Gauging the level of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment and activities on American college campuses is of great interest to the Jewish community, but definitive information is hard to come by. Much concern has been raised by the increasing visibility of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel in recent years, and Jewish organizations have devoted a good deal of attention, strategizing and funding to combat those efforts. But BDS resolutions have had virtually no practical impact on university policies.
How serious is the BDS threat?
As our Steve Lipman reports (“Dueling Narratives Cloud Picture Of Campus Anti-Semitism“), there are competing narratives about the impact of anti-Israel and anti-Semitism episodes, with the ADL reporting on “a disturbingly high number” of such incidents on campuses and in lower schools in the first nine months of 2017, while a survey conducted by Brandeis University’s Steinhardt Social Research Institute on four campuses with large Jewish populations (including Brandeis) concludes that Jewish students “are rarely exposed” to anti-Semitism and “do not think their campus is hostile to Jews.” Leonard Saxe, a Brandeis social psychologist and one of the authors of his school’s study, noted that it was important to speak with the students themselves rather than relying on reports of dangerous levels of anti-Semitism.
We, too, believe that Jewish students can and should play a key role in interpreting the mood and activities on campus, whether it is to alert the community of problems or to tamp down exaggerated concerns. With that in mind, this week we launch a monthly column, “The View From Campus,” which will feature a range of dispatches from college students around the country. We are proud to include the writings of some of our more than 600 alumni of The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel project, a two-year educational and advocacy program for high school juniors and seniors. Write On was created in 2002 with the help of the Avi Chai Foundation and continues now with support from The Paul E. Singer Foundation.
Both of the inaugural reports in this issue are by Write On grads, one describing how even Brandeis, where nearly half of the undergraduates are Jewish, is not immune from anti-Semitic incidents; the other by a Columbia University student noting the effectiveness of peer-to-peer hasbara (or public relations for Israel), far from the clamor of campus protests and counter-protests.
We are proud to give voice to thoughtful Jewish students at a time in their lives when they are forming and re-forming their Jewish identity. We encourage college students to contribute to our pages and website (contact Lily Weinberg at Lily@jewishweek.org) and look forward to sharing their viewpoints with you.