Avoiding Anti-Semitism on Campus, or Maybe Not

It’s hard for me to believe that I graduated college over three years ago. I attended UC Davis, which is an extremely liberal and secular school. To most Jews and Israelis (that have even heard of it), they recognize that name as the school where a swastika was found on a fraternity house or where the initiation of BDS had been attempted multiple times. However, for me, it was my home and place of learning for four years.

I began school as a typical American Jew with a semi-traditional background; yet by the time I finished, I was likely the most recognizable Jew around campus. My last two years of college in particular I wore my kippah and tzitzis around campus, around town or wherever else I was. So there I was, one of less than a handful of observant Jews in a small, liberal and secular college town. You might be wondering why I am mentioning all of this, and here is my reason; I don’t believe I was ever on the receiving end of anti-Semitism on campus. Last month, a survey came out conducted by the AMCHA Initiative reporting more than 70% of self-identified University of California Jewish students witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism on campus. Here are some of the specific survey results:

“More than 70% of the respondents had witnessed or experienced on their campuses one or more of the following forms of anti-Jewish bigotry: Heckling, offensive remarks or name-calling directed at them or other Jewish students — 40%; Anti-Semitic graffiti or symbols (e.g., swastikas) — 47%; Their property or the property of other Jewish students damaged or destroyed — 25%; Threats or acts of physical violence directed at them or other Jewish students (e.g., spitting, punching, kicking) — 14%; False accusations or disparaging remarks made against them or other Jewish students — 50%; Email or social media postings with hateful or derogatory language about Jews sent or posted by fellow students — 45%”

Now these are some dubious results. While I am aware there have been some incidents of direct physical or verbal attacks on individual Jewish students, most of the anti-Semitism on UC campuses seems to come from group actions or in anonymous form. I find it hard to take these survey results seriously largely due to the fact the people most likely to have experienced anti-Semitism also took this survey. I am not belittling the hate that has happened to many UC students over the years and believe there have been anti-Semitic incidents. But take the swastika data for instance. Is that to say 47% of surveyors witnessed or experienced that? Does that mean that any student at UC Davis last year could have been included in that number, or is it only people who saw it in person, or is it only the people who lived in the above mentioned fraternity house who actually experienced it? Regardless of that answer and regardless of the entire survey results, there is only one point I glean from it that I believe is relevant and important for all college students to realize.

Even though I know there have been incidents when an individual has committed an anti-Semitic attack in one way or another against a Jew, which is by far and away a rarity even at UC campuses. Never once in my whole tenure in Davis, did someone shout at me or say something anti-Semitic randomly. Consequently, I would have responded to that survey as having not witnessed anti-Semitism, even though others in the same position would have. Well, actually, there was that one time I was walking home on a Friday night and was called a derogatory term. Also, in my senior year, I cosponsored an event that brought two Israelis to speak on campus. The event resulted in being cut short by the police due to anti-Israel protesting inside the actual event. Here is a good recap.

Anti-Semitism on campuses nowadays largely comes in the form of group or anonymous attacks. Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine say and commit acts of anti-Israel and anti-Semitism (like apartheid week) in mass numbers rather than as individuals. Anonymous people go out in the middle of the night and draw swastikas on Jewish houses or dorm walls. People write hate messages online through social media networks. Groups plan events bringing known anti-Semites and anti-Israel advocates to speak on campus. These are the common issues college students have to deal with on almost a daily basis.

So maybe I can say I experienced anti-Semitism as a college student, after considering everything I just went through. Oh, who am I kidding, I am certain I experienced anti-Semitism in college. I experienced many of the things that the survey asked about in various ways. I can also see that hatred towards Jews and Israel on campus is getting worse each year. As I endure graduate school on a much different, yet still very liberal campus on the other side of the country, I will take these considerations into effect. The most important element is that Jewish students show that they are proud to be Jewish, proud to support Israel and ready to fight the ignorance and hate coming from those who wish us ill. As for avoiding anti-Semitism, you probably won’t be able to, but what you can do is take that hate and turn darkness into light.

About the Author
Zander Wold is a Jew from Los Angeles currently living in Haifa.
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