Jewish Identity Imperiled on College Campuses
As published in Newsmax.
December 15, 2022.
“Campus Antisemitism and the Assault on Jewish Identity” documents the nature, scope and trajectory of threats to Jewish identity on American college and university campuses in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Prepared by AMCHA, a non-profit organization dedicated to combating American campus antisemitism, the study goes beyond reporting the alarming increase in frequency and intensity of incidents that threaten Jewish students’ physical safety or target them for discrimination, harassment and vandalism; it reveals a new, insidious phenomenon — "a pervasive and relentless assault on Jewish identity… likely to have significant and long-term consequences for Jewish students.”
Identity politics plays a crucial role in campus life. Jewish students who identify as Zionists or have an attachment to Israel —an affinity felt by more than 80% of Jews according to a recent Pew study, confront a well-orchestrated campaign to redefine their Jewishness and their relationship to the Jewish state.
This assault is waged by peers, professors and administrators on the quad, in classrooms and dormitories.
This campaign includes boycotting, disrupting or excluding all pro-Israel expression from campus life, defaming Zionists using both classic and woke antisemitic tropes of Jews as evil, powerful, white-privileged oppressors. It claims that Zionism represents the antithesis of “progressive values,” erases Zionism from Judaism and bullies Jewish students to discourage them from participating in Birthright Israel or other Jewish identity trips.
The goal is to redefine what it means to be Jewish.
A Duke University student newspaper claimed that the campus group “Students Supporting Israel and other pro-Israel organizations have chosen the racist route antithetical to living authentically as a Jew.... Subjugating Zionism is necessary in recognizing the humanity of us all.”
At SUNY New Paltz, two Jewish students were ousted from a sexual violence survivors’ support group for sharing their Zionist views on Instagram because, supposedly, Zionism is a form of “white supremacy.”
A Harvard Crimson editorial “broadly and proudly” supported the campus Palestine Solidarity Committee’s anti-Zionist activities including erecting a “Wall of Resistance” that declared, “Zionism is Racism, Settler-Colonialism, White Supremacy Apartheid.” A letter signed by 49 Harvard faculty and administrators agreed.
The Wellesley College student newspaper, supported by student government, called on the school’s administration to “cease supporting Birthright Israel.” A speaker at the University of Wisconsin called Birthright “propaganda that manipulates Jewish heritage and identity into support for the Israeli apartheid state.”
Academic departments play a significant role perpetrating and inciting antisemitic rhetoric, promoting BDS and encouraging behavior targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm. The unprecedented anti-Zionist statements issued or endorsed by 160 academic departments at more than 120 U.S. colleges and universities, meet the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism and confer academic legitimacy to Jew-hatred.
When faculty proclaim that Zionism is not an authentic part of Judaism, that Zionists misuse religion to justify Israel’s supposed crimes, it’s no wonder that young Jews are fearful of expressing their Jewish identity.
At a Harvard University academic department event, Professor Atalia Omer stated the program was designed to “decolonize or de-Zionize Jewishness itself.”
A speaker at a department-sponsored event at the University of Florida stated, “So much of this framing of anti-Zionism ... as antisemitism ... is a reflection of white supremacy Zionism.”
A New York University speaker at a department-sponsored colloquium stated, “My commitment to combat antisemitism goes hand in hand with my commitment to combat and … dismantle Zionism.”
Administrators incorrectly view anti-Zionist harassment as legitimate political critique and deny that this Jewish identity suppression is antisemitism — an attack on Jewish ethnicity and religion. Because of this, Jewish students are unable to seek redress for the anti-Zionist-motivated harassment that represents an assault on their identity.
Jewish students are denied equal and adequate protection under school anti-discrimination and harassment policy, protection they are guaranteed as members of an “ethnic” or “religious” group. Additionally, on most American campuses marinating in the politics of identity and oppression, “victim groups” evoke enormous sympathy, but Jewish students do not.
The harm done to Jewish students with a well-developed Jewish identity and strong connection to Israel is obvious. However, the harm done to the large number of Jewish students with little or no Jewish background or feelings about the Jewish state may be even more significant.
Witnessing the relentless campus assault on Zionism, minimally or non-identifying Jewish students are far less likely to explore their Jewishness and some may even feel pressured to take public positions against their Zionist co-religionists.
Those who support Jewish students — parents, alumni and communal organizations — must pressure universities to implement the IHRA definition clarifying the antisemitic nature of anti-Zionism.
A 2021 Louis D. Brandeis Center survey found that a majority of U.S. Jewish students felt the need to hide their Jewish identity, a reaction which will affect the level of communal identification and participation of an entire generation.
Faculty, students and administrators are not simply attacking Jews; they are attempting to redefine what it means to be Jewish. No other group is treated in this fashion.
Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act must be vigorously enforced to hold schools accountable for failing to protect their Jewish students. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, responsible for enforcing Title VI, announced that they would use the IHRA definition in determining “whether students face discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived Jewish ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”
In 2019, a presidential executive order directed all executive departments and agencies charged with enforcing Title VI to use the IHRA definition defining anti-Zionism as antisemitism. Campus antisemitism in the form of anti-Zionism must be confronted in the same manner as race-based and other types of discrimination.
University administrators’ disregard for the welfare of their Jewish students is chilling. It also portends tragic repercussions for American culture beyond the Jewish community.