Denying Campus Antisemitism Puts Jewish Students at Risk
Mitchell Bard, who frequently writes articles challenging the veracity of claims that campus antisemitism is on the rise, often cites his own favorite statistic to make his point. Bard says that antisemitic activity has been reported on less than three percent of all American campuses, meaning that campus antisemitism is hardly the epidemic it’s made out to be.
In his most recent piece, Bard uses the same 3% logic to attack several empirical studies of antisemitism on North American campuses, charging them with being “hysterical” and “exaggerated.”
What Bard conveniently neglects to tell his readers is that while there are approximately 4,000 colleges and universities in America, most Jewish students are concentrated in about 100 schools — and it is on these campuses that the majority of antisemitic activity occurs.
In AMCHA’s own comprehensive examination of antisemitic activity in 2015 — at the 100 schools most popular with Jewish students — we found evidence of Jews being threatened at 41% of the schools, and instances of language or imagery that met the State Department definition of antisemitism at 65% of schools.
These findings confirmed the results of two large surveys of Jewish students that were recently carried out by university-based researchers. First, a survey of more than 1,000 Jewish students at Trinity College found that 54% of students reported having witnessed or experienced instances of antisemitism on campus. Second, a Brandeis University survey of more than 3,000 Jewish students found that 75% had been exposed to antisemitic rhetoric, and 33% had been harassed because they were Jewish.
In addition, our study of antisemitic activity in the first half of 2016 showed a statistically significant increase of 45% in overall campus antisemitism from the first half of 2015. Similarly, an ADL audit found a 91% increase in campus antisemitism from 2014 to 2015.
Taken together, these studies present a statistically reliable and compelling picture of a pervasive and growing problem of anti-Jewish bigotry on the campuses with the largest Jewish student populations. This is a serious problem, and it’s a problem that Bard tries hard to debunk by misrepresenting these studies’ data and analyses — and citing his own false and misleading ones.
For example, in an attempt to discredit our 2016 findings, Bard ignores our study’s clear explanation of how the data is categorized and tallied (we count specific manifestations of antisemitic activity, and one incident can include multiple kinds of antisemitic activity — contrary to Bard’s claims). Furthermore, when Bard recalculated our data, he only included 60% of the schools that were in our study. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that he finds fewer antisemitic incidents than we did. Nevertheless, he disingenuously uses the smaller numbers he’s found to support his claim that we have exaggerated the problem.
Finally, and most methodologically misleading, Bard invents his own categories for analyzing our data, completely disregarding the objective categories of antisemitic activity that are at the heart of our methodology. We count observed behavior when the occurrence fits the State Department definition of antisemitism. We do not search for people’s motivations; we do not lump incidents into artificial categories; and we do not subjectively weight incidents as to their presumed seriousness.
And it’s not just the overall number and increase of antisemitic incidents that Bard falsely charges our studies with exaggerating. Claiming that anti-Israel divestment campaigns have “failed completely” on college campuses, and that members of anti-Zionist student groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine are simply “a handful of nudniks,” Bard rejects the robust statistical relationship that recent studies have found between anti-Zionist expression, particularly BDS activity, and anti-Jewish hostility.
For example, our findings demonstrated that schools with BDS activity were 2.5 times more likely to have anti-Jewish hostility, and schools with one or more anti-Zionist student groups — such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — were seven times more likely to see incidents where Jewish students were threatened with physical harm.
These results are consistent with the 2016 Brandeis University study, which found that more than 25% of Jewish students described anti-Israel hostility on their campus as a problem for them. The Brandeis study also found that the presence of an active SJP group on campus is one of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate for Jewish students. The Trinity College study similarly reported testimonies of numerous student respondents who linked anti-Israel campaigns such as BDS with anti-Jewish hostility that they or their peers had experienced.
Bard also says that all of our studies “ignore the most significant problem on campus, which is faculty.” Yet here, too, Bard has made a misleading and derogatory assertion. First, we wholeheartedly agree with him that faculty are a significant problem. And second, our research provides the first empirical evidence that anti-Israel faculty are linked to campus antisemitism. Schools with one or more faculty members who have endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities and scholars are four times more likely to have incidents where Jewish students are targeted for harm, according to our data. Our research also shows that the more faculty boycotters there are, the more prevalent these incidents become.
Most misleading of all, however, is Bard’s claim that all of these studies are “at odds with the conventional wisdom in Israel and in the Jewish community.” The truth is that every mainstream Jewish organization, as well as the Israeli government, has recognized that campus antisemitism is a serious problem — and that combatting it must be made a top priority. In fact, at a time when very little is happening on a bipartisan basis in the United States, all 100 US senators joined together to unanimously pass the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act — a measure addressed at the alarming rise in campus antisemitism.
Bard’s false assertions are completely out of touch with the frightening reality for Jewish students on campus. And, what’s worse, they run the serious risk of rolling back years of critical and hard-fought progress on this front.
Rossman-Benjamin is the director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that combats antisemitism at colleges and universities across the United States. She was recently honored as one of the “Jewish 100” by The Algemeiner.