Josh Jury

American Universities Must Invest in an ‘Iron Dome’

On May 2, 2024 GW For Israel organized a 'Rally Against Campus Antisemitism' to encourage students to show their Jewish pride in the face of rising antisemitism. Featured photo was provided with permission from George Washington University student, Noah Shapiro

‘As a student, would I feel safer on a US college campus or in an active war zone?’ This seemingly ridiculous question is one I never thought I’d be asking. And yet, these past several weeks I’ve pondered the query an alarming number of times. It’s no exaggeration that the skyrocketing antisemitism in American schools is a threat to Jewish students. Clearly, we need a reliable system that can effectively counter all forms of antisemitism and hate. We need an ‘Iron Dome.’

The ‘Iron Dome’ is Israel’s impressive multi-layered air defense system. While this fortification isn’t a physical iron structure cast across the State of Israel, its capabilities and results leave no questions about how it got its name. The coveted technology is known worldwide for its meticulous ability to intercept lethal threats and save countless lives. On US college campuses we don’t need an ‘Iron Dome’ that intercepts missiles, but rather an ‘Iron Dome’ that halts hateful rhetoric and anti-Israel bias stemming from terrorist ideals. 

Rather than confront the issues of hate head-on, many US schools are taking steps that ultimately penalize the entire student body. For instance, after disruptive protests at Columbia University, the school switched to online classes. At UCLA, following a violent protest, classes were canceled. Not all of the students attending the school were involved in the protests, and therefore, why should all students face consequences when the protests become extreme? This ineffective strategy could all be fixed with an effective ‘Iron Dome.’ These schools could instate stricter policies targeting hate speech and take action against the individuals sparking violence. There is no issue with holding a peaceful, intentional protest, but unfortunately, what we’ve seen in the past several weeks in numerous protests is nothing short of chaotic and hotheaded aggression. An ‘Iron Dome’ in school policy could regulate this and create a safe space for productive, meaningful protesting.

The violence in recent college protests is a paramount issue, but the language protestors use is also a concerning part of the conflict. A student leading a pro-Palestinian protest at Columbia University said, ‘Zionists don’t deserve to live.’ Another Columbia University demonstrator chanted, ‘Burn Tel Aviv to the ground.’ At the University of Pennsylvania, protestors demanded, ‘We want Jewish genocide.’ At the University of Michigan, an anti-Israel protestor handed out pamphlets reading, ‘Freedom for Palestine means Death to America.’ Our horrifying reality is that the list continues and these aren’t even the most extreme dialogues taking place. American schools need to get to the root of the problem. The ‘Iron Dome’ essential for preventing dangerous language is education. Ironically, education is the one thing that schools should have some experience with.  

One of the core First Amendment principles is the right to ‘free speech’. However, in these past several weeks as antisemitic language thrives on college campuses, it’s important to distinguish the line between ‘free speech’ and ‘hate speech’. On May 1 the US House of Representatives codified a bill regarding this issue. This newly passed Antisemitism Awareness Act gives the government the agency to take action on anti-Israel protests that become antisemitic. The bill focuses on a concrete definition of antisemitism and even harmful criticism of Israel. In a sense, this is the US government’s way of creating an ‘Iron Dome’ for American schools.

Creating an ‘Iron Dome’ on college campuses is a daunting task, but nonetheless, a feasible one. No one ever said the ‘Iron Dome’ in Israel was easy to sustain. In fact, the biggest downside to maintaining this essential system in Israel is the cost. At around $40,000 per missile interception, the technology isn’t cheap. And amidst times of war, this crucial, but exorbitant charge only adds up. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US government alone has spent over $2.9 billion supporting the program. When it comes to the ‘Iron Dome’ in Israel it’s clear that the benefits outweigh the costs. The heavy price to keep the program running is of course justifiable when it ensures the safety and well-being of Israeli Jews, Arab citizens of Israel, Bedouins, and Palestinians in the West Bank. Why can’t the same be true for a system that deters antisemitism on US college campuses? An ‘Iron Dome’ on a college campus is going to be an investment, but preventing hate and protecting students should justify the cost. We aren’t talking about investing in missiles; we’re talking about investing in better education, student safety, and policies that prevent hateful speech and hateful actions from flourishing.

The Jewish reality is that these extra measures of protection are necessary because of our millennium-long history of persecution. Over time, we’ve adapted and grown to take steps to ensure our safety. We know from our collective memory and experience that one hateful incident could spark a fire of hostility. For this, we must stop antisemitism in its tracks. The sheer purpose of the ‘Iron Dome’ in Israel is defensive. It has no offensive capabilities that allow it to strike back. The program simply exists to save lives and defend people from danger. Why don’t we have such a system to defend Jewish students from antisemitism on college campuses? When we see signs of growing antisemitism, they should only reaffirm the importance of having safeguards in place.

May 1 marked College Decision Day in the States. For many Jewish Americans, the rise in antisemitism on college campuses has been a factor in their important decision. According to an American Jewish Committee (AJC) report on college antisemitism, ‘44% of current or recent college students were affected by antisemitism during their time on campus.’ With this number on the rise, it’s no surprise that US college campuses are failing their Jewish students. As a high school senior, I’ve been personally impacted by the surging antisemitism and inaction of universities. I decided to stray from the traditional college path I’d always imagined for myself and enroll in an Israel gap year program. I’m optimistic that next Fall when I do apply to schools, US colleges will have a better grip on antisemitism and protecting their Jewish students. So again, I ask: ‘As a student, would I feel safer on a US college campus or in an active war zone?’ For the time being, I’m confident in my answer. After all, in Israel, we have an ‘Iron Dome.’

About the Author
Josh Jury expedited his high school graduation in the U.S. following a semester at Heller High School in Israel that was cut short by war. He is a voice for education on combating Antisemitism and anti-Zionism, and a Gen Z voice for Israel. Josh recently took part in the URJ Teen Israel Organizing Fellowship, and was honored as one of JUF’s 18 Under 18 for his work representing Israel.
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