Some people might react with skepticism when told that when examining college campuses in the United States, there has been a noticeable resurgence of anti-Semitic incidents, but the trend exists regardless. The Brandeis Center has compiled this list of facts that may surprise some about campus anti-Semitism.
1. High Volume of Incidents in the Last Decade-
Anti-Semitism might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about bias incidents on college campuses, but in fact, according to Aryeh Weinberg’s findings, over 40% of Jewish students report experiencing or being aware of anti-Semitism on their college campus. During a study on anti-Semitism on college campuses, the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise discovered an even higher amount, that “78% of Jewish students report witnessing or personally experiencing anti-Semitism.” The truly frightening outcome of this rise of anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism is the impact in the classroom, stemming from professors. As Weinberg puts it, “the academic experience of students is being impacted by anti-Israel activism on campus.”
2. The Diversity of Anti-Semitic Incidents-
Anti-Semitic incidents take on many shapes and forms, ranging from direct physical confrontation to verbal abuse to property vandalism. At UC Irvine since the early 2000s, Jews have been verbally ridiculed with neo-Nazi slurs, confronted with threats to physical violence if they did not remove their Star of David necklaces, and a Holocaust Memorial was defaced with a swastika. At UC Berkeley, one of the top universities in the nation, Jessica Felber was taking part in a counter-protest to an anti-Israel demonstration when she was rammed with a shopping cart by one of the anti-Israel protestors. These incidents represent the seeming extremes of what occurs on college campuses, but other forms of anti-Semitism occur as well, such as academic biases from professors in classes dealing with Middle Eastern topics. This type of incident has happened at Columbia University, as shown in the 2004 film Columbia Unbecoming.
3. Failure of College and University Administrations to Take a Stand-
Many college and university administrations do not respond to anti-Semitic incidents in a formal statement and if they do, it is typically in vague language that is too general and unhelpful like broadly speaking to issues involving “diversity” or “tolerance”. Even more often, statements are put out involving responses to racist and prejudiced actions against other groups in society, such as African-Americans or LGBTQ, but very few statements condemn anti-Semitism directly. This trend leads to Jewish students perceiving a lack of support from the administrations of their colleges, something that directly affects their willingness to speak out about their own experiences and encounters with anti-Semitism.
4. The Abuse of Academic Freedom-
One byproduct of the growing trend of anti-Semitic incidents on campus is a wider shield of academic freedom protecting biased professors and scholars. While academics are entitled to their own opinions, there are an increasing number of reports pointing to professors attempting to indoctrinate students in their class. Again, this type of abuse is documented in Columbia Unbecoming. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed in 2006 that “many university departments of Middle East studies provide one-sided, highly polemical academic presentations and some may repress legitimate debate concerning Israel.” There exists an even higher degree of conflict when thinking about the constitutional right to freedom of speech. In many situations of the abuse of academic freedom, the culprit is an intimidation on defending an opinion or belittling a point of view. The Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) have released an informative statement detailing the different forms of this abuse, such as hostile environments and silencing students, and how to combat them, through administrative policy.
5. The Complicated Ways Israel is Sometimes Involved-
The fight against anti-Semitism is not undertaken to fight against anti-Israel thought. In fact, it would be a poor way to do so. There is a distinct difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. To put it basically, one is hatred toward a cultural background, while one is hatred toward political actions. That being said, at times, these terms are used interchangeably, sometimes incorrectly, and at other times, one influences the other. Aryeh Weinberg found that “nearly one-third of Jewish students agree that anti-Israel protest targets Jews.” Anti-Israel sentiment can irrationally lead to anti-Semitic actions and incidents, but trying to fix one in order to fix the other would not be efficient, nor is it the point of trying to decrease anti-Semitism. The fight against anti-Semitism is simple, as put by LDB President Kenneth Marcus in an article for the Jerusalem Post: The fight against anti-Semitism must be fought because “anti-Semitism is evil, and it must be defeated. If the 20th century taught us anything, it is that Jew-hatred cannot be allowed to fester.”
6. Reluctance of Jewish Students to Come Forward-
Many Jewish students fear that there will be adverse reactions to coming forward with issues of anti-Semitism that they face. In recent years, with the advent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), campus sentiment is radically altered against Jews, despite the failure of divestment campaigns. Moreover, as LDB Center President Kenneth Marcus discovered at UC Irvine, “the leaders of Irvine’s student Jewish organizations told [him] that they had become ‘numb’ to the hatred of Jews that surrounded them… They realized that their complaints were going nowhere. They had wearied of fighting back against people who despised them” (Tobin, xxx). Other Jewish students prefer to fly under the radar, afraid to speak out or simply ambivalent to issues that affect their fellow Jews. The underlying issue that is incredibly pertinent to address and what the Brandeis Center works to remedy, comes from the United States Commission on Civil Rights in their 2006 findings on Campus Anti-Semitism. They found that “many college students do not know what rights and protections they have against anti-Semitic behavior.” When confronted with what they perceive as anti-Semitism, students might not know how to go about fixing it or who to talk to about it, but the Brandeis Center has numerous resources available for students, such as a guide to Best Practices for Combating Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelis. If you have any questions about this, please feel free to contact Brandeis Center lawyers to talk to about any incidents on your campus.
7. Advocates for the Jewish People are Sometimes Abused-
It is no surprise that some Jewish students do not want to directly combat issues of anti-Semitism. One need only examine incidents where advocates for Jews are abused, such as the case with Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, who became a target for her public stance against on-campus anti-Semitism. After giving a speech in which she alluded to members of anti-Israel groups having connections to terrorist organizations, Rossman-Benjamin was “branded a purveyor of hate speech and Islamophobia precisely because she attempted to expose hate speech which her accusers would prefer to shield from scrutiny.” The LDB Center and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East joined in a statement defending Rossman-Benjamin and calling attention to her cause.
8. Resistance from Some Civil Rights Organizations-
In May of 2013, multiple civil rights organizations, such as the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Lawyers Guild, and the Jewish Voice for Peace, sent a letter to the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education (OCR), arguing that claims of verbal anti-Semitism on University of California campuses were exaggerated and investigating them would violate constitutional rights, such as the freedom of speech. These counter-accusations completely miss the point of the claims filed at OCR, which is that Jewish students are feeling like they have to closet their social identity to be safe on their campus. By taking the side of denying that incidents of anti-Semitism happen and hiding behind an argument of free speech, these organizations are on the wrong side of this argument, ignoring the heart of the matter, that students are feeling unsafe on campus. If a college student cannot feel confident projecting their identity while they on campus, there is a serious problem.
9. Lack of Unity within the Jewish Community-
Surprisingly, there has been a sense of division within Jewish communities on various college campuses, particularly toward outside groups that try to help fix anti-Semitic issues. Some Jewish groups want more aggressive action to be taken, while others are unwilling to rock the boat with accusations or legal action. As the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism discovered, “Some major Jewish organizations feel that engagement is preferable to confrontation” (25), but engagement does not always lead to sufficient changes. Overall, the ones who are the most unafraid of negative consequences are the ones who are strongest in the fight against campus anti-Semitism.
10. The Need for More Resources-
All of these surprises point to one conclusion: more resources are needed on college campuses to combat the rise of anti-Semitism. Whatever these resources are, whether it is a stricter policy on intolerance that specifically defines anti-Semitism, or stricter responses from administrations to incidents, whether merely on campus or in the classroom. LDB works to increase resources available to students, from civil rights consulting to filing claims under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with OCR. While students might not know where to turn to for help on campus, the LDB provides off-campus help in the face of anti-Semitism. The Brandeis Center is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit organization, which relies on community support to continue its campaign against campus anti-Semitism.