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How Much Campus Anti-Semitism?

The Brandeis Brief

January 2013
When it comes to anti-Semitism on college campuses, we can all agree on one thing:  Any amount is too much.  But how much is there really?  On that question the consensus dissolves.  One sticking point is over what counts as anti-Semitic, especially when Israel is involved.  But that is only part of the debate.  The subtext is that one side suspects that Jewish advocates are making too much of a few isolated incidents.  The other side suspects that non-Jews (and even some Jews) are taking a serious problem too lightly.  The Brandeis Center has argued against both positions explaining why alarmism and quietism are both equally problematic.  But that still leaves us with the fundamental question: how much campus anti-Semitism is there?

In 2011, the AICE/TIP survey found that a whopping 78% of Jewish students at American colleges report witnessing (66%) or personally experiencing (46%) anti-Semitism.  The survey’s sponsors at the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE)  and The Israel Projectacknowledge that their eye-catching numbers are significantly higher than what others have found.  Later in 2011, the Institute for Jewish & Community Research issued a report finding that that 43% of Jewish students report that they are aware of anti-Semitism on their campuses (while only 11% of non-Jewish students think that anti-Semitism is a problem).  When IJCR asked more specific questions, 69% report hearing offensive jokes, 63% report hearing comments about Jewish greed, and 51% report hearing derogatory remarks.  In some respects, it does not matter whether IJCR or AICE/TIP is right.  Either way,  the volume of anti-Semitic events is far higher than most people had realized.

Given these figures, many readers were surprised a few months ago by headlines which announced that ninety-seven percent of North American college campuses report no anti-Israel or anti-Semitic events.  Surprisingly, the source of this data is a report co-authored by Mitchell Bard, Executive Directive of AICE.  Recall that it was AICE that announced just year that 78% of Jewish American students have experienced or witnessed campus anti-Semitism.   It needs to be stressed that Bard’s 2012 report was mostly designed to catalog significant anti-Israel protests, rather than to survey the full range of anti-Semitic incidents that he had covered in 2011.  Many anti-Semitic incidents have nothing to do with the sort of anti-Israel protest activities which the new AICE report addresses.  Moreover, Bard’s 2012 report preceded the significant wave of anti-Israel protests which coincided with Israel’s November Pillar of Defense initiative. 

Commentators have put the new AICE data in context.  Several have explained that the campuses with problematic incidents include many of the largest and most influential North American institutions.  Think Ivy League universities, prestigious liberal arts colleges, and flagship state universities.  Commentators estimate the vast majority of Jewish college students attend one of these institutions.  In a new analysis issued in December, LDB Advisor Aryeh Weinberg (author of the IJCR report) explained that a disproportionate share of the remaining institutions include community colleges and commuter schools.  These institutions have few anti-Israel incidents, because they do not have many outside lectures,  extracurricular activities or political activities of any kind.

It is difficult to resolve the continuing debates over the volume of anti-Semitic or anti-Israel events, but some things are clear.  The volume of incidents is higher than it should be, it varies from place to place, and it is disproportionately high in those institutions which are most likely to attract Jewish students.  There may be relatively quiet periods in which relatively few incidents are reported.   But there are also periods, like November 2012, when that quiet is suddenly ruptured. Those who focus on large-scale anti-Israel protests will unavoidably miss the countless smaller, less public incidents in which Jewish and Israeli students are made to feel personally uncomfortable.  More work needs to be done to quantify the problems which Jewish college students confront.  In the meantime, we need to address those problems which we do find, because even the lowest estimates of the current problem are far too high.


If you are concerned about anti-Semitism on your campus, or if you seek advice about best practices, contact us.

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Research Articles
and Reports
Over 50% of Jewish American college students report that they experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their campuses during the 2013-2014 academic year. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has announced that campus anti-Semitism “is a serious problem which warrants further attention.” Campus anti-Semitism can include subjecting Jewish students to different treatment, harassment, violence or a hostile environment. In some cases, campus anti-Semitism is related to anti-Israel sentiment. In other cases, it is not. For most purposes, we define anti-Semitism according to the U.S. Department of State definition of anti-Semitism. .
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Advisory Board Spotlight

Jonathan A. Vogel, Esq.
Jonathan A. Vogel is a partner in McGuireWoods, where he practices in the areas of government investigations and education law.
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