University campuses are populated by tech-savvy (some would say tech-dependent) students who style themselves as the conscience of a new generation. These social justice warriors, also known as Generation Woke, champion countless human rights movements across the world. Yet, too often, radical contingents of these warriors have also exploited social media platforms to promote a variant of antisemitism that, despite its 21st-century appearance, is simply a repackaged version of the world’s oldest hate, and is at odds with any rational understanding of social justice.
It would be easy to place the blame for their antisemitism squarely at the feet of the students themselves. Yet, it is equally vital to examine the education system and how it has contributed to this troubling state of affairs.
Universities provide a platform for educators and administrators to significantly influence each generation’s thoughts and political views. Perhaps no better example encapsulates how education has been weaponized to promote antisemitism than the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies department (AMED) at San Francisco State University (SFSU).
In 2021, AMED was allowed by SFSU to host an online event with Leila Khaled, a Palestinian-Arab terrorist who participated in two airplane hijackings and attempted to detonate a hand grenade during the second one. Khaled participated in these heinous crimes as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a US-designated terror organization committed to genocide against the Jewish people. Even today, she still encourages violence in the name of Palestinian-Arab interests. Although Jewish students at SFSU expressed concern and opposition to platforming a terrorist, the university’s administration defended the event, as did several student groups. The event was shut down only after the video hosting company refused to host it due to its violation of the company’s terms of service.
Who is to blame for the glorification of terror in the case of the AMED incident? Is it Generation Woke for neglecting to use their social justice voices to stand up for one of the most targeted minority populations on campus, Jewish students? Or is it the biased and agenda-driven administrations who are encouraging antisemitism to continue? There should be no room for the promotion of discrimination, much less of terrorists, in an institute of higher education.
The influence of terrorist organizations on college campuses is real and can be seen among groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), whose ideology closely mirrors that of the PFLP. There are multiple records of SJP chapters hosting PFLP members at events, with the encouragement of professors and administrators, and countless more social media posts by SJP demonstrating their support for terror.
Yes, Generation Woke is passionate and generally supports human rights, but they too often ignore human rights when it comes to terrorism directed at Jews. It would be beneficial to examine how groups like SJP are funded – to understand why they do what they do – but there is a fundamental lack of transparency on the part of SJP and its donors. If, theoretically, the PFLP is funding SJP, it is directly participating in promoting discrimination and violence against Jews on US campuses.
In the US, most students have but a cursory understanding of the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Arabs. The combination of magnified voices on social media and being a minority among minorities leaves many Jewish students with a legitimate fear for their safety on many American campuses. Asking American Jewish students to convert the apprehension they are feeling on campus to inspiration is easier said than done, but it is necessary to ensure a safe environment where true education can flourish.
For better or worse, much of the burden to remedy the hostile campus climate falls on the Jewish students in Generation Woke correctly recognizing the progressiveness of Zionism and the State of Israel. By speaking the language of young and idealistic student activists, they can begin improving the situation on the ground.
So, to the Zionist Jews of Generation Woke, we challenge you: call out the next false post a peer uploads on social media about Jewish people and Israel; ask where the antisemites get their funding and organizational assistance, and stand up to biased professors on campus and reach out to organizations like Zachor Legal Institute and Zachor on Campus when you need help for the backlash you may receive. It will not be easy, but it would do wonders for Jewish students who have been silenced for too long. There are many resources available to Jewish students in their fight against campus antisemitism, and it is progressive Jewish students who must wear their identities proudly and recruit non-Jewish students in this true social justice movement, to ensure this is the last generation that has to fight for basic rights on campus.
Lizzy McNeill, who made Aliyah in 2018 and served in the IDF, is the Director of Zachor on Campus. Marc Greendorfer is the President of Zachor Legal Institute.
This op-ed is published in partnership with a coalition of organizations that fight antisemitism across the world. Read the previous article by Hananya Naftali.