This is the fourth in my series of recent blogs dealing with antisemitism in America. This iteration is concerned with antisemitism on university campuses.
Antisemitism on university campuses has been around forever. Heretofore, it was more subtle, more covert as opposed to today’s overt, violent iteration. For instance, when I was in college in the 1960s at the college I attended:
There was a definite quota of Jews admitted – roughly 10% of each class. It wasn’t publicized, but we all knew.
There were only two fraternities on campus that admitted Jews (not counting those that admitted a “token” Jew or two). One fraternity, Sigma Chi, even boasted a cross as its symbol. That doesn’t mean that all the members of these fraternities were antisemitic. Most of them were friendly regular guys. It was just the system. Nobody protested. It was more or less accepted as the way things were.
Generally, I found a goodly portion of the professors and the Administration to be “cool” toward the Jewish students, in general, and “Sammy,” the Jewish fraternity, in particular. At one point, we were put on social probation, and they threatened to close us down. I’m not sure if we deserved that harsh a treatment.
Some of the students would utter snide remarks, which generally we laughed off, but it did make some of us uncomfortable.
In any case, the college atmosphere was nothing like we are seeing currently. Whatever violence there was was focused on the Vietnam War. For the most, part, most of us stuck together and enjoyed the overall college experience.
I don’t mean to single out the school I attended. I am sure my experiences and recollections were not unique. As I recall, many of the above occurred at other campuses as well. I do know for a fact that there was a quota of Jews admitted to US medical schools. Many qualified Jewish medical students, including, among others, my future primary care physician, were forced to attend medical school in foreign countries. Medical school is hard enough as it is. Imagine how difficult it was to learn the material in a foreign language. But, for many Jews, if one wanted to become a doctor that was the only path.
In this day and age, it is an entirely different story both on university campuses and in the world as a whole. According to a report of the Anti-Defamation League antisemitic instances have increased 41% from 2021 to 2022 with incidents being reported at some 130 colleges. The ADL counted 359 anti-Israel incidents on campuses during the 2021-22 school year, including physical assaults, protests, vandalism, harassment, and boycotts.
Focusing on university campuses, below please find my thoughts, observations and opinions on the matter.
In 2015 a Brandeis University study disclosed several of what it characterized as “hotspots” of antisemitism and anti-Israel hostility on university campuses. The study found that a “substantial” percentage of the Jewish students at the school had been exposed to antisemitism on campus. In addition, Brandeis was not unique. The study identified several other “hotspots.” Also, it postulated a connection on campuses where there was a pro-Palestinian student organization. I am aware that this study is eight years old, but I found it to be noteworthy because: (1) a substantial portion of the students at Brandeis are Jewish, and (2) the general situation appears to be worse today.
In point of fact, an Economist/YouGov poll from December 2022 concluded that more than 50% of US adults were of the opinion that antisemitism has been and is increasing, and it was a “serious problem” in the US.
According to The Hill a recent IPSOS survey concluded that nearly 60% of Jewish college students had either witnessed or experienced antisemitism. These experiences were not limited to on- campus events. They also included off-campus “university affiliated event[s],” and situations out in the general public. In contrast, only 5% of non-Jewish students reported having “witnessed or experienced” an antisemitic incident on campus.
I found this contrast most interesting. In my view, the clear inference is that based on life experiences Jews are more attuned to and aware of antisemitism than non-Jews. That is understandable. Indeed, Julia Lassey, CEO of Jewish Campus opined to The Hill that subtle antisemitic comments, tropes, stereotypes, and cliches can be difficult to discern, particularly for non-Jews. She added, “we can’t ignore the small stuff or it will become bigger whether that’s on-campus or off-campus.” She suggested that this gap cognizance could be narrowed by the education of young children beginning in elementary school.
The survey concluded that “not enough is being done by school administrators and government officials to protect Jewish students from hate.” I concur. More on this point later. World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder added “it is clear that something is wrong with our education system when more than 50% of Jewish students in America have observed an antisemitic incident.” My research disclosed various other surveys with similar results.
And now, to make this issue more powerful and realistic, I would like to delineate a sampling of actual personal experiences of Jewish students that I gleaned from my research. The following is just a sampling to illustrate the point. I could have included many, many more.
a. Maya, 18, a college freshman, was walking on campus wearing a silver ring with a Star of David. She was proud of the ring, which had been a gift from her grandmother. A group of students surrounded her and proceeded to taunt her with ethnic slurs, calling her a k–e and shouting “you don’t belong here!” She was shocked as it was her first experience with antisemitism. Prospectively, she removed the ring and mostly hid her Jewishness.
b. NorthJersey.com conducted interviews with over three dozen Jewish students about their college experiences. The students related experiences of swastikas carved onto dormitory walls, Holocaust-denying literature, expulsions from campus clubs, defacing fraternity buildings with eggs, and a general feeling that they were not safe and needed to hide their identity as Jews.
c. Micah, a junior at a school in the Boston area, reported a “looming presence of antisemitism.” He felt he continually had to “evaluate where [he] felt safe as a Jew.” He, too, felt the need to tuck in his Star of David. He was told being Jewish he “must be rich,” and he “bears the responsibility for the deaths of Palestinian children.” Moreover, a professor told him that Israel had “too much influence.” Downplaying or hiding one’s Jewishness as a means of fitting in and avoiding trouble seems to be a recurring theme among Jewish college students.
d. Members of a Jewish fraternity at a large Eastern college reported the fraternity being attacked four times in the past two years. The incidents included eggs being thrown at the house on Rosh Hashanah and carloads of people waving Palestinian flags and yelling racial slurs. The university investigated the incidents, but all such investigations have been closed with no arrests or charges.
e. At a California college a group of students reported swastikas in human feces painted in a dorm bathroom.
f. Last year on Yom Kippur, a professor at a southwest university was murdered by a former student of his who mistakenly believed the professor was Jewish.
g. Another student at a different western university reported two antisemitic incidents. In one, someone had written “F….Israel” and the phrase “From the river to the sea” on the chalkboard in her Middle East politics class. In the other, someone had distributed hundreds of flyers in her neighborhood filled with racist propaganda. She said the first was the work of a far-left group; the second the work of a far-right group. The kicker was when she reported the incidents to the Administration, they were reluctant to get involved, and the investigations, such as they were, went nowhere.
h. In perhaps the most disturbing incident, a few days ago as widely reported on various media outlets some 50 Jewish Cooper Union University students barricaded themselves in the school library as a group of some 70 Pro-Palestinian protestors, who somehow had gained access to the area while bypassing security checkpoints, perhaps with assistance from an employee, banged on the door and windows, brandished antisemitic signs and shouted racial slurs. Afterwards many students allowed as they had felt unsafe, unprotected, and had been literally scared for their lives. When queried by reporters university President Laura Sparks characterized it as a “peaceful demonstration.” Also, as of yet, the police have not made any arrests saying “there were no direct threats.” Why am I not surprised.
7. The Department of Education has commenced several investigations into whether the foregoing instances and others like them constitute violations of civil rights. As of now, it is focusing on ten schools, but, based on the foregoing, the problem runs much deeper than ten schools. The DOE needs to expand its review.
8. As I have said, much of the problem can be traced to the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Protestors amalgamate it with the conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in the region. Ironically, some Jewish students have said they sometimes get criticized for Israel’s policies even though they don’t agree with them.
9. The Biden Administration has issued a statement urging colleges to condemn all forms of hate, religious bias and discrimination. Sounds good, but nothing was said regarding penalties for noncompliance. Some Jewish groups question whether it is sufficient to deal with the problem. I agree. Alyza Lewin, attorney at the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a non-profit that fights college campus antisemitism, called it a good beginning but opined it failed to address Israel’s “right to exist.”
10. According to the most recent FBI statistics hate crimes, in general, are increasing, which is no surprise. Furthermore, it reported that Jews were the most targeted minority group on a per-capita basis. Even though Jews comprise only 2% of the population in 2021 they were victimized by 51% of the total of 1,600 religious hate crimes (not college campus hate crimes) reported. The ADL opined that these numbers are likely understated because many incidents are not reported for various reasons.
Whether or not college administrators are taking antisemitism seriously and are taking decisive action to resolve it is a matter of opinion. Some of them have begun to acknowledge the existence of antisemitism at their schools. That is a good start, but the real question is what action they will take to quell it. Antisemitism is deeply ingrained at many schools, and the perpetrators include both professors with tenure and administration officials. It will not be an easy task. The same goes for the Biden Administration, which has not been friendly toward Jews. For sure, many of the Jewish students who have been victimized think they are not serious enough.
I was glad to see that many donors have threatened to cease giving money to some of these colleges, and some employers have stated they will not hire students who have expressed antisemitic behavior. I hope they follow through. Money is all these people understand.
In my opinion, many, if not most, of the protestors at Cooper Union were not students, but were outside agitators. I think that is the case with all the college protests. The colleges need to do a better job of identifying who is a student and who is not.
I see this as two separate, but intertwined issues. Firstly, there is the matter of antisemitism, both covert and overt, among much of the public, but particularly among educators and educational institutions. I have explained the reasons for this in various previous blogs. It has been ingrained into the human fabric for over 5,000 years, and I don’t see how it can be easily ameliorated, especially since hate and bigotry are taught in many schools.
Babies are not born with hate and prejudice in their hearts. They have to be indoctrinated somehow, somewhere. In my opinion, much of that somehow and somewhere is in school curricula as conceived and taught by biased teachers. Not all, but definitely some. Often, it begins as early as grade school and continues in high school and college. Parents need to be aware of this and be more active in their own children’s education. Discuss what goes on in school with your children and grandchildren. Don’t be reticent about speaking up and taking action, if need be.
As an aside, why parents insist on paying upwards of $100,000 per year to send their children to schools that foster hate and discrimination rather than preparing them to enter the real world with useful skills and knowledge is beyond me. But, that is a topic for another blog on another day. In my opinion, the best way to combat this is with strong, decisive leadership from our elected officials, which we are not getting at the present time.
Secondly, there is the Middle East problem, which has existed for 5,000 years and will not be easily resolved, if ever. There have been countless wars fought in the region, and all sides have long memories of real and perceived injustices. I believe most of the Jews and Palestinians in the area just want to raise their families and live their lives in peace. In fact, anyone who has been to Israel can tell you that in many areas Jews and Palestinians have been coexisting for many years with no problems. The problem is the small minority of vicious subhuman troglodytes who only want to annihilate the Jews as a race. They have no interest in peace. They don’t even particularly like the aforementioned peaceful Palestinians. They view them as pawns to be sacrificed. The proof of this is that they hide in bunkers next to or under schools and hospitals so that innocents can be used as collateral damage in any attack. There is no placating them. There is no negotiating with them. There can be no lasting peace with them. The only solution is to eradicate them as a fighting force. The Israelis have said they intend to do this. Unfortunately, that is something the Biden Administration is incapable of or refuses to comprehend.