Report shows disturbing rise in anti-Semitic activity on campus

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With the start of the new academic term now just weeks away, there’s at least one controversy that is certain to roil American college campuses again this fall:  anti-Israel activism and anti-Semitism on campus.

On the heels of a 2015-2016 school year in which campus activists sought to convince public university systems such as the University of Massachusetts to divest from Israel, signs have popped up over the summer months that anti-Semitism linked to anti-Israel activism is on the rise.

Growth of anti-Semitism on campus

Last month the AMCHA Initiative, a nonprofit focused on documenting anti-Semitism at American colleges and universities, released a report documenting a spike in anti-Jewish activity on campuses across the United States.

The report indicated that more than 100 incidents of campus anti-Semitism took place during the first six months of 2016 than during the first six months of 2015 and that, during the same period, “calls for Israel’s elimination on campus tripled.”

Approximately 287 anti-Semitic incidents occurred between January and June 2016 at the 113 public and private schools boasting the largest numbers of Jewish undergraduates, according to AMCHA.  The numbers represent a 45 percent increase in the number of incidents reported in the first six months of 2015.

“Data were gathered by reviewing submitted incident reports, media accounts, social media postings and online recordings,” the report’s summary states.

The largest increases included Columbia University, Vassar College, the University of Chicago, New York University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Florida and the University of Washington.

Trouble in the Bay State

According to the report, the number of anti-Semitic incidents at UMass-Amherst leaped from three during the first six months of 2015 to 10 during the same time period in 2016.

This past Spring, several anti-Semitic incidents garnered headlines at other Massachusetts colleges.

In April an Arab student at Harvard Law School who attended a question-and-answer session featuring former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni asked her, “how is it that you are so smelly?”

The student later denied having any knowledge that the remark is a common anti-Semitic jab and pleaded with the NewBostonPost not to have his name publicized. Harvard Law School subsequently scrubbed footage of the exchange from its video of the event.

The incident at Harvard Law followed a series of episodes where computer hackers managed to remotely print copies of anti-Semitic fliers at printers at UMass-Amherst, Smith College and Northeastern University.

In March Tufts University‘s Students for Justice in Palestine posted a comment to its Facebook account claiming that a pro-Israel student group, Students Supporting Israel, “is literally a hate group.”

Last fall, the pro-Palestinian group disrupted Tufts’ annual “Taste of Israel” event, which introduces students to Israeli culture and food by distributing fliers and holding signs that read: ‘Taste of Israeli Occupation,’ ‘Don’t dip into Israel apartheid.’”

The BDS movement

Much of the anti-Israel activity on college campuses today is the work of a movement known as BDS — Boycott, Divest, Sanctions.  According to its website, BDS is a global Palestinian-led movement “inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement” and aimed at challenging support for Israel.

BDS claims that “Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes.”

But while BDS claims to seek peace, critics say that it’s true objective is the demonization and delegitimization of the state of Israel.  According to the Anti-Defamation League, many of those involved in BDS “are driven by opposition to Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state” and use rhetoric “can result in harassment or intimidation of Jews and Israel supporters, including overt anti-Semitic expression and acts.”

The increase in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses coincides with the growth of the BDS movement.  According to the AMCHA report, antisemitism is twice as likely to occur on campuses where BDS is active.  Of the ten schools in the study where student governments advocated for BDS measures, “eight showed the largest increase in anti-Semitism from 2015 to 2016.”

Jewish groups respond

Enter billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, and with him a mission to combat what he and others are claiming is a surging tide of university anti-Semitism.

In 2015 Adelson launched the Maccabee Task Force (MTF) to “combat the BDS Movement through education and meaningful conversation about Israel.”   To lead the MTF, Adelson brought in  David Brog, board director of Christians United for Israel.  Since then, however, the organization has largely remained on the sidelines, especially on the East Coast. The group’s website has yet to go live.

But according to an article in The Observer, the days of pro-BDS campus activists dominating the Israeli-Palestinian narrative could be numbered.  In an interview with Paul Miller, executive director and president of the pro-Israel Haym Solomon Center, Brog said the MTF was “purposely stealth” last school year in an attempt to research and learn just how the anti-Israel movement had taken hold at several California campuses.

The report, released Tuesday morning, noted that MTF’s work in 2015-2016 focused on “listening.”

“BDS won’t be going away anytime soon,” said Brog. “And neither will we.”

BDS and the Black Lives Matter movement

Recently, the BDS agenda has been taken up by another activist movement on campus:  Black Lives Matter.

Earlier this month Black Lives Matter, along with the Movement for Black Lives, released its official policy platform, which (among other things) accuses Israel of genocide against the Palestinians and demands that the United States redistribute the foreign aid it current sends to Israel to “reparations and for building a just and equitable society domestically.”  The groups also demand that the U.S. label Israel as an “apartheid state.”

In an op-ed posted Monday on the Israeli news website, Northwestern University student Lauren Sonnenberg recalled how she initially stood firmly behind the Black Lives Matter movement but broke from the cause on account of increasing anti-Semitic positions within BLM. Sonnenberg, a self-described “progressive Jew,” said she was told by a Northwestern BLM march organizer, “You support Israel, so you cannot also support us.”

Sonnenberg wrote that both BLM ad the BDS anti-Israel movement rely on “the innate thirst by students to fit in and be accepted.”

“BDS’s biggest success, at least on my campus, is not only its appeal to students’ natural liberal tendencies and desire to support the perceived underdog but, more importantly, its appeal to the basic human desire to be accepted and to belong,” Sonnenberg noted.

“Students on college campuses talk about creating “safe spaces” for people with all sorts of ideas, but increasingly the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, through the doctrine of intersectionality, is creating only two spaces: one for those that are “appropriately” liberal and caring, and one for those who are not,” Sonnenberg added. “BDS does this by creating a false but unbreakable relationship between the plights of oppressed peoples throughout the world and the Palestinian cause.”