OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Israeli leaders join campus antisemitism fight

With our help, Israel must engage in public diplomacy efforts targeted at American college students and young people.

A view of protesters demonstrating outside the campus of Columbia University in New York City on April 25, 2024. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
A view of protesters demonstrating outside the campus of Columbia University in New York City on April 25, 2024. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
Yasmeen Ohebsion. Credit: Courtesy.
Yasmeen Ohebsion
Yasmeen Ohebsion graduated from Tulane University in May 2024. She is participating in the Olami Student Leader Mission to Israel.

I am one of the American Jewish student leaders who have been fighting antisemitism on campus since long before Oct. 7. As a result, I continue to be a destination for student reports of antisemitism at Tulane University—from which I graduated last month—and other universities around the country.  

The following are just five of the almost five hundred reports I have received since Oct. 7: 

  • A student was “asked to move exam rooms because people in my exam room were uncomfortable taking it next to a Jew.”
  • Another reported “hearing ‘go back to the showers’ as I walk to class.”
  • One said they were “spat on.”
  • A female student recounted, “A man saw my Star of David necklace and said he is going to kill me slowly. This happened right outside the law building.”
  • Another reported “seeing blood from the protest on my way to class.”

The data I collected from over 300 Jewish students showed that before Oct. 7, only 15% of Jewish students had experienced or witnessed antisemitism on campus. After Oct. 7, that number rose to 86%. 

In the wake of the uptick in incidents, we met with the president and provost of Tulane. We used the data we collected to propose a three-pronged plan to combat antisemitism on campus. Although the administrators agreed to the plan, zero implementation followed.

As the school year continued, antisemitism on campus only worsened. I have been called a murderer, a Nazi and a genocidal maniac. I have been told to kill myself. I received several threats, all from peers in my classes, people with whom I’ve shared dorm halls, people I once thought had much in common with me.  

It is clear to me that more is at stake than student safety. These violent incidents and the tidal wave of social media incitement and defamation against Jews and Israel have spread beyond campus. They have weakened the bond between the U.S. and Israel. As a first-generation Iranian-American Jew, I can say with certainty that a strong America-Israel relationship is essential to combatting antisemitism and terrorism.

Thus, Israel needs to work closely with the United States on fighting campus antisemitism and disinformation on social media—disinformation about the Swords of Iron War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli history and society in general.

As part of a mission to Israel with the organization Olami, I recently had the opportunity to advocate for such collaboration before Israeli President Isaac Herzog and members of Knesset. I told them that Israel must engage in public diplomacy efforts targeted at American college students and young people. It must also invest in educational and cultural exchange programs. This will help bridge gaps and build understanding. 

If Israel and the United States want to continue to work closely together on military, economic and diplomatic issues, they must engage students like myself in order to combat antisemitism on campus. They must do so now, before it is too late.

I feel the same obligation to the Jewish people and the State of Israel as the IDF soldiers—some of whom are family members and friends—fighting on the front lines of the war. I will continue to fight with every fiber of my being to protect the future of Diaspora Jewry. I will show up when people call for our extermination and remind them that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and Jews have an obligation to defend ourselves. 

I told President Herzog: I am a commander in your American army fighting the war of hearts and minds. I need Israel’s direct partnership to be effective.

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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