Lesson
Duration:
1 class period

Contemporary Antisemitism and Youth

Essential Questions

  • What is contemporary antisemitism, and how is it visible in the world today?
  • What are some of the effects of antisemitism?
  • How have young people stood up and spoken out against antisemitism?

Overview

This lesson explores antisemitism among youth. It draws on recent research on antisemitism and focuses on two examples: a student who spoke up against antisemitism at the University of Birmingham (UK) and then was attacked online, as well as a young man in Sweden who is committed to standing up against antisemitism and xenophobia.

Learning Goals

  • Students will be able to define antisemitism.
  • Students will understand the persistence of antisemitism and ways that contemporary antisemitism is manifested online and on university campuses.
  • Students will be able to identify ways that they can play a role in creating inclusive, civil classrooms and communities.

Context

Antisemitism is an ancient hatred that has persisted for centuries. It is also a contemporary hatred and form of prejudice, and reported incidents of antisemitism are increasing. In its May 2016 report, the UK’s Community Service Trust “shows that last year saw the third-highest annual total of antisemitic hate incidents in the UK. CST recorded 924 antisemitic incidents nationwide during 2015.”1 And the organization reports that “the first six months of 2016 saw an 11 percent increase in antisemitic hate incidents recorded in the UK compared to the same period in 2015.”2 

In France, according to Human Rights First, “antisemitic incidents are on the rise . . . yet underreported and inadequately researched. The number of reported antisemitic hate crimes more than doubled in 2014 from the previous year, and they account for a disproportionate number of all bias-motivated incidents.” Furthermore, the number of reported incidents represents just a fraction of all occurrences. According to data from a 2012 survey by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, “82 percent of respondents said that they did not report to anyone the most serious incident of antisemitic discrimination that they had experienced in the past 12 months.”3

In their report, Human Rights First and other individuals and organizations monitoring antisemitism in France have said that comparisons to the 1930s are not apt. European states, for example, are not actively supporting and implementing antisemitism: 

Nonetheless, antisemitism is a grave threat to human rights, and its resurgence in France should be of great concern to the French government and its allies, including the United States. 

Antisemitic violence harms not only its direct victims but entire Jewish communities, preventing them from being able to exercise their fundamental rights. And the potential damage is even greater: Left unchecked, antisemitism leads to the persecution of other minorities, and to an overall increase in repression and intolerance. An increase in antisemitism is a harbinger of societal breakdown.4 

Izzy Lenga is a university student in England. Last year, she saw some posters on her campus that read “Hitler was right.” Izzy took a photograph of one of the posters and shared it on Twitter with the message, “And for those who don’t think anti-Semitism is a serious issue, these were plastered over campus on Tues.” Almost immediately, people responded to her tweet—with antisemitic comments and threats, including “Another oven magnet crying about a piece of paper again?” and “I bet you put this up yourself, you just want more victim points.” People also responded with both moral outrage and compassion. Izzy’s story was picked up by several journalists and policymakers as well as everyday people who used social media to express their support for Izzy.

Talking to reporters who covered the story, Izzy said that she was afraid for her safety. She also said that it was not the first time that she saw antisemitic or Islamophobic graffiti on campus, and she was worried that the hate-filled responses she got for speaking out would prevent other students from speaking out when they witnessed hatred and prejudice on campus. At the same time, she was encouraged by the support she received, and she believed that she needed to speak up and not be silenced. 

Materials

Activities

  1. Contract for Civil Dialogue
    Begin by reviewing your classroom contract. Agree that your discussion will remain civil and respectful, and consider what that looks and sounds like in your classroom.

  2. Read A Young Muslim Stands Up to Hate 

    • As students read Siavosh Derakhti’s story, have them circle a word or image that stood out to them and then spend a few minutes journaling about what stood out to them in the story. As a class, discuss students’ responses.
    • Have students make identity charts for Derakhti in their journals. Identity charts are graphic tools that help students consider the many factors that shape who we are as individuals and as communities. Have them share their identity charts with a partner. 
    • Explore why Derakhti chose to stand up against hatred, specifically antisemitism and xenophobia. Introduce the concept of "universe of obligation" by either summarizing the Universe of Obligation reading or sharing it with students. Then, as a class, create Derakhti’s universe of obligation using the Universe of Obligation handout as a model.
    • Have students revisit their journal entries about Derakhti. What does his story make them think about their own universe of obligation and the choices they make in the face of intolerance? How can his work inform the development of more civil societies?
  3. Read Responses to Antisemitism Online

    • Use the Think, Pair, Share teaching strategy to explore Izzy Lenga’s story. After reading, ask students to respond to these prompts in their journals: 
      • How does antisemitism affect Izzy? How does it affect others in her community?
      • Based on this reading, develop a working definition of antisemitism, using your own words.
      • In pairs, have students share their journal reflections. Then, as a class, discuss Izzy’s story and make an identity chart for Izzy as part of your discussion of what happened in the reading.
    • What role does social media play in this story? Have students consider their own classroom, your contract, and other efforts to make the classroom safe, reflective, and civil. How do we extend these practices and contribute to creating a culture of civility online? on campuses?
    • Share the quotation from Human Rights First included in the context section above. What do they mean when they say an increase in antisemitsm is a “harbinger of societal breakdown”? Broadly, what does the presence of antisemitism reveal about the state of civil society?
  4. Read Antisemitism on US Campuses

    • Ask students to read the first paragraph of the article and underline words and phrases that help them understand the authors’ definition of antisemitism. Have students consider how this might contribute to your working definition. 
    • Now ask students to read the rest of the article, in which the authors discuss their research. Ask students to highlight three things they learned from this research. How does this research connect to Izzy Lenga’s experience? How does it extend their understanding of what antisemitism is like on college campuses? 
    • Create small groups. For each group, ask students to select the two most important things they learned from the research. Guiding questions include:
      • Why do the authors believe antisemitism persists and often goes unacknowledged and unaddressed? 
      • The authors note that Jews are likely to be most aware of antisemitism and most able to recognize it. This is true of other groups who have experienced discrimination or hatred based on their identity. How can individuals from other groups gain greater literacy and understanding of antisemitism so that the burden does not fall on Jews to point it out and prove it? 
  5. Choose to Participate
    Using the readings and discussions from this lesson, come together as a class to discuss ideas for concrete actions that can be taken to address contemporary antisemitism and other forms of hatred. What are some ways that students can participate in making their communities (such as their school and their social media networks) more civil? Revisit the classroom contract. Are there amendments students would like to make based on what they have learned? 
     

Sources & Notes

[1] “CST Antisemitic Incidents Report 2015 published today,” CST Website (February 4, 2016), accessed August 23, 2016.

[2] “CST Antisemitic Incidents Report January–June 2016 published today,” CST Website (August 4, 2016), accessed August 23, 2016.

[3] “Breaking the Cycle of Violence,” Human Rights First website (January 7, 2016), accessed August 23, 2016, p. 6.

[4] “Breaking the Cycle of Violence,” Human Rights First website (January 7, 2016), accessed August 23, 2016, p. 1.

Search Our Collection

Everything you need to get started teaching your students about racism, antisemitism and prejudice.