Antisemitism on college campus on the rise - opinion

"Apartheid antisemitism" has been largely neglected by university administrations because it has masked itself as "legitimate political critique."

The exterior of The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University. (photo credit: REUTERS/KATHERINE TAYLOR/FILE PHOTO)
The exterior of The Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University.

The latest report by the Stop Antisemitism monitoring group on the state of antisemitism on US university campuses paints a dark picture. Fifty-five percent of students surveyed report being a victim of campus antisemitism, 72% report that university administrations fail to take antisemitism and personal safety seriously, 55% of students reported needing to hide their support for Israel, while 73% report hiding their Jewish identity on campus. 

Even with a generously overstated standard deviation, this is a problematic report card on the state of Jew-hatred on US university campuses. Of equal concern, the situation in the Ivy League academia, who represent higher education’s intellectual elites, fares no better.

The 2022 report on campus antisemitism reflects a new intensity and pathological metastasis of Jew-hatred, laser-focused on Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people, and the world’s largest and central Jewish collective. The Israel-centeredness of the new antisemitism has been both woefully underestimated, and willfully overlooked by college and university administrators. Even worse, it has been intentionally exploited by faculties and “pro-Palestinian” student groups on campus. 

This new virulent and virally transmitted mutation of what can be called “apartheid antisemitism” has been largely neglected by university administrations because it has masked itself as “legitimate political critique.” It is an untenable argument.

Graffiti at Queen's University. (credit: Courtesy)Graffiti at Queen's University. (credit: Courtesy)

Antisemitism on college campus 

Few faculty or students on campus would dare to assault black or African students while rhetorically assaulting the ANC-ruled South Africa as corrupt and racist against its white minority. Or, for that matter, few would delegitimize and dehumanize Nigeria, Chad or Niger as genocidal for failing to prevent the Boko Haram Islamic terror group from carrying out murderous religiously and tribally based acts of terror. But not so with Jewish students who suffer the consequences of the defamation, delegitimization and dehumanization of Israel.

BERNARD LEWIS, a former professor of Near Eastern and Islamic studies at Princeton University, first identified the deception inherent in political antisemitism. In a path-breaking article he wrote in the December 2005 issue of The American Scholar, Lewis – considered the doyen of Near Eastern and Islamic scholarship – called it “Judeophobia” in its individual and collective manifestations. 

He argued there that while religious and racial forms of antisemitism had become unacceptable in the West and particularly in the US, in the post-World War II era, political antisemitism declaring Israel as the world’s Nazi, apartheid state or genocidal racist war criminal, triggers little or no public opprobrium. 

Rather, its appeal fills college auditoriums and classrooms with students and faculty, who do not hesitate to support these bigoted representations in the name of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, pro-Palestinian activism, and “justice for Palestine.” In fact, in 2019, the German Bundestag condemned BDS as an antisemitic movement that “…recalls the most terrible phase of German history.” 

These boycott initiatives rooted in the Ramallah-based Boycott National Committee include EU and State Department-designated terror organizations such as Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.  

Ironically perhaps, this Israel-targeted Jew-hatred has been identified and addressed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “Working Definition of Antisemitism,” which prohibits “referring to Israel as a ‘racist endeavor,’” “holding individual Jews responsible for the policies of the State of Israel,” or “drawing comparisons of Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” It has been adopted by nearly every state and many universities in the US and by the EU.

However, the failure of universities, states, and national and international institutions to educate, advocate or enforce the IHRA definition of antisemitism has allowed the new Israel-targeted antisemitism to flourish. 

At Harvard, in the 1990s, PLO affiliates were guests of the Harvard Law School Minority Students Association. In the question-and-answer sessions, anyone who had a Jewish name or “looked Jewish” was not able to ask a question. Prof. Alan Dershowitz led us, Jewish students, out of the room in protest.

That was an “auspicious” beginning to the current unpleasant reality for many Jews at Harvard. The recent crisis generated by the Palestine Solidarity Committee and endorsed by The Harvard Crimson is a reminder of the current crisis.

The pathway to progress in countering the new antisemitism requires an unwavering, unconditional and zero-tolerance policy for the violent hate speech that has frequently led to violence against Jews. This must be combined with a massive campaign to educate and advocate for the IHRA principles, and define Israel as the historical and modern homeland of world Jewry.

Adv. Gideon Fisher is a Cambridge University graduate of 1992 and president of the Graduates Club. Sagi Melamed is president of the Harvard Club of Israel.