On October 7, Hamas invaded Israel and carried out a massacre. There were 1,400 deaths. In addition to Israelis, the terrorists killed citizens from 41 different countries who were there, including Brazil. The episode could have marked a renewal of the anti-Semitic agenda among intellectuals, but it ended up revealing the opposite: at universities, it is enough to disguise anti-Semitism as “defense of the Palestinian people” for it to be accepted.
On October 10, the Central Student Directory (DCE) of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) published a statement on social media. “Note in solidarity with the Palestinian people and civilians victimized by the war”, said the title.
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In the text, the group alleges that Israel, “supported by Bolsonaro”, promotes “murders, arrests, home invasions, land theft and other human rights crimes” against Palestinians. On that day, there was already confirmation of more than a thousand deaths in Israel.
This support has not emerged now. In 2021, when left-wing deputies signed, alongside the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), a manifesto in favor of Hamas, the academic community was not left out. The list of supporters included the Rhetoric Study Group of Power and Resistance (Gerpol), from the University of Brasília (UnB); an anthropology professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN); a professor at the State University of Ceará; and a professor in the economics department at the Federal University of Maranhão (UFMA).
But university anti-Semitism is not exclusive to Brazilians. On October 8, one day after the terrorist invasion, 31 student organizations at Harvard University, in the United States, published a note stating that “the Israeli regime is entirely responsible for all developments in the violence”. They also accused Israel of imposing a regime of apartheid about the Palestinians and said that, “in the coming days, the Palestinians will be forced to bear the full weight of Israel’s violence.”
The note caused reactions. Some businesspeople and institutions decided to end their sponsorship of the university, including the Wexner Foundation. The foundation is run by Leslie Wexner, former CEO of Victoria’s Secrets and son of Russian Jewish immigrants. “We are shocked and disgusted by the disgraceful failure of Harvard leadership to take a clear and unequivocal stance regarding Israel’s barbaric murders of innocent civilians,” Wexner said.
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Others went further and expressed their anti-Semitism directly. This is the case of Fernanda de Melo, a bachelor in international relations and postgraduate student in public policy management at the University of São Paulo (USP).
Confirmed as a speaker in the public class “The Question of Palestine” at USP, Fernanda celebrated the murder of Bruna Valeanu, 24 years old, in Israel. “It was too late,” said Fernanda, about the young Brazilian-Israeli, on Twitter/X. In an interview with the magazine Forumtwo days after the Hamas invasion, Fernanda accused Israel of doing apartheid against the population of Gaza.
The causes of anti-Semitism in the academic environment
On social media, students from different universities in Brazil say that Israel is a “country that does not exist”. Students are sure that those who recognize the State of Israel do so because they have not studied sufficiently. But this is not something new.
“There is a very organized movement against Israel in the media and universities,” says professor
Political scientist Heni Ozi Cukier, former state deputy and professor known as HOC, says that the anti-Israel position of the university left has its roots in Marxism. He, who is also Jewish, explains that the idea of fighting North American “imperialism” also contributes to this, since the United States is Israel’s ally.
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HOC argues that Israel is a country distinct from its Middle Eastern neighbors. “From an economic, democratic and political point of view,” he noted, remembering that Israelis embrace free market capitalism, freedom of expression and tolerance of ideas. This set of values is uncommon in Arab countries.
“Another explanation is pure hatred and anti-Semitism, racism against Jews,” adds HOC. “The combination of prejudice and the idea of ’oppressor’ builds the narrative that Israelis do not need to be helped, do not deserve empathy and consideration.”
HOC claims that leftist movements subjugate Jews, although they claim to defend minorities. “How is there prejudice against a minority?” asked the professor. “That Jews clearly are is indisputable — given the size of the Jewish population spread across the world and the State of Israel, which is very small. But a minority that leftist ideology managed to classify as strong, powerful and oppressor of entire majorities.”
“It’s like the Sleeping Giants, only international”
Igor Sabino, doctor in political science and professor of the international relations course at the Brazilian Institute of Capital Markets (IBMEC) in Belo Horizonte, said that he was the target of ridicule for taking a stand in favor of Israel — when he was still a university student.
“There I understood that there was a very strong, very organized movement that seeks to undermine support for Israel in the media and in universities,” said Sabino.
An example cited by the professor is the Middle East Studies Association (Mesa), or Middle Eastern Studies Association. Based in the United States, the Bureau has resolutions that boycott Israel, according to Sabino.
“When a singer decides to do a show in Israel, they start putting pressure on him not to do that show,” says Sabino. “It’s like Sleeping Giants, only on an international level.” Puma, for example, is being boycotted for sponsoring the Israel Football Team.
When Igor Sabino was a student, he said he was advised by a teacher not to make Israel his object of study in order to be successful in his academic journey. “If you want to pursue an academic career, if you want to study the Middle East, don’t write, don’t research, in principle, about Israel”, advised the professor.
The political scientist recalls that he watched two wars against Israel in 2012 and 2014, when he was graduating, and that all the professors were “openly pro-Palestine”.
Unlike other institutions, at IBMEC, Sabino has the freedom to position himself in favor of Israel without constraints. “I don’t deny my bias, because I think there is no such thing as neutrality when it comes to Israel and Palestine, especially at universities,” says the professor, who is now also content manager for the Brazilian arm of Stand With Us, an educational organization that supports Israel and combats anti-Semitism. “The difference is that I don’t pretend I don’t have bias. I make it clear so that people who consume the content can draw their own conclusions.”
Campaign result: many university students see Jews as “bad people”
Victor Menna, a history graduate and law student at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC), says that his colleagues are shocked that he is a Zionist — that is, he supports the existence of the State of Israel.
He has also heard that it is absurd for someone to have a degree in history and defend Israel. “When you say you’re a Zionist, everyone is a little shocked,” he said. “I think this happens because university students lack knowledge about the issue of Israel and Palestine. The crowd is upset, because I recognize Israel and its right to defend itself.”
Menna said he realizes that many behaviors of left-wing intellectuals are not explicit attacks on the Jewish people, but have an anti-Semitic content when analyzed in their ultimate consequences.
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University culture, according to him, drives students to defend Palestine. Even though there is information about Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, which includes the rape of women, abduction of civilians, massacre and even decapitation of babies, radical defenders “have not made any kind of reinterpretation of the discourse they have in relation to Palestine or to Hamas.”
For Menna, university students romanticize Hamas because they see it as a group that fights against the supposed oppression of Israelis against Palestinians. “Almost no one seriously studies this issue,” she said.
The Jewish student highlights that there are serious people, capable of defending the Palestinian cause responsibly. He warns, however, that there are Nazi students at UFSC, who take advantage of the “pro-Palestine” discourse to spread more anti-Semitism. “No one will openly say that they are a Nazi at university, obviously”, he notes.
The normalization of hatred against Jews
Daniel Korn, a Jew and Brazilian who studies mechanical engineering at Northeastern University, in Boston, in the United States, says that the majority of people in the academic community in which he lives accept hate speech against Jews when it is uttered by Muslims.
But Korn points out that Muslims are not the only ones making anti-Semitic speeches. The university left, for example, also embraced this “cause”.
“People who support Israel receive disrespectful and anti-Semitic responses, with a look of disgust,” says the university student. “They are using this Palestine issue to bring hatred to our religion. And not just against religion, but against the people themselves. I’m not complaining about calling for peace with the Palestinian people, but rather agreeing with Hamas’ actions. And what does Hamas say? Hamas advocates killing all Jews, to take the area of Israel for themselves.”
Korn believes that students defend Hamas because of digital influencers and teachers. “They look at Hamas and think: ‘Wow, they are killing, they are against Israel, but it must be good, because my teacher who is here, teaching me, said it is good,”’ says Korn. “The consequence of this is that they see us as a bad people, a people who don’t deserve to be in power.”
Read also: “The anti-Semitic poison”, article by JR Guzzo published in Edition 187 of Revista Oeste