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The ADL Campus Antisemitism Report Card gets an ‘F’ from me

The ADL is supposed to be grading how the university handled antisemitic incidents on campus, not whether they happened to begin with
Cornell University students sit outside on November 3, 2023 in Ithaca, New York. (Matt Burkhartt/Getty Images/AFP)
Cornell University students sit outside on November 3, 2023 in Ithaca, New York. (Matt Burkhartt/Getty Images/AFP)

The ADL has apparently revised the Campus Antisemitism Report Card it originally issued this past April. Unfortunately, the methodology used in creating it remains woefully deficient. As a result, the Report Card continues to disseminate flawed, incomplete, and thus highly misleading information to students and their parents who deserve far better. It decidedly does not correspond to what I have seen and experienced on campus.

Worse, to the best of my knowledge, no one from the ADL visited Cornell or spoke to faculty or students on site. I suspect that the same is true at other colleges and universities. And it is noteworthy that Hillel rabbis and directors have not been part of the ADL process, meaning that the Jewish perspective of Hillel personnel on campuses – who know best precisely what is happening there – is nowhere to be found. This in and of itself is one of the Report Card’s glaring deficiencies.

I am an adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School and I have observed conditions at Cornell both before and after October 7. In the fall, I taught a course on the law of genocide at the law school, and this past semester, I taught courses on antisemitism in the courts and in jurisprudence for both law students and undergraduates. I have also been a lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School since 2011, and I am general counsel emeritus of the World Jewish Congress, the international Jewish human rights organization that represents more than 100 Jewish communities across the globe. Fighting against all manifestations of antisemitism was a central part of my day job until I stepped down as the WJC’s general counsel and associate executive vice president at the end of August 2023.

That is not to say that antisemitism is not alive and fomenting at Cornell just as it is at other university and college campuses throughout the US. and elsewhere. That was the case long before October 7. Since then, antisemitism has surged exponentially at Cornell, as it has on other campuses. Repeatedly, legitimate support for the Palestinians in Gaza and equally legitimate opposition to the policies of the present Israeli government have morphed into expressed desires for the eradication of Israel as a nation state and the vilification of its supporters, far too often in blatantly antisemitic terms.

But the ADL Report Card isn’t meant to – and doesn’t – catalogue antisemitic incidents. It purports to evaluate how the respective universities and colleges have addressed and handled antisemitism since October 7.

For instance, the Report Card acknowledges that the two high profile incidents of last fall – the threats of physical violence against Jewish students and Professor Russell Rickford’s declaration that he was “exhilarated” by Hamas’ brutality – resulted in the arrest of the student who had made the threats and Rickford’s at least temporary suspension. The Report Card does not criticize the way the Cornell’s administration handled either of these situations or suggest that they should have been treated differently.

The Report Card highlights the various actions Cornell has taken since October 7, without in any way suggesting that these were somehow inadequate. According to the ADL, “The University has undertaken a review of public safety operations, launched a new lecture series exploring critical issues around antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate, created two advisory groups, and is organizing trainings. Cornell also released a new policy clarifying that protests may not compromise the safety of others or interfere with University operations, and a policy forbidding the release of personal information of students or staff used or intended to threaten or intimidate others. The school has also spoken out against professors promoting personal beliefs in class, and President Martha Pollack has been consistently outspoken with respect to denouncing antisemitism on campus.”

In its update, the ADL added, “In May 2024, an 18-day encampment led to the suspension of six students, but no major incidents or arrests took place. Following the end of the encampment, President Pollack was criticized for expressing gratitude to the protestors for remaining peaceful.”

What the ADL Report Card fails (or refuses) to mention is that in contrast with other campuses, as reported at the time by JTA, “No deals were struck” by the Cornell administration to close down the encampment and that the students “simply left of their own accord.”

Surely avoiding any violent incidents without giving in to the demonstrators’ demands should count for something.

I can personally attest to the fact that the senior members of the Cornell administration have done their utmost to guide the university through what amounts to a global antisemitism pandemic in a sensitive and above all fair manner, encouraging dialogue in which diverse views can be expressed, and in so doing have provided Jewish as well as Muslim students with a safe learning environment.

A student of mine, Dylan Kossar, wrote a superb paper for my class on antisemitism in the courts and in jurisprudence in which she examined and analyzed the realities at Cornell in the way the ADL could have done, should have done, but didn’t. She concluded that the grade given to the university by the ADL was more a reflection of the serious nature of the above-mentioned two incidents that occurred last fall rather than of the satisfactory way in which they were handled by Cornell’s administration. Ms. Kossar went on to say (I am quoting from her paper with her approval):

“My grade for Cornell is a B. Based on the incidents that have taken place – and are still taking place – on campus, I cannot give an A. But I do feel supported by administration and their responses to antisemitic incidents. . . . I think the University was judged too harshly. I believe this is because the ADL focused on events that took place on campus without truly considering the University’s reaction. Students can see first-hand if their administration cares.”

Let’s see now. A “D” from a bunch of folks somewhere in a Manhattan office who have no firsthand or even secondhand knowledge of what’s been happening at Cornell, or a “B” from a law student, class of ’24, Articles Editor of the Cornell Law Review, and member of the Jewish Law Students Association, if you please, who has spent the past harrowing eight months in Ithaca actually experiencing both the good and the bad there. Which do you think is a more valid and more reliable assessment?

That’s what I figured.

The bottom line is that Cornell, its students, its faculty, and its administrators deserved far better from the ADL than the perfunctory and largely opaque treatment to which they were subjected in the Report Card. And parents and prospective students alike should be reassured that Cornell is a university that in fact cares deeply about and for its Jewish students, as it does about and for all its students.

About the Author
Adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School and lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School.
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