In recent weeks, students have reported a rise in hate speech and bigotry on campus — ethnic and racial minorities mocked, swastikas painted on buildings, speakers shouted down and other hateful incidents. While Jews are not the only group that has been targeted, many of these incidents have in fact been directed at Jewish students.
Hillel has always stood against these kinds of attacks — and we are leading the effort to confront them today. Across North America, at public, private or rural colleges and universities, Hillel’s leaders who live and work on campus lead the movement to protect Jewish students from bigotry.
Today, old hatreds are taking new forms. One is the increasingly violent and abusive tactics of the anti-Israel movement. In particular, we’ve been aggressively calling attention to a new form of bigotry, where some in the anti-Israel movement want to bar Jewish students from social-justice coalitions unless they condemn the Jewish state’s mere existence. Another is the presence of white nationalists disseminating racist and bigoted rhetoric on college campuses.
Whether the hatred is coming from the hard-left or the alt-right, Hillel stands against it. When intolerance rears its ugly head, it doesn’t matter what’s behind it. There is no room for hatred on campus, no matter where it comes from, and no matter the cause.
For nearly a century, Hillel’s core mission has been building and sustaining strong Jewish communities on campus. This work remains central, and is in fact critical to our battle against anti-Semitism. No single individual can combat hatred, but together, we can ensure our campuses are safe and welcoming places for Jewish life. University administrators and local law enforcement have come to value campus Jewish communities as essential allies in combatting anti-Semitism.
What’s more, the work we do to broaden coalitions and communities on campus creates the kind of environment that is resistant to anti-Semitism. Hillel forms engaging and inclusive communities; educates students about Jewish life, learning and Israel; builds relationships across the campus; and teaches constructive ways to engage in dialogue with those from different backgrounds and experiences.
We must always remember that building a strong Jewish community on campus is the first step, and that strong communities always respond to challenges more effectively than those that are just coming together for the first time.
We know that when we do this work we are in fact doing it on behalf of everyone on campus — not just Jewish students — because intolerance against one group on campus is related to a broader problem of respect for any group. And we know that we must speak up and stand up for tolerance and inclusivity for all students. This is a Jewish value, one we carry in our very DNA as disciples of Hillel the Elder, who reminded us of this responsibility in his famous teaching, “If I am not for myself who will be for me, but if I am only for myself, what am I?”
As we move forward, Hillel will continue to lead the effort to ensure campus administrations respond swiftly and strongly to all acts of anti-Jewish and other bigotry. And we will work to make sure these incidents don’t occur in the first place by helping put in place critical policies and programs to keep the campus open to all, welcoming to all and safe for all.
For Hillel, the responsibility of ensuring a safe and welcoming Jewish community on college campuses around the world is a sacred responsibility. To parents, grandparents and to the entire Jewish community, your students — our students — will be embraced, loved and supported, regardless of where they come from and the extent of their connection to Jewish life. And we will face and defeat this recent scourge of anti-Semitism, no matter where it comes from, just as we always have in the past.
Eric Fingerhut is president and CEO of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.