Shadows of fear: Jewish students are branded as outsiders

Some universities are failing to enforce laws and their codes of conduct, while others are showing moral clarity.

“The Sun Will Shine in a Free Palestine” mural at the Arts Quad of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in front of a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel student tent encampment on April 25, 2024. Credit: Hstoops via Wikimedia Commons.
“The Sun Will Shine in a Free Palestine” mural at the Arts Quad of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., in front of a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel student tent encampment on April 25, 2024. Credit: Hstoops via Wikimedia Commons.

On May 6, Yom Hashoah, Israeli and Jewish communities worldwide solemnly commemorated the 6 million men, women and children murdered during World War II and the Holocaust. They also honored the heroism of survivors and rescuers. This year’s theme of destroyed Jewish communities resonates with the Israelis traumatized by the Iranian-backed terrorist attacks by Hamas in southern Israel on Oct. 7, followed by American university students being threatened, spat upon and shunned by much of their campus communities.

Menacing activists who target Jews on campus prove that their antisemitism extends beyond the Hamas-Israel war. One of the main goals of anti-Israel groups protesting on about 100 university campuses has been to make it impossible for anyone, especially Jews, to support Israel. Some professors have even taken an active role in the protests. A key strategy is social exclusion.

A Jewish doctoral student is considering dropping out of Stanford: “I feel alienated, extremely alienated. It’s been so hard to find connection and community. I really think a lot about my mental health and whether this kind of daily antisemitism is something that’s worth it. How do you walk away from a Ph.D. at Stanford because of antisemitism?”

Campus protests also are spreading to high schools. Chicago senior Mira Rosenblum said, “I learned in the early months of high school that if you don’t fit with the majority ideology, people will only see you as one aspect and won’t like you. I’ve lost many lifelong friends this year for being a proud Jew.” Friends of a 21-year-old Northwestern University student recently called to tell her that they could not be friends anymore because she is “too much of a Zionist.”

‘Afraid to identify as Jewish’

A Jewish fraternity member at Stanford successfully ran for a student government seat but omitted his membership in Jewish groups because “I don’t think that writing anything about my Jewishness can help me. The last thing that I’m going to do is ever write about the fact that I’m Jewish.” Chabad Rabbi Dov Greenberg at Stanford University confirmed that Jewish students are “afraid to identify as Jewish” because they “don’t want to be bullied or harassed by other students. The one group that’s afraid to speak are the ones being attacked, the Jews.”

Students at the University of California, Los Angeles, set up barriers that allowed anti-Israel protesters to limit access to parts of campus under their control. They required wristbands for access to these public areas. Students were asked if they were Zionists in order to enter these restricted zones. In one video, a protester acting as a guard told a Jewish student that “it’s time to go” after blocking him from entering. UCLA Divest also recently posted on Instagram its support for the Oct. 7 atrocities perpetrated by Hamas.

Magen David, Star of David, In Memory of 6 Million
In memory of the Six Million. Credit: Courtesy of StandWithUs.

Jewish students also are being restricted from public areas at other schools. Many of them are feeling emotional distress, compounding their commemoration of the 6 million Jews killed in the German Nazi Holocaust.

Holocaust survivor Bella Haim was traumatized by Nazi Germany, multiple existential wars against Israel and again on Oct. 7. The thought of visiting Auschwitz never occurred to her. But she changed her mind following the death of her grandson Yotam after Hamas terrorists abducted him from a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip. At the annual March of the Living at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, Bella declared: “I’m here to show we are alive, we have risen from the Holocaust and we will rise again from Oct. 7.”

Recently, the 2023 Antisemitism Worldwide Report revealed a surge in anti-Jewish attacks even before the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. Lead researcher, Dr. Uriya Shavit: “If current trends continue, the curtain will descend on the ability to lead Jewish lives in the West—to wear a Star of David, attend synagogues and community centers, send kids to Jewish schools, frequent a Jewish club on campus or speak Hebrew.”

The Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of California at Santa Cruz recently included a demand to boycott Hillel—the leading Jewish student life organization across America—and local Jewish foundations. The Anti-Defamation League condemned their “expression of opposition to pillars of the Jewish community” and the university chancellor also rejected the demands. A number of the protesters arrested were not students but were partnered with SJP or other organized anti-Israel groups.

Blocking Entrances to US College Campuses
Pro-Hamas protesters at the University of California, Los Angeles, restricted access to public spaces and provided wristbands only to students who oppose the Jewish state. Source: X.

Protest goals: Blackball Israel from academic, economic alliances

Student demands are very similar and connected to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel. Activists present BDS as advocacy to help Palestinians, but in reality, the movement calls for the economic isolation of Israel and spreads evil lies that spark an increase in attacks even against American Jews.

Specific ultimatums include selling stocks of companies that support Israel, ending study-abroad programs in Israel and falsely asserting that Israel is committing “genocide.” However, 38 states have anti-BDS laws, many passed with broad bipartisan support. While they may differ in specifics, they are intended to prevent discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or national origin.

Some universities are failing to enforce laws and their codes of conduct, while others are showing moral clarity. More than 2,000 protesters have been arrested. A few universities negotiated with pro-Hamas student protesters, resulting in a range of capitulations, despite violent acts: forming a committee to review investments (the University of California, Riverside), a possible divestment vote by the board of trustees (Brown University) and admitting Gaza students on scholarship (Rutgers University). Rutgers also agreed to amnesty for any students arrested.

Seven Jewish members of Northwestern’s antisemitism committee resigned after a deal with protesters: “The overwhelming majority of your Jewish students, faculty, staff and alumni feel betrayed. They considered it home.” Universities taking a more active approach include the University of Florida. Its president affirmed that protesters “don’t get to take over the whole university.”

Students want to be students: ‘We feel fatigued approaching finals’

University students want to live their lives: attend their classes, pass their finals and celebrate their graduation. However, interruptions continue to spread across the country. UCLA moved all of its classes online, Columbia and other universities canceled their main commencement ceremonies and Emory University moved its graduation ceremony off-campus.

Columbia freshman Zachary Singerman: “Many of my non-Jewish friends are sick of the campus gates always being closed. There is a sense of fatigue, particularly approaching finals, at dealing with yet another escalation that brings news helicopters to campus. Instead of being able to access Butler Library to study, we are either trapped in our dorms—too afraid to leave—or barred from campus entirely. These protesters are destroying any semblance of campus unity and there are now deep tears in the fabric of the student body’s heart.”

Graduation ceremonies at the University of Michigan and Northeastern University were interrupted by pro-Hamas protesters. At U of M, campus police had to intervene. One graduating student described how they are “ruining our graduation.” Northeastern graduate Jorge Batievsky, who is Jewish, said “I just want to take the time to appreciate the hard work I did and celebrate this great achievement.”

UNC College Fraternity Brothers Hold Up American F
Jewish and non-Jewish students at the University of North Carolina hold up the American flag. A full water bottle thrown by a pro-Hamas protester at the students can be seen passing the flag. Source: Screenshot/Bryan Anderson on X.

Students and police defend American flag: ‘We are not surrendering’

Anti-Israel students at a few universities removed the American flag and replaced it with the Palestinian flag. After police restored the U.S. flag at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, members of a Jewish and a Christian fraternity—Alpha Epsilon Pi and Pi Kappa Phi—defended the American flag and sang the national anthem. Brendan Rosenblum described how they were pelted with water bottles. AEPi brother Trevor Lan said: “We wanted to ensure that the American flag wasn’t once again taken down.”

The New York City Police Department also restored the American flag at Columbia University. New York City Mayor Eric Adams proclaimed: “My uncle died defending this country and these men and women put their lives on the line, and it’s despicable that schools would allow another country’s flag to fly in our country. So, blame me for being proud to be an American. We are not surrendering our way of life to anyone.”

Points to consider:

  1. Campus protesters are creating chaos for all students.

The campus protests are not merely expressions of dissent, but deliberate attempts to sow chaos and division. Pro-Hamas protesters are using the threat of social exclusion to intimidate students—Jewish and non-Jewish—to support their cause. They also are causing disturbances on campus that prevent students from attending class, passing their finals and celebrating their graduation. At many campuses, freedom of speech crossed the line into instigating violence. Students Supporting Israel founder Ilan Sinelnikov was repeatedly punched in the head at the Univ. of California, Berkeley. This toxic environment is increasing discrimination against Jews—the exact opposite of an academic environment committed to fostering dialogue and understanding. University leaders must commit to promoting an inclusive atmosphere that promotes tolerance and coexistence.

  1. Laws and university codes must be enforced to counter violence.

Physically assaulting students, preventing them from accessing public spaces and trespassing violate laws and university student codes of conduct. Universities are not only failing to enforce their regulations, but many are unwilling to involve the police. Some have their own police departments that fail to intervene as necessary (e.g., UCLA) while private universities like Columbia must request for police to enforce laws on their campuses. Setting up a tent camp and barricading parts of school grounds are prohibited acts for any demonstration. Allowing unlawful protests to continue sets a dangerous precedent for American society and jeopardizes civility.

  1. Anti-Israel Jewish groups do not represent the larger Jewish community.

Pro-Hamas activists routinely defend themselves from accusations of spreading anti-Jewish hatred by pointing to the small, but vocal fringe Jewish groups that support the destruction of Israel. This includes the anything-but-peace-seeking Jewish Voice for Peace. Despite the College Democrats of America recently falsely claiming that JVP represents the majority of American Jews, the group supports terrorism against Israelis, including the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7, and the anti-Jewish BDS movement. Its activists also were seen at university protests with forbidden food during the Passover holiday and a sign with Hebrew words printed backwards. According to Pew Research, 82% of American Jews feel that Israel is an important or essential part of being Jewish.

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