Beliefs Ethics Institutions Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Campus anti-Semitism is not just a Jewish problem

Credit: Shutterstock
Credit: Shutterstock

Credit: Shutterstock

Ah, college memories!

I attended a university with many Jewish students. One year during Hanukkah, the Jewish students’ organization sponsored a menorah-lighting, which ended with a group of us dancing the hora around the menorah.

A few evenings after that, a student lit a menorah in his dorm room, left the menorah unattended, and accidentally set fire to his room.

The next day, I overheard some students snickering in the cafeteria: “Do you think that the Jews are going to burn down the entire dorm and dance around it?” Echoes of the accusations of the Jews burning down the Reichstag in Germany, 1933.

Fast forward to this week. An online survey of 1,157 students, conducted by Trinity College professor Barry Kosmin and associate professor Ariela Keyser, reveals that more than half of American Jewish college students report that they have experienced anti-Semitism on campus.

Anti-Semitism has become politically correct — even chic.

Just in the last few weeks…

  • At UCLA, members of the Undergraduate Student Association argued that Rachel Beyda shouldn’t be appointed a justice to the Judicial Board of the Undergraduate Students Association Council. Most people agreed that she was eminently qualified. But, she is Jewish, and several of her fellow students made vague references to this being a “conflict of interest, because of her involvement in the Jewish community.”The reason why this should be a conflict of interest? Totally unclear and unstated. Ultimately, Rachel’s candidacy was approved, but the whole incident was, to say the least, unsettling.

“Haters gonna hate,” they say — and in this case, the haters are students, faculty members, and administrators. Imagine being an undergraduate and standing up to a professor who is trashing Israel. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine actively nurture hatred of Israel and advocate terrorism against Israel. The hate takes the form of BDS, anti-Israel rallies, verbal attacks, vandalism, and even physical threats. This movie makes the threat real and palpable.

Once upon a time, there were red lines between criticism of Israel’s policies, denial of Israel’s right to exist, and full-blown anti-Semitism. Those lines have increasingly blurred, and in some cases, they have disappeared.

If you want to read an excellent literary exploration of campus anti-Semitism, check out Nora Gold’s recent novel, Fields of Exile. It tells the story of Judith, an idealistic graduate student in social work at a Canadian university. She loves Israel, and she has spent much time in the Jewish state. As the story unfolds, Judith comes to understand that her department is a hotbed of anti-Israel activism, which exists under the guises of tolerance, diversity, and the cult of Palestinian victimization. She is increasingly marginalized. Her story does not end well. It is a wakeup call.

How do we begin to fix this situation?

  •  College presidents can speak out on the issue of campus anti-Semitism – just as European leaders have spoken out against anti-Semitic acts. How about a joint statement from a broad coalition of presidents and chancellors, in a full page ad in the New York Times?
  • Student governments can condemn anti-Semitism. That’s what UC-Berkeley just did.
  • Remind people that anti-Semitism is as unacceptable as racism, heterosexism, sexism, lookism, classism, etc.  In the current taxonomy of “isms,” the hatred of Jews winds up on the bottom — and it is even justified in the name of protesting Israeli actions. Anti-Semitism should be named and exposed.
  • Bring thought leaders and faculty members to Israel, in order to expose them to realities on the ground.
  • Work with the Anti-Defamation League to make sure that campus anti-Semitism is on its agenda. Make sure that local ADL directors and staff members have relationships with campus leaders.
  • Jewish educational institutions – day schools, religious schools, youth groups, summer camps — need to educate young Jews so that they can understand and fight back against anti-Semitism. Make this an educational priority. Tell Jewish parents: the only way that your kids will be able to respond to the challenges on campus is for them to continue their Jewish education beyond the tender age of puberty.
  • Continue to strengthen Hillel. Jewish students need to know that Hillel, and other Jewish student organizations, is where they will find community, spirituality, Jewish content – and support.
  • Hillels can continue to reach out to other campus organizations, especially other religious organizations, and continue to strengthen those relationships. They are crucial in difficult times.

There is an old cliché: “The war has come home.” Forgive the military metaphor, but this is a war: a war for the heart, mind, and soul of the American university. If American academia looks the other way as Jewish students are intimidated, then they will cease to have any kind of moral force. They will have squandered their entire intellectual legacy.

If the Jews lose this war, then everyone loses. Too much is as stake to let that happen.



About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • A lot of the incidents covered are bad, but this one:

    “At UC-Davis, students voted on a resolution to endorse a boycott of Israel — accompanied by the cries of Allah hu-akhbar.”

    How is that anti-Semitism?? Criticizing a nation, that happens to be Jewish, does NOT mean the criticism is anti-Semitic, nor should any nation be shielded from criticism.

    I’ve seen many people declare that criticizing Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism and I do not understand why this is.

    Criticizing Saudi Arabia or Iran is not, by default, Islamophobia. Criticizing Great Britain is not prejudice against the Church of England. Would the author of this article denounce rightful criticisms of Iran as Islamophobia?? Or does he only consider it prejudice when a Jewish state is criticized??

    Furthermore declarations of “God is the Greatest” are not anti-Semitic either.

    Painting swastikas on a Jewish fraternity is anti-Semitism. Petitioning to boycott a nation who many people criticize for reasons that have nothing to do with its Jewish identity is NOT.

    SOME people who oppose Israel do so because of anti-Semitism, just as SOME people who support Israel do so because of Islamophobia. But that doesn’t mean EVERY instance of opposing Israel is anti-Semitic.

  • “Criticizing Saudi Arabia or Iran is not, by default, Islamophobia.”

    Criticizing Saudi Arabia or Iran while onlookers chant “Onward Christian soldiers!” would raise a few eyebrows. You are conveniently ignoring the “Allah hu-akhbar” bit.

  • You also neglect to mention that the boycott vote and the vandalism happened at the same campus, at the same time. Let me guess, the vandal was just a “lone wolf,” right? The demonization of Israel has led to countless anti-Semitic incidents just in the past month and universities have been right in the middle of it. When the BDS movement at the University of Durban called for the expulsion of all Jewish students who didn’t toe the line on Palestine, that was just anti-Israel too? By all means, Israel is open to criticism. That criticism isn’t necessarily anti-Semitic, but recent events have shown that it often is.

  • You completely misrepresented the Rachel Beyda issue. It had nothing to do with her being Jewish, but her affiliation with some extremely racist Israeli organizations.

  • Criticism of Israel is not Antisemitism if it is simple and normal criticism of some government policy. Policy criticisms are levelled at France, the UK, the US, or any other country. But criticism of Israel almost never is of this kind. Almost always it is hatred against the very existence of the Jewish State of Jewish presence in the Holy Land. We never hear people yell that kind of hatred against other countries. Nobody calls for the destruction of France of Britain. But there are numerous voices expressing their support for the destruction of Israel.

  • Excellent article.

    If Jews are going to convince others that contemporary anti-Semitism on campus isn’t just a Jewish problem, the first step is to show that they’re serious enough to call out the ideological culprits — mostly an unholy alliance between radical Islamism and the post-1960s radical Left. You have to call hate by its name.

    Jews historically have been to the left of center, but since the 1960s, the children and grandchildren of mainstream Jewish liberals have moved much farther to the left of center. But it is precisely the far left that is the primary culprit of campus anti-Semitism.

    If Jews on the left want people to take anti-Semitism seriously, they’re going to have to deal with the anti-Semitism of the left in a much more aggressive way.

    Unfortunately, Jews on the right weren’t much better when it came to the right-wing anti-Semitism of Mel Gibson and his movie, The Passion. Otherwise good men like Michael Medved were too willing to give Gibson the benefit of the doubt, and undercut the work of a number of evangelicals in the movie business who were stating that the film was anti-Semitic.

    Jews are way too loyal to those who share their political ideology, be it left or right. They need to get much tougher on anti-Semites of all stripes.

  • i understand your thoughts on the difference between Antisemitism and Anti-zionism, but the fact of the matter is that Antisemitism is on the rise because people don’t blame the Israelis for what is happening, people blame the Jews.

    In Austria it was legally determined that stating “kill all Jews” is a fine way to protest Israel. This was in regards to a man who publicly stated that Hitler was right and that people should finish the job.

    All throughout the world people are taking out their anger about Israel on the Jews in horrific and in some cases extremely violent ways.

    So because of these facts, Jews need to be worried about anti-Israel proclamations because any or all of them could be targeted at us specifically.

    It’s a scary time to be Jewish.

  • Free Speech on the college campus is vitally important. I am working with parents, students and alumni to ensure that the college campus is a safe and secure environment for our young people. The college campus must be a place of civil discourse, a place of free speech; a place where our students can explore who they are, including their relationship to Judaism and to Israel.

    Free speech is intrinsic to the University’s mission and vital to our children. It is inextricably linked to the issue of Anti-Semitism on campus. Administration and faculty need to understand that permitting a variety of views on the campus is healthy only when it does not target segments of the population for intimidation, threat or reprisal for being other. The parents, students and alumni are uniquely positioned to present compelling reasons for this to be seriously considered, confirming policies reflect and ensure responsible free speech.

    I seek to assist in coordinating these efforts and working with these groups to approach the administrations of the college campuses to respectfully demand that civility on the campus is maintained for the benefit of all parties involved.

    If you are aware of a campus struggling with this issue or students who have been victims of such bad behaviors, I encourage you to connect them with me so that we can provide support and redress.

  • The problem is not Jews. I love Jews. The problem is Judaism, it’s plagiarized myths, and it’s 613 commandments that are obsolete, based on flat Earth thinking and solar worship of the one true God. Jews can change. Judaism can not change. How do we adapt Judaism to globalism and the Hubble Telescope?