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July 7, 2020 3:24 pm

New Report Reveals Increased Campus Anti-Zionist Activism Linked to Rise in Harassment of Jewish Students

avatar by David Swindle

A mock Israeli checkpoint set up during a past ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at the University of California at Los Angeles campus. Photo: AMCHA Initiative.

Jewish students seeking to avoid antisemitic harassment at college now have new research showing the factors which fuel on-campus bigotry.

On Tuesday, the AMCHA Initiative — a non-profit formed in 2012 to track and fight antisemitism at universities — released its annual report, “Understanding Campus Anti-Semitism in 2019 And Its Lessons for Pandemic and Post-Pandemic U.S. Campuses.”

The research and analysis of the report again affirmed a connection previous annual studies have demonstrated: campuses with strong anti-Zionist activist groups, primarily Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), have increased levels of anti-Jewish harassment.

The report showed how JVP’s campus activity had grown in 2019, increasing 45%, rising from 118 events or initiatives in 2018 to 171 in 2019.

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The study also offered some unexpected findings. For a second year in a row, “traditional antisemitism” of the Nazi and classic stereotypes variety fell dramatically  — 49% from 203 incidents in 2018 to 104 in 2019.

However, the apparent gains of this drop were largely offset by an increase in anti-Zionist antisemitism, which jumped 60% from 121 incidents in 2018 to 192 in 2019.

Much of last year’s anti-Zionist activism was linked to efforts to challenge a school’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which includes anti-Zionism as a form of antisemitism.

AMCHA discovered that 94% of challenges against the definition were put forth by SJP, JVP and other campus anti-Zionist groups. This form of antisemitism nearly quadrupled, from 34 incidents in 2018 to 126 in 2019.

The report said that “schools where these challenges occurred were more than twice as likely to host anti-Semitic incidents targeting Jewish students for harm, and the more challenges the higher the number of incidents.”

The report also noted another factor increasing Jewish students’ chance of encountering bigotry: a strong correlation between a school’s academic support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and incidents of anti-Jewish harassment.

The researchers pointed out that although academic BDS might appear to only target Israeli universities and scholars, its implementation harmed students seeking to travel to, study about at, or advocate for Israel, with a disproportionate number being Jewish.

AMCHA linked academic support for BDS with several troubling trends including the boycotting of educational programs, refusing to write letters of recommendation for Israeli schools and programs, denigration of students which may include public shaming and defamation due to their pro-Israel politics (which increased 67% from 72 incidents in 2018 to 120 in 2019), suppression of pro-Israel expression (a 69% increase in a year from 29 to 49) and discrimination against students based on their association with Israel (a rise of 51% since 2018, from 41 to 62 incidents).

The report had a timely element as well, in its concerns for how anti-Zionist activism and antisemitic behavior were adapting to the new COVID-19 world in the online educational realm.

The twin phenomena of “Zoom-bombing” (crashing online video meetings and pushing antisemitic or other offensive content) and cyber-bulling were discussed, with the report saying, “In 2019, 72% of Israel-related instances of antisemitic harassment occurred via online transmission (including emails, social media postings, organizational websites, online newspaper articles, webinars, etc.) or in campus forums.”

Anti-Zionist groups have also hosted their own Zoom meetings and webinars. An example mentioned in the report was a “Palestine & BDS 191” webinar held in mid-April by groups at Bard College and Columbia University which called for divestment from “Israeli apartheid.”

In its conclusion with recommendations for how to proceed, the report differed from the strategies employed by Israel advocates who have promoted the implementation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

As the research of the report revealed, schools which have considered this definition as a solution to protect Jewish students, have in effect done the opposite, as protests against the measure have led to more anti-Jewish harassment than before.

The researchers pointed out that “as challenges to the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism have led to increased harassment of Jewish students, they have also undermined efforts to ensure that Jewish students are adequately protected from that harassment.” 

The report said: 

We would like to suggest an alternative approach to protecting Jewish students that does not depend on how one defines antisemitism or understands Jewish identity. As a result, it effectively neutralizes challenges to the IHRA definition from anti-Zionist individuals and groups that have impeded fair and adequate administrative responses to anti-Jewish harassment. Instead of seeking protection for individual Jewish students through their membership in a federally-protected identity group, our approach seeks protection for Jewish students as individuals, with the same rights as all other individuals, to be free from behaviors that seek to suppress or deny their self-expression, including expressions of belief and group identity.

Further explaining this broader approach, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin — AMCHA’s cofounder, director and one of the report’s researchers — told The Algemeiner“Our country is in deep distress in so many ways and we’re so divided and so polarized, that I think that whatever solution we look for for Jewish students has to be something that’s going to help unite people, that’s really going to create a more positive, healthier climate for students and for everybody.”

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