Protestor holding "No Tolerance for Anti-Semitism" sign at demonstration
Lesson

Standing Up Against Contemporary Antisemitism

Students to reflect on the consequences of allowing antisemitism to go unchallenged for Jews and for wider society, and explore ways in which they and others can challenge antisemitism. 

Published:

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — UK

Duration

Two 50-min class periods
  • Antisemitism

Overview

About This Lesson

This is the fourth and final lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about contemporary antisemitism in a safe, sensitive and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on antisemitism – how it manifests in contemporary society and its impact – and consider what needs to be done to challenge it.

This two-part lesson is a means of helping students understand the dangers that antisemitism poses to society if it is left unchecked and of helping them reflect on what they can do to stand up against contemporary antisemitism. In the first part of the lesson, students reflect on the dangers that antisemitism poses to human lives, human rights and democracy. Then, in the second part of the lesson, students focus on the act of upstanding, looking at specific antisemitic incidents and considering what could have been done in response and to prevent future incidents from occurring.

To help students understand how to stand up against contemporary antisemitism, they need to understand its present manifestations. Understanding the ways that antisemitism appears in society can mean that they are better equipped to know how to challenge it, in all its forms. 

Some of the content in this two-part lesson can be challenging for students. We recommend that you review your classroom contract and teach the first two lessons of this unit (Introducing Antisemitism and Antisemitic Tropes and Exploring Antisemitic Tropes in Further Depth) if you have not already done so.

  • How is antisemitism visible in the world today and what are its impacts?
  • What are the consequences of leaving antisemitism to thrive unchecked?
  • How can we stand up against antisemitism?
  • Students will understand some of the ways in which antisemitism manifests itself in society.
  • Students will consider the consequences of allowing antisemitism to go unchallenged. 
  • Students will consider how to stand up against contemporary antisemitism.
  • 4 activities in Part I and 4 activities in Part 2 
  • 2 handouts
  • 1 reading
  • 1 video
  • 1 classroom-ready PowerPoint
  • 3 extension activities

As noted previously in this unit, the number of antisemitic incidents recorded in the UK in recent years has been historically high. These incidents have taken the form of verbal and physical attacks, vandalism of property, and abusive messages on social media platforms. This rise in antisemitic incidents should be of concern to us all. If antisemitism is allowed to flourish unchallenged, it puts Jewish lives at risk, paves the way for oppression of other marginalised communities, and threatens the fabric of society. 

As Holocaust survivor Marian Turski notes, 

Democracy hinges on the rights of minorities being protected. 1

When minorities are attacked and denied rights, there is a tear in the social contract, which opens the doors for the rights of everyone to be called into question, for everybody’s rights to be at risk. Martin Niemöller’s famous poem about the Holocaust ‘First they came …’ encapsulates this sentiment. 2

However, it is not only the human rights of Jews – and others – that are put at risk when antisemitism thrives: faith in public institutions and the ability to solve social issues is also placed under threat. 

As the civil rights campaigner Eric Ward notes,

Anti-Semitism isn’t just bigotry toward the Jewish community. It is actually utilizing bigotry toward the Jewish community in order to deconstruct democratic practices, and it does so by framing democracy as a conspiracy rather than a tool of empowerment or a functional tool of governance. 3

Conspiratorial beliefs are damaging not only because they ostracise people who belong to the groups targeted by them, but also because they can prevent people from pushing for needed social change. 

Journalist Yair Rosenberg explains, 

One thing that conspiracy theories do to societies is that they destroy them from within because they teach people that they’re powerless to effect change. And they leave them to be unable to solve their own problems.

What does that – what do I mean by that? Well, if you think that, you know, Jews control politics, if you have a problem in politics, you’re going to go after Jews instead of trying to vote, elect people, do activism, do all the things that could actually solve your problems. If you think that, you know, Jews control the economy, you’re not going to try to solve your economic problems by saving, investing, making better financial decisions. Again, you will go after these invisible Jews. And so societies that buy into the antisemitic conspiracy theory lose the ability to rationally solve their problems and instead become obsessed with phantom solutions and hurting Jews. 4

Antisemitism must be challenged first and foremost because it harms Jews and entire Jewish communities, leaving Jews to live in fear and at risk of attack. Moreover, as highlighted above, when antisemitism is left unchecked, there are additional consequences for everyone in society.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

This lesson has two 50-minute parts. Part one explores the dangers that antisemitism poses to society as a whole and the consequences of letting antisemitism go unchallenged. Part two then focuses on the act of upstanding and what students can do to challenge antisemitism. While we encourage teachers to teach both parts, if you are pushed for time teaching this unit, then you might wish to skip to part two.

In the first part of this lesson, students read a speech by Holocaust survivor Marian Turski in which he discusses the importance of standing up against injustice and the dangers of being a bystander. This speech contains references to the Holocaust and the suffering that Marian Turski himself experienced, which can be emotionally challenging for some students. Please review the text beforehand to decide if all of it is appropriate for your students to read or if it is best to omit some sections. You know the needs of your class best.

When discussing contemporary antisemitism, the Israel-Palestine conflict is deeply relevant: any intensification in the Israel-Palestine conflict leads to an increase in antisemitic attacks (the same is true when it comes to Islamophobia). 1 In the Contemporary Antisemitism Case Studies explored in the second part of the lesson, there is an example of an antisemitic attack linked to Israel-Palestine. If your students want to, or would benefit from discussing this conflict in further depth, please see our suggested approaches on Discussing the Israel-Palestine Conflict in the Classroom.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

Part I

Explain to students that in this lesson they will be reflecting on the dangers that antisemitism poses to society. First, ask them to respond in their journals to the following questions, letting them know that they will not be sharing their responses:

  1. Write about a time when you knew something was wrong or unjust but chose to do nothing about it.
    • What happened? 
    • What choices did you have in that moment? 
    • What made it hard to help in that moment?
  2. Write about a time when you made the choice to try to stop something wrong or unjust from happening. 
    • What happened? 
    • What choices did you have in that moment? 
    • How did it feel?

Inform students that they will be reflecting on the dangers of bystanding by reading a speech from Holocaust survivor Marian Turski. First, if desired, project, dictate, or provide the definitions of the following terms: 

  • Perpetrator – A person carrying out a harmful, illegal, or immoral act.
  • Victim or Target – A person being targeted by the harmful, illegal, or immoral acts of a perpetrator.
  • Bystander – A person who is present but not actively taking part in a situation or event.
  • Upstander – A person speaking or acting in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.

Give students the reading Marian Turski: Auschwitz Memorial Speech. Ask students to follow the text as you read it aloud, underlining anything that stands out to them or that they find troubling. 

Give students the opportunity to have a personal response to Turski’s speech in their journals so that they have space and time to process their thoughts. Use the following questions if desired:

  • What reactions did you have while reading Turski's speech? How did his speech make you feel? 
  • How, if at all, does the fact that Turski is a Holocaust survivor impact how you respond to his warning about the dangers of discrimination?

Next, lead a short class discussion clarifying any queries and fielding questions from the students, before dividing students into groups and asking them to discuss the following questions: 

  1. Why does Marian Turski choose to speak to ‘the generation of [his] daughter, and the generation of [his] grandchildren about themselves’? 
    • What does this suggest about the role that young people play in society? 
  2. What evidence does Turski give that ‘Auschwitz didn’t appear from nowhere’?
    • What have you learnt from this unit that reinforces this statement?
  3. Turski wants his audience to understand how ‘slowly, step by step, day by day’ people can become accustomed to excluding and alienating others who are regarded as different.
    • What does this teach us about the dangers of standing by while people are excluded or oppressed? 
  4. Turski’s statement ‘democracy itself lies in the fact that the rights of minorities must be protected’ has also been translated as ‘Democracy hinges on the rights of minorities being protected’.
    • Why might the rights of minorities need to be protected for something to be a democracy? 
    • If some people’s rights are taken away, what can this mean for the future of the rights of others? 
  5. Why do you think Roman Kent chose to formulate a message reminding people never to be a bystander in the form of an Eleventh Commandment? 
    • Who is at risk when people are bystanders in the face of injustice?

Next, explain to students that others believe antisemitism is not just a threat to democracy because of how it risks the rights of Jews and, by proxy, the rights of everyone, but also because of how some people use antisemitic conspiracy theories to understand the world. 

Share the following text with students:

According to the Journalist Yair Rosenberg, 

One thing that conspiracy theories do to societies is that they destroy them from within because they teach people that they’re powerless to effect change. And they leave them to be unable to solve their own problems.

What does that – what do I mean by that? Well, if you think that, you know, Jews control politics, if you have a problem in politics, you’re going to go after Jews instead of trying to vote, elect people, do activism, do all the things that could actually solve your problems. If you think that, you know, Jews control the economy, you’re not going to try to solve your economic problems by saving, investing, making better financial decisions. Again, you will go after these invisible Jews. And so societies that buy into the antisemitic conspiracy theory lose the ability to rationally solve their problems and instead become obsessed with phantom solutions and hurting Jews. 1

Then, invite students to discuss the following questions in a Think, Pair, Share

  • How would believing in antisemitic conspiracy theories that allege Jews control governments impact the amount of trust people place in governmental bodies and institutions? 
  • What are the potential consequences of this? 
  • Understanding the world through conspiracy theories can divert people away from focusing on the root causes of social issues. What impact can this have? 
  • What do you find most surprising or interesting about Yair Rosenberg’s words?

Ask students to complete a Connect, Extend, Challenge Chart as a final reflection. They might work independently or with a partner to answer the following questions:

  1. Connect: How does the content covered in the lesson connect to what you already know about antisemitism?
  2. Extend: How does the content covered in the lesson extend or broaden your thinking about antisemitism?
  3. Challenge: Does the content covered in the lesson challenge or complicate your understanding of antisemitism? What new questions does it raise for you?

Part II

Explain to students that in this lesson they will be reflecting on contemporary antisemitism, the impact that it has and what steps people can take to counter it. 

First, inform students that they will be looking at a specific case of upstanding on social media that sought to challenge antisemitic attacks against Jews using something called ‘The Echo’. Explain that ‘The Echo’ originated in an alt-right podcast and refers to a cartoonish echo that was played after a Jewish name was spoken. The sound was meant to mock the suffering Jews have been subjected to across millennia. It was later depicted on social media using parentheses. Antisemites posted messages putting parentheses around the names of Jewish social media users, so that they could be easily found using a Chrome extension and targeted for abuse. 

Show students the pictorial representation of ‘The Echo’ on slide 15 of the PowerPoint Standing Up Against Contemporary Antisemitism

Then, ask students to read the following extract from Data Science Research Scholar Susan McGregor’s article ‘Memes, Antisemitism, and The Press’ and to respond to the subsequent questions in their journals:

In early 2016 a set of journalists was targeted with anti-Semitic posts and emails that placed their names inside a set of triple parentheses – a practice soon identified as a textual representation of the “echo” applied to Jewish names within an alt-right podcast. 1 Although intended to intimidate, however, the meme was instead quickly co-opted by Twitter users who added the parentheses to their names in a show of solidarity with those who had been targeted. With that, the parentheses quickly lost their power to intimidate, and instead became a symbol of support for all those who had been targeted.

And while not every anti-Semitic meme can be similarly dismantled, it is a cogent reminder that like all messages of hate, their power persists only to the extent that the rest of us let them go unanswered. 2

  1. What does this example highlight about the benefits and drawbacks of social media?
  2.  What does McGregor mean when she states that the power that messages of hate possess ‘persists only to the extent that the rest of us let them go unanswered’?
  3. What does this teach us about the role we all play in standing up against hate, bigotry and injustice? 
  4. Can you think of an act of solidarity that you have seen and/or experienced? What was it? What impact did it have?  

You might have students discuss their responses using the Think, Pair, Share strategy, or briefly hear a few students’ thoughts as a whole group.

Next, inform students they will watch a video called Anti-Semitism: 2021 likely to be ‘the worst year on record (BBC News) (5:39), and that while they are watching the video, they should take notes on three things they learn about contemporary antisemitism and the impact that antisemitic incidents have on people.  

Then, lead a short class discussion using the following questions:

  1. What did you learn about contemporary antisemitism?
  2. What impact do antisemitic incidents have on people?
  3. In the video, Tom Brada states that one harmful stereotype people hold about Jews is that they are a monolithic group ‘who think, feel and even look the same way’.
    • What impact can this have on how Jews are treated? Why?
    • How might it feel to be viewed as being part of a monolithic group rather than as an individual? Why?
  4. In the video, Tom Brada and Nadine Batchelor-Hunt state that antisemitism is something a lot of people don’t understand. 
    • How can this make it difficult to tackle?
    • What can be done about this? 

Explain to students they will now work in groups to reflect on ways that we as individuals and as a society can respond to antisemitic incidents. Each group will be given a case study to read on an antisemitic incident and will consider what could have been done after the incident to show solidarity with those attacked, and what could be done to prevent future such incidents occurring. Students may find some of the questions difficult as there may not be any quick fix solutions or easy answers, but reflecting on what steps can be taken in order to tackle antisemitism can help students understand what it takes to be an upstander and how we can collectively build a more caring and compassionate society. 

Divide students into groups of four or five and give each group one of the case studies from the handout Contemporary Antisemitism Case Studies

After students have finished discussing the case studies in their groups, invite each group to share the summary of their case study. Then, discuss the following questions as a class:

  1. Is there anything that you found particularly surprising or troubling in the content you read and/or the summaries you heard?
  2. How do you think acts of hate, such as targeted verbal abuse, graffiti or trolling, impact communities? 
    • How could they make it more likely that people will commit violent acts?
  3. How can people challenge antisemitism? What steps can they take to show that they do not tolerate such prejudice, hate and division on the streets and online?
  4. What did reflecting on how we can respond to antisemitic incidents teach you about the acts of upstanding and of showing solidarity with those who are discriminated against? 

Ask students to journal in response to the following questions:

  1. What is one of your key takeaways from having studied this unit on contemporary antisemitism?
  2. What do you think you can do personally to challenge antisemitism?

If there is time, you might invite some students to share their responses from one or both of the questions with the class. 

Extensions

To help students understand how else contemporary antisemitism manifests itself, share one of the following resources: Responses to Antisemitism Online, A Young Upstander Stands Up to Hate and Fan Culture at a Tottenham Match. After having discussed the resource(s), have students complete a Connect, Extend, Challenge activity.

To encourage students to reflect on the pros and cons of upstanding on social media, you might choose to share the reading The Voices of Millions and have students discuss the accompanying connection questions.

Use lessons from our unit Teaching Holocaust and Human Behaviour to help students learn about the consequences of not speaking out against antisemitism. The 15-lesson unit leads students through an examination of the catastrophic period in the twentieth century when Nazi Germany murdered 6 million Jews and millions of other civilians during the Second World War.

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