While colleges and universities across the country have expended immense resources, in particular over the past several months, addressing unsubstantiated claims of systemic racism on their campuses and within American culture and institutions more broadly, there are other minority groups that face discrimination but go largely ignored. With millions of dollars in initiatives to hire diversity officers, develop required curricula demanding equity and inclusion, and expand bulging bureaucracies to meet Black Lives Matter demands, universities seem solely focused on their Black students at the expense of all members of their campus communities. We believe, however, that all minorities matter.
The sad reality is that Jewish students across the United States have been facing growing, ugly and violent anti-Semitic attacks that have gone unabated and ignored by college administrators for far too long. In a report on campus anti-Semitism during the 2019 school year, the AMCHA Initiative documented increasing and disturbing trends they anticipate continuing and growing worse in the coming year.
For instance, academic boycotts and other anti-Israel activities have been directly linked to a 67 percent increase in “acts involving the public shaming, vilifying or defaming of students or staff because of their perceived association with Israel,” a 69 percent increase in “acts involving the shutting down or impeding of Israel-related speech, movement or assembly,” and a 51 percent increase in “acts involving the unfair treatment or exclusion of students because of their perceived association with Israel.”
And while AMCHA saw a decrease in the number of cases of “classic anti-Semitism,” there was a “significant increase in the number of Israel-related incidents.” This is important because campus haters have learned that if they couch their anti-Jewish animus in terms of anti-Zionism rather than “classic” anti-Semitism, campus administrators turn a blind eye and allow the hate to flourish unabated.
Consequently, our organization, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is launching an initiative to encourage colleges to officially adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. To date, 26 countries across the world, including the U.K., Italy, Germany, Canada, Israel, Argentina and the U.S. State Department itself, have implemented the IHRA definition, which says, in part: “Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The IHRA definition recognizes that “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination” is a contemporary example of anti-Semitism.
Jewish students and faculty have faced physical assault, discrimination, destruction of property, genocidal threats, suppression of speech, movement and assembly, bullying and denigration—all of which are being tolerated by the same administrators who are responsible for the well-being of all members of the campus community, but who turn a blind eye when Jews are involved. Safe spaces are provided for everyone but Jews. It is both disgraceful and discriminatory.
Campus hate groups wish to define anti-Semitism in a way that permits their continued discrimination, intimidation, denigration and demoralization of Jewish students and faculty. Their harassment can no longer be ignored. The adoption of the IHRA definition is a simple way for colleges to end the hate and make clear that anti-Semitism will not be tolerated on campuses.
While administrators dawdle, Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act has become an important tool for the protection of Jewish students. Last December, President Trump signed an executive order directing “all executive departments and agencies charged with enforcing Title VI” to use the IHRA definition, including its identifying anti-Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism. Trump’s executive order may very well be overturned in a new Democratic presidential administration, making the need for colleges to adopt the IHRA definition that much more imperative.
Anti-Semitism is a form of racism. Until racism in all of its varieties—not just of the anti-Black variety—is no longer tolerated, it will flourish and eventually impact all Americans. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us, “the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.” And what begins on college campuses never ends there, either. In the lead-up to the Holocaust, the Nazis planted student groups across German campuses, where the hateful ideology took hold. Its National Socialist German Student League directly targeted Jewish students and faculty, often interrupting lectures, provoking skirmishes and physically intimidating Jewish students—all tolerated by university administrations. Similar acts are common place once again right here in America in the year 2020.
College administrators have a moral, professional and historical responsibility to stop all hate from seeping into classrooms, student-sponsored events and campus culture more generally. They must recognize they are breeding the future leaders of our country. With one simple step, they can begin to turn the tide of the anti-Semitism that is once again flourishing across the globe.