voting in the midterm elections.

“Never in my life do I remember a time that the leaders of this country have been so divisive,” he said.

He noted that regardless of audience members’ political affiliations, “participation in the electoral process is a privilege and a privilege that matters.”

Gray spoke next on community responses to recent anti-Semitic events.

“Anti-Semitism exists everywhere,” he said. “It exists on the left, it exists on the right, in Europe, in the Middle East and of course here.”

Gray said he was impressed with the “incredible” turnout at the Oct. 30 vigil on the Green for the shooting victims at the Tree of Life synagogue. He then shared a “powerful statement” from a student who attended the vigil that evening to emphasize the importance of embracing Jewish identity in the face of hatred.

“[The student’s] response to the shooting in Pittsburgh was to put an extra clip in his kippah and to place a mezuzah on the door of his dorm room,” Gray said.

Like Gray, Heschel acknowledged the prevalence of anti-Semitism both in the present and throughout history.

“Anti-Semitism never stands alone in history,” she said. “It always involves some other kind of purpose. Anti-Semitism is tenacious and it doesn’t go away. It has been around too long and it has been around in the whole world. It comes up and then it goes down, but it always seems to come up again ... It is slippery and can be used to justify right wing political causes and left wing political causes.”

During the question and answer portion of the event, one student brought up the shooting in Hanover last Friday night, asking the panelists how they recommended students remain strong in the face of violence both on campus and in the world, though soon the focus of audience members’ questions shifted to Hanlon’s campus-wide email after the Pittsburgh shooting.

“It was generic, weak and watered down,” anthropology and Native American studies professor Sergei Kan said to Hanlon. “There was a number of us students and faculty who were disappointed.”

Hanlon acknowledged that though the email was not perfect, it was sent “with good intentions.”

“There have been little incidents all over Dartmouth’s campus that have been very anti-Semitic … that is why that email hit me so hard and frustrated me so much,” Brontë Jenkins ’20 said. “Jews weren’t mentioned. Anti-Semitism wasn’t mentioned. I had so many friends [who] were completely oblivious to what had happened. On this campus in particular, anti-Semitism is perpetuated by ignorance.”

After the event, Jenkins said in an interview with The Dartmouth that she thought the discussion was “much needed.”

“Had the email addressed what had happened, I don’t know if this event would have occurred,” she said. “In part, I think it was [Hanlon] trying to make up for the email.”

The event gave Jewish community members a space to voice their opinions and address Hanlon directly, Jenkins added.

“The fact that [Hanlon] was here and willing to engage with the community sends a very strong message,” Gray said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

The event gave everyone in the room “a sense of fellowship in being together with one another and the community,” Heschel said.

Dan Korff-Korn ’19 said although the panel discussion was productive for starting a conversation, he hopes community members will “actually continue doing the work that they say needs to be done.”

“This moment needs to be an impetus for students to lead,” Gray said. “When students lead, great things happen.”

Hanlon declined requests for comment.