A recent study by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute and the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University "Hotspots of Antisemitism and Anti-Israel Sentiment on US Campuses" has revealed an interesting pattern of anti-Semitism on campus. The analysis found that a substantial number of Jewish students reported being exposed to antisemitism and hostility toward Israel on many American campuses. The extent of antisemitism, however, varied considerably from one campus to another.
The report found that the rise of the BDS movement on campus has contributed to antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment. The report reveals that antisemitic incidents on campus have increased. Among others, the report found that "One of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate toward Israel and Jews is the presence of an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group on campus."
The scope of the problem is considerable. About one third of Jewish students reported being verbally harassed because they were Jewish. Almost half were told that "Israelis behave like Nazis toward the Palestinians" and one quarter were blamed for the actions of the Israeli government because they are Jewish. The highest levels of perceived antisemitism and hostility toward Israel were found in schools in the California state system and, to a lesser extent, large land-grant universities in the Midwest.
Quite surprisingly, the report revealed that more than one third of Jewish students feel a bit uncomfortable to express opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of a lack of adequate knowledge of the issue. Of course, giving Jewish students a better education on issues involving the conflict would help. However, on a positive note, the report found that even with the hostility toward Israel, it did not appear to diminish the students emotional attachment to Israel.
Holding the university authorities responsible for campus intimidation is a good alternative, as a legal case in a British university indicates. The Tower , which covers the Middle East and America’s interests in the region, reported a case involving a disabled student at Sheffield Hallam University when he was wearing a Star of David or a kippah. The student felt "vulnerable" on campus when "people were giving me dirty looks or trying to block my wheelchair." After contacting the university authorities, he was referred to the student union, only to be dismissed outright. Undeterred, he moved on to seek another advice.
The student approached Lesley Klaff, an expert on antisemitism and a senior lecturer in law at his university. Together with David Lewis, a law colleague, Klaff took the case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), a universities regulator, which took the matter seriously. The OIA cited the European Parliament’s Working Definition of Antisemitism in determining that material circulated by Sheffield Hallam’s Palestine Society "crossed the line" from criticism of Israel into antisemitic abuse. The OIA criticized the university for not treating the complaint with appropriate seriousness and noted that it "failed to properly turn its mind to the question of whether [the student] had experienced harassment as a result of certain aspects of PalSoc’s social media activity." The OIA urged the university to pay the student £3,000 in compensation.
This case shows that if university authorities are faced with fines they would most likely fight expressions of antisemitism on their campuses and that Jewish students should turn to legal remedy if necessary.
HOTSPOTS OF ANTISEMITISM AND ANTI-ISRAEL HOSTILITY ON US CAMPUSES
This report follows our 2015 study that found that a substantial portion of Jewish students reported having been exposed to antisemitism and hostility toward Israel on their campuses. Because the extent of the problem varied considerably across campuses, we attempted in this report to identify "hotspots," or campuses where antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment were especially acute. Based on findings from a 2016 survey of Jewish undergraduates at 50 US campuses, this study also looks at the particular manifestations of hostility at different campuses and the ways in which hostile climates influence the lives of Jewish students.
In terms of the variation in antisemitism and anti-Israel hostility across campuses:
- CUNY-Brooklyn, Northwestern, and many of the schools in the University of California system, are “hotspots” where the majority of Jewish students perceive a hostile environment toward Israel, and over one quarter perceive a general environment of hostility toward Jews on their campus. On these campuses it appears that the high rates of antisemitic harassment and hostility are largely driven by hostility toward Israel.
- At Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Illinois, hostility toward Jews and antisemitic harassment are relatively high but do not seem to be highly connected to criticism of Israel. At these schools, more traditional antisemitic stereotypes and tropes, rather than criticism of Israel’s politics, seem to be driving the perceived hostility toward Jews.
- There are many schools where antisemitism and hostility to Israel are negligible. Respondents at several large private universities, including U of Miami, Wash U, and Syracuse perceive very little hostility toward Israel, and virtually all of these respondents disagree that there is a hostile environment toward Jews.
- One of the strongest predictors of perceiving a hostile climate toward Israel and Jews is the presence of an active Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) group on campus.
In terms of the relationship between hostile environments and students’ connection to Israel, the study found that:
- Even when they experience antisemitism and hostility toward Israel, students' connection to Israel remain strong. Neither the presence of an SJP group on campus nor being on a campus which is generally perceived as having a hostile environment toward Israel are related to the strength of students’ connection to Israel.
- The most Jewishly engaged students, including those who were more closely connected to Israel, are the most likely to perceive hostility toward Jews and Israel on their campus.
- Connection to Israel notwithstanding, students often feel silenced in debates about this topic. On many campuses more than one third of Jewish students feel at least a little uncomfortable expressing their opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
- Discomfort discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to the hostility of the discourse occurs more frequently on campuses that are notable for pervasive perceptions of anti-Israel sentiment, including CUNY-Brooklyn, NYU, and the UC campuses.
- Regardless of which school students attend, and how much anti-Israel sentiment they perceive, a significant minority of Jewish undergraduates are uncomfortable expressing their opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because they feel they do not know enough to enter the conversation.
The UK’s leading universities regulator has ruled in favor of a Jewish student’s complaint concerning harassment by pro-Palestinian activists at Sheffield Hallam University in the north of England.
The regulator, called the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), cited the European Parliament’s Working Definition of Antisemitism in determining that material circulated by Sheffield Hallam’s Palestine Society “crossed the line” from criticism of Israel into anti-Semitic invective. The Working Definition lists a number of ways in which attacks on Israel can be construed as anti-Semitic—for example, by comparing Israeli policies towards the Palestinians to the Nazi genocide of the Jews, or by holding all Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.
Palestinian solidarity activists in both Europe and the U.S. have loudly opposed this definition, complaining that it conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and hate speech. But the OIA found the definition to be pertinent as it investigated not only the substance of the student’s complaint, but the circumstances that led to its original rejection by the authorities at Sheffield Hallam University in 2014.
The complaint was grounded in anxiety generated by the Palestine Society’s social media posts. “I started to see Jewish caricatures on Twitter, as well as claims that Israel was an apartheid state and references to blood libel,” the student, who does not wish to be named, told the Jewish Chronicle. “I knew this kind of vitriol was out there, but I had never seen anything like it before.”
The student, who is disabled, added that he felt “vulnerable” on campus. Whenever he wore a Star of David or a kippah, he said, he felt that “people were giving me dirty looks or trying to block my wheelchair.”
The student’s initial complaint was referred by the university authorities to the student union, which dismissed it outright. Following that outcome, the student approached Lesley Klaff, an expert on anti-Semitism and a senior lecturer in law at Sheffield Hallam. Together with another law colleague, David Lewis, Klaff took the case to the OIA.
Explaining its conclusions in the case, the OIA criticized the university for not treating the complaint with appropriate seriousness. The Sheffield Hallam authorities were also censured for referring the complaint to the student union, which did not treat it formally and did not produce a written report. The university “failed to properly turn its mind to the question of whether [the student] had experienced harassment as a result of certain aspects of PalSoc’s social media activity,” the OIA said.
The OIA has now urged the university to pay the student £3,000 (about $4,000) in compensation for both the complaint and the delay in responding to it.
“David Lewis and I believe this decision could really help Jewish and pro-Israel students to complain effectively to their universities about some of the worst abuses by anti-Zionists on campus,” Klaff told The Tower in an email.
Klaff cited many of the Palestine Society’s social media posts, which accused “Israel and Israelis of genocide, deliberately killing Palestinian children, deliberately killing other Palestinian civilians, war crimes, atrocities, using chemical weapons, ethnic cleansing, inhumanity, cruelty, behaving like Nazis, sexual and other abuse of Palestinian children (including abduction and human trafficking), stealing Palestinian organs, being racists and fascists, and rejoicing in Palestinian deaths.”
While the OIA has not itself adopted a position on when anti-Zionism becomes anti-Semitism, its recognition that Jewish students can feel harassed and threatened by pro-Palestinian activity is of enormous significance in an academic environment that treats complaints about anti-Semitism as a rhetorical device to mute criticism and condemnation of Israel.
Thursday, November 3, 2016 |
BDS spurs anti-Semitism on campuses, report finds
Reports of anti-Semitic incidents on U.S. college campuses have increased, much of it attributed to the rise of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, a new report has found.
Researchers at the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University conducted the study, which was released in late October. It was based on a survey taken in the spring among Jewish undergraduate students at 50 U.S. campuses who applied to go on the Birthright Israel trip.
The study found that Brooklyn College, Northwestern University and many of the schools in the University of California system are “hotspots,” where the majority of Jewish students perceive a hostile environment toward Israel and over one quarter sense a general environment of hostility toward Jews on campus. On those campuses, the study said, it appears high rates of anti-Semitic harassment and hostility are largely driven by malice toward Israel.
The study also found that one of the strongest predictors of a perceived hostile environment toward Jews and Israel on campus, according to the Brandeis study, “is the presence of an active Students for Justice in Palestine group.”
The campuses selected for the study were not chosen randomly, “but were purposely sampled based on the estimated size of the campus Jewish population, geographic diversity, public/private status, selectivity and prior evidence of high levels of anti-Israel hostility or anti-Semitism.”
Some 75 percent of those surveyed reported hearing hostile remarks toward Israel and more than 20 percent said they had been “blamed for Israel’s actions because they are Jewish.” About one-third of those who answered the survey reported being witness to “some form of anti-Semitic harassment, often Israel related.”
The study also found that there are many schools where anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel are negligible, including the University of Miami, Washington University and Syracuse University.
The study’s authors concluded that while public discussion has focused on legislative remedies to temper anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hostility on college campuses, based on the present research, “Our view is that more emphasis needs to be placed on educational strategies.”
“The complex picture painted by this study not only suggests a different policy emphasis, but also reinforces the importance of systematic research to assess the prevalence of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel environments on campuses, and their impact on Jewish students,” the study’s authors said. — jta