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August 16, 2018 7:43 am

Anti-Israel Incidents ‘Far More Likely’ to Contribute to Hostile Campus Environments

avatar by Jackson Richman / JNS.org

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A display erected by Penn Students for Justice in Palestine during its “Israeli Apartheid Week” campaign. Photo: Penn SJP.

JNS.orgWith the summer winding down and students preparing to head back to campus this fall, a new study highlights the evolving threats that Jewish and pro-Israel students will face during the upcoming school year.

According to the new comprehensive study by the AMCHA Initiative, a non-partisan organization dedicated to combating antisemitism at American colleges and universities, Israel-related incidents have been more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students than incidents of classic antisemitism.

The report, which analyzed antisemitic incidents from 2015 to the first half of 2018, revealed that Israel-related incidents are becoming significantly more flagrant, with an emergent shift from boycotting Israel to boycotting actual students and student groups.

Despite most incidents corresponding to classic antisemitism — where overall there is less intent to harm — 94% of anti-Israel incidents have occurred with an intent to harm, the report found. Additionally, Israel-related incidents with intent to harm were almost seven times more likely to have numerous perpetrators and seven times more likely to be affiliated with groups compared to classic incidents.

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Incidents of classic antisemitism include genocidal expression and feature imagery like the swastika or language expressing a desire to murder Jews or annihilate the Jewish people. Those occurrences rose from 46 in 2015 to 113 in 2016 and to 153 in 2017. In the first half of 2018, there were only 39, compared to 86 over the first half of 2017, indicating a plausible overall decrease in 2018 if the trend persists.

At the same time, anti-Israel incidents, including harassment, vandalism, and assault — in addition to attempts to ostracize and exclude pro-Israel students and staff — increased from three in 2015 to 18 in just the first half of 2018.

“Recent studies have provided quantitative data exposing a dramatic and frightening spike in campus antisemitism,” AMCHA director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told JNS. “But for the first time, we now have both quantitative and qualitative information on which types of incidents most contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students.”

“While classic antisemitism makes up the vast majority of incidents on campus, it is the much more brazen Israel-related incidents, often committed by multiple perpetrators who band together in groups, that are causing the most harm to Jewish students and creating a much more hostile environment,” Rossman-Benjamin said.

University administrators ‘less likely’ to address Israel-related incidents

The report stated that 44 percent of Israel-related incidents “involved behavior intended to silence expression, including shutting down, disrupting, defacing or other attempts to interfere with Israel-related events, displays or trips.”

Additionally, 76% of these incidents “involved behavior that directly and personally targeted students or groups for denigration or discrimination in order to ostracize and exclude them from campus life.” This has led to groups, like Alums for Campus Fairness, to voice concern to administrators.

“Despite the fact that acts of Israel-related antisemitism appear to be the larger contributor to a hostile environment for Jewish students, university administrators have generally been far less likely to adequately address these Israel-related incidents than they have acts of classic antisemitism,” the report’s researchers said in a statement.

“In large part this is due to university administrators recognizing that classic antisemitism may violate state or federal anti-discrimination law and most schools’ peer-on-peer harassment policies which prohibit the harassment of students based on characteristics such as race, color and gender, as well as religion and ethnicity,” they added. “However, 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.”

As such, there is currently a bipartisan bill, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, pending in Congress. If enacted, it would require the Department of Education to adopt the State Department’s definition of antisemitism in determining whether certain incidents potentially violate anti-discrimination laws, like Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“Instead of just boycotting Israel, the anti-Zionists are now blatantly boycotting Jewish students. They openly target individual students and student groups, often by name, for vilification to exclude them from participating in campus activities, to boycott interaction with them, or even to call for expelling them from campus altogether,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “’Zionists off our campus,’ ‘Zionists not welcome,’ ‘all are welcome except Zionists,’ ‘increased funding for all except Zionists,’ ‘Zionists are racist, white supremacists, do not work with them’ — the list goes on and on — [these have] become a common and repeated theme on campus.”

“This must stop. Jewish students, and all students deserve access to an education free from harassment,” Rossman-Benjamin continued. “We hope this information will serve as a wake-up call to legislators, university administrators, and those on the ground working with students that it is time to address all harassment, including anti-Zionist harassment, equally.”

Jackson Richman is the Washington Correspondent for JNS.org.

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