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Danger Zone

Faygie Levy-Holt

Students on campuses today talk about “safe spaces” for minorities. Jewish students who are routinely singled out for judgment — and sometimes violence – talk about coping and thriving in uncertain times

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

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FLAMES OF HATRED Though swastikas and other expressions of traditional anti-Semitism are making a resurgence on college campuses, experts say it’s the rise of anti-Israel activism that is truly fanning the flames. Schools with very active chapters of the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) tend to see an increase in BDS activity and anti-Israel hate (Photos: Amir Levy)

I t’s never been easier for secular Jewish students to get a taste of Yiddishkeit at college. Take Rutgers University, for example. A drive down College Avenue in New Brunswick, New Jersey, reveals a gleaming new Hillel building, a sprawling Chabad House, and the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, which sponsors visiting professors and hosts lectures and programming for the community at large.

But while kosher meals and learning opportunities abound, Jewish students at universities across the country describe a campus environment that can turn hostile. Anti-Israel activities on many campuses today are loud and hateful, and Jewish students are singled out for harassment and sometimes violence.

Since January 2017, the AMCHA Initiative, an organization that tracks and investigates anti-Semitic incidents on campuses, has recorded more than 200 incidents of anti-Semitism, and there were more than 600 in 2016 alone. Another survey on campus anti-Semitism, this one by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, recently found that anti-Jewish incidents are up 45 percent at US institutions of higher learning. A related survey, released in late April by the Anti-Defamation League, shows that anti-Semitic incidents were up 86 percent in the United States overall at the start of 2017.

Those numbers include acts of anti-Semitic expression, incidents that directly target Jewish students and faculty, and BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) activities that seek to pressure schools to stop doing business with or investing in Israel.

Among the incidents reported in March alone: more than 100 flyers showing hand-drawn swastikas were strewn all over the grounds of Chabad’s Librescu Jewish Student Center at Virginia Tech on a Shabbos afternoon; a mezuzah was defaced at University of California, Hastings College of the Law; and at the University of Texas, Austin, a group of anti-Israel students prevented Jewish students from raising funds for the Israeli nonprofit Save a Child’s Heart Foundation, by drowning out their calls for donations and waving a flag over the students’ heads. Then there is the annual “anti-apartheid week,” during which pro-Palestinian students build mock “occupation walls” and host “die-ins.” Sometimes, phony “eviction notices” are stuck to the doors of Jewish students, creating a chilling atmosphere.

While hate-mongers appear on the University of Florida campus in Nazi regalia, Rabbi Berl Goldman is busy empowering Jewish students who’ve become scared to identify themselves

It’s not just Jewish students and organizations that are concerned about anti-Jewish hate. Alarm over the rise of anti-Semitism on US college campuses led Congress to introduce the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, which passed the Senate in December 2016. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the bill this year.

The act broadens the Department of Education’s definition of anti-Semitism to include all forms of discrimination against Jews, including extreme anti-Zionism and anti-Israel harassment, explains David Pasch, communications director for Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois, one of the bill’s sponsors in the House. “This legislation will equip the DOE to accurately identify, investigate, and punish all forms of Jew-hatred,” he says.

Pasch adds that anti-Semitic attacks on college campuses have nearly doubled in recent years. Although the DOE’s Office for Civil Rights has actively monitored these incidents, the department lacks firm statutory guidance on how to define anti- Semitism. “By codifying the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the US State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism,” Pasch says, “this legislation will enable the DOE to protect students from the most insidious and modern forms of anti-Semitism, which are often masked as anti-Zionism.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 658)

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