August 23, 2022
As students return to college campuses this fall, new opportunities create excitement and optimistic nervousness. Unfortunately, an unwelcome source of anxiety also exists: growing antisemitism, including anti-Zionism, which repackages historic antisemitic tropes and tactics to target both the State of Israel and students who support it. With anti-Jewish bigotry responsible for over half of all religiously-based hate crimes in the United States, university administrations claiming to champion social justice cannot ignore the many forms of antisemitism impacting Jewish students without undermining their own credibility. While administrators cannot eradicate antisemitism, they can take concrete measures to guard against a hostile campus environment.
To help ensure that students are not marginalized based on their Jewish/Zionist identity, my organization, StandWithUs, has issued a nationwide letter to 3,000 campus administrators identifying five issues that may impact Jewish (and other Zionist) students and outlining suggestions to address them. One recurring scenario involves faculty members’ allegiance to the discriminatory Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, whose antisemitic goal of undermining the existence of the Jewish State also calls for an academic boycott of Israel. Addressing the Rise of Minority Attacks Against Orthodox Jews When such professors interfere with students’ academic careers — e.g., refusing to help students study abroad in Israel or refusing to review dissertations because of their position on Israel — this violates most universities’ faculty guidelines and non-discrimination policies. Administrations must be aware of such discriminatory practices and take immediate corrective action to protect students’ rights. Some faculty also introduce their antisemitic ideas into group settings. Increasingly, students share concerns about professors abusing their platforms by offering (often uninformed) students a one-sided narrative demonizing Israel and applying an overtly double standard to it, as compared to their treatment of other countries. Normalizing this type of antisemitism in classroom discussions marginalizes Jewish students, who increasingly fear ostracization by peers or grade retribution by professors and, consequently, feel they must suppress Zionist components of their Jewish identity. Our letter offers proactive suggestions to ensure classrooms retain their intended purpose as forums for robust dialog rather than enclaves of indoctrination: to reiterate students’ academic freedom rights and to clearly identify school processes for evaluating claims of antisemitism. A related problem concerns professors engaging in anti-Israel (and often antisemitic) diatribes in courses where such content is irrelevant. While professors have wide latitude in choosing course materials, many abuse that freedom — and violate professional standards — when espousing or encouraging bias against Israel and/or Jews, going well beyond the scope of their curricula. To prevent this, administrators should prepare — through implementation of new policies if necessary — to address allegations of such misconduct and ensure it is not tolerated. Likewise, faculty and student governments who promote anti-Israel views and anti-Zionist ideologies through official university social media accounts and college listservs not only effectively eliminate opportunity for meaningful discourse, but also are likely violating university policies. When university assets are misused to disseminate personal political viewpoints, this falls outside the scope of departmental purview, professional standards of conduct, and the bounds of academic freedom. As the Wayne State University administration acknowledged in this very context, such use of university resources is inappropriate because people could misconstrue a student government’s statement as representing the views of the university when it does not. University administrators should monitor communication channels for misuse by those advancing private political agendas — including those that include antisemitic rhetoric — and emulate Wayne State University by taking prompt corrective action. Finally, administrators must recognize the requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits federal funding recipients from engaging in discrimination and harassment based on race, color, or national origin, and their obligation to take remedial action if a hostile environment is created, including by student organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine. StandWithUs’ letter highlights a helpful resource: the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) digital binder, which specifies that “Title VI protects all students, including Jewish students, from discrimination based on race, color, and national origin,” and recognizes that unlawful discrimination against Jewish students can be based on real or perceived ties to the State of Israel. We hope that administrators — including Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) staff — will take appropriate steps to monitor and remedy the continuing problem of campus antisemitism (including anti-Zionism). Administrative action is critical to ensuring that Jewish and Zionist students can fully participate in all educational campus opportunities free from harassment, marginalization, and discrimination. The academic integrity of our nation’s educational institutions depends upon it. Carly F. Gammill is the Founding Director of the StandWithUs Center for Combating Antisemitism and Counsel for Litigation Strategy in the StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department.