This past January marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. For Jews around the world, the atrocities of the Holocaust remain burned into our collective souls and memories. To us, the mantra “Never Again” is meaningful because it denotes our recognition that if we do not learn from history, we are destined to repeat it. Without historical context and lessons learned, however, the phrase Never Again is simply a vapid talking point without meaning.
One would think that the one place in which lessons from the study of history would lead to the protection of Jews from anti-Semitic attacks would be the academy. Universities, after all, used to be the place where one would enter in order to learn facts, exchange ideas and seek wisdom and the truth. No longer. Today’s campuses resemble those of pre-World War II Germany in which Nazi propaganda and hate were given birth.
The analogy of pre-war Europe to the world today is not a terribly large stretch. Jews have been demonized and scapegoated for millennia. And so, it was the case in Germany in the 1930s when Jews were blamed for the problems that visited that country after World War I, including economic and social woes, just as many people blame them today by utilizing classic anti-Semitic tropes such as the accusation that Jews control the world — claims even emanating from some Congressional Democrats.
Boycotts of Jewish businesses became commonplace in the lead-up to the Holocaust; today they are all the rage, from Airbnb to Ben & Jerry’s, while calls to divest from investment in Israel have been made across campus faculty and student organizations on a regular basis. Part of never forgetting, however, involves understanding that student organizations at German universities were the breeding ground of Nazi propaganda just as they are the hotbed of Jew-hatred at American universities today.
Almost a century after Hitler employed youth groups to begin his campaign to marginalize, then silence and finally annihilate European Jewry, anti-Semitic student groups are once again given carte blanche to physically assault, intimidate and ostracize Jewish students who are the one demographic in today’s woke world who are not considered a protected minority, notwithstanding the amount of discrimination and vitriol directed at them.
For instance, on campuses with a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, there is a seven-times-greater likelihood of anti-Semitic incidents taking place; SJP has more than 200 chapters across the country. The Muslim Students Association, Jewish Voice for Peace (a group whose voices are actually filled with hate for Israel and its Jewish citizens) and other pro-Palestinian student groups are joined by untold numbers of faculty members and administrators who have united in shutting down the voices of Jews while hiding their hate behind claims of being anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic. That is a distinction without a difference.
Recognition of the dangers that Jewish students face on campus, coupled with the refusal by a Democrat-controlled House to pass the Antisemitism Awareness Act, led to former President Donald Trump’s Executive Order (EO) on anti-Semitism that he signed in December 2019. That order extended the protections under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Jewish students, adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) non-legally binding definition of anti-Semitism (adopted by more than 30 countries globally, including the U.S. State Department) and provided the Department of Education (DOE) with tools to protect Jews on campus, including the capability to withhold federal funding.
After the signing of the EO, the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR), under the leadership of Kenneth Marcus, received numerous complaints leading to investigations and various settlements including with the University of North Carolina and New York University. Unfortunately, since the Biden administration took office and Secretary Miguel Cardona stepped in at the DOE, Trump’s EO has not been enforced and seems largely ignored. That does not bode well for Jewish students as they return to campuses this fall.
Several organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and AMCHA Initiative, have been documenting the frightening increase in incidents of anti-Semitism on America’s college campuses. The numbers are staggering. Since the onset of COVID-19, for which Jews were once again blamed for the woes of the world, and then after May’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, during which Hamas sent more than 4,000 missiles into Israeli cities and compelled Israel to once again defend herself in the face of international condemnation for doing so, the numbers have continued to increase exponentially.
Stories abound of students who are frightened to wear a kippah or Star of David necklace, lest they face physical or verbal abuse when walking through the quad. Zionists are frightened to speak up in classrooms. In fact, a recent survey by Alums for Campus Fairness indicates that 44 percent of Jewish college students and recent graduates say they or someone they know has been physically threatened for being Jewish, 80 percent shared that they were the target of threatening anti-Semitic comments and 95 percent stated that anti-Semitism is a problem on their campuses.
Why then do college administrators ignore the threats to Jewish students entrusted to their care? Why are faculty members permitted to lie to and brainwash unwitting students in their classrooms with propaganda rather than facts, while some threaten to give failing grades to Zionists, as recently occurred at Johns Hopkins University? University administrators are shirking their responsibilities to protect every single student under their care. Sadly, we have learned that until they are forced to take measures, they will continue to deny Jewish students the protection that every other student enjoys on campus.
It is the responsibility of the OCR to enforce the Trump EO, utilize the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to identify Jew-hatred and Israel-bashing that steps over the line of free speech into a breach of civil rights and encourage college administrators to treat Jewish students as they would every other minority on their campuses. Anti-Semitism is a disease, but unlike COVID-19, there is a cure. The DOE holds the power to end the spread of Jew-hatred on college campuses, beginning today. What is stopping the department from doing so?
Lauri B. Regan is the New York chapter president and a board member of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, the treasurer and board member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and the chair of the American Zionist Movement’s Antisemitism, Anti-Zionism and Holocaust Denial Project.