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Defeat campus antisemitism with education

Far too many students, including Jewish students, do not possess sufficient knowledge of antisemitism or how to identify it when they are targeted.

An anti-Israel protest at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Photo by Rachel Cook.
An anti-Israel protest at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Photo by Rachel Cook.
Nati Szczupak
Nati Szczupak
Nati Szczupak is director of the Jewish Agency Campus Israel Fellows.

What can be done to combat and defeat antisemitism on North American college campuses? It is daunting to come up with a concrete plan for doing so, especially when antisemitism is surging amid the fallout from the Israel-Hamas war.

It is less daunting, however, to deal with the task of combating ignorance and indifference. The first step towards doing so is education.

Far too many students, including Jewish students, do not possess sufficient knowledge of antisemitism or how to identify it when they are targeted.

For example, on a Virginia campus, a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow named Dana saw “Ye is right” (referring to antisemitic remarks made by Kanye West) written in a dormitory lobby. When Dana asked a student why the graffiti was not reported to campus authorities, it became clear that the student had no idea that the message was antisemitic. If students cannot identify bigotry, how can they prevent it?

In partnership with Hillel on campuses across the continent, Jewish Agency Israel Fellows substitute curiosity for indifference and education for ignorance. Along with providing students with the opportunity to form a real relationship with the true, authentic Israel, this is the primary task of Jewish Agency Israel Fellows—and why their work is more important than ever.

After providing education on how to recognize antisemitism, Israel Fellows help students regain a sense of safety and confidence. Through building relationships and trust, Fellows create a space where students can share their experiences and report antisemitic incidents to relevant authorities.

When a student on a California campus found antisemitic writing on a whiteboard outside her dorm room, the first person she called was Orit, the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow on her campus. She asked Orit: “Can you please come help me remove the mezuzah from my door?”

Instead of doing so, Orit provided the student with the guidance necessary to understand that the appropriate course of action was to report the incident and urge the campus administration to ensure that Jewish students feel safe making such expressions of religion in their dorms. That is exactly what happened.

In this way, Israel Fellows help Jewish and pro-Israel students feel that they are not alone and are not ostracized by their peers for simply being Jewish or due to their views on Israel.

Education and awareness breed a sense of confidence. With confidence, students can be proactive. They can not only handle challenges but also create opportunities to educate their peers.

Briana, a student on the aforementioned Virginia campus, shared, “Dana [the Israel Fellow] is not afraid to share who she is and where she comes from, and that courage has rubbed off on me and given me confidence and a support system to fight BDS, have uncomfortable conversations and truly embrace diversity on campus.”

While “combating” antisemitism tops the agenda for most Jews and supporters of Israel at the moment, it is also crucial to ensure that students do not miss opportunities to openly and authentically explore their Jewish identity and relationship with Israel. They need to be able to celebrate, explore, ask difficult questions and have meaningful conversations.

Ultimately, most Jewish students are typical college students who want to use their years of study to determine the values and principles that will guide their lives as adults. We need to continue providing them with opportunities to be proudly Jewish, celebrate their history and traditions, and be unapologetically pro-Israel.

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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