The new antisemitism on campus

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Yellow badge Jews were required to wear in Nazi Germany


Yellow badge Jews were required to wear in Nazi Germany

Yellow badge Jews were required to wear in Nazi Germany

Yellow badge Jews were required to wear in Nazi Germany

In its 2013 Portrait of Jewish Americans, the Pew Research Center found that younger Jews were more likely than older Jews to report being called offensive names because they were Jewish. Specifically, the numbers were 22 percent of those 18-29, 16 percent of those 30-49, and 5 percent of those 50 and older. Did this signify a resurgence of antisemitism in American society?

Struck by the finding, my Trinity College colleagues Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar asked the Jewish college students they surveyed in the spring of 2014 whether they had personally experienced or witnessed antisemitism since the beginning of the academic year. To the researchers’ surprise, fully fifty-four percent said that they had. And it made little difference whether the students were more or less open about their Jewishness, which stream of Judaism they identified with, whether they were male or female, or what grade they were in.

A majority of the reported incidents involved comments from individuals, as opposed to institutional contexts, according to Kosmin and Keysar’s newly released report. The question is: What’s the explanation?

One possibility is the rise in anti-Israel sentiment on campuses. The BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement against Israel has gained traction at a number of colleges and universities, and in some cases has led to ugly attacks, verbal and otherwise, on Jewish students. But Kosmin and Keysar find little evidence linking reported antisemitism among American students to hostility to Israel. That, they point out, is much more the case in Britain.

“My own view,” Kosmin told the Connecticut Jewish Ledger last week, “is that part of it is linked to social media in many ways because inhibitions and civility have been eroded in this generation.” Anyone who writes a blog (present company included) becomes accustomed to receiving hostile comments; on the information highway, digital road rage goes with the traffic. But it pales before the free-flow of insult that’s now sweeping colleges and high schools. If you doubt it, take a look at today’s New York Times story on the anonymous social media site Yik Yak.

The disturbing evidence of antisemitism on campuses may, in other words, reflect a larger phenomenon — vituperation generated on-line and sent in all directions: toward Jews and Gentiles, men and women, Asians and WASPS, whomever. It’s a cliche to say that more study is needed — but I’m ready to say so. Whether or not there’s anything that can be done about it, at least we’ll know.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Mark,
    re: “The disturbing evidence of antisemitism on campuses may, in other words, reflect a larger phenomenon — vituperation generated on-line and sent in all directions: toward Jews and Gentiles, men and women, Asians and WASPS, whomever. ”
    I have wondered for many years about the wisdom of teaching the young that the most important values are to be socially correct, non judgmental, embracing diversity, etc.
    In public school, I was taught that self respect, based on good character and accomplishment, were the basis of a good society. Cheating, which is acceptable today, was shameful, as was not “earning your keep”. To demean and insult others, especially for things that they cannot control, showed bad character, as well as bad behavior, but it mainly showed a lack of self respect.
    I am not saying that the teaching of “social” values is not important, but I am convinced that they have displaced the teaching that which is more important. To put it another way, it has encouraged shallowness.

  • Martial

    Cheating is less acceptable today because it is more readily caught with technologies available to all teachers to detect plagiarism & the like. All one need do to verify this is to see increased punishments being levied against researchers for scientific fraud over time. Assertions that cheating is more acceptable may simply reflect a greater willingness on the part of students to admit having cheated – perhaps resulting from increasing honesty that goes with more online communication, an honesty sometimes revealed by far more crude expressions of racism than the pre-internet era exhibited.

    As for Jew baiting, who knows? Perhaps more of it was seen before than today; it was much more frequently exhibited in my college days than now, at least judging by graffiti.

  • samuel Johnston

    Hi Martial,
    I will grant you that my notion that cheating is more acceptable (morally) is only based on anecdotal information. It was first called to my attention when I sent a client’s son (charged with embezzlement) to a psychologist for his opinion on why this polite, middle-class young man felt justified in simply taking money from his employer, after his request for a raise had been refused. The psychologist said that it was common for him to see young people who had little, to no, sense of right and wrong. I was shocked, and since his mother was such an exemplary person, I looked for explanations elsewhere.
    (Gentle readers: Please hold your peace if you think it is because of lack of objective truth, it is not. It may well be the result of the lack of respect for rules and authority in general, or lack of a sense of a Social Contract.)