Rising Antisemitism on American College Campuses

January 24, 2023
Maren Hettler

Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States

Class of 2025

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Two Jewish students at the State University of New York at New Paltz were driven out of a group for sexual assault survivors for being Zionists. At the University of Southern California, student government vice president Rose Ritch resigned after facing months of harassment because of her Zionist identity. At George Washington University, a Torah scroll was torn and doused in laundry detergent. Although the Torah in question turned out to be a small replica, the incident reflects the disturbing rise in antisemitism on college campuses across the United States. 

In one of the more well-known incidents, nine student groups at the University of California, Berkeley, adopted a bylaw that banned supporters of Zionism from speaking at their events. Law Students for Justice in Palestine, the group that created the bylaw, said that the ban would promote the welfare of Palestinian students at Berkeley. 

While it’s not upsetting that Law Students for Justice in Palestine banned Zionist speakers, most other student groups that adopted this bylaw have nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the Berkeley Law Muslim Student Association, Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association, Womxn of Color Collective, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, Queer Caucus, Community Defense Project, Women of Berkeley Law, and Law Students of African Descent. Around 95% of American Jews support Israel, and 45% say that caring about Israel is an essential part of their Jewish identity. Why should being a Zionist mean that you cannot speak about LGBTQ+ issues at the Queer Caucus or give a presentation on prison reform at the Community Defense Project? 

According to a survey conducted at Berkeley in 2019, most students claimed to care “deeply” about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but 75% couldn’t locate Palestinian territories on a map. Out of those students, 25% thought that the territories were west of Lebanon and in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and 84% couldn’t name the decade that the occupation began. The survey also found that the students’ obsession with the conflict didn’t stem from a concern for liberation struggles around the world. They were indifferent to the Kurdish struggle for independence and the occupations of Western Sahara and Northern Cyprus.

Subtly antisemitic incidents like this have become normal on college campuses across the country. Students at the University of Southern California launched a social media campaign to impeach student government vice president Rose Ritch because they believed that her Zionist identity made her unfit for office. She resigned after months of online harassment, and only then did the university only release a statement condemning antisemitism.

“My Jewish and Zionist identities have helped shape every part of who I am, and they cannot be separated from one another,” she said in an op-ed for Newsweek. Although these events took place in 2020, the US Department of Education didn’t open an investigation until June 2022. 

At George Washington University, the Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) Intersectionality Council posted a statement saying that “Palestinian liberation is synonymous with survivor justice.” Blake Flayton, GW student and co-founder of the New Zionist Congress, tweeted that the statement “asserts that the fight to end sexual violence is tethered to the fight to end the Jewish state.” 

In October, MIT hosted an event called “Allyship, Art, and Apartheid: A Conversation with Palestinian Activists.” One of the activists was Mohammed El-Kurd, who claimed that Jewish Israelis eat the organs of Palestinians and have an “unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood.” The school’s president, Rafael Reif, said that he believed the topics discussed at the event were “appropriate for discussion at MIT.” 

“We see you, we hear you, and we want you to feel safe on our campus,” Reif wrote. But a lot of Jewish students don’t. At another Boston-area college, one Jewish student woke up to find that his non-Jewish roommate had carved a swastika into his desk with a knife. At Emerson College, a poster reading “Yoga with Hillel” was changed to say “Yoga with Hitler.” 

Antisemitism has made itself at home on college campuses under the guise of anti-Zionism. The American Jewish Committee reported that in the last five years, 42% of Jewish college students or their parents reported that they knew someone who experienced antisemitism on a college campus. Their “Call to Action Against Antisemitism” urges colleges to protect students and staff from harassment on the basis of Jewish and pro-Israel identities. The report provides a blueprint for fighting antisemitism but notes that “there is always more that can be done.”

Maren Hettler is a BBG from Nona Bloch Salomon in NTO and she loves olives!

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.

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