Study: Antisemitic Acts Involving Israel ‘Far More Likely’ to Create Hostile Climate for Jewish Students
Antisemitic acts involving Israel are “far more likely” to create a hostile environment for Jewish students on US college campuses than those that reflect “classic” anti-Jewish prejudice, and increasingly extend to boycotts of individual students, according to a comprehensive report released Wednesday by the AMCHA Initiative watchdog group.
The study documented 652 total antisemitic incidents on more than 400 college campuses in 2017 — slightly up from 639 cases in 2016. However, its authors focused primarily on more severe examples of antisemitism, such as assault, harassment, and vandalism. This tally included 205 incidents involving “classic” antisemitism at 125 schools in 2017, and 71 cases involving Israel at 45 schools.
Researchers then further sliced the data in an effort to determine what incidents were most harmful to Jewish students. They differentiated between cases that featured a clear intent to harm Jewish students — such as when protesters interrupted a Hillel event at the University of California Santa Cruz by shouting “f*ck Jewish slugs” while tearing down an Israeli flag — from those that did not include a credible threat, like the appearance of swastikas on a desk at a Macalester College library.
Through this distinction, the researchers were able to determine that less than 25 percent of incidents demonstrating “classic” antisemitism included clear evidence of intent to harm Jewish students, as opposed to 94 percent of those related to Israel.
“This suggests that while classic antisemitic incidents outnumber Israel-related incidents three to one, Israel-related incidents are actually more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students,” the researchers posited.
Of those Israel-related incidents that involved an intent to harm, the majority included multiple perpetrators who were affiliated with an on- or off-campus group, while those involving “classic” antisemitism were mostly carried out by a single individual with no discernible third party affiliations.
Overall, the study found that 76 percent of Israel-related incidents involved efforts to directly target individuals or groups on campus for exclusion, while 44 percent included the suppression of pro-Israel speech.
Tracking these cases from 2015 to the first half of 2018, the researchers found that “attempts to silence pro-Israel expression stayed relatively constant, with 29 incidents in 2015, 30 in 2016, and 31 in 2017.”
The trend continued in 2018, with 21 such incidents from January to June, compared with an equal amount during the first half of 2017.
Incidents targeting pro-Israel students and staff for exclusion more than doubled from 25 in 2015 to 54 in 2017. This upward swing continued during the first half of this year, with 40 cases identified as compared with 33 in the first half of 2017.
The number of severe incidents also increased, with explicit calls for the boycott or expulsion of pro-Israel students or groups growing from 3 in 2015 and 14 in 2017 to 18 in the first half of 2018 alone.
Recent examples include a pledge by 53 student groups at New York University to boycott Zionist clubs on campus; a demand by students at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo to exclude Zionist clubs from a proposed increase in funding; a call by a pro-Palestinian student group at Stony Brook University to get “Hillel off this campus”; and a message by a professor at San Francisco State University who said that welcoming Zionists to campus was tantamount to declaring “war against Arabs, Muslims, [and] Palestinians.”
“These trends suggest that anti-Israel campus activists are not only intent on harming Israel, but increasingly, and alarmingly, they are intent on harming pro-Israel members of the campus community,” the researchers wrote.
They observed that these tactics are in line with the official guidelines of the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, which call on members of the academic community “to boycott and/or work towards the cancellation or annulment of events, activities, agreements, or projects involving Israel academic institutions or that otherwise promote the normalization of Israel in the global academy” — a boycott that should also extend to any “individual academic” who demonstrates “complicity in, responsibility for, or advocacy of violations of international law.”
The fact, the researchers noted, “that almost all of the Israel-related incidents in 2017 were compliant with the guidelines of an international campaign to shut down all pro-Israel expression and harm Israel’s supporters emphasizes the intentionality of these incidents and the extent to which they threaten the civil rights and safety of Jewish students.”
They warned that while these acts of “Israel-related antisemitism” appear to be larger contributors to a hostile environment for Jewish students than acts of “classic” antisemitism, university administrators “rarely recognize anti-Zionist harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination, because they see it as motivated by political considerations rather than ethnic or religious ones.”
Worse yet, “when acts of classic antisemitism occur on campus, many in the campus community are sympathetic with Jewish students and stand in solidarity with them, but this is not the case when acts of anti-Zionist harassment occur.”
This situation “creates increased vulnerability for many Jewish students,” and could be addressed by university leaders by implementing several recommendations, the researchers said.
These include publicly assuring students that they will be protected from behavior that “violates their freedom of expression or their right to full participation in campus life,” and officially prohibiting peer-on-peer harassment “that suppresses any student’s freedom of speech, association or assembly, or unduly interferes with any student’s access to educational opportunities or benefits.”
Procedures should be put in place to enforce these policies, while educational programs to emphasize the “importance of freedom of expression to university life” should be developed, they concluded.