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Back to school: Increasing challenges faced by Jews on growing number of campuses

The sharp escalation of attacks against Jews on campus, as well as their allies, continues to sound alarms across the country.

College campus. Credit: Pixabay.
College campus. Credit: Pixabay.

Back to school is traditionally a happy time for most students, but increasingly challenging for those who feel pressured to choose between their social values and Jewish identity. A growing number of students return to a more unfriendly campus climate, a culture that also is daunting for faculty and staff who face increased harassment for their beliefs.

The American Anthropological Association’s members recently voted to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The AAA—claiming more than 10,000 members—is the largest academic association to endorse the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. The approved resolution falsely referred to “Israel’s system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.” The anthropology association has never boycotted any other country in the group’s 121-year history.

The Academic Engagement Network reacted with “deep dismay” and noted the important academic partnerships created by the Abraham Accords. George Washington University recently joined several universities, including Columbia, Georgetown and Harvard, in severing ties with the Middle East Studies Association following its members’ endorsement of the BDS movement.

The City University of New York’s law school has featured virulently anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish commencement speakers during the past two years. Both of them support the BDS movement and even Israel’s destruction. U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres referred to this year’s speaker as “anti-Israel derangement syndrome at work.”

Students and Faculty for Equality at CUNY slammed CUNY as the “most systemically antisemitic U.S. school.” CUNY’s ongoing antisemitism problem extends beyond its commencement speakers, forcing Jewish employees to resign from their union. In 2021, a CUNY professor stated that Muslims will “erase this filth called Israel” and that Jews cause corruption around the world.

The latest example is an investigation of four Jewish professors. The professors spoke out about hatred against Jews on campus and now find themselves subjected to “discrimination” allegations by the very activists they criticized. One of those being investigated, Professor Jeff Lax, reported finding nails in his car tires multiple times and was once blocked from leaving a room by five faculty members. He described the confrontation: “I was shaking. I was scared for my safety. I didn’t want to meet up with any of them in the elevator. I didn’t leave till 8 p.m.”

Princeton University, The State University of New Jersey (Rutgers) and Duke University Press were involved in a recent anti-Jewish blood libel falsely accusing Israel of harvesting organs from Palestinians. This egregious charge is detailed in a book authored by a Rutgers professor, published by Duke and included on a reading list for a class being offered to Princeton students this fall.

The sharp escalation of attacks against Jews on campus, as well as their allies, continues to sound alarms across the country. Members of the House Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism sent a letter to the Secretary of Education urging strong action applying Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. Task force members are “deeply concerned about the rise of antisemitic incidents at universities and college campuses.” The letter also calls for acceptance and implementation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism and the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism in addressing discrimination cases against Jewish students and staff.

The National Strategy acknowledged the dramatic increase in attacks against Jews on university campuses. It stated that “all students, educators and administrators should feel safe and free from violence, harassment and intimidation on their campuses.”

One of the White House recommendations for universities is to create task forces comprised of administrators, faculty and students from diverse ethnic and religious beliefs and backgrounds. CUNY was criticized for failing to include any Jews on its task force. Jewish student groups were also encouraged to consider creating informative materials for their campus communities to combat antisemitism and host events with non-Jewish organizations to promote learning about the Jewish community.

On the positive side, Athletes for Israel is welcoming the University of Arizona and Kansas State University men’s basketball teams to Israel. Both teams will also travel to the United Arab Emirates. Kansas State’s coach Jerome Tang affirmed that “we want to build unity through sports. We’re part of the Abraham Accords now and part of building peace. That’s exciting.” Also, the Athletes Against Antisemitism and Discrimination consortium was launched to “embolden student-athletes to stand up and speak out when faced with intolerance and injustice.”

Points to consider:

  1. Jewish professors, students and staff—like their peers—must feel safe within their schools.

Ensuring that all Jews on campus are protected not only upholds the principles of equality and non-discrimination but also fosters an inclusive learning environment where all students can thrive. Equality shouldn’t require the enforcement of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, but this is increasingly the case for Jews. It is the responsibility of university administrators, deans, professors and students to address all forms of anti-Jewish discrimination, promote tolerance and cultivate an atmosphere that respects the rights and dignity of all students, including Jews.

  1. Inclusion and accessibility programs must include Jews and Zionists.

“We call on employers—including states, cities, K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, private companies, and non-profits—to review their own programs to ensure full inclusion of antisemitism awareness and […] to share information with employees about American Jewish heritage, culture, and history.” — The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism

A study of 741 diversity, equity and inclusion administrators at 65 universities found they tend to have a disproportionate—and overwhelmingly negative—fixation on Israel. Shunning Jews who refuse to reject their ancestral connection to Israel is discrimination. School districts and universities adopting new admissions and governance standards must apply the White House’s call to include Jewish and Zionist representation.

  1. Opponents of Israel regularly use false statements to promote their narrative.

The American Anthropological Association’s boycott resolution contained numerous lies, including that Israel is practicing “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” against Israeli Arabs and Palestinians. It also referred to the rebirth of Israel in 1948 as a “catastrophic event.” These statements should not be accepted by any organization or individual on face value but should be scrutinized and rejected in the absence of context and reality. Resorting to disinformation skews public perceptions and perpetuates stereotypes, hindering constructive dialogue and peaceful conflict resolution. It is crucial to rely on credible sources, verifiable data and reputable news reporting to combat the spread of misinformation.

  1. Anti-Zionism = Antisemitism.

“When Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism. And that is unacceptable.” — The U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism

The IHRA working definition of antisemitism was adopted by more than 40 countries, high-profile universities and institutions, and is used by all U.S. executive departments and agencies that enforce Title VI civil-rights protections. The definition explains what constitutes antisemitism and why. It includes examples of delegitimization, demonization and double standards against Israel that move into antisemitism and makes clear that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” It is common for opponents of Zionism to say that they are merely criticizing Israeli policies when they are actually opposed to the existence of Israel in any form.

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The Focus Project is a consensus initiative of major American Jewish organizations that provides crucial news, talking points and background content about issues affecting Israel and the Jewish people, including antisemitism, anti-Zionism and relevant events in the Middle East. Click here to receive weekly Talking Points from The Focus Project.
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