One of the most significant fallouts after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel was the rise of antisemitism in the Diaspora. The situation on university campuses became political and militant, highlighting a long-ignored issue.
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
What do you think is the biggest news story of 2023?
That was the question CJAD 800 Montreal Now holiday replacement host David Heurtal, a former Liberal Member of the Quebec National Assembly and Cabinet Minister, asked the show’s listeners on the Boxing Day episode. Although I was uncomfortable with public speaking, I had to call the station. The question was whether it was a big news story or big for us personally. I thought the outbreak of antisemitism and anti-Zionism on university campuses was one of the biggest stories in the news and mattered to me personally. Heurtal agreed. I spoke with Heurtal on air for over 5 minutes, nearly the whole quarter segment. We spoke in the segment about the issue at McGill, among the American and Ivy League universities, and my personal experiences. I could give insight from my years of experience reporting on McGill’s long history of antisemitism and anti-Zionism and my book-length history, “Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.” What we see is the pro-Palestinian student protests, the harassment towards the pro-Israel Jewish students, and, as Heutal pointed out, the indoctrination.
The lesser-known story is the part the administration, leadership, and faculty play: passive-aggressive antisemitism. There are only two viewpoints on universities: pro-Palestinian and pro-free speech, or neutral but not pro-Israel. As McGill Historian Gil Troy summed up quite succinctly in his recent article entitled, “Our Failed Colleges: Time to Get Radical,” “A generation of professors now views scholarship as advocacy, treating the lecture podium as a political platform. This goes far beyond who gets hired or promoted. Most scholarly associations have turned anti-racist, anti-colonial, and thus activist. That means anyone seeking letters of recommendation, searching for jobs, or hoping for prizes must embrace the reigning ideology.” 
My experience this past semester with my professors in the Jewish studies department and their discomfort about and desire that I not speak up and write about pro-Israel and discomfort about my attending the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) Antisemitism Face It or Fight It conference in Ottawa this past October. Heurtal summarized what my professors do to me in one word: “intimidation.” It was better than I could have ever described it. Heurtal, however, gave me some advice I will take seriously: to keep speaking up and not be silent. Rereading an old article I wrote about the increase in antisemitism in 2019, my article’s title is as accurate now as it was: “Silence is now safety it only proliferates antisemitism and anti-Zionism.”
After the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack on Israel and the backlash against Israel for exercising the right to defend itself, there has been an outburst of antisemitism in the Diaspora and North America. The campus antisemitism and anti-Zionism exploded all over North America and at McGill, creating a new chapter in McGill’s long and complicated history of antisemitism and anti-Zionism, one that I have had to write updating what has been one of my most popular and controversial historical writing projects. The project is now in its third incarnation.
Ten years ago, I started my journalism career covering Canadian, American, and Israeli politics, universities, and Judaism for the now-defunct Examiner.com. For three years, I wrote, and my articles were published daily. After three years, I published over 1,100 articles covering various topics. I achieved fame and viral success for my college rankings and admissions articles, especially at the coveted Ivy League and elite schools. My articles on Judaism shaped my path to becoming an American Jewish historian. I developed a voice for writing about American and Canadian Jewish history, particularly antisemitism.
While I was a journalist, I covered Israeli politics, the American-Israel relationship, and current religious and demographic trends. One news issue close to my heart was antisemitism and anti-Zionism on university campuses. How the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement against Israel motivated other students. As a journalist, I wrote about the issues confronting students, particularly in Montreal at Concordia and McGill Universities. I saw fear take over these students, as it did me a few years ago. For over nearly ten years, I have been covering antisemitism and anti-Zionism campus news.
When I went to McGill as an undergraduate and got my first graduate degree, neighboring Concordia University was the hotbed of anti-Zionist activity. I reported on the situation as McGill’s SSMU attempted to pass a BDS motion on campus. However, in 2019, as the SSMU executives were kicking out Jewish student Jordyn Wright for accepting a free trip to Israel, the articles turned into an entire book-length history of how McGill went from Philo-Semitic to antisemitic to anti-Zionist. My research was supposed to be a blog post for the Times of Israel, but ended up being a book-length history of antisemitism and anti-Zionist policies and activities on McGill’s campus, “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now Anti-Zionism.” McGill is now the hotbed for this activity in Canada. However, the challenges only become more significant when one aspires to respect them as a historian with a doctorate and adds Zionist to the label that defines them. Just like Gil Troy, who, despite the credentials of a coveted trio of degrees from Harvard, still faces a backlash over twenty years after first declaring in the media, “I am a Zionist.”
For me, this fight is personal. When I first attended Concordia University as a master’s student in Judaic Studies, it was just after the second intifada and just as IAW began. I had a pro-Palestinian stalker that contributed to interrupting my academic career. At that point, Concordia was at its peak as a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. I was going to be a teaching assistant in the Department of Religion’s Introduction to Judaism course. I was listed on the syllabus as the TA, and then before classes started in the fall semester, a pro-Palestinian student kept harassing me on my email. I mentioned the incident once but did not want to cause a conflict; instead, I dropped the TAing course and slowly went to campus less frequently.
This past semester, I attended McGill University. I was accepted into the Jewish education program, but my advisor thought the Jewish studies department was a better fit. In October, I attended the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs Antisemitism: Face it or Fight it conference in Ottawa. Happening barely two weeks after Hamas’ attack on Israel, it was a unifying experience. Professionally and personally, it was a high point for me as I met the great Irwin Cotler and was able to speak to him about my history of antisemitism and anti-Zionism at McGill. I got to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. However, it was disheartening to hear about the incidents and attacks at other Canadian universities, but also surprising to hear professors and others knew about the history I wrote and its reach and impact.
However, it was an incredible learning experience that upset my professors at McGill; what had been a good relationship became strained because of my activism and participation in the conference and subsequent articles about my experience at the conference. However, their way of challenging my activism was to try to discredit and undermine the nearly twenty years of academic and journalist work and success I achieved. They lumped it up as just “life experience,” looking down that it was not an academic success and not deserving of respect in the Ivy Tower. This reaction was the more politically correct direction rather than directly chastising me for how uncomfortable my activism made them.
What surprised their reactions was that these were Jewish studies professors who should be supporting Jewish students and advocating for them. Instead, these professors are more concerned with finding favor with the university’s leadership and administrators than supporting and protecting pro-Israel students, as the pro-Palestinian professors keep doing for students who share their views. I have been having a more difficult time than some other students have because of my public profile, my reporting, and my research on antisemitism and anti-Zionism at McGill. The challenge of the balance of respect for my work’s historical writings and the distaste for any Zionist activism on campus today has been almost insurmountable.
This fall I wrote an article about the position of Jewish studies professors in the campus debate. One scholar I cited summed up my experience at McGill. Jarrod Tanny, an associate professor and Charles and Hannah Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and the founder of the Jewish Studies Zionist Network, just published an article criticizing a Jewish studies professor. Tanny’s article entitled, “Silence of the Lambs: Dissecting the Failure of Jewish Studies Programs” claims, “Whenever events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heat up and the academy singles out Israel, Jewish studies faculty either remain silent or publicly side with the anti-Zionists, much as they did in May 2021.”
I understand what Tanny has been saying about blacklisting; I am known for my outspoken and controversial history on campus, anti-Zionism, and my frequent works on antisemitism, but that has not translated into a position within the Jewish community. Activists throughout history have been punished for trying to change the status quo or injustice, and although I do not consider my waves that overwhelming, we as a Jewish community still have that fear that if we go beyond the outside’s view of how we should be, it could be detrimental.
This past semester, I again felt unsafe on campus with a heightened profile as a Zionist writing about Zionism after the October 7 attack, where Zionism has become an even dirtier word than ever on university campuses. No student should feel pressured to opt out of their education or any activity because of their Judaism or support for Israel. All Jewish students need to feel safe on campus. My mother long worried about me taking a public stand. As all Jews, we are all fighting and teaching about antisemitism and strengthening Jewish identity enough to stand up to it.
We are living in a time when antisemitism on campus has reached a dangerous level. I hope my further research into this heightened antisemitism on campus will help us understand the phenomenon. After my first time being harassed on campus, I never thought I would feel fear for my safety on campus. I believe my more profound understanding of this campus scourge will contribute to the greater academic understanding, history, and activism. I hope examining the past will help find a solution for the future. Until something is done to stop campus antisemitism and anti-Zionism and university administrators and officials are held accountable and protect all their students, pro-Israel Jewish students will not feel safe and comfortable on university campuses, and this repeating cycle has to stop.
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over fifteen years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.”
Ms. Goodman is also the author “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of Whiteness in the South,” among others. She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history, and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu.
 Troy, Gil. “Our Failed Colleges: Time to Get Radical.” Jewish Journal, December 20, 2023. https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/opinion/366505/our-failed-colleges-time-to-get-radical/