Studies Examine Campus Anti-Semitism

More than 1,770 incidences of anti-Semitism have occurred on college campuses since 2015. (Neoantisemismo.jpg by Yonderboy licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Three days before Nazi recruitment posters appeared on the University of Pennsylvania campus in April 2017, Students for Justice in Palestine at Temple University hosted a speaker who denied Jewish Self-determination.

The speaker said Israelis — whom she referred to as “little monsters” living in homes formerly owned by Palestinians — should be given six months to “decide what to do.”

Meantime, other instances of campus anti-Semitism over the years have included claims that Jews exaggerate the Holocaust, the appearance of swastika graffiti, and comparing Jews or Israelis to Nazis.

Understanding anti-Semitism is essential to addressing it, said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, co-founder and director of AMCHA Initiative, which conducts a survey of anti-Semitism on college campuses every year. She said campus anti-Semitism comes from two places: anti-Zionism on the left and white supremacy on the right.

“As a Jewish people and as a Jewish community, we need to understand this,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “We need to understand the lessons of our past and understand what’s happening today in the context of those lessons, in the context of those patterns that have been with us since the get-go.”

In the next few months, AMCHA will release two studies, a survey of anti-Semitism on college campuses in 2017 and a study examining the methodologies of how other studies look at anti-Semitism.

According to AMCHA, from January 2015 to February 2018, there were 43 incidences of anti-Semitism at universities in the Philadelphia area. At the universities with the 120 largest Jewish student populations nationwide, there were more than 1,770 incidences of anti-Semitism in that period.

AMCHA follows the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the Department of State. The organization also monitors BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) activity.

“Since we started tracking, since we started doing our reports at the beginning of 2015 until now, we’ve always seen anti-Semitism that’s come from anti-Zionist rhetoric and anti-Zionist expression,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “We’ve seen acts of aggression against Jewish students motivated by anti-Zionism.”

Regardless of a Jewish student’s personal opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rossman-Benjamin said, others will assume their viewpoint based on the fact that they are Jewish and potentially target them for harassment.

Recently, there has been also been a surge of anti-Semitism from white supremacist groups, mostly expressed in posted flyers. However, because campus opinion tends to overwhelmingly disapprove of these flyers, Rossman-Benjamin said campus culture might not seem hostile to Jewish students.

“On most campuses, there is an unspoken agreement across the campus that this neo-Nazi, white supremacist stuff is really abhorrent, and everybody can come together against that,” she said. “Whereas there’s very different opinions, even within the Jewish community, about the anti-Zionist sentiment.”

AMCHA focuses more on anti-Semitic behavior when measuring it, not its causes or motivations.

“Look at the behavior, and the behavior is really judge-able on its own merit,” she said. “The question of what motivates that behavior, whether it’s anti-Zionist rhetoric or straight-up, classic anti-Semitism, like ‘I hate Jews, and Jews should go back to the ovens.’ I don’t care what’s in your heart. If you’re hurting Jewish students, that’s wrong, and you have to stop.” 

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