Do Israel-related anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses create a more hostile environment than classic anti-Semitism? In other words, do expressions of anti-Zionism create a more harmful atmosphere for Jewish students than, say, swastikas?
The answers to those questions are both “yes,” according to a new study by the Santa Cruz, Calif.-based AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit that monitors anti-Semitism in higher education.
The group’s just-released annual report, “‘Zionists Off Our Campus’: Campus Anti-Semitism in 2017,” found that “anti-Zionist harassment is felt no less than anti-Semitism but sometimes even more because the university community is not sympathetic to anti-Zionist harassment,” according to AMCHA founder and lead researcher Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. “Members of the university community often collude in it, and the Jews feel nobody is sympathetic to their perspective.”
The AMCHA Initiative found that although anti-Semitic incidents are given equal weight in an audit, Israel-related anti-Semitic incidents “were considerably more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students than incidents involving classic anti-Semitism.”
In addition, it found that “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.”
Rossman-Benjamin, a retired lecturer at the University of California-Santa Cruz, said there is a “difference between a swastika scrawled on a bathroom door and one on a kid’s door. You have to look at the context to determine the intent of the perpetrator. Close to 80 percent of swastikas are not directed at specific individuals and are seen as expressions of anger and hatred. You also have to look at how the university responds to it. Universities have to respond to clear anti-Jewish hatred.”
The report added: “Despite the fact that acts of Israel-related anti-Semitism appear to be the larger contributor to a hostile environment for Jewish students, university administrators have generally been far less likely to adequately address these Israel-related incidents than they have acts of classic anti-Semitism. In large part this is due to university administrators recognizing that classic anti-Semitism may violate state or federal anti-discrimination law and most schools’ peer-on-peer harassment policies which prohibit the harassment of students based on characteristics such as race, color and gender, as well as religion and ethnicity.
The release of the study comes as Stanford University is being criticized for failing to condemn the conduct of a student whose Facebook post threatened to “physically fight Zionists on campus next year” who support Israel’s new nation-state law. (The post was edited and softened hours after it went online.)
In a statement Aug. 3, the university said only that it had “conducted an extensive case assessment and concluded that the student does not pose a physical threat to other members of the community. … We will be meeting with students on all sides of the issue to hear ideas for additional steps that can be taken to assure their feeling of safety and comfort in our community.”
But the Zionist Organization of America wrote to the university president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, last week calling on him to expel the student, Hamzeh Daoud, and to “clearly and forcefully publicly condemn Daoud’s actions.”
As if to anticipate the debate at Stanford, the AMCHA reports says, “[U]niversity administrators rarely recognize anti-Zionist harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination, because they see it as motivated by political considerations rather than ethnic or religious ones. The reality, however, is that harassment is harassment. The effect of pervasive intolerant, exclusionary and harassing behavior on students is the same, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim. And the abhorrent behavior that prevents students from an education free from harassment must be addressed, and addressed equitably.”