College Students: Comfort or Jewish continuity?

An ‘apartheid wall’ erected on the UC Berkeley campus. Photo: UC Berkeley SJP Facebook Page.

“Since these are UCs and full of antisemitism you need to tone down the Jew stuff/Israel stuff, unfortunately. Not even sure you should say Jewish youth group.” 

I wasn’t surprised by this comment left by my mentor, a University of California graduate, on one of my essays for my UC application. In fact, while writing my college essays I was consistently mindful of how often I mentioned the fact that I was Jewish, and I was careful never to expose myself as a Zionist. I knew that being honest about my Zionism would likely result in a rejection. I went into the application process knowing that wherever I’d end up for college, I’d probably face antisemitism both in and out of the classroom. 

It is no secret that the American university system is demonstrably antisemitic. The virus of campus antisemitism is birthed in the UCs, bastions of progressive anti-Zionism, and is nurtured in universities across America by the AMP, NOI, BDS, SJP, and other similar groups. Just last week, UC Berkeley held its annual Israel Apartheid Week, a series of events curated by SJP aimed at spreading outright lies about Israel in hopes of villainizing the Jewish state and intimidating Jewish students.  

According to a 2021 survey conducted by Alums for Campus Fairness, 95% of students and recent graduates felt antisemitism was a problem on their campus. This survey showed that more than half of respondents had received offensive or threatening comments on the basis of their Judaism and Zionism from faculty or university employees. Students who reported these incidents to their administration described being dismissed and ridiculed. 

Universities pay slews of antisemitic speakers to give presentations at their schools at the expense of Jewish students. In addition to school administrations, student governments largely support antisemitism, exemplified by the total of 147 BDS measures being considered on American university campuses since 2005, with close to 50% passing. Eleven of those passed just in the last year, most recently at Columbia University. In 2019, students at more than 20 universities in 10 states around the country held Israeli Apartheid Weeks.

As much as I feel guilty paying to attend an institution that actively fights for the destruction of my people, and as deeply unfair as it is that I have to consider whether my school supports my right to live, I still have to go to college. To have a career, an income, and be able to survive in the modern world, I need a college degree. Foregoing a higher degree is no longer a realistic choice for most people in America. So, if I’m going to have to participate in the system anyway, I might as well work to improve it. 

Considering the above, I write to you – Jewish students pursuing degrees at American universities. Whatever fears you have about being a proud Jew and Zionist on campus, the alternative is surely more fatal.

Given the state of university campuses today, it is understandable why so many young Jews and Zionists struggle to defend Israel on campus. I’ve had many conversations with Jews who are hesitant to join the Zionist campus group, correct a teacher, or report an antisemitic incident because they think it comes at a personal stake: a bad grade, a peer’s judgment, or an angry teacher. But I say, not defending Israel and not defending the Jews is the most personal stake. To let antisemitism go unchecked and to allow anti–Zionism to grow in universities is a mistake that will affect your life more than any subpar grades or lost friendships ever could.

You’re afraid of making an antisemitic teacher dislike you? It’s far more dangerous to let antisemitism fester in your classrooms. You’re scared of losing friends if you join the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter at your school? It’s far more dangerous to absolve your peers of antisemitism because you’re reluctant to speak up. 

You should be just as scared of your school passing a divestment resolution as you are of being in the bad graces of your administration. You should be just as scared of an SJP activist going uninterrupted on your campus as you are of making your student government hate you. Walking past an antisemite and not saying anything is what’s jeopardizing your future, not any potential reputational harm.

Your future in America is entirely dependent on our ability to stop the growing wave of antisemitism. More than “succeeding” in college, your survival after college will be dictated by whether or not Americans and American institutions wake up and choose to end Jew-hatred. 

As American Jews, we exist in a unique and free time. We are not at the whims of our host country, our lives are no longer dependent on non-Jews, and our livelihoods are not secured only through assimilation. We live still in a democracy, we are yet unbound by fascism, and for now, we, the Jews, are powerful and privileged enough to defend ourselves. 

Given our immense power and opportunity, to waste it on silence would be a spit in the face of every Jew who died because they didn’t have the same opportunity. You can decide to fight for yourself, your people, and your nation, or to retreat into silence. I implore you: Make the right choice, because your future is on the line.

About the Author
Natalie Arbatman is the daughter of Soviet Jews and a current senior at Mountain View High School in California, allowing her a unique perspective on modern American antisemitism. She is a proud Jew and Zionist who works to defend Israel online and on her high school campus. She is a fellow for Club Z.
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