Yes, anti-Semitism is still a problem on campus
The authors of a new poll suggest that campus anti-Israelism have been with us since the 1950s, so there is no reason for undue concern.
Pro-Israel students on US campus Photo: Courtesy JAFI
Mitchell Bard and Jeff Dawson’s new study, “Israel and the Campus: The Real
Story,” led many newspapers to trumpet that anti-Semitism is not a problem on
They pointed to the study’s finding that significant
anti-Israel incidents occurred at only about three percent of schools, with most
occurring in only a handful of colleges. But the headlines got the wrong
take-away message from the study, given the implications of these numbers, the
study’s other findings, and our experiences on the front lines of anti- Israel
campus activism over the past 11 years. Fortunately, not all schools are a
problem, but the challenge is serious and should not be minimized.
half of the students interviewed for the study – 43% – reported that
anti-Semitism is a problem at their schools. The authors acknowledge this is a
“shockingly high” level.
If a similarly high percentage of any other
campus minority reported experiencing prejudice, most people would consider it
unacceptable, and mobilize to take action.
The authors suggest that
campus anti-Semitism/anti-Israelism have been with us since the 1950s, so there
is no reason for undue concern.
But this long-range view misses the great
difference between earlier decades and today. Israel simply had not been the
burning issue on campuses in earlier decades. That changed abruptly in 2000 when
Palestinians launched the terrorist war known as the second
Simultaneously, an alliance of extremists launched an
aggressive anti-Israel propaganda campaign to disparage Israel.
campaign came to be known as the new anti-Semitism, with “Israel” replacing
“Jew,” but with the same accusations, irrationality and fanaticism that
characterized traditional anti-Semitism. In the West, its epicenter was college
campuses. The Palestinian-Israel conflict became the most inflammatory campus
issue, the focus of student activism and of panels, demonstrations and
During the past decade, the anti- Israel campaign has become
more organized, more savvy, and more aggressive, especially since 2005. Red
lines have repeatedly been crossed.
Extremist views, such as calling for
the destruction of Israel and blood libels, became more commonplace.
pro-Israel students tell our campus professionals that they have become too
uncomfortable to openly admit they support Israel. The study overlooks this
progressive radicalization of dialogue and atmosphere.
The study seemed
to suggest that anti-Israelism on campus is not so serious because there were
only 674 incidents from 2010 to 2011, and they were clustered in the
This number, which in any case is unacceptably high, doesn’t
accurately reflect the situation.
Anti-Israel agitation usually erupts
when Israel undertakes defensive military operations, but there were no such
operations in 2010-2011 that could be used to rally anti-Israel followers. In
addition, the Arab “spring,” and especially the carnage in Syria, diverted focus
away from Israel.
Another factor may have been the University of
California’s new, unequivocal rebuke of anti-Israel extremists who try to shut
down pro- Israel events. This may have temporarily subdued anti-Israel activists
at the UCs and other campuses.
Nor should we take comfort from the
finding that anti-Israel events occurred at “only” 108 out of 4,000 schools, and
that one-third occurred at only 10 schools. These were not obscure schools. The
list included some of the largest, most prestigious and influential schools in
the country: Harvard, Columbia, four University of California campuses including
UCLA and the University of Maryland.
Activities at these schools make
national media headlines. When an anti-Israel student wrote a Harvard Crimson op
ed in October that accused Israel of deliberately preventing SAT tests from
reaching Palestinians in Ramallah to deprive them of educational opportunity,
the incident hit mainstream newspapers.
The US State Department itself
felt compelled to publicly explain that the tests had been held up in customs
because the office was closed during the Jewish holidays, and the test had
simply been rescheduled.
Indeed, anti-Israel activists try to get their
events and propaganda associated with big-name schools. In November, for
example, Students for Justice in Palestine will hold its second national
convention at the University of Michigan. One of the scheduled sessions is a
video conference with Khader Adnan, a West Bank leader of Palestinian Islamic
Jihad who had been caught on tape in 2007 inciting a crowd, saying, “Who among
you will be the next suicide bomber?” The campus study reports that student
government resolutions calling for divestment from companies doing business with
Israel have been defeated at all but one school. This is good, but not
reassuring. The purpose of such resolutions is not passage, but rather forcing
debate to spread anti-Israel canards and make them seem familiar and even
The study cites Dr. Sam Edelman’s observation that, “The
delegitimizers have adopted Nazi Julius Streicher’s strategy of throwing mud at
Israel in the expectation that some of it will stick.”
pro-Israel students had to devote enormous time and effort to counter these
resolutions, which were only narrowly defeated, and Jewish students keenly felt
the fallout of embittered relations on campus.
resolutions and boycott efforts are expected for this academic year.
importantly, as Bard and Dawson point out, the most serious problem is
anti-Israel faculty. Their numbers have grown for several reasons: the vogue of
post-modern, post-colonial ideology leavened with the Israeli “new historians”;
active recruitment since 9/11 of faculty from the Middle East to teach about the
region; and the Saudis’ infusion of hundreds of millions dollars to set up
special Middle East study programs.
Often, these professors lead the
anti-Israel charge, and co-sponsor anti-Israel events, as Harvard’s Middle East
Studies department has.
They hire other faculty who share their views.
They use their classrooms and reading lists to spread their bias against Israel,
sometimes bullying students in their classes who disagree with them. Students
are captive audiences, and dependent on their professors for their
The study indirectly suggests that these professors and campus
activists may have had an impact: 25% of students interviewed believe Israel is
an apartheid state; 48% are not sure whether Israel protects the rights of its
Arab minority while only 10% said that Israel does protect minority
It would be naive to minimize the impact these professors have on
broader society. Their prestigious positions lend credibility to their op-eds,
textbooks, books, speeches, tours and media interviews.
Many are involved
in outreach programs to teachers in K-12 who take courses for continuing
education credits, as they do at Georgetown University. Through these outlets,
anti-Israel professors can normalize the worst canards against Zionism, Israel
However, the situation is not all bleak. As Bard and Dawson
point out, pro-Israel organizations and students have mobilized to respond. When
StandWithUs started 11 years ago, Jewish students were stunned and had no idea
how to counter anti-Israel allegations or the aggressive strategies of the
anti-Israel activists and faculty.
That has changed
StandWithUs was among the first groups that mobilized to
empower students to defend Israel by providing educational materials, advocacy
training, and support for their campus events. In many cases, the anti-Israel
campaign backfired, producing pro-Israel student leaders motivated to teach
their campus communities about Israel. Several organizations now work with these
students. Some pro-Israel faculty have also stepped forward to insist on
restoring academic and professional standards, and to sponsor Israel education
Despite the positive developments, we should not let misleading
interpretations of the study or glib headlines lull us into complacency. The
challenge remains, and we must do all we can to meet it. Israel and our
pro-Israel students deserve no less.
Roz Rothstein is the co-founder and
CEO of StandWithUs. Roberta Seid, PhD, is the director of education and research