The Plague of Antisemitism: Why Many Young Jews Feel Safer in Israel
When I set out to write this piece, I was determined to find out whether the antisemitic dual loyalty trope was fact or fiction. It was one of the newer tropes I had been introduced to but never understood. Throughout history, Jews have always tried to assimilate into the dominant society they lived in. However, those cultures rejected them so thoroughly that complete assimilation wasn’t an option. Nowadays, Jews worldwide share a distinct culture and are allowed to live this way – one of the luxuries of living in a democracy; despite this, Jews living in Arab nations don’t have the same liberties. In the 20th and 21st centuries, with the establishment of a state on our ancestral territory, the prejudices towards Jews continue to mutate, undying and inconspicuous to the non-Jewish population.
The dual loyalty stereotype still stands: Jews are more loyal to Israel or the Jewish collective than their nations of residence. Is there any fact to this statement? How does one measure loyalty? Did this trope come from feelings of insecurity? Of these three questions, the third stuck out the most: dual loyalty or insecurity? This question eventually gave birth to my theory: Jewish people feel safest in Israel.
Dual loyalty, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, refers to accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their nations. On the surface, the definition doesn’t come across as prejudicial. However, the core of this trope is that it’s used to justify the ostracization and, in extreme cases, the lynching of Jews. This idea was used to excuse violence against Jews by the Romans in the 1st century and again in 2019 by US representative Ilhan Omar to justify social prejudice towards American Jewry.
Understanding the concept of dual loyalty hinges on comprehending what it means to have ties to a Jewish collective; this involves recognizing the importance of two fundamental aspects: community and connection to the land. In Jewish culture, the value of community is highly esteemed, as evidenced by the requirement of 10 people to form a minyan – a meeting of adult Jewish people for traditional public worship. Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of being Jewish is that you will never find a Jew alone. Consisting of approximately 14-15 million individuals in total, about half of the world’s Jews live in Israel today. Indigenous practices are a defining aspect of Judaism, with our rituals deeply entrenched in the land. We face our Synagogues toward Jerusalem, and the essence of our prayers revolves around the desire to return there. Our ritual foods are made from native Israeli species, and the majority of our holy sites are in Israel; finally, many of our commandments center around the land of Israel.
To test my theory, I aimed to have complete control over the wording of my questions and not shy away from potentially controversial topics. Despite my survey being limited in scope (35 individuals), I firmly believe that the implications of the findings are significant for university-age Jews in North America. The political climate on college campuses grows increasingly intolerant to differences of opinion and leans towards radical social justice initiatives; this is apparent when student groups invite known Palestinian terror affiliates to speak on campuses.
As a college student, I find these trends worrying and dared to ask: do Jews feel safe on campus? It may surprise you – we don’t. I found that 79% of respondents think Jews are valued less than other ethnic minorities on their campuses. In a climate where the Jewish connection to Israel is erased using apartheid and occupation, it is no wonder we feel disrespected. This trend of secondary citizenship is perceived to carry over to the student and administrative authorities of universities. 71% of respondents believe their student governments do not represent them as Jewish students, and 59% think they will be ignored in some capacity by faculty or admin because they are Jewish. These numbers are frightening. When you send your child to university, it is in an effort for them to expand their knowledge and interact with individuals of different backgrounds and of differing opinions, not to be criticized and treated like second-class citizens because of their Jewish heritage.
A staggering 91% of those polled have been or personally know a victim of antisemitism on their campus. These experiences occur across the continent, from students at the University of British Columbia to Queen’s University and Ontario College of Art and Design in Canada, to the University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers University, and the University of California, Berkeley in the United States. With the plague of antisemitism in North American universities only growing more aggressive with the popularity of anti-Zionist rhetoric, it’s unsurprising that 85% of respondents believe Jews feel safer in Israel than anywhere else in the world.
Considering my findings, Jewish students’ safety, freedoms, and well-being on North American college campuses are under threat. The prevalence of antisemitism and perceived lack of representation among student government and senior administration is a disturbing trend that needs urgent investigation. When we encounter hostility and indifference on all sides, our mistrust of non-Jews and non-Jewish institutions grows. Historically, dual loyalty has been used to legitimize violence against Jews, yet, for many young Jews today, our allegiance to Israel and the Jewish people is built from a feeling of safety and community, even in North America.