Antisemitism on College Campuses

July 10, 2023
Kylee Garfield

Redondo Beach, California, United States

Class of 2026

Read more from this author →

How can a word, six syllables, 12 letters, evoke feelings of generational trauma that Jewish people have sadly experienced? This word: antisemitism, causes pain amongst Jews, each time it is heard.

The history of antisemitism dates back thousands of years and regretfully, remains alive today. This impacts the lives of all Jews, including teenagers who at present, may be submitted to forms of antisemitism in their activities, livelihoods and as of late, on college campuses. Given it has been only 77 years since the Holocaust, many Jews remain sensitized to public displays of anti-Jewish propaganda like they were submitted to in Europe in the 1930s and 40s. In reality public displays of hate in any form are fundamentally un-American and could not possibly be the intent of our nation’s forefathers.

College campuses historically have been centers for expression of free speech. Some recent reports of protected speech at colleges has conflated the relationship between being Jewish and supporting the government of the State of Israel. Perhaps some see Judaism and Israel as one in the same. In the Jewish view, being Jewish and supporting Israel are distinct.  Yet lately, some reports of speech on campuses across the US, reflect a glamorization of this anti Jewish sentiment.  The message being spread is “If you are a Jew, you are Pro-Israel and you hate Palestinians.” Regretfully, some of this speech has not only come from students, but also administrators and professors alike.

In one case, at Columbia, professors teaching the course, Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, allegedly used their lectures to demonize Israel and to advance antisemitic stereotypes. In the book Fighting Back against Campus Antisemitism, Kenneth L Marcus quotes a professor who stated Israelis have “a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of [their] culture ''

In another example, at the University of California Irvine, an incident occurred in 2003-2004 where Jewish students got verbally and physically attacked. In one report, students went as far as to post signs on the campus with a bloody Star of David on it. Fearing retaliation, these students felt alone with little to no help when handling this problem. Ultimately reaching the US Department of Education for Civil Rights (USDECR), who was asked in 2004 to intervene and determine if any clear cut violations of Irvine's Jewish students had occurred.  In response, the USDECR failed to prosecute a single case and had no further comments.

On this subject, the Anti-Defamation League in 2016 remarked, “One third of Jewish students experienced antisemitism on College campuses." After conducting surveys through Hillel International, they found that “32 percent of Jewish students experienced antisemitism directed at them, and 79 percent of those students reported that it happened more than once.” In 2022, surveys performed by the Jim Joseph Foundation concluded that “over 50 percent of students on campus worry that people will make unfair judgments about them because they are Jewish. Likewise, over 50 percent of students fear they should pay a social cost, if they support the existence of Israel as a jewish state."

The purveyors of anti-Jewish speech on college campuses include Pro-Palenstinian / Anti-Israel groups. Just this last graduation season in 2023, reports surfaced of a class valedictorian address that used this platform in an effort to perpetuate anti-Israeli sentiments and Jewish responsibility for it.  “I gift my graduation to all Palestinians who have lost their lives, and those who continue to lose their lives every day, due to the oppressive apartheid state of Israel, killing and torturing Palestinians, as we speak.” While she has the right to say her views, we can question the time and place. Her opinion is one sided and gives no time for any other people to put their opinions on the table. This is simply put is: Un-American. By pushing this argument all she did was stir up issues. Whether the people at the graduation agree or disagree with this issue was not thought of, these people were compelled against their will to listen to this.  

In addition to campuses, movements such as “Free Palestine'' have been put in place all over social media.  Some of these movements have argued that Israel has been “illegally occupying Palestinian territory since 1967… some of this is stolen land including: the gaza strip, west bank and its capital, Jerusalem."  These groups fail to separate the political actions of the State of Israel and unfairly link all Jews to these reports.  In effect, those who are Anti-Israel, are seemingly also anti- Jewish or antisemitic.

As hate speech of any type continues in our country without response or correction, society  becomes desensitized and its acceptance increases with each new report by the group who is communicating this propaganda.  Hate speech is not limited to college campuses and reports have suggested that even in primary public education circuits, history classes are being amended to overlook items of Jewish sensitivity.  However, Jews are fighting back and working with their schools and elected officials to respond to hate speech.  By way of example, in 2019 former President Trump signed an executive order that would make “Title VI of the civil rights act of 1964”, apply to antisemitic acts. This means that when an anti-semetic act occurs, it is now officially a crime.

In the brief signed by President Biden on May, 2023, it restated that this law should pertain to not only antisemitic incidents in general, but on college campuses. Not only did the strategy examine that law, but it came up with a solution. Across America, all schools ranging from k-12 and college, should be implementing information about antisemitic discrimination in history in its curriculum. The brief suggests that by conducting visits to schools, they will be able to “adequately amplify resources” to most effectively teach. Additionally, they plan on spotlighting notable efforts from students and communities as well as educational developments in the subject matter to better address antisemitism publicly.

These actions are a start. In order to restore a strong front, being able to put out political statements, whether they are controversial or not, will at least get the information out there and spark conversations. Antisemitism on college campuses is really about our underlying societal principles. Teaching history in all schools is imperative to ensuring the next generations have the knowledge of the past, so history doesn't repeat itself.

The US Constitution affords us all a right to free speech.  With that said, any speech or platform used to advance one group at the expense of another especially in public forums (especially those where tax dollars fund the opportunity for speech like a publicly funded college campus) is against the intent of our country’s forefathers. American Jews have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  All groups do.  To eliminate such rights is Un-American.  Those who have issue with Israel, must learn to separate their attention to that government’s sovereign rights from the rights of American Jews.  Anti-American speech of any nature has no place on a college campus.  As Americans, we must join together and fight for this right.

12 letters, six syllables, how much pain can a word really produce? As Americans we have often fought for our freedoms and that of the world - culturally, socially and economically. Now, by fighting for this stigma to change, we will be able to not only make a voice for jewish people, but will open a space for everyone to get a say, no matter who you are.

Submitted with undying love,

Kylee Garfield

Kylee Garfield is a BBG living in Redondo Beach and has never been stung by a bee.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

Explore More Stories

Get The Shofar blasted to your inbox