(August 17, 2022 / JNS) Every year I write at least one column trying to tamp down hysteria over the situation on college campuses. I’ve learned, however, that no amount of evidence can dissuade Jews from believing they are on fire with anti-Semitism and unsafe for our children. Still, let me try again using data from Israelis sent to help American students.
Dr. Irwin Mansdorf at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs provided data from emissaries sent to U.S. campuses by the Jewish Agency for Israel who engage with students, run programs and help address issues relating to Israel. Only 43 of 60 responded to a survey (39 completed it) of their experiences but their opinions are consistent with those of other campus professionals and my longstanding views.
Notably, only 10% said that students feel “definitely intimidated or unsafe.” As ADL statistics have shown, they also reported that physical attacks are almost non-existent. To the extent that students feel in danger, it is more a result of verbal abuse and the “general atmosphere.”
I’ve argued for years that faculty are a more serious problem than students and that observation is supported by the survey, which found the most frequently cited reason (67%) for students’ discomfort was statements made by a faculty member. Unfortunately, the study does not go into greater detail as to what the faculty said.
I would love to see a study looking in greater detail at the behavior of faculty. What types of remarks are making students feel uncomfortable? Are they blatantly anti-Semitic (e.g., tropes) or anti-Israel? Are they offhand or embedded in the curriculum? Are they purely personal observations, expressions of a political agenda or analytical? Are they derived from a biased syllabus? Are they more common in particular departments? Are they expressed by faculty in fields unrelated to the subject of their comments (e.g., a chemistry professor talking about Israeli politics)?
Students come and go, but professors can have a malevolent impact on the campus and thousands of students over the course of decades. And little is being done, or can be done, to prepare students to deal with hostile, biased and unprofessional faculty.
The emissaries did not see anti-Semitism as a major problem on their campuses, and 40% said national Jewish organizations exaggerate the level of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment. Apparently, they share the broader Jewish community’s fears and don’t completely believe their own eyes, expressing the belief that problems are more serious on other campuses.
Contrary to the study I cited in my last column suggesting that “the epicenter of anti-Semitic attitudes in young adults is on the far right,” the JCPA study found “progressives,” along with Arab and Muslim students, as most problematic. This is more in line with conventional wisdom. Conservative groups were found to be more supportive though I’m not sure which they are talking about. Besides College Republicans, it’s difficult to find too many organizations that don’t lean left to far left, and they are the ones that dominate campus politics.
One particularly interesting counter-intuitive finding was that anti-Semitism was not viewed as related to Israeli policy. Mansdorf notes the survey was conducted before “Operation Guardian of the Walls” in May 2021, when many campuses saw flareups of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity. Israeli policy, however, can always be used as an excuse by anti-Semites.
The JCPA surveyed Hillel directors in 2015 and found their views were similar to those of the emissaries in 2019. Roughly twice as many Hillel directors (almost 80%), however, said that the situation on campus was being exaggerated. Only 4% thought the problems were underestimated compared to 25% of the emissaries. Such findings do not stop campus organizations from fundraising based on unwarranted panic.
Mansdorf acknowledges that campuses are different, and so it is misleading to talk about the situation on “the campus.” This is consistent with the data on BDS. Student boycott efforts get publicity that is disproportionate to their impact and circulation. Boycott resolutions have been introduced at less than 2% of all four-year colleges, 63% have been rejected, and not a single university supports the BDS campaign’s anti-Semitic objectives.
I know that at least some organizations recognize the most serious problems tend to occur on the same small number of campuses every year and devote special attention to them. This does not obviate the need for vigilance or ensuring that students are prepared, ideally in high school, for whatever they may face at any college. Every Jewish student should learn the aleph-bet of Israeli history to be an educated person and to help them better identify with their homeland without regard to the campus climate. They should also have the tools to be advocates for Israel or other causes.
We should be happy to hear that the campus situation is not even remotely as bad as it is generally advertised. This may be the only Jewish news outlet where you will read those words.
It reminds me of the old joke about the two Jews sitting on a bench. One is reading a Jewish newspaper and the other an Arab publication. The first Jew asks the other why he’s reading the Arab paper. The second replies: “When I read the Jewish papers, all I find is Jews under attack, synagogues under attack, Israel under attack. But when I read the Arab papers, what do I find? Jews control the media, Jews control the government, Jews rule the world. The news is much better!”
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”
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