Pro-Palestinian and even pro-Hamas marches on university campuses, as well as new reports of students harassing Jewish students at K-12 schools across the country, are increasing at an alarming rate. The Anti-Defamation League has registered hundreds of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel attacks in public and private schools and on university campuses since Hamas initiated its war against Israel. There were many incidents before the Oct. 7 massacre by the Hamas terrorist organization, but that horrific event has since triggered a record-breaking surge in attacks against Jews. Some teachers are even disseminating pro-Hamas talking points in their classrooms and university students, and professors are openly praising Hamas.
Planting Seeds of Hate at a Young Age
Many students arrive at universities harboring anti-Jewish and anti-Israel animosity. They are increasingly influenced by their K-12 teachers at school and friends on social media. Anti-Jewish tropes and blood libels are showing up in classrooms across the country as teachers repeat anti-Israel propaganda to impressionable students as young as 5.
At least 30 Jewish families have requested and received a transfer from the school district in Oakland, Calif., with many citing anti-Israel sentiments as a primary reason for feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. Concerned parent Simon Ferber pulled his 6-year-old son out of an Oakland school: “Our concern is about the one-sided viewpoints against Israel being pushed into the classrooms, and teachers crossing the line when they go beyond teaching the facts.”
Some Jewish families have publicly expressed anger and fear at the lack of safety and support in the Oakland school district and the strong solidarity with Palestinians among many teachers, even if they don’t understand Middle East history and the dynamics of the region. Outrage surged after a local Oakland teacher’s union declaration falsely accused the Jewish state of genocide and apartheid. The union urged educators to promote and teach a pro-Palestinian curriculum in their classrooms. The declaration called for a ceasefire in Gaza without condemning the Hamas assault against Israel.
In January, a high school basketball game in Yonkers, N.Y., was canceled after violent antisemitic slurs were hurled at players from a competing team. Swastika graffiti was found outside of a Maryland middle school; “Heil Hitler” was drawn on a school’s bathroom walls in Queens, N.Y.; and “Kill all the Jews” was screamed at a public school in Los Angeles.
Karen Feldman taught middle school in New York for 25 years and specializes in Holocaust education: “These hateful displays have led to a poisoning of our education system that is beyond repair,” she told The Free Press, founded by former New York Times journalist Bari Weiss. “How do you really promote diversity, equity and inclusion when you have the leaders of equity trained on propaganda that promotes antisemitism, and ultimately, they bring it into the classrooms?”
A Connecticut father described the anti-Jewish taunts that targeted his 11-year-old son: “Hey, I have a fun camp for you. It has great showers. Camp Auschwitz. Another Jewish classmate has already joined.” Months later, the same student laughed and yelled: “We must exterminate the Jews!” The school took no action, instead telling the Jewish student to sit at a different lunch table.
In December, a New York public-school teacher hung a poster of four different noses and asked her preschoolers why people have different ones, alluding to the ethnic trope that “Jews have big noses.” She was not disciplined by the New York City Board of Education for the offensive poster but rewarded for being a “liberation-inspired educator.” This same teacher published her philosophy for educating students on her Instagram page: “Our work of decolonizing education begins in preschool. It is very much already a political practice.”
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in federally assisted programs and activities. Recent cases have been brought against universities; now the focus is on K-12 schools. U.S. senators are demanding that the U.S. Department of Education uphold its obligations under Title VI to ensure Jewish and Israeli students in K-12 schools are not subjected to harassment, discrimination and abuse. While the government settled one case involving a Jewish student in Delaware, many similar cases since Oct. 7 still need to be addressed.
Pro-Hamas Support Spreads at Universities
On the eve of International Holocaust Day, the Columbia University Law School student senate outright rejected a request to form the student group Law Students Against Antisemitism. Marie-Alice Legrand, a non-Jewish African-American student supporting the group, stated: “I was heartbroken. I was blacklisted by the black community, so to speak. I have a different set of friends now, but I don’t want to live in a world where Jewish people are afraid. I am affected by antisemitism; we all are because hate spreads.”
Anti-Israel protesters threatened Stanford University students attending a forum for combating antisemitism with threats like “We’re going to find out where you live,” “Zionist, Zionist, you can’t hide,” “Go back to Brooklyn!” and “Our next generation will ensure Israel falls, and America, too, the other terrorists.”
In November, seven universities faced a probe by the U.S. Department of Education. Northwestern University is facing a new federal antisemitism investigation—and criticism of its new antisemitism task force. Middle school and high school principals from all New York state schools will receive training about antisemitism after the system faced criticism for doing too little to address the antisemitism rise after the Hamas war against Israel began.
In a recent national survey, 73% of Jewish university students have experienced or witnessed some form of antisemitism since the start of the current school year. The top civil-rights official at the Education Department is “astounded” by the incidents she has seen since Oct. 7.
The ADL announced that it will release an annual report card evaluating the climate of antisemitism on campuses starting in the spring semester.
Points to consider:
- Jewish parents and students are not helpless or hopeless.
While hatred, bullying, harassment and violent actions towards Jews of all ages continue to spread in K-12 schools and on university campuses, Jewish students and parents can find help and fight back. From organizations and community programs to strong supporters on social media and active student groups, there are a host of resources available to learn about student rights, how and when to speak up, how to take appropriate action and how to feel safe. Speaking up and taking appropriate action prevents a victim mentality from setting in, which keeps those targeted in a state of paralysis and helplessness.
- 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, though 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.
- 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 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism was adopted by dozens of countries, universities and institutions, and 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 and “Zionists” when, in fact, they are opposed to the existence of the Jewish state in any form.