Opinion

Ohio governor takes initiative to protect Jewish college students

Gov. Mike DeWine’s suggestions are far-reaching and encompass every key constituency to effect positive change on this problem.

Mike DeWine (at podium) as Ohio attorney general before he became governor in January 2019, at the U.S. Department of Justice with (from left) U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Feb. 27, 2018. Credit: U.S. Department of Justice via Wikimedia Commons.
Mike DeWine (at podium) as Ohio attorney general before he became governor in January 2019, at the U.S. Department of Justice with (from left) U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Feb. 27, 2018. Credit: U.S. Department of Justice via Wikimedia Commons.
Tony Katz. Credit: Courtesy.
Tony Katz
Tony Katz is a Jewish civil rights activist and advocate. In 2020 he founded the Confronting Antisemitism Network.

Imagine sending your Jewish son or daughter off to college with high hopes for intellectual development, self-discovery and growth in a healthy environment because you believe in the school, and that its promotion of diversity and inclusion will ensure a safe space for young people. Only then do you learn that Jewish students are being made to feel so insecure that they need to hide their Jewish identity.

Statistics on campus anti-Semitism cannot be ignored.

According to a fall survey by the American Jewish Committee (the State of Antisemitism in America 2021), close to seven out of every 10 Jewish students on campus feel unsafe, and 50 percent hide their Jewish identity.

The ADL-Hillel Campus Anti-Semitism Study: 2021 supports these findings: 43 percent of Jewish students report having personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitic activities on campus. For those experiencing in-person offensive comments or slurs, 79 percent say it happened more than once. These percentages are likely low, as 75 percent of those experiencing anti-Semitism say they did not report it.

If you think this is outlier data, the overall situation for Jews in this country, regardless of age, is shockingly bad and getting worse. The New York City Police Department has just reported a 50 percent spike in anti-Semitic hate crimes so far in 2021.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has decided to address on-campus anti-Semitism in his state. He reached out directly to 111 presidents of colleges and universities, and publicly suggested a series of specific recommendations to them on what to do, thus creating visible public pressure on the colleges and universities to actually follow through with concrete actions.

DeWine’s suggestions are far-reaching and encompass every key constituency to effect positive change on this problem. They include:

* Identifying and contacting the Jewish community in each college location to work with the institution on specific plans to ensure a safe environment, online and off.

* Directly reaching the highest-ranking officer at each institution to secure their personal commitment to address the scourge of Jew-hatred as a priority and to speak out publicly against it, while urging only free, open, civil and respectful debate from all on-campus communities.

* Contacting campus chiefs of police and public safety directors to work with the Jewish communities and coordinate with local and state law enforcement to develop and refine specific plans to increase safety, protect the Jewish community and work to ensure that services and other celebrations of Jewish life are safe and uninterrupted.

These recommended steps can and should be a model for every other governor to follow in every state across the union. The safety and well-being of our Jewish students in colleges across America require nothing less than forceful action against surging Jew-hatred. Some may ask, “Why are Jewish students being singled out for special protections or given a higher priority than others? Won’t this ostensible ‘preference’ present political challenges for governors?”

It is true that too many on campus today are subjected to derision, intimidation, hate speech or even violence due to their race, religion, political beliefs or other personal preferences. Colleges have started to take steps to address some of these through increased and more focused policing as well as through diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.

Too often on campus, hostility and intimidation of Jewish students are related to their support of Israel. This is excused as a free speech issue, a political matter. Yet no one would excuse hostility towards any group of students because of actions or policies of nations they come from or support.

Jew-hatred is not limited to universities. The FBI’s 2020 statistics show that of all hate crimes in America, targeting Jews comprised 57.5 percent, far more than people of any other religious group.

DeWine‘s actions represent an important step in the equal treatment of Jews on campus and are consistent with how other minorities are protected. His actions provide a model framework for all governors.

Jewish civil rights, especially for our Jewish youth, deserve the support of all those who really care about equality, inclusion and a safe learning environment on campus.

Tony Katz is the founder of the Confronting Anti-Semitism Network (CAN) in South Florida, Atlanta, New York City/Long Island, Boston and Indianapolis.

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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