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Students on the front lines

As this school year commences, Jewish and pro-Israel college students deserve a safer and more welcoming campus environment than most universities will provide them.

Antisemitic fliers found on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, January 2023.
Antisemitic fliers found on the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, January 2023.
Dan Schnur
Dan Schnur
Dan Schnur is the U.S. politics editor for the Jewish Journal.

Most of us never have to deal with antisemitic activists protesting outside our homes or harassing us at our jobs. We can make a conscious decision to face our opponents at rallies or protests or in other public settings, but we almost never enter into these types of confrontational in-person encounters unless we deliberately choose to do so. 

But as colleges and universities across the country begin their fall semesters, brave pro-Israel students will face that challenge very day. Most noticeably—and most offensively—the pro-Palestinian provocateurs who have set up shop on our children’s college campuses will deliberately bait them into a series of high-profile confrontations for which there is no clear path to an appropriate response. 

If Jews and other pro-Israel voices push back against the lies and hatred directed at our community and the Jewish homeland, we provide our antagonists with an even more visible platform. Worse, a public altercation reinforces the perception of Jewish power and influence, as the presence of well-meaning political and community leaders standing on Israel’s behalf elicits predictable bleating from the conspiracy-minded about the influence of the “Jewish lobby.” 

The alternative, though, may be even worse, as failing to push back allows the worst of the anti-Zionists and antisemites a free pass to peddle slurs and slanders to a young and impressionable audience. This leads to a less visible but even more vexing challenge for pro-Israel students, as leaders of other progressive campus organizations—working on behalf of issues completely unrelated to Middle Eastern geopolitics—are increasingly likely to ostracize and exclude students who do stand up for the safety of the Jewish state and its people.

Jewish students quickly learn that a Star of David around their neck or Hebrew words on a T-shirt will often label them as unwelcome outsiders if they attempt to work with other minority community groups, advocate for immigration reform or marriage equality, or involve themselves on behalf of any number of left-leaning domestic policy causes. Some of these young people stand up for their religion and their homeland, but must then sacrifice other types of campus involvement. Others decide to quietly distance themselves from their heritage so they can fit in more comfortably with their secular peers. Either choice is a tragic one, as our daughters and sons are forced to choose which valuable part of their identity to sacrifice.

This menace is getting worse. The ADL reports that antisemitic incidents increased on college campuses by more than 40% last year, meaning that such acts of bigotry occur roughly every day that classes are in session. University administrators have become somewhat more willing to hold accountable those responsible for the more overt and pernicious examples of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish hatred. But the “From the River to the Sea” and the “Jews Will Not Replace Us” epithets are the simpler cases. When a Jewish student is quietly shunned from a campus group because of their refusal to renounce Israel, the wrongdoing can be more difficult to identify and the path toward resolution is far murkier.

But even while we support and applaud those courageous young people, many in the Jewish community have come to view the campus battle lines as something far removed from our own lives. While the rest of us can retreat to the safety of our homes, our offices and our country clubs, we send these teenagers and twentysomethings onto the front lines to stand up to a highly professionalized and lavishly funded group of anti-Zionists and antisemites.

As this school year commences, Jewish and pro-Israel college students deserve a safer and more welcoming campus environment than most universities will provide them. Until this solution arrives, the least we can do is to provide a more effective and more effectively coordinated support system that helps these young people confront the challenge they face every day. Otherwise, our children will continue to be forced to navigate campuses where enduring anti-Zionist and antisemitic sentiment has become a necessary price to pay in exchange for their college education. They deserve better.

Originally published by the Jewish Journal.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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