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June 3, 2022 9:30 am

Jewish Students Won’t Settle for Conditional Support and Double Standards

avatar by Nicole Rosenzweig


Clocktower Quad at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Photo: Warren LeMay/Wikimedia Commons.

Many people profess that they support Jewish people — but only if those Jewish people reject their ancestral connection to the Land of Israel. This conditional support excludes Jewish people who view ethnic ties to Israel as an integral part of their Jewish identity. According to a 2020 report by the Pew Research Center, roughly 80 percent of American Jews say that caring about Israel is an essential or important part of what being Jewish means to them.

My experience serving in the student government at Duke University has given me a glimpse into the double standard applied to Jewish and pro-Israel students on college campuses.
In November of 2021, the president of the Duke Student Government (DSG) vetoed the recognition of Duke Students Supporting Israel (SSI) without any justifiable basis in the documents or by-laws governing DSG proceedings. The DSG Senate voted to uphold the veto, after a three-hour hearing. As one of the few Jewish students in student government, I felt obligated to speak up. I gave a speech in front of the DSG Senate — at a highly emotional, hostile hearing — to encourage my fellow senators to recognize Duke Students Supporting Israel. I explained to the DSG Senate that the veto was an unjust, arbitrary threat to free speech that applied a double standard to a pro-Israel group led by Jewish students.
Ultimately, only three students voted against the SSI veto — the only three Jewish senators in the assembly.
After this, it became clear to me that we needed a mutual understanding of what constitutes antisemitism, and how the world’s oldest hatred takes many forms. In the months after the Duke SSI veto was upheld, I collaborated with my fellow senators to pass a DSG Resolution to “Define and Condemn Anti-Semitism,” in which we adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. Colleges often lack the common language to identify antisemitism in its various forms. As IHRA acknowledges, “in order to begin to address the problem of antisemitism, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is.” Universities should start by codifying a definition of antisemitism that is representative of Jewish students’ experiences.
The IHRA definition has already been adopted by 32 countries, as well as more than 30 university student governments. Campus adoption of the IHRA definition alone will not eradicate antisemitism, but it is a productive first step that acknowledges the lived experiences of the Jewish people by committing to combating antisemitism in its various forms.
Students need to be educated about antisemitism, including how this hatred manifests. It is imperative for people to center the experiences of Jewish students on these matters, rather than trying to define bigotry against Jews from an outside lens. As the ones being targeted by antisemitism, Jewish people have the right to shape the discourse surrounding antisemitism, just as other communities have the right to inform what constitutes bigotry against them.
Beyond education and a mutual understanding of what antisemitism is, the next step is protecting the rights of Jewish students. When Duke SSI was de-recognized by our student government, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law wrote a letter to the president of Duke University outlining the institution’s obligations to protect Jewish students in accordance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other Federal education regulations. Schools must enforce these anti-discrimination protections, and stand with their Jewish students unequivocally. As a result of efforts by student leaders and organizations such as the Brandeis Center and the Israel on Campus Coalition, the Duke SSI was recognized as a student organization on equal standing in February 2022.
Antisemitism is not unique to any particular campus; anti-Jewish bigotry poses a growing threat worldwide. A Brandeis Center 2021 survey of “openly Jewish” students found that 65% felt unsafe on campus, 50% actively hid their Jewish identity, and that concern about safety increased the longer that students remained enrolled.
Support for the Jewish community should not be conditioned on the rejection of ethnic ties to Zionism and Israel. Universities must defend the rights of Jewish and pro-Israel students unconditionally, starting with the adoption of common language regarding the definition, types, and forms of antisemitism.

Nicole Rosenzweig is a junior at Duke University, and serves on Duke’s student government.

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