It’s been an angry, violent, blood-soaked summer. Israelis faced down Hamas in the third major battle since the terrorist takeover of Gaza in 2007, roiling a European population that responded to Israeli defensive measures with outrage and bursts of wicked anti-Semitism.
In London, supermarket shelves were emptied of kosher food after mobs called for a boycott of Israeli goods. Protests in Berlin were punctuated by calls for “Jews to the gas.” Businesses owned by Jews were looted and burned in Paris. These are extremes. Thankfully, the threat to the safety and well-being of Jewish students is unlikely to descend to these levels. But college and university officials must recognize that anti-Semitism is not a European phenomenon. It exists in the United States, and the number of incidents targeting Jewish students on campus is growing.
College campuses have been growing more volatile for Jewish students over the past several years. The federal government has responded by extending certain protections to religious groups, including Jews, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. And yet, reported acts of intimidation and anti-Semitism on campuses are on the rise.
Last year, Jewish students at the University of Michigan were called “kikes” and “dirty Jews” by fellow students. Elsewhere, Jewish students were spat upon and assaulted when they expressed pro-Israel views. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine have employed aggressive and intimidating tactics against Jews at Northeastern University, Brooklyn College, Vassar and New York University. And just weeks ago, a Jewish student at Temple University was attacked in public by Students for Justice in Palestine members and shouted down as a “Zionist pig.”
These incidents are not spontaneous, organic or isolated. They are plainly rooted in historically stubborn anti-Semitism that long predate the state of Israel and Zionism. Some, like an obsession with the “Jewish lobby” or “Israel lobby,” are commonplace on campus today and tap into the canards of a Jewish cabal that was first popularized in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Declaring Jews as “dirty” has historically devolved into perception that Jews carry different, and inferior, racial characteristics. And the phrase “Zionist pig” recalls charges Jews being the descendants of pigs, goats and other animals.
Ancient anti-Semitism is alive and well, particularly on campus. It will continue to metastasize if we delude ourselves into thinking otherwise.
The instinct of some administrators might be to treat incidents like those at Michigan or Temple as they would any other assault, or to chalk it up to charged differentiating viewpoints over Israeli policies – or the right for Israel to exist. And it would be wrong.
Of course we must be careful about claiming anti-Semitism unless the charge is fully warranted. But when it is justified, we must be unafraid to unmask the protesters’ animus for what it is.
The Louis D. Brandeis Center is helping to educate campus leaders to recognize anti-Semitism when it rears its head. A new fact sheet distributed to higher-education officials last month details the top 10 defamations against the Jewish people throughout history with the hope that it will help officials make the connection between the historic anti-Semitism in history books and the events playing out in classrooms and quads today.
Jewish students have a right to feel safe and secure against discrimination under federal law. And Jewish leaders have a moral obligation to continuously educate people about anti-Semitism, lest we mistake contemporary acts for something more benign. In some environments, including many college campuses, anti-Semitic acts are more easily swept under the rug than addressed for what they are. That’s dangerous. And without educating those in positions of power, we can’t expect anything other than more of the same.
Kenneth L. Marcus is the president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law.