A few months ago, a professor at San Francisco State University posted to her program’s Facebook page that welcoming Zionists to campus is “a declaration of war against Arabs, Muslims, [and] Palestinians.” Soon after, graffiti and flyers showed up all over campus stating, “Zionists Are Not Welcome On This Campus.”
At a University of Illinois rally against white supremacy, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine led a large crowd in chanting, “No Zionists, no KKK, resisting fascism all the way!”
At New York University, 53 student groups pledged to boycott NYU’s pro-Israel clubs and refuse to co-sponsor events with them. The president of Students for Justice in Palestine stated, “Our point is to make being Zionists uncomfortable on the NYU campus.”
New research recently conducted by our organization found that because of their presumed support for Israel, Jewish students on dozens of campuses have been openly targeted for vilification, destruction of property, disruption of events, and exclusion from participation in campus activities, with incidents of Israel-related ostracization and discrimination more than doubling from 2015 to 2017.
And such acts are not only increasing in frequency but in brazenness, with open calls for the boycott, and even expulsion, of Jewish and pro-Israel students and student groups from campus jumping from 3 incidents in 2015 and 4 in 2016, to 14 incidents in 2017 and 18 in the first half of 2018 alone.
Anti-Israel campus activities are no longer intent on harming Israel, but increasingly, and alarmingly, they are intent on harming pro-Israel members of the campus community.
Our study also found that while acts of classic anti-Semitism (e.g. swastika graffiti, neo-Nazi fliers, vandalism of Jewish religious objects, etc.) made up the vast majority of incidents on campus, it was the Israel-related incidents, which were far more likely to directly target Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm, that contributed the lion’s share of hostility to the campus climate.
Jewish students themselves confirmed these findings. At San Francisco State University, a Jewish student reported that as a result of years of Israel-related harassment, “[t]he atmosphere on campus is beyond difficult or upsetting, it has evolved into something frightening and ugly.”
A Jewish student at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign related that after a registered student organization declared ‘there is no room for Zionists’ at the university, Jewish students “reported being harassed, targeted and feeling unsafe.” A Jewish student leader at New York University stated, “When the open goal is to make me personally as a Zionist feel uncomfortable on campus, things start to feel unsafe.”
Unfortunately, despite the alarming increase in both the quantity and severity of these acts, university administrators have on the whole been unresponsive, often chalking up Israel-related harassment to political free speech that does not warrant university intervention.
Jewish and pro-Israel students are quick to point out, however, that administrators frequently apply an egregiously unfair double standard, giving a “free speech” pass to the perpetrators of anti-Zionist harassment while swiftly condemning and firmly disciplining the perpetrators of identical acts of harassment directed at students protected by state and federal anti-discrimination law. Consider, for example, how promptly and vigorously university administrators would respond to members of a registered student organization chanting hate language to other minority organizations.
The rights to freedom of expression and full participation in campus life are bedrock values of any college or university that no individual student can be denied. Yet Jewish students targeted because of their presumed support for Israel, and all other students who do not fall within the protected categories etched out by anti-discrimination law, are routinely denied these rights by university administrators, as harassing behavior that suppresses their speech and excludes them from campus activities is allowed to continue unabated.
This structural inequity is untenable. Not only does it leave an unacceptable number of students feeling vulnerable, unsafe and without basic civil rights, but by impeding a free and diverse exchange of ideas it erodes the very underpinnings of higher education.
University leaders and state and federal legislators must acknowledge that peer-on-peer harassment is more than just a form of identity-motivated discrimination. Harassment is harassment. The effect of this type of abhorrent intolerant and exclusionary behavior on students is the same, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim.
Jewish students, and all students, deserve access to an education free from harassment. Behavior that suppresses any student’s right to freely express themselves, learn from their professors and peers and fully participate in campus life must be addressed, and it must be addressed equitably. University policies and state and federal legislation must be amended to reflect this reality and protect all students, fairly and equally.