A Hanukkah menorah is left on a counter of a destroyed house after Hamas attacked this kibbutz on Oct. 7, 2023, near the border of Gaza in Kissufim, Israel.Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Jews around the world lit the first candle of Hanukkah on Thursday evening, to mark the start of their winter celebration commemorating the victory of Judah the Maccabee over the Syrian-Greek overlords in the 2nd century BC. The Maccabees rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem but had only enough oil for one night. A miracle occurred and the oil lasted eight nights — hence, the eight nights of Hanukkah.

The Jewish people this year will observe Hanukkah with heavy hearts. In Israel, Hamas terrorists murdered 1,400 civilians, taking 240 more as hostages, while committing the most inhumane acts during their rampage. I was there on Oct. 7, a witness to the aftermath of the massacre.

In America, pro-Palestinian protestors, a combination of far-left progressives and Muslim American activists, have intimidated, threatened and attacked Jews on university campuses and in the streets of some cities. To be a Zionist is considered monstrous by those whose raison d’être is the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel and the extermination of its Jewish citizens. To them, all Jews are complicit.

Lance Morrow, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has pointed out: “The antisemitism that has poured forth onto the country’s streets and campuses in the autumn of 2023 is a different thing — a reversion to a politics of aggressive, unapologetic hate. The ominous historical regression at work in the latest Jew-hatred takes up the themes of the mid-1930s, the spirit of Hitler’s brown shirts and Kristallnacht. Of course, the new Jew-haters — especially young people on campuses — think of themselves as perfectly virtuous. What is a thousand times worse, they think of their Jew-hatred as righteous. It’s morally fashionable among them.”

Hatred of Jews comes primarily from the far left now, not the far right, as in the past. In Congress, brave liberal Zionists such as Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), among others, should be commended for standing up to their colleagues during this wave of antisemitism.

My America is an extraordinary place whose influence in promoting Western ideals has made the world safer and better. At home, tolerance and acceptance of Jewish Americans dates to the 1600s. Until recently, most Jewish Americans probably felt relatively safe from the antisemitism that had reared its ugly head in Europe and the Middle East. 

I am not Pollyannaish. I have seen and experienced antisemitism. As a teenager, I was attacked outside the Jewish Community House in Brooklyn, New York, by a gang who beat me with sharpened sticks and screamed antisemitic epithets. Last week in Florida, a man looked me in the eye and told me that “everyone knows Jews control the media.” Since Oct. 7,  I have spoken at 10 universities and heard first-hand testimonies from Jewish college students across the country, telling me they’re fearful and that they believe their faculty and college administrators have abandoned them to the mob.

Antisemitism in America didn’t start with the Hamas massacre. The majority of religious hate crimes in the United States, according to FBI statistics, are perpetrated against Jewish Americans. Being Jewish in America is to be a white colonialist, an oppressor, in the eyes of antisemites. Yet many Israeli Jews are people of color from Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Egypt and Morocco, having been expelled in ethnic cleansings from those Islamic lands. That is an inconvenient fact some avoid.

Investor Bill Ackman, a Harvard alum and donor who has written to the university’s president about ways to reduce antisemitism and support for Hamas on campus, asked members of the Harvard faculty about the causes behind the pro-Palestinian protests. One professor said, “Whiteness at Harvard is deemed fundamentally oppressive. … Jews are presented as white people. It is, therefore, OK to hate Israel and Jews, as they are deemed to be oppressors.” Ackman’s conversations with the faculty discussed the school’s Office for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging, for reportedly fostering a dangerous climate on campus.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the House Education Committee chair, invited the presidents of several U.S. universities to Washington this week to discuss the “countless examples of antisemitic demonstrators on college campuses.” She said the administrators “have largely stood by, allowing horrific rhetoric to fester and grow.” According to CBS News, “The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, among other schools, after receiving complaints of alleged antisemitism and Islamophobia.”

Yet this is not a problem confined to college campuses. One of my colleagues is an attorney who fights for women’s rights and against sex trafficking. But she cannot get her women’s rights groups to condemn unconditionally, rather than excuse, the rapes and sexual violence that Hamas terrorists committed against Jewish women. The irony is that the society many progressives so passionately defend is openly homophobic and misogynistic.

When CNN’s Dana Bash asked House Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) about the “widespread use of rape, brutal rape, sexual violence against Israeli women by Hamas,” pointing out that “a lot of progressive women are downright silent on what we saw on Oct. 7,” Jayapal quickly pivoted to condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Are there ways to try to curb antisemitism in America? Yes — here are some examples involving what’s happening at colleges and universities: Congress could withhold federal funding to schools that cannot protect all students under Title VI of the Civil Rights Code. Schools could expel students who support terrorist organizations, and dissolve or change their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) departments that promote discrimination. As Bari Weiss wrote in Tablet, “It’s not about diversity, equity, or inclusion. It is about arrogating power to a movement that threatens not just Jews — but America itself.”

The First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that imparts physical threats against Jewish students or supports terrorism. Brandeis University banned Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) for supporting Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization; the national SJP called the massacre a “historic win for Palestinian resistance.” And Brandeis said, “Hamas support is not protected by university free speech.”

Like Ronald Reagan, I choose to believe America’s best days lie ahead — but that will not come about if America and its elite institutions tolerate vitriolic, vocal antisemitism. The diversity of opinion we need on campuses and in the media is that which promotes a healthy society.

America should adopt and embrace the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which President Biden prioritized in his antisemitism initiative this spring. And although the president courageously called out antisemitism on U.S. campuses as “grotesque,” he has unfortunately allowed the anti-Zionist wing of the Democratic Party to promote that it’s not antisemitic to be in favor of the destruction of Israel “from the river to the sea.” In light of the events of the past two months, the Biden administration should make the IHRA definition the official litmus test for the United States to identify antisemitism.

It’s not easy to demarcate the line between acceptable free speech and unacceptable harassment, but it must be done to a greater extent. Applying the IHRA definition would classify denying the Jewish people’s right to a state, or imposing double standards on Israel that are not demanded of other nations, as antisemitic actions. We cannot fight antisemitism unless we define it.

That is my Hanukkah wish.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network, and Mandel Strategies. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report and is a contributor to the Jerusalem Post.

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