ADL CEO: Left-Wing Antisemitism Is On the Quad – We Must Face Reality
It’s that time of year, when tens of thousands of Jewish students are starting at colleges across the United States. And for the first time now, I can say that I’m also the parent of a Jewish college student. Just like all the other kvelling parents, I am excited to see our children thrive, expand their understanding of the world, and meet friends they will carry throughout their lives.
But also, like any parent, I worry. Reaching this important milestone, moving off to a new adventure, living independently, is both sweet and sad. One thing I should not have to worry about — what no parent should have to worry about — is my child’s safety while at school. Too many parents of Jewish students worry about their children being able to live and practice Judaism openly and feel safe in their institutions of learning — often because the actions of anti-Israel extremists cross the line into virulent antisemitism.
As ADL CEO, I hear stories every day of Jewish students facing challenges and hatred from all sides — but on college campuses, we are seeing different trends than what we usually observe across other parts of society. While we’ve tracked some increase in white supremacist activity on college campuses, these actors typically operate on the margins, out of range of college administrators or student organization budgets. Far more prominent and disruptive to Jewish student life is the rise of left-wing extremism — the radical left’s increasing normalization of hatred toward Israel and Zionism, and their frequent targeting of Jewish students for their support of Israel.
On campus, Jewish students often hear, “the Jewish State doesn’t belong,” “the Jewish State is illegitimate,” “Zionist Jews are all racists and white supremacists,” and “Jews need to renounce Israel and Zionism to have a place here.” This rhetoric has uncanny similarities to the extremist propaganda on the far right we see in other parts of society, which claims that “the Jewish people don’t belong,” “the Jewish people are illegitimate,” “Jews control the world,” and “Jews aren’t white.”
This kind of fringe activity has very real effects on our students.
Our 2020-2021 Campus Survey, conducted with Hillel International, found that one third of students experienced antisemitism on campus — and 79 percent of those students experienced antisemitism more than once. In 2021, antisemitic incidents on campuses increased 21 percent when compared to 2020. Over the past year, we saw Jews depicted as pigs, including one pig with dollar signs instead of eyes, in a pamphlet published by a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter; an attendee of an SJP rally threw a rock at a Hillel building; and students at SUNY New Paltz filed suit against the university for being excluded from a student organized support group simply because of their Jewish and Zionist identities.
Too often, university administrators do not respond to antisemitic incidents with the same thoroughness and transparency as they respond to other hateful acts. Often, that’s because they lack an understanding of when anti-Israel criticism crosses the line into antisemitism. This can embolden other radical leftist extremists to commit antisemitic acts without fear of repercussion, and it can silence Jewish students who don’t feel they’ll be protected in spaces they should feel welcome in.
This reluctance by too many college administrators to meaningfully address left-wing antisemitism on campus ultimately causes some students to hide their identities. Our survey also found that 15 percent of Jewish college students reported that they felt the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus, and 41 percent could not tell you where to report an antisemitic incident if one were to occur.
College campuses are often where the rubber meets the road when it comes to Jews experiencing antisemitism from the left, and so that is where the ADL is laser focused. Through our partnership with Hillel International and our dozens of regional offices across the country, we’re on the ground helping Jewish students manage antisemitism every day.
We have a robust suite of tools for university administrators, students, and families, and we’re continuing to roll out new updates of our research, our resources, and our trainings. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll have even more to share to help your child, my child, and all students feel respected and supported as Jews on campus.
The author is the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.