By: Gilad Menashe  | 

Combatting Anti-Semitism During COVID-19: A Panel With Neil Lazarus and Rudy Rochman

Israel and Jewish rights activists, Neil Lazarus and Rudy Rochman spoke to Yeshiva University students via Zoom on Sunday, Dec. 6, addressing the topic of combating anti-Semitism during COVID-19.

According to his website, Lazarus is an “internationally acclaimed expert in the fields of Middle East politics, public diplomacy and effective communication training… Neil speaks to over 30,000 people a year and his presentations are causing an international sensation.” Rochman is a notable speaker and writer on both Israel and Jewish activism and uses social media as a platform to display his work and spread awareness about the issues he is an activist for. He frequently speaks on college campuses to various organizations and facilitates conversation with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel protesters. According to The Forward, Rochman “founded [Columbia University’s] Students Supporting Israel group where he [served] as president.” Additionally, Rochman “was selected in 2018 as one of The Jewish Week’s 36 Under 36 young leaders for his pro-Israel activism,” per The Jewish Week

The event was organized and hosted by YU’s Israel Club and was moderated by the club’s co-president, Michael Akhavan (YC ‘22). Yeshiva Student Union (YSU), Yeshiva College Student Association (YSCA), Stern College for Women Student Council (SCWSC) and Student Organization of Yeshiva (SOY) sponsored the event. The night began with opening remarks from Lazarus and Rochman, and concluded with questions from Akhavan and the attendees. The panel was a success, with a turnout of over 30 participants.

Lazarus and Rochman both reflected on the issue of the Jewish people historically being targeted as scapegoats, and the extent to which anti-Semitism continues to be a problem. “Anti-Semitism is unique in that it provides the scapegoat for everyone’s cause,” Lazarus noted. He further added, “wherever there is strife, anti-Semitism reemerges.” Rochman agreed with both sentiments, adding that, “the formula for anti-Semitism is finding the source of suffering and pain that a community faces and [then] blaming that on the Jewish people… when it comes to anti-Semitism, it is rising, and we are doing nothing about it.” 

Rochman and Lazarus followed their interpretations as to why anti-Semitism exists by offering practical advice on combatting it. “We have to empower, educate, and expose,” Rochman asserted. “Once we understand the younger generation, we have to be able to speak in a language that communicates a message.” Lazarus added, “If you really want to fight this [anti-Semitism], I think we should be less worried about what they [anti-Semites] are doing, and [be] more worried that people aren’t being attracted to Judaism.”Rochman and Lazarus agreed upon most issues, but gave differing perspectives on their approaches to explaining why anti-Semitism continues to exist. “The reason they’re blaming us for all the problems that exist is not because we’re creating those problems, but because we have the responsibility to fix those problems. And when we fail to do so, there is a subconscious reaction towards the Jews that can’t be explained,” voiced Rochman. Lazarus disagreed with Rochman’s approach, arguing that “at the end of the day it is hatred against the Jews… we don’t need to spend time examining why they hate us.” 

Sunday night’s panel was both Lazarus’s and Rochman’s second appearance at YU, but it was the first time they spoke together at the university. Both Rochman and Lazarus spoke in Feb. 2020 on separate occasions. “I was fortunate enough to help bring both of them to YU separately last semester, but this event having them together was a great combination of two experts in the area,” former Israel Club Board Member Chayim Mahgerefteh (SSSB ‘20) told The Commentator. Akhavan echoed Mahgerefteh’s assessment, adding, “we definitely plan on bringing both Neil and Rudy back to YU the next opportunity we get.”

“Both Rudy and Neil showed incredible passion, almost more than we were expecting. But that passion made this event a success. This event was eye-opening and informative but also packed with practical advice,” Akhavan told The Commentator. “All in all, those who attended left with a more nuanced view… along with a great deal of practical takeaways.” 

The panelists insisted that as representatives of the Jewish people, we must not wait for the issue to become severe to start taking action, but rather start now. As I understand it, this is analogous to an aching tooth. One would comfortably save the tooth if they decide to attend to the issue as it arises, but if they act too late, harsh consequences will result. Similarly, we must work together as a nation now, and our collective actions will make a difference.The key message Lazarus and Rochman wanted to convey to the audience is that the Jewish people have been targeted time and time again for both global and community issues, and the first step towards combating this cancerous form of hate is through empowering and educating ourselves. Ultimately, we need to connect and expose the Jewish people to their culture and identity. The audience who attended, as well as the readers of this article, have hopefully gained key insights regarding these issues, and can now take tangible steps in fighting anti-Semitism.


Photo Caption: Rudy Rochman stresses a key point.
Photo Credit: The Commentator