I remember as an undergraduate at UC Berkeley (1968 – 1972) that when I became active in anti-Vietnam and pro-civil rights protests I encountered a measure of anti-Semitism among fellow protesters that pushed me away from ever feeling at home with them despite our shared values about equal rights and justice.
Sadly, not very much has changed these past 45 years. Anti-Semitism in the student left has become worse.
In addition to my worries about the rise of anti-Semitism in campus left-wing groups, I’m worried also about what many young Jewish idealists are thinking who, on the one hand base their activism and involvement in these groups upon traditional Jewish values of justice and equality, but on the other are unsuspecting or ill-informed or naive or in denial about the anti-Semitism they are confronting as it manifests in anti-Israel activism, pro-BDS support and pure Jew-hatred.
A particularly disturbing article appeared this month that addresses the challenge that progressive proudly identifying Jewish activists are confronting on college campuses (“In the Safe Spaces on Campus, No Jews Allowed,” The Tower Magazine, February 2016).
We learn there of the experience of two progressive pro-Israel Jewish UCLA students who attended the Students of Color Conference (SOCC) at UC Berkeley in November. The SOCC is the UC Student Association’s oldest and largest conference that has a reputation as “being a safe space where students of color, as well as white progressive allies, can address and discuss issues of structural and cultural inequality on college campuses.”
Arielle Mokhtarzadeh and Ben Rosenberg discovered to their shock and dismay that though many of their fellow college students had risen up to fight racism on campuses across the country as they did, so often those very same students subject Jewish students to anti-Semitism.
I offer below three important articles that survey anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on American college campuses today:
1. In the Safe Spaces on Campus, No Jews Allowed, By Anthony Berteaux, The Tower Magazine, February 2018 – http://www.thetower.org/article/in-the-safe-spaces-on-campus-no-jews-allowed/
Arielle Mokhtarzadeh and Ben Rosenberg shared the following:
[the conference participants] said that Israel was poisoning the water that they sell into the West Bank, and raising the price by ten times. Any sane person knows that this is not true. They also said that when Jewish-American students go on Birthright trips, the Israeli government offers you money to live on a settlement. A number of things like that…. There was also no mention of the Holocaust when talking about the history of Israel. They said that in the late 19th century, Jews decided to move into this land and take over it. They completely white-washed our history as a people… Over the course of what was probably no longer than an hour, my history was denied, the murder of my people was justified, and a movement whose sole purpose is the destruction of the Jewish homeland was glorified. Statements were made justifying the ruthless murder of innocent Israeli civilians, blatantly denying Jewish indigeneity in the land, and denying the Holocaust in which six million Jews were murdered. Why anyone in their right mind would accept these slanders as truths baffles me. But they did. These statements, and others, were met with endless snaps and cheers. I was taken aback.
2. Anti-Semitism On Campus: Most Jewish Students Feel Discriminated Against, New Study Finds By Jackie Salo, July 7, 2015, International Business Times – http://www.ibtimes.com/anti-semitism-campus-most-jewish-students-feel-discriminated-against-new-study-finds-2027557
Nearly three-quarters of Jewish college students have described experiencing anti-Semitism in the last year, and about one-third have been verbally harassed at one point because of their religion, according to a survey…. More than one-quarter of the Jewish students reported seeing hostility against Israel on campus from peers as a “very big” or “fairly big” problem, and nearly 15 percent felt the same level of animosity towards Jews. Nearly one-quarter of respondents said they have been blamed in the past year for the actions of Israel because they were Jewish….The study also found that Canadian universities and Midwest and California state schools had the highest rates of students reporting hostility on campus towards Jews and Israel.
3. National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students 2014 – ANTI-SEMITISM REPORT, By Barry A. Kosmin & Ariela Keysar – https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/trinityantisemreport.pdf
The following appears in the report’s Forward:
…we have learned much more about the problem [of anti-Semitism on college campuses], which has worsened at many institutions …. Significantly, we did not know, until the completion of Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar’s important work on this report, the startling fact that more than half of Jewish American college students personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism during the 2013-2014 academic year…. It should be obvious that campus anti-Semitism deserves a strong response… governmental officials, university administrators, civil rights groups, and communal institutions, activists, and funders, all of whom need to decide what resources to dedicate to addressing campus anti-Semitism and how to deploy these resources. …
This report offers what responses ought to be made to anti-Semitism as it manifests on campuses. The most important defense, in addition to governmental, administration, faculty, and student responses, is a well-educated Jewish student body about Judaism itself, the history and nature of anti-Semitism, and the history and nature of the state of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. Young people need to know their own Jewish history. They need to understand the significance and nature of the state of Israel in all its complexity, and they need to be prepared to identify anti-Semitism when they encounter it and how to effectively confront it for what it is really is. And finally, they need to be able to stand proudly as Jews.