Jewish Studies professor Gerald Steinacher
UNL professor Gerald Steinacher has worked with UNLPD to make sure his students are safe in class while learning about the Holocaust.

As the number of anti-Semitic occurrences increases around the globe, professors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have changed their curriculums to educate students about the growth of anti-Semitism.

“If someone is going to slur Jews, to make accusations against Jews, it’s my job as a Jewish historian to speak up about it and address things. Things that are misapprehensions or that are actual outright lies,” Judaic Studies Professor Stephen Burnett said.

Judaic studies professors Gerald Steinacher, Stephen Burnett and political science professor Ari Kohen have not made teaching about anti-Semitism a priority in a majority of classes relating to Jewish history.

With attacks on the rise and the topic making its way into the political spectrum, professors have found the need to make it a more significant focus in their curriculum according to Jewish Studies professor Stephen Burnett.

A few years ago, before the increase in anti-Semitic attacks, some professors had reservations about teaching students about the history of anti-Semitism.

“I actually was wondering for a while whether talking about the history of anti-Semitism, talking about the Nazis and the Jews, talking about earlier forms of anti-Semitism was in some way keeping it alive,” Burnett said.

Burnett’s belief changed after the ‘Unite the Right Rally’ an event conducted by a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, which took place from Aug. 11 to 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The protestors yelled anti-Semitic tropes such as “the Jews will not take over.”

In the past, most students did not know about the presence of anti-Semitism and its history.

“I really had the impression that students 8 or 9 years ago had very little idea of anti-Semitism. For most students, this was very abstract,” professor Gerald Steinacher said. “Now, in the last two to three years teaching the class about six years later, I don’t have to explain to students what anti-Semitism is because it’s happening. If they follow the news, they hear about anti-Semitic incidents.”

A focus of anti-Semitism education is teaching students about the inaccuracy of conspiracy theories regarding the Jewish people, which promote anti-Semitism, like George Soros controlling the media or the Rothschild family attempting to dominate the world.

“You have to have education. You need to teach people,” said Ari Kohen, a political science professor who teaches a class about Israel and the Middle East. “Young people, especially, you need to educate them about the fact of where these conspiracy theories come from that they are conspiracy theories that they are not in fact the truth about Jewish people. They are very damaging things. That kind of education takes a long time.”

Professors have worried about the protection of their students in classes. Steinacher works with campus police to make sure his students are safe and do not have to worry about their safety while taking his class about the history of the Holocaust.

“It’s just a common sense thing to do, given the current situation you need to be aware of it, more alarmed of it, you need to keep people informed who are working security and guarantee the students’ safety is guaranteed on campus,” he said.

It is impossible to prevent all anti-Semitism even with education. There are still ways to combat anti-Semitism.

Kohen said he believes that anti-Semitism has become a political weapon used to gain.

“The Republicans say the Democrats are the anti-Semites, and the Democrats say the Republicans are the real anti-Semites. That ultimately is bad for the Jews. Anti-Semitism is a problem on the left and the right,“ Kohen said.

Without a change in the public perception of anti-Semitism, violence will continue to rise, Kohen said. The acceptance of anti-Semitism cannot continue, according to Kohen.

“There has to be no room for that kind of belief system,” Kohen said. “There has to be no winking at anti-Semitism. We see a lot of winking at anti-Semitism and that’s a mess.”

I am a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, graduating in May of 2020 with a degree in Journalism and minors in English and Jewish Studies. My writing interests include Middle East politics and mental health.