Anti-Semitism on Campus: Part 1

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Dear Expert,

What is your advice for students who encounter anti-Semitism on campus?

— Age 18

There are many different ways to approach this question. We have asked a professional and a recent student activist to contribute their thoughts. This is one of two responses. Please see response 2 for another perspective.

There is a lot of attention in the Jewish community given to the issue of anti-Semitism on campus. Some claim that campuses are unsafe for Jewish students and that Jewish students are singled out and targeted because of their Jewish identity and/or connection to Israel. While there are certainly challenges that need to be addressed, the reality of Jewish life on campus is that it is thriving and vibrant. We are a far cry away from the days when there were quotas on the number of Jewish students that were admitted into certain colleges and universities. Jewish students today are welcomed into inclusive campus communities where they are not only free to practice their traditions, but can celebrate them through cultural, political, and social activities. Organizations like Hillel, Chabad on Campus, Jewish fraternities and sororities, and pro-Israel organizations, provide an array of outlets for students to get involved in Jewish life. There are so many different opportunities depending on how you identify or what new areas of Jewish life you want to explorereligious, secular, cultural or political. To learn more about Jewish life on campus and what different colleges and universities have to offer, check out Hillel’s College Guide.

That being said, it is also important not to minimize the challenges that do exist around issues of anti-Semitism on campus. According to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) most recent Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents there were over 100 incidents of anti-Semitism on campus in 2016. Keep in mind that there are over 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States, and these numbers represent only a tiny fraction of campuses affected. In the vast majority of these cases, the campus administration responded proactively and appropriately to condemn the anti-Semitism and offer support to the students impacted. The actions of a few do not dictate the overall environment on a campus, and these negative incidents have provided a teachable moment to raise awareness of anti-Semitism and bring the larger campus community together to stand up against hate.

A lot of attention is also given to anti-Israel activity on campus. According to the ADL’s research, there were at least 1,000 anti-Israel events on college and university campuses during the 2014–15 and 2015–16 academic years, including Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns. Like all sovereign nations, Israel’s government, policies, and politicians can be debated and criticized; just read the Israeli press to see this from within Israeli society. But too often on college campuses today, what we see and hear is beyond legitimate criticism. Bias against Israel is seen in campus newspaper editorials, professors’ classroom teaching, and public events on campus—including some sponsored by academic departments. Blatantly biased incidents can include harsh rhetoric and false accusations against Israel and its actions, and in the most extreme cases, this anti-Israel bias can become anti-Semitic. Anti-Israel bias crosses the line into anti-Semitism when:

  • It blames all Jews for the actions of the State of Israel.
  • It singles out Israel in denying the country’s right to exist as a Jewish state and an equal member of the global community.
  • It uses anti-Jewish stereotypes or conspiracy theories to describe Israel, or employs traditional anti-Semitic imagery or comparisons to Nazis.

It is important to note that not all individuals involved in pro-Palestinian activism are anti-Semitic, or even anti-Israel. Many (including some Jewish students) are motivated by a commitment to justice and human rights and may not realize the underlying motivations or implications of the campaigns with which they are getting involved.

So what can you do to address these challenges?

  1. Get the facts.
    Learn about the history of anti-Semitism and Israel. Understand where stereotypes and myths about Jews and Israel come from so that you can counter misinformation with facts. ADL has several resources that may be useful, including Israel: A Guide for Activists and Confronting Anti-Semitism: Myths and Facts.
  2. Find people and organizations on campus to support you.
    You are not alone. There are an array of Jewish organizations on campus that will support you and can provide resources when you face incidents of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias. There may also be professors or academic advisors you can turn to for guidance.
  3. Build alliances with other student groups on campus.
    When anti-Semitic or anti-Israel incidents happen on campus, it is vital that it is not just the Jewish or pro-Israel community speaking out against them. Be proactive in building relationships on campus and get involved in causes that you care about so that you have a strong network of individuals and groups who will support one another.
  4. Utilize resources and programs from off-campus organizations.
    In addition to the resources above, ADL offers a program Words to Action: Empowering Students to Address Anti-Semitism. It is designed to equip college and pre-college students with resources, strategies, and skills to respond to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias so that they can find comfortable responses to handle the challenges they may face on campus or elsewhere in life.

    This column is intended for informational purposes only. See Terms of Use for details.

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