The Campus Troubles


This a more complicated question since it depends on your point of view. What might be a problem for one person, might not be so for another. Yet there are some issues that are indeed problems from everybody's point of view...let me elaborate.


A recent study from the Institute for Jewish and Community Research done in college campuses across the US shows that while 43% of Jewish students perceive the existence of antisemitism in Campus, only 11 % of their non-Jewish counterparts see it that way. There are several implications of this disparity, the most obvious being that Jews are more sensitive to expressions of antisemitism than non-Jews. A deeper implication, however, is that if Jews wanted to call upon allies to fight what they perceive to be antisemitism, not many of their non Jewish classmates would rally to the call.


When the study breaks down the concept of “Antisemitism” into discrete questions the results are very different. 69% of Jewish students have heard offensive anti Jewish jokes in Campus, compare to 37% of non Jews. 63 % of Jewish students heard rhetoric stating that Jews are greedy, compared to 36 % of non Jews, and 51% of Jewish students heard derogatory anti Jewish remarks compared to only 27 % of non Jews. These results again can be explained in part by the fact that Jews are more sensitive to anti Jewish rhetoric than their non Jewish classmates. What is more troublesome is the big gap between the responses of non Jewish students to questions addressing specific incidents when compared to their overall perceptions of whether there is antisemitism in Campus. The difference point out to the possibility that some behaviors, even when derogatory or offensive to Jews, are not seen as such by their non Jewish classmates. This fit with much of the anecdotal in formation we have; for example “jewing somebody down” is not perceived by many non Jews as offensive...


Then there is the question of Israel. To which extent is anti-Israelism an expression of antisemitism?. The line separating them is unclear; not every criticism of Israel contains anti Jewish messages. What the study found out, however, is that the prevalence of anti Israel expressions in Campus, lowers the norms against antisemitic expressions. In plain English, many who hold antisemitic views find in the anti Israel movement “permission” to express their own anti Jewish views, normalizing antisemitism and even claiming the protection of their speech under the tent of freedom of expression and/or Academic freedom. Not every critic of Israel is antisemitic, but anti semites find a welcoming home in the anti Israel movement. The situation becomes more urgent, when we find out that while only 31 % of Jewish students recognize the anti Jewish rhetoric within the anti Israel movement, that is more than 5 times as many as their non Jewish classmates. Therefore, not only do anti Jewish expressions embeded in the anti Israel movement go unrecognized; they are even perceived as valid and normal. This is clearly a normalization of antisemitic expressions in the context of what otherwise should be a political discourse.


So why do so many non Jewish students find the anti Israel movement valid? When the interviewers asked students what they knew about specific aspects of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, an astounding picture took form: more than 65% of non Jewish students have any opinion whatsoever about whether Hamas is a terrorist organization, whether Israel is a colonial power, whether Israel is an apartheid state or the equating of Zionism and racism. Over 55 % are not clear about who is attacking civilians and over 44 % do not have an opinion whether Israel is the Jewish homeland. In plain English, there should be no logical intellectual reason for them to oppose Israel based on what they know. The vast majority of non Jewish students remain unaware of issues related to the conflict or to Israel itself. Most students take the opinions of their professors, especially if they are presented inside the classroom, as a true fact without any kind of critical analysis. Then, when (as reported by Jewish students) anti-Israel opinions are presented as fact by professors, students accept it with no critical analysis.


From this picture, I guess we can say that there is indeed a problem for Jews in College campuses. That problem can be defined as :


1)Jewish students face antisemitism alone, with no natural allies in campus

2)Jewish students report anti Israel opinions creeping into the classroom as facts

3)A significant minority of Jewish students report that anti Jewish opinions are becoming natural part of anti Israel activism.

4)The majority of non Jewish students do not hold opinions on Israel.


The last of the points above is indeed part of the problem, but it is also an opportunity. Educating these future leaders of America on Israel and Jewish related topics is the best short as well as long term strategy to combat antisemitism and anti Israel activism in Campus. As a community, we need to accept the responsibility of making sure that Jewish students are not isolated nor silenced by those trying to bully them into submission. We owe it to them.


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