HonestReporting CEO: Corrosive Atmosphere on Campus Harming Young Jews

Posted: 7/30/2015 4:31:00 AM
Author: Alex Margolin
Source: This article first appeared on the HonerstReporting website on July 29, 2015.

HonestReporting CEO: Corrosive Atmosphere on Campus Harming Young Jews
by Alex Margolin

As college campuses across North America become entrenched in battles over Israel led by the BDS movement and other forces of delegitimization, how much hostility is being directed at Jewish students?

That’s the question behind a new study released on Tuesday, and the findings are enough to give pause to anyone thinking about the atmosphere on campus.

According to the study presented by Brandeis professors Leonard Saxe and Theodore Sasson, one third of Jewish students in the US and Canada experienced verbal harassment and a quarter have been blamed for Israel’s actions because they are Jewish. Some 75% of students had been exposed to one of six anti-Semitic statements such as “Jews have too much power,” or “Israelis behave like Nazis.”

On the plus side, however, the hostile environment, even in the wake of last summer’s Gaza war, did not weaken Jews’ connection to Israel. “A third [or respondents] report feeling “very much” connected to Israel and another third report feeling “somewhat” connected. These levels of connection are higher than those found among similar individuals in 2014, before the Israel-Hamas conflict,” the report states.

HonestReporting CEO Joe Hyams, who returned to Israel last week after two years at Brandeis under the tutelage of Prof. Saxe, said the study serves as a warning to Jewish leaders about the long term effects of the current climate on campus.

“If there is a perpetual corrosive atmosphere, who knows if solidarity is something we can count on year after year,” Hyams said. “A latent atmosphere of negativity, or if Israel falls out of favor with young Jews, could have devastating consequences years down the line.

“For example, imagine a young Jew on campus, feeling that Israel is a pariah cause, might choose not to participate in a Birthright trip to Israel or other identity building experiences. Thankfully, there is no evidence of this today, but we must not take it for granted. The Israel haters and anti-Semites might achieve their aims through intimidation alone irrespective of the number of swastikas sprayed or acts of violence.

“The antagonistic – if not hostile – environment together with the lack of Israel literacy that the report alludes to is a wake up call. It should drive communal leadership to invest immediately in Israel education alongside making campuses safer and more comfortable for young Jews,” he said.

The study found that hostility towards Jews or Israel was particularly acute at Canadian universities and at colleges in the University of California system. High levels of hostility were also found at certain large universities in the Midwest. “There are, however, no systematic differences among universities in average rates of anti-Semitic verbal harassment,” the report states.

HonestReporting covers BDS issues on campus through its FightingBDS Facebook page and Twitter feed. The FightingBDS slideshow on tips and strategies is one of HR’s most popular presentations, and an e-book on BDS will be released in the coming weeks.

Joe Hyams also endorsed Prof. Saxe’s call for more Jewish and Israel education to bolster students on campus.

“Caring about Israel isn’t enough to speak up in the face of misinformation and vitriol. This I’ve learned first-hand from students I’ve met, trained and surveyed in recent years,” he said. “Being able to articulate your view of anything, Israel included, demands a base level of knowledge that this study indicates is lacking.

“Motivation to care for Israel is there. Literacy to develop that relationship is absent our Jewish student body. Israel Education must therefore become our strategic priority for communal investment, no less than securing our campuses and communities from hate.” he said.

The study, titled Antisemitism on the college campus: Perceptions and Realities, was presented at MediaCentral, a project of HonestReporting that provides support services to journalists covering Israel. The findings were based on a survey directed at applicants for Taglit-Birthright trips to Israel during the summer of 2015 before the trips were made.