Myths and Facts About American Campuses: #2 College campuses have become unsafe for Jews

As the author of Myths and Facts, my focus is on the fabrications by Israel’s enemies. The growing hysteria over the situation on college campuses, however, impels me to dispel a few popular myths that are creating unwarranted fear among Jewish students and their parents.

American Jews often prefer to believe the worst, despite all evidence to the contrary. Now, don’t misunderstand me; there are legitimate concerns on campus, such as (a) the need to educate Jews about their history and connection to Israel; (b) training Jewish students to have the confidence to stand up for themselves and for Israel [which requires (a)]; (c) the paucity of courses on Israel and the plethora of courses taught with an anti-Israel bias; (d) the malevolent influence in and outside the classroom of faculty using their position to advance a political agenda; and the shortage of American scholars who can teach the history, politics and culture of Israel through a variety of disciplinary lenses.

Thankfully, there are lots of organizations doing good work in addressing these concerns. I’d name them, but I always get in trouble if I leave one out. Let me put it another way, your contribution to any of the organizations I know that work with students is a good one. And because of the good work they do, it is important to distinguish the facts about what they’re confronting from the fiction.

Jewish students at more politically active campuses report feeling anxious or intimidated, but the record shows that violence directed against Jews is virtually unheard of on American campuses. And when I mention the concerns of students on politically active campuses, I’m talking about maybe two dozen out of 2,000 universities.

Separating facts from hyperbole, the ADL recorded the following anti-Semitic “assaults”: In 2011 – 1; 2012 – 2, 2013 – 0 and so far in 2014 – 1, and not all of these had anything to do with Israel. Now some people may consider a total of four assaults in the last three and a half years a serious matter, and they were certainly serious for the individuals involved, but these statistics do not indicate that sending a Jewish child to college will put them in danger.

ADL also tracks anti-Semitic “incidents,” and the findings do not indicate that campuses have become hostile to Jews. In fact, in 2013, anti-Semitic incidents declined. Again, you may have a different opinion of what constitutes a large or a small problem, and I don’t want to suggest that any amount of anti-Semitism is acceptable, but out of all the universities in the United States only 37 incidents were reported to ADL.

Moreover, if you look at most of the incidents that were reported, a large percentage are the work of vandals, and most have nothing to do with Israel. For example, swastikas have been painted on some campuses and finding one on your door is disturbing, but not dangerous. Similarly, mock eviction notices distributed at a few universities upset many students, but there was no violence associated with the stunt, and it drew condemnation from university officials. Some students have had to listen to anti-Semitic slurs and the BDS campaign waged on a dozen or so campuses can be construed as anti-Semitic.

Students are made uncomfortable by many of these activities, and university administrators have a responsibility to ensure their campuses are civil, tolerant and free of intimidation both inside and outside the classroom. Too often, when incidents do occur, administrators react slowly, if at all, and, frequently, only after complaints either reach the media or major donors. Officials must be much more scrupulous in upholding rules of conduct and not confusing hate speech with free speech.

Anti-Semitism is not a new phenomenon and many of us codgers can remember far more incendiary periods than today. The environment at some schools may seem hostile to Israel, but that is usually more related to the general political activism of that particular school than any nationwide anti-Israel trend sweeping the campuses. Most colleges, as I’ll discuss in a future article, have a far greater problem with political apathy than anti-Israel activism. Moreover, some of the most historically “hostile” campuses, such as Berkeley, have strong, articulate, passionate pro-Israel activist students.

Perhaps, more important, Berkeley, and several other universities, now have robust academic programs in Israel Studies that offer students programs and scholarship-based courses that were never available before. These Israel Studies programs offer a dramatic contrast to the often hyperbolic, ideology driven, pseudo-academic work students encounter in other courses.

Jews must always be vigilant. The situation could change in the light of the Gaza War or some new incendiary event, but past conflicts did not produce violence against Jewish students, only an increase in the volume of noise made by Israel’s detractors.

Some schools are better than others, not only in their academic programs, but in their campus culture. Some are very strong in Jewish Studies and a growing number are introducing Israel Studies as well. There are places that Jewish students may feel more comfortable because of a kosher kitchen, a strong Hillel or large Jewish student population. Some students, unfortunately, have little interest in anything Jewish and choose colleges based on other interests. One criterion that no Jewish student or parent should worry about, however, is the potential danger of attending any American university.

Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine and The Arab Lobby and Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews.


About the Author
Dr Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE) and a foreign policy analyst who lectures frequently on U.S.-Middle East policy. Dr. Bard is the director of the Jewish Virtual Library, the world's most comprehensive online encyclopedia of Jewish history and culture. He is also the author/editor of 24 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.
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