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USC students attend an evening vigil on campus in support of Israel. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Batya Ungar-Sargon: The Antisemites Scream. And I Stiffen My Spine.

The worst thing that could come out of this moment would be for Jews to embrace the victimhood narrative.

About a week after the October 7 massacre, I passed a large group of people in an airport who were waiting to check in for a flight to Cairo. One of the women ostentatiously clocked the Jewish star I wear around my neck and started whispering with her compatriots. As I walked by, she shouted at me, “Palestine will be free!” 

I chuckled as I walked to my gate, thinking, Not if Egypt has anything to say about it.

Before October 7, I would have considered this whole scene to be wildly offensive. A stranger shouting an anti-Israel slogan at me, holding me responsible for the actions of the Israeli government simply because I am a Jew. 

But in the post–October 7 world, I had a different reaction: let her scream. 

It’s uncomfortable to be barked at by strangers. It’s not pleasant to find out that your classmates will not condemn the murder of your people, or to hear thousands of them gleefully chanting the slogans of a genocidal death cult committed to your erasure from this planet. It’s unsettling to know that your peers have adopted a worldview that allows them to convince themselves that you are the bad guy, you are the privileged monster who wants babies to burn—even as they justify and celebrate the burning of Jewish babies.

It is scary to realize that the same administration that “protects” your fellow students from every perceived slight and insult will side with them against you as they literally call for your annihilation. It can be deeply isolating to open social media and see post after post calling your people the perpetrators of the exact forms of murderous violence that was done to them not three weeks earlier. And it is maddening to watch those who hate us and wish violence upon us fashion themselves as victims—even as heroes.

But that feeling you get when you are facing those things down, that quickening of your heart rate, the flush on your face, the chill down the spine—these unpleasant sensations are what courage feels like. They are the physical symptoms of a moral compass that works, the manifestations of pride in who you are, of the fact that despite millennia of calls for our murder, we’re still here. You’re still here.

Treasure those feelings. Do not cower. Do not tremble.

I’m not suggesting you put yourself in actual danger. The assaults on Jewish students at Harvard and UMass are crimes and should be prosecuted as such. On Sunday, 69-year-old Paul Kessler dared wave an Israeli flag on a Thousand Oaks street corner and died after being assaulted. His murderer should spend his life behind bars.

But the worst thing that could come out of this moment would be for Jews, especially Jews on campus, to embrace the victimhood narrative that their peers subscribe to—and that universities large and small have reified in sprawling DEI bureaucracies. That worldview is a large part of what has brought us to this moment.

So do not cast your lot as a competitor in the oppression Olympics. Instead, reject that entire way of looking at the world.

Here’s the thing: it’s good to be unpopular with a mob whose worldview has done away with the concept of right and wrong and decided, with a Nazi-like commitment to racial ideology, that you are Jewish and therefore you are white and therefore you are bad. It is good to be unpopular with people who spent the weeks after October 7 on the hunt for Jewish exaggeration, Jewish lies, Jewish crimes. It is good to be unpopular with people who cannot separate evil from power and virtue from skin color. (Unpopularity, for now, is your fate, unless you are willing to cosign your own humiliation and join the left’s token “good Jews” who advocate against Zionism from the comfort of the diaspora for plaudits from the Squad.) We don’t answer to them; we answer to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Rock of Israel and its Redeemer.

The good news is that it may not feel like it, but this country is on your side. College students are in one of vanishingly few spaces in America that sides with Hamas. Your professors will live and die in irrelevance, signing their names to their silly little letters and coming up with new jargon with which to defend terrorism while nurturing their grandiose hero complexes. Most of your peers will grow up and abandon their radical chic commitments. The progressive movement has taken a big hit, having shown its true colors to a nation that knows what is good and what is right, that can separate barbarism from civilization. 

But for now, remember this: to be a Jew is to refuse to kneel and refuse to bow. The stakes of standing upright have never been clearer than they are today, in this post–October 7 world. It’s good to have these people as your enemies, because the world will always have people who oppose what’s right and what’s good, and it is our destiny to fight them. Do it with pride.

Batya Ungar-Sargon is the deputy opinion editor of Newsweek. Follow her on X @bungarsargon. And read her last piece for The Free Press, “The January 6 Hearings Changed My Mind.”

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