The videos of university campus antisemitic rallies have been widely disseminated. Just seeing them frightens Jews to their very core. They are so terribly disturbing because they invite fears that have been gathered in the collective subconscious of every living Jew. Generations of pogroms are triggered when a Jewish individual sees or hears these student protestors chanting slogans that essentially advocate for the death of Israel and Jews worldwide. Jewish students on college campuses need protection and those marching an education to historical facts and basic civics but as the marches proceed Jewish students feel as if they are not offered even a modicum of safety. There are no safe spaces for Jewish students on many campuses.
The marches are a forum of hate filled messaging, if not countenanced, then at least ignored, by university administrators and leaders. To be fair some of the colleges have reacted, often following pressure from donors, to address the hatred paraded across their campuses. It seems though that these interventions are but a small reaction to a vast and expanding problem.
While these ill-informed students continue to blare vile, antisemitic hate toward their Jewish co-students the Jewish students are not the only ones on campus feeling fear and pain. I have been speaking with colleagues who are Jewish and are members of the faculty and administration at several college and university campuses. These adults are feeling increasingly isolated and concerned. One tenured professor at a state college on his way home found that his car was “keyed. “There was a scratch on his car that ran from the front fender to the rear bumper. The car was in the faculty parking area with cameras throughout but somehow nothing was captured to determine who did it. This incident can be dismissed as a minor issue, as university security did, but this professor with high student evaluations for many years has been parking in the same lot for more than 20 years and never had anything like this occur.
A college administrator on a different campus decided that he would attend a teach in on the topic of the “Israel-Gaza Conflict” where he works. It was not a very well attended program which could very well mean that many students had little interest in attending because their minds were already made up. The program was run by a history professor who, according to this administrator, gave a very one-sided view of the situation, blaming Israel for virtually all that took place and only mentioning Hamas’ attack on October 7 in passing. But the most telling indication of how biased and limited in his knowledge the professor was, was that he used the word Naqba several times but when asked could not define its meaning.
On another campus a student led discussion overseen by tenured faculty a Jewish student asked about the plight of Jews forced to leave Arab countries. No one on the panel was able to identify Mizrachi Jews and when a Jewish professor explained who they are, no one on the panel would acknowledge that they are middle eastern and clearly not white.
When I spoke with these three people and a few others and asked them how they felt about their status on campus they all described a feeling of just wanting to do their job and leave. All these professionals have been dedicated to their jobs, there for the students on their campuses and known to go out of their way to help students be successful. “I never believed that our students could be so ill informed and so hateful” said one.
Another described a conversation he had with a non-Jewish faculty member who brushed the student protests off by comparing them to the “Peace, Love and get out of Vietnam protests” of the late 1960’s and early 70’s.
“I responded to him that his words were not consoling. He was just minimizing the hatred. The protests of the Vietnam era did not advocate for the murder of people, quite the opposite.”
Having taught on college campuses in the past and knowing how young minds are easily manipulated I wondered if, when they grew up and spent a few years in the real world they would outgrow some of their current biases and hatefulness. Everyone of those I spoke with had a pessimistic reaction. The consensus was that these young adults would grow up to be antisemitic older adults.
If that is the prognosis for the future then we all must evaluate our hopes and plans for our children and grandchildren and see to it that we are all in safer spaces.