Anti-Semitism on College Campuses

The purpose of this thread is to spend some time discussing the experience of Jewish students on college campuses with anti-Semitism, including in its form as anti-Zionism.

Before engaging in this thread, it is important to clarify that, in this thread, anti-Zionism does NOT refer to disagreement with any one particular Israeli policy or some of the beliefs of its current leadership. One can criticize Israel or Netanyahu without being an anti-Zionist, just as one can criticize America or Trump without being anti-American. Anti-Zionism refers to the idea of eliminating altogether the state of Israel, the world’s only state with a Jewish majority.

For those who will insist that anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are not the same: to explain how they may be experienced as interrelated by Jewish students on campus, I would like to introduce two recent New York Times opinion pieces that speak eloquently to this relationship:

Anti-Semitism is growing on college campuses, and these experiences have taken place at enough colleges that it cannot be said to be unique to certain college communities. Jewish students I know have sat in classes and/or read class-related blog posts in which fellow students have spoken of how Jews secretly control the United States and direct its policies in regard to Israel from the shadows, and that Jews seek worldwide dominance. These are age-old anti-Semitic tropes. They have also heard fellow classmates proclaim that “the Jews” control finance, the government, and the media. The BDS movement is common on campuses, singling out Israel alone among the world’s nations for boycotting. And observe the following:

2018: The AMCHA Initiative, whose goal is to combat anti-Semitism at colleges, documents 77 swastika incidents on college campuses in 2018 alone.
2018: A “Disorientation Guide” distributed by some Vassar students suggests such action steps as "slap a Zionist.”
2018: Two University of Michigan professors refuse to write letters of recommendation for students to study in Israel, with their stated reason being “an academic boycott against Israel.”
2018: A Columbia professor tweets that Israel is responsible for “every dirty treacherous ugly and pernicious act happening in the world.”
2016: A speaker at Vassar and a professor at Rutgers revives the medieval blood libel against Jews, claiming that Israeli Jews kill Palestinians to use their organs.
2016: An Oberlin professor is finally dismissed after many anti-Semitic statements, including claiming without evidence that Israel secretly controls ISIS and was behind the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and after posting an image on social media of a Jew, Jacob Rothschild, stating, “We own your news, the media, your oil, and your government.”
2015: At UCLA, the Undergraduate Student Association Council questions a student’s nomination to the council’s Judicial Board, because “given that [she is] a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” she would be unable to be “unbiased.”
2014: Students at Vassar picket a class because it involves a trip to Israel.
2013: At Oberlin, the Kosher-Halal Coop is kicked out of the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, swastikas appear in dorms, Students for a Free Palestine interrupt a meeting of Hillel, and students object to a Shabbat dinner at Hillel featuring typical Israeli food as “cultural appropriation” of other middle-easterners’ food.

If you are a student, an alumnus/a, a professor, or a parent of a student who has experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism on their college campus, this thread is intended as a location to vent about the experience… and also to share any hope with stories of how you, your child, or your child’s peers and/or college worked to counter anti-Semitism on campus.

If the statistics checks out, this is a very sad and alarming development.

Doesn’t it look like:

  • Some on the left hate Israel based on the simplistic view that the Israel is the oppressor = total evil, and it can bleed into anti Jewish stuff, even if they otherwise are not hostile to Jewish people in domestic contexts.
  • Some on the right dislike Jewish people in domestic contexts, but support Israel in international contexts as someone fighting against Muslims and Arabs whom they hate more (= terrorists in their view).


The question is ask who is sponsoring the bds. The students are not just doing this on their own. The Israeli Ambassador was at our shul and gave the time line of activities. Most of this points back to Iran.

My kids both went to Jewish day schools till 9th grade. They were given lessons for high school on how to handle antisemitism, if it was encountered. They had another one of these classes or talks when entering college. Sad commentary.

My son’s at Michigan and in day to day activities doesn’t see any. But he is painfully aware of professors that wouldn’t give the student a recommendation once they found out where she wanted to do study abroad.

He was around when Richard Spencer was going to speak

We have talks with both our college kids about this reality.

It seems the ones that bash Israel have never been there. My niece lives there and used to be an editor for the Jerusalem Post. She would tell me what we see on TV is not the reality of Israel. She would point out that what is happening in Detroit or Areas of Chicago are not the whole state. I have been there twice and have seen people living side by side with different cultures, religions etc etc. Both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are vibrant cities. Everyone getting along and respecting each other.

I have never supported a BDS movement and I never will. I support Israel and their right to self-determination. However, I do support any American that wants to peacefully protest against anyone or any country, including Israel.

The thing that bugs me is when the bds wants to ban Israel and to have people not buy their products. OK then… If you support this then they would need to stop using their wireless phone, any computer with an Intel chip, anything made by Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Amd etc etc. Since just about every main technology company does their RD at Technion is Israel.

Israel wanted to partner with the Palestinians to do the same in Gaza and they were going to pay for it but it was rejected… this is an old list but…

It’s all very worrisome and depressing.

A student I know heard the EXACT same comment that Ilhan Omar just apologized for, in a college class this past fall. (Seriously, the same words, minus the expression “Benjamins”!)

I think it takes courage for a student of any minority group to speak out when a prejudicial comment or stereotype is made about a group they belong to, especially as a lone voice speaking up.

Yes, Ilhan Omar is ignorant. AIPAC cannot legally make donations, though it is their purpose to advocate for what is best for Israel and part of that includes connecting politicians with wealthy pro-Israeli donors.

Was just in Coral Gables last week. Lots of yamakas and tolerance at UM. Awesome campus. Go where there are less douches.

WashU supposedly has a high percentage of Jewish students. Active Chabad/Hillel as well.

Re: Israeli food as cultural appropriation. The idea that food is cultural appropriation is ludicrous - I haven’t seen any of these idiots picketing Taco Bell or Panda Express. What’s worse here is that these people are actually trying the erase the culture of the Mizrahi Jews, i.e., Jews from the Middle East. The are the majority of Jews in Israel, and they are the main reason that Middle Eastern food figures heavily in Israeli Cuisine.

A large part of the antisemitism of the Left is their continued use of outdated and false stereotypes of Jews in general and Israelis in particular. They are pretending that Israel is peopled by different copies of New York Jews. Their claims of cultural appropriation prove this. Every middle Eastern food, custom, language, and music was brought to Israel by the Jews from Yemen, Uman, Morocco, Tunis, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. There was never any need to “appropriate” any bit of culture from the Palestinians.

I’m not going to go in to how much the Arab cultures, from which these Jews came, appropriated from the Jewish communities.

Active Chabad or Hillel does not mean there is less anti-Semitism on campus. It can mean, though, the Jewish students have a safe place when confronted with it.

Anti-semitism on campus was a factor in deciding which schools to apply to. My kids did not apply to schools that had a reputation for a large amount anti-Semitic or anti-Israel activity, no matter how good the school (here’s looking at you, Columbia and UCLA…). My kids have a strong Jewish identity but why subject them to that kind of atmosphere and potential harassment for 4 years, when there are plenty of good options out there? It was always a question I asked—either of current students or of someone in Hillel.

Of course things can change quickly. I know some Jewish kids who were at Oberlin during the time cited above. Both stayed and graduated (to the chagrin of their parents). They laid low, did not get involved in anything Jewish, just tried to hide from and ignore it. I can’t imagine it was a comfortable environment for them.

I find the trends very worrisome. These are the leaders of tomorrow. Many/most have never been to Israel, have only really been exposed to one side of the issue, and are swept up in the excitement of a movement they think they understand but is far more complicated than they realize. The rise of anti-Semitism on the left is something I never thought I’d see.

I was not aware of the incidents you mention so thank you for this thread. Would you all consider some of these schools (Vassar, Oberlin…) unsafe or uncomfortable enough to recommend that Jewish applicants avoid them?

@ScooterDee- Me? No, not at all. I think most Jewish students can be and are very happy at those schools and probably never ever will experience an incident where they themselves or someone they know are singled out in any way. Most people at these colleges are friendly and nice… and would never want to make a classmate feel bad. What is more common is just some anti-Israel rhetoric on campus, some of it sloping into anti-Semitic tropes. So a student has to make a choice sometimes, in class, in social conversation, etc.: ignore it or speak up.

I know students who have chosen to speak up on some occasions. They absolutely love their college and their friends, and would never want to go anywhere else. Most people are at least respectful of a different perspective, especially when it comes from someone they hang out with socially or interact with regularly in a small discussion class. Maybe you can change someone’s view a little bit on Israel, or help them realize that something they said was a trope- they may not have realized it and probably never meant it to be hurtful.

But it can be upsetting to hear these comments, made in reference to Israel. Hence, this thread. It is a bit scary to see the rise of anti-Semitism in two different ways, on opposite ends of the political spectrum. The white supremacist/neo-Nazis will not be present on the college campuses you name. But the anti-Israel people are there. And sometimes the combo of both ends of the spectrum bringing anti-Semitism more into the mainstream than it has been in all the years since the Holocaust makes me worry about the safety of Jews in the long-term. Hence, this thread.

I had not heard about the incidents at Vassar. It would be upsetting anywhere, but Vassar was D19’s second choice, and D21 loves it also.

I did find this article by a current Jewish student which talks about what the Vassar community has done to confront anti-Semitism, promote a welcoming atmosphere for Jewish and/or pro-Israel students, and encourage respectful dialogue on all aspects of Israel:

Vassar is one of the two colleges I know best, so I may have highlighted more incidents from them because I knew of more of them!

But, as it happens, many of the Vassar students I have known personally, including two of my relatives- an ancient grad and a more recent grad, and two students from my son’s high school who went there recently, have been Jewish. (Vassar has more Jews than some of its LAC peers.)

The students I know have been happy and comfortable there.

And when I toured in 2016, our tour guide was the head of a Jewish organization on campus. He sounded very happy at Vassar. After the tour, I asked him privately about his experience there as a Jew, and he said that part of the reason he became a tour guide was to help dispel the image some people had, after a Wall Stree Journal piece, of Vassar as a bad place for Jews. He was having a great college experience and wanted the world to know it!

I think the change of president since then has helped, too. It helps to have someone at the top willing to confront prejudice in all forms and against any group.

The more liberal colleges may have more anti-Israel protests, but they also are probably a much more welcoming atmospheres for Jews, and have higher numbers of Jews, than many other colleges across the country.

My nephews friend is a student at Towson. He was out at night with a couple friends on campus, returning to their dorm - they belong to a Jewish frat. A group of guys started yelling slurs at them and then confronted them physically. This friend was beat up pretty good and needed medical attention. His parents were so frightened and angry. This happened I guess about two years ago. I know this school has had more recent issues. Just so disheartening and infuriating.

@Leigh22 , That is really, really scary.

I think we ought to acknowledge that, especially at traditional elite LACs like Vassar and Oberlin where lots of Jews attend, Jewish students are responsible for a great deal of the ferment that gets labeled as antisemitic by the organizations that like to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. College-age Jews who are not from Orthodox communities are far from unified in support for the current Israeli government and its policies, and even in support for Zionism as a concept. That’s not the same thing at all as Leigh22’s story about Towson (which I hadn’t heard about, and sounds horrific).