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December 13, 2022 11:12 am
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When Will US Universities Put a Stop to Skyrocketing Attacks on Jewish Identity?

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avatar by James Sinkinson / JNS.org

Opinion

Vandalized sign found outside the Hillel at the University of Oregon on July 6, 2018. Photo: The Oregon Hillel Foundation.

JNS.org – A disturbing new report by the AMCHA Initiative reveals that threats to students’ Jewish identity doubled in the 2021-2022 academic year.

Many radical professors, students and even some Jewish organizations are trying to rip Zionism from the fabric of Judaism, using cancellation, shame and blame as their weapons.

These “progressives” reject the globally accepted definition of antisemitism, which holds that attempts to demonize or delegitimize Israel are clear signs of hate against the Jewish people. The radicals’ rejection of this definition is based on the falsehood that Zionism is not an integral value of Judaism—therefore their anti-Zionism does not constitute antisemitism.

But according to a Pew survey conducted last year, most Jews regard Israel as a fundamental part of their Jewish identity. Increasingly, however, if Jewish students express support for the Jewish state, they run the risk of being mocked, ostracized or punished by their peers and professors.

Worst of all, administrators and governing regents responsible for student safety and civil rights on campus have neglected or refused to clamp down on the tyranny of antisemitic radicals. Their failure to respond to such discrimination puts Jewish students—as well as academic freedom–at perilous risk.

The AMCHA Initiative’s recent report, “A Looming Crisis for the American Jewish Community: Campus Antisemitism and the Assault on Jewish Identity,” reveals disturbing trends across university campuses nationwide. AMCHA cites these developments as among the most egregious:

• Bullying and intimidation of Jewish students tripled.

• Attempts to disconnect Zionism from Judaism and from progressive causes nearly tripled.

• Promotion of anti-Zionist Jews as more authentic than Zionist Jews doubled.

• Calls to rid the campus of Zionism increased more than six-fold, and attempts to cancel Israel-related events, programs, classes and trips increased nearly five-fold.

• Calls for Jewish students to reject Birthright or other Jewish identity trips increased nearly 20-fold.

In total, the AMCHA Initiative’s report documented 254 attacks on Jewish identity on 63 campuses across the United States during the 2021-2022 academic year. This is in addition to skyrocketing attacks on Jews off campus in the past year.

Not surprisingly, the AMCHA report implicated pro-Palestinian groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), as being responsible for targeting Jewish students. Indeed, the report found that anti-Zionist groups like SJP were the largest overall contributors to attacks on Jewish identity.

Despite their pattern of stoking antisemitic hate, to date only a single chapter of SJP has been permanently shut down on a US campus—at New York’s private Fordham University. The ban was upheld in court.

AMCHA’s report also noted the contribution of nominally Jewish anti-Zionist groups and individuals to the assault on Jewish identity. One such group is Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

In the report, AMCHA speculates that individuals and groups like JVP use their Jewishness “to legitimize the redefinition of Jewish identity and the denigration of Zionist Jews.” This serves to justify the anti-Zionist attacks mounted by groups like SJP, and also helps deflect charges of antisemitism that such behavior logically provokes.

Bad enough that Jewish students are targeted for persecution by their peers, but even worse when university faculty support the persecution. No wonder, according to AMCHA, that universities with faculty who support the BDS movement were three to seven times more likely to see attacks on Jewish identity.

In fact, the AMCHA Initiative found that “twenty percent of threats to Jewish identity took place at events supported by academic faculty, and more than one-third of anti-Zionist challenges to well-established definitions of Zionism, Judaism and antisemitism took place in programs sponsored by academic departments.”

Sadly, without legislative or judicial intervention, there’s little hope universities will put a stop to attacks on Jewish identity if they’re instigated by faculty.

While Jewish students with a strong attachment to Israel surely bear the brunt of anti-Zionist attacks, Jewish students with minimal connections to Judaism or Zionism suffer as well.

Once these students witness the relentless assault on Jewish students and Jewish groups that support Zionism and Israel, they’re surely less likely to pursue opportunities to express or explore their Jewish identity for fear of persecution.

Tragically, Jewish students who feel that their Jewish identity is under attack can seldom rely on their schools’ harassment policies to protect them. These policies usually forbid harassment based on one’s ethnicity or religion, but in many cases, university administrators do not recognize hostility toward Israel and its supporters to be a violation of school policy.

This approach by university administrators constitutes a clear double standard, especially since antisemitism includes the vilification of Israel and its supporters, according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), whose definition of antisemitism is recognized worldwide—though not by most universities.

Sparking a glimmer of hope, administrators of the Nevada state education system acted on their own recently to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. The AMCHA report calls IHRA adoption a “critical tool” to ensure that “Jewish students are recognized and treated exactly as any other ‘protected class’ group under school harassment policies, even when the harassment is motivated by anti-Zionism and not classic antisemitism.”

While we cannot hope to eradicate ant-Zionist antisemitism on (or off) campus, two measures are needed to mitigate its effect on Jewish students.

First, all post-secondary institutions in the United States must adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This will give administrators added responsibility and moral standing to speak out and censure such racism on campus.

Second, schools have the moral obligation to end the double standard when it comes to attacks on Jews and their ethnic homeland. There must be one single standard on campus to judge objectionable behavior. It cannot simply be positions the political left disapproves of.

The obvious solution is to forbid—and harshly punish—all physical harassment or speech disruption of any member of the campus community, whether student, professor or visiting speaker.

Speech denigrating any identity group should be considered hateful. Speech denigrating any student strictly because of their identity is offensive.

In short, it is unjust to permit hate speech against Jews and the Jewish state on campus, while banning hate speech directed against other minorities; more generally, all harassment or disruption of free expression on campus should be forbidden and strictly enforced.

James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.

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