Members of the Western community who have responded to the destruction and vandalism of books in Western’s Jewish Studies Collection have replaced the books and grown the collection, illustrating the community’s resolve against acts of antisemitism and other forms of hate, bigotry and violence, said speakers at a Western Libraries event Tuesday morning.
“Whether campus is your home, or you live in Bellingham or beyond, we are all one community,” said President Sabah Randhawa. “We are united in opposition against these acts of antisemitic vandalism, and against all such acts of hatred and bigotry. This kind of cowardly action perfectly illustrates the nature of hate and bigotry, because it flourishes in darkness and withers when exposed to the light of reason and intellectual scrutiny.”
We are united in opposition against these acts of antisemitic vandalism, and against all such acts of hatred and bigotry.
More than 250 students, faculty, staff and community members crowded into the Wilson Library Reading Room for the event, which was a response to acts of destruction and vandalism of books in Western’s Jewish Studies collection.
“The deliberate destruction of library books, along with hateful slurs written in them, constitutes a reprehensible, criminal act that will not be tolerated,” said Dean of Libraries Mark Greenberg. Tuesday's show of solidarity, along with replacing the books and adding to the collection, show that as a community, “we vigorously oppose acts of bigotry and hate against the Jewish community and against all minoritized and marginalized groups,” Greenberg said.
The destruction of the books was appalling and upsetting, Randhawa said, in part because “this particular activity occurred in our library, the heart of our institution – of any academic institution – and involved the destruction of the very objects of knowledge itself.”
As outlined in last year’s report from Western’s Taskforce on Preventing and Responding to Antisemitism, Randhawa said, all forms of racism, bias and hate are interconnected and must be fought on a united front.
“Democratic institutions and values are not automatically sustained,” he said. “One of the central mandates of education is to examine what it means to be a responsible citizen and to ensure that human values are appreciated, nurtured and protected. Silence and indifference to the suffering of others, or to the infringements of civil rights in any society, can perpetuate these problems.”
More than 120 items have been added thus far, some of them not held by any other library in the state.
German Professor Sandra Alfers, director of the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, said that as someone who grew up in post-war West Germany, the destruction of books “conjures up particularly disturbing ghosts from the past.”
“Thanks to the support of many, our shelves in Wilson Library do not remain empty, and so we have replaced books that were destroyed and added traditional and new formats in written, oral and visual form to enhance our collection,” Alfers said. “More than 120 items have been added thus far, some of them not held by any other library in the state.”
But more work needs to be done, Alfers said. Hate crimes and violence against minority groups are on the rise in the U.S. as islamophobia, antisemitism, anti-immigrant sentiment and Holocaust distortion and denial are becoming more common around the globe.
“Reports can be shelved and forgotten,” Alfers said. “So, commit yourself to being engaged, to actively thoughtfully, and respectfully be building bridges, not walls, and creating much-needed change. To seek knowledge and to apply it. Therein lies your – our – responsibility as we stand up in unity to antisemitism, hate and bigotry.”