OpinionSchools & Higher Education

Navigating campus climate: Jewish students confront persistent antisemitism and anti-Zionism

While the summer break offers a respite, it is also an opportunity to build stronger, more supportive communities that can withstand and counter the forces of hatred and division.

Palestine solidarity encampment at City College’s North Campus Quad, CUNY, on April 25, 2024. Credit: Luis Yanez/Shutterstock.
Palestine solidarity encampment at City College’s North Campus Quad, CUNY, on April 25, 2024. Credit: Luis Yanez/Shutterstock.
Yuval David. Credit: Courtesy.
Yuval David
Beyond his work as an actor, journalist and social-media influencer, Yuval David is a Jewish activist and adviser. He travels across North America and Israel as a speaker and workshop leader for Jewish and ally communities. He recently returned to Washington, D.C., after a speaking tour and meeting with Oct. 7 survivors, wounded soldiers, families of those killed and international political leaders. See: Instagram.com/Yuval_David_; Twitter.com/YuvalDavid; Linkedin.com/in/yuval-david; YouTube.com/YuvalDavid.

As the academic year winds down across North American colleges, the familiar hum of student life gives way to a quieter, more introspective campus environment. For many Jewish students, this pause offers a fleeting moment of respite from the intense and often hostile atmosphere they have faced since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in southern Israel. This conflict, which tragically escalated into widespread violence, has reverberated through university communities, exacerbating existing tensions and sparking a surge in antisemitic and anti-Zionist sentiment.

Over the past months, I have had the profound privilege of working closely with Jewish students across various campuses, offering support and guidance as they navigate a landscape increasingly marked by hostility and division. The aftermath of the attack has seen a significant rise in anti-Israel protests and propaganda, with many events and campaigns crossing the line into antisemitism. The challenge these students face is multifaceted, involving not only defending their beliefs and identity but also ensuring their safety and well-being in an often unwelcoming environment.

The escalation of tensions on campuses mirrors the broader political and social conflicts that have erupted globally. The conflation of anti-Zionist rhetoric with antisemitic actions has created a perilous environment. On numerous campuses, protests ostensibly against Israeli policies have turned into venues for hateful chants and symbols that targeted Jewish students, faculty and staff. Fliers and posters depicting graphic images from the conflict have been defaced or used as canvases for anti-Jewish messages, contributing to a climate of fear and anxiety.

One of the most troubling aspects of this situation is how the discourse has often become polarized, leaving little room for nuanced discussions. Instead of fostering open, respectful debates on complex issues, campuses have witnessed a rise in hostile rhetoric that marginalizes Jewish people on campus and forces a silencing of Jewish and allied voices. In many instances, Jewish students who express support for Israel’s right to exist have been met with the accusations of “supporting apartheid, colonialism, white supremacy and genocide,” accusations that distort the historical and political realities. This reductionist approach not only fails to recognize the rights, representation and safety of the Jewish community, but also silences those who wish to engage in meaningful dialogue.

The impact on Jewish students, professors and staff is profound. Many students have reported feeling isolated, fearing backlash from their peers or even their professors. There have been instances where students felt compelled to hide their identities or affiliations with Jewish organizations to avoid confrontation. This erasure of identity is deeply troubling and runs counter to the principles of academic freedom and diversity that universities are meant to uphold. In the face of such challenges, the resilience and courage of these students stand out. They continue to advocate for their rights and engage in dialogue, despite the often hostile environment.

During this summer break, the cessation of classes offers a brief pause in the daily confrontations these students face. However, it is crucial to recognize that the underlying issues do not simply disappear with the end of the semester. The spread of antisemitic and anti-Zionist sentiment continues unabated on social-media platforms, within student organizations and in broader societal discourse. This ongoing hostility poses a significant challenge for the upcoming academic year.

Universities must take proactive steps to address these issues. It is essential for academic institutions to reaffirm their commitment to creating safe and inclusive environments for all students. This includes enforcing policies that protect against hate speech and discrimination, while also promoting constructive and respectful discussions on contentious topics. Administrators and faculty should receive training to recognize and address antisemitism in all its forms, ensuring that incidents are promptly and effectively dealt with.

Moreover, there needs to be a concerted effort to clear out the misinformation and bigoted propaganda campaigns against Jews, Zionism and Israel. The institutions must create and protect spaces where Jewish perspectives can be heard and where complex issues can be explored without fear of retribution. Initiatives such as interfaith dialogues, educational workshops on antisemitism and forums for discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a balanced and informed manner can play a critical role in this process. By encouraging critical thinking and empathy, universities can help students engage with difficult issues in a way that promotes mutual respect and learning.

The role of allies in this context cannot be overstated. Non-Jewish students, faculty and community members have a responsibility to stand in solidarity with their Jewish peers, speaking out against antisemitism and supporting efforts to create a more inclusive campus climate. This support can take many forms—from participating in educational events to actively challenging antisemitic rhetoric when it arises. Solidarity is not just about passive agreement but about taking action to ensure that campuses are places where all students feel safe and valued.

As we reflect on the past months and prepare for the new academic year, all of us must recommit to the values of inclusion and respect. The experiences of Jewish students since Oct. 7 underscore the urgent need for ongoing vigilance and proactive measures to combat antisemitism. While the summer break offers a moment of respite, it also represents an opportunity to build stronger, more supportive communities that can withstand and counter the forces of hatred and division.

In the coming months, as students return to campuses, let us ensure that they come back to environments where their identities are respected and their voices heard. The challenges are significant, but by working together, we can create campuses that truly embody the principles of diversity, inclusion and respect. For Jewish students, this means not just surviving but thriving in academic spaces that honor their contributions and protect their dignity.

Lastly, I firmly believe that every Jewish student must get a minor in Jewish studies, so our history, culture, ethnicity, religion and peoplehood are taught by us and for us. The Jewish students on campuses are not the leaders of tomorrow; they have proven that they are the leaders of today.

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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