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Boston professor under fire for classroom Nazi salute

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(A7) A professor at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts has been accused of antisemitic classroom behavior from an incident that occurred in the fall 2021 semester, the Berkeley Beacon reported.

Visual and media arts professor Brian McNeil, told the news outlet that his actions could have been “perceived the wrong way” when he allegedly made a Nazi salute during his History of Photography lecture.

The incident was posted to Instagram by the JewishOnCampus organization, who quoted a student from the class saying, “While going over the answers to a quiz, my professor randomly asked me to say something in German. This caught me off guard, so I said no. He proceeded to say something in German to me for whatever reason, and then did the Hitler salute at me and the other Jews in my class. This isn’t the first time he had done or said something ignorant in class.”

McNeil told the Beacon that his actions were an attempt to parody antisemitism.

“It was perceived as me making fun of Jews, but I wasn’t,” he said. “I was making fun of Nazis. It was an anti-Nazi, sarcastic moment that I had done.”

The incident happened while McNeil was reviewing a quiz in class that dealt with 20th century German photography.

Allegedly, after asking the Jewish student mentioned in the JewishOnCampus social media post if they knew the German word for a photography term, McNeil made the offensive Nazi gesture.

“Because it’s all about perception, perhaps [a Jewish student] thought that I was singling them out. But I don’t remember doing that,” McNeil said.

McNeil said that a quiz question involving German photographer August Sander’s Weimar-era photo series “Face of Our Time” led him to his actions.

“This is when I raised my hand and sarcastically imitated a Nazi,” McNeil said. He added that the salute was an attempt to satirize the Nazi regime’s view of Sanders’s work.

The president of Emerson Hillel, Jordana Meltzer, said she was “disgusted and shocked” upon learning of the incident.

“I hope that [the administration] can actually figure out what happened and go through the whole case without dropping it because putting it in the priority and taking whatever steps further to see what needs to be done [is important],” Meltzer said.

Peggy Shukur, the deputy regional director of the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, told the news outlet that while the professor didn’t intend to offend anyone, the “ impact of using a Nazi symbol on Jewish students and probably many more who have been victims, or who have had family members that were victims of the Nazis – that’s really what we should center here.”

“With all due respect to the role of humor in the classroom, this particular area of Nazis, swastikas, and those sorts of symbols are so deeply serious and impactful to so many communities that we really ask that people be thoughtful before making light of them,” she said.

Emerson is reportedly investigating the incident.

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