We Need to Talk About College’s Anti-Semitism Problem

We Need to Talk About College's Anti-Semitism Problem
Anti-Semitic incidents rose 12% from 2018 to 2019, with 56% more harassment cases, according to the ADL. (Ted Eytan / Creative Commons)

During the pandemic, many college students have found an avenue for socialization on apps such as Clubhouse. These platforms have been especially valuable to Jewish undergraduates, providing a much-needed connection to their religious community during quarantine.

However, by disclosing their faith publicly, students are increasingly at risk for verbal and physical harassment. Early this year, several college students were victims of an anti-Semitic cyber-attack in a Jewish dating room on Clubhouse. The hacker cursed at the audience of over 2,000 viewers and uttered anti-Semitic remarks, referring to the Jewish speakers by name. Many Jewish users on the platform say they no longer feel safe.

This incident gives a glimpse into a much larger issue of anti-Semitic hate incidents, which are on the rise: From 2015 to 2019, anti-Semitic violence jumped to a record high, according to the Anti-Defamation League—and experts say this year the U.S. is moving into a “dangerous phase.”

It’s no secret that Jewish college students are a frequent target of this hate. A quick Google search of the words “anti-Semitism” and “college campus” reveals hundreds of articles addressing and analyzing the issue.

Anti-Semitism in colleges is on the rise—here’s why.

The Conflation of the Jewish Religion with Israeli Policies

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an important and complicated topic that merits passionate and informed discussion. However, some Jewish students feel like they are being held accountable despite having no connection to Israel’s political actions.

In June 2020, a class president at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., posted a story with a caption referring to “zionist-Israel-birthright-vacation-stuck-on-comparing-holocaust-to racism-WW2-worshipping-b*tches.” This incident came just a few months after Pomona denied an accusation of anti-Semitism on their campus in response to a potential lawsuit.

Discrimination of any kind should not be a controversial topic. While Judaism can be an expression of faith, an ethnicity, a nationality, a culture or a heritage, it is not inherently a political stance. While it’s crucial to discuss prevalent human rights issues and question foreign policies, linking a group of people to a country’s actions can lead to bias and violence.

Remote Learning

The AMCHA Initiative’s anti-Semitism report linked an increase of Israel-related anti-Semitism to remote learning. The most recent scandal surrounded Professor David Miller of Bristol University in England. The prominent professor claimed Jewish students were part of a “violent, racist foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing” during an online video conference. Despite the media attention, he is still employed at the university.

Despite campuses being virtual, Jewish students are still facing physical attacks and vandalization. In early February, swastikas were spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity house at Cal Poly. This incident happened during Shabbat, a period of Jewish religious observance.

Remote learning may also increase the vulnerability of the student body. Without access to many of the resources available on a physical campus, students may not receive adequate support or assistance.


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A Lack of Action from University Officials

We Need to Talk About College's Anti-Semitism Problem
Protest at a college campus over anti-Semitism. (Creative Commons)

Bristol University responded to the scandal with a statement: “We do not endorse the comments made by Professor Miller about our Jewish students.” Many feel that a university’s denouncement of anti-Semitic remarks needs accompanying action to carry any weight. Recent Tufts graduate David Meyer cited an incident in 2019 in which a swastika was hung on the dorm room of a Jewish student. “The college didn’t really do anything,” Meyer said.

Without the support of their colleges, Jewish students often feel there is nothing deterring attacks and discrimination.

Colleges’ Silence on Anti-Semitism

Although students now have online platforms to alert journalists and document harassment, it should not be their responsibility to speak on and fix these issues. The Times of Israel published an article in which a graduate of Cornell wrote, “It is unfair to ask that every Jewish student become a heroic advocate for our community.” Safety should be a priority, not a privilege.  

Colleges, you have an anti-Semitism problem, and it’s time we start talking about it.

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About

Jules Schulman is an LA-based journalist and researcher. She freelances articles on politics, sports, and culture. You can find her on Twitter or on her website.