Antisemitism Graduates With America's Students | Opinion

Anti-Jewish hatred on campus is off to a quick start this academic year. At the University of Michigan, Rutgers University, and American University anti-Jewish hatred manifested itself during the two days of Rosh Hashanah. The assaults ranged from to the distribution of hate packages to pelting Jewish fraternities with eggs to painting swastikas.

Shockingly, in response to a federal investigation, the University of Vermont recently decided to officially pivot to blaming Jews as it brazenly denied it has an antisemitism or anti-Zionism problem. This has the effect of cancelling its Jewish students' concerns. There is no other minority group that the University of Vermont administrators dare to victim blame.

Of course, campus-based anti-Zionism is on the Jewish communal radar screen and a host of organizations and initiatives have sprung up over the past two decades to combat it. Some of the most effective groups are StandWithUs, Jewish on Campus, Hasbara Fellowships, Club Z, and many others. Efforts such as StandwithUs' letter campaign to colleges has also enjoyed high visibility. Yet as someone who has been monitoring the alarming normalization of hatred towards Israel— and by extension, Jews—on the American college campus, I am distressed that the Jewish communal world has not noticed these sentiments have an afterlife. They persist long after students have left the classroom, seeding a virulent, old/new form of hatred that is infiltrating American society.

Rally Against Antisemitism
People attend a rally denouncing anti-Semitic violence in Cedarhurst, New York. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

As I document in my recent book, Conspiracy U, professors in the humanities and social sciences are now overwhelmingly anti-Israel. In peer reviewed academic books, Israel is at various times reported to use bio-technology to systemically hack the DNA of Palestinians to partially starve them, to engage in secret organ harvesting, to train police around the world to oppress people of color.

Other academics publish that Jewish organizations control university appointments through their covert power, silencing critics of Israel. Or they claim Jewish philanthropy is used to oppress non-Jews (a tome written by a leader of the Association of Jewish Studies). It is virtually impossible to find a class in Middle Eastern Studies that does not demonize Israel as settler colonialist, apartheid, or Nazi. Even some Jewish Studies courses primarily criticize the Jewish State.

Further, classic conspiracy theories about Israel's evil global reach now pop up across the humanities and social sciences. As the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish wrote: "we are lucky that Israel is our enemy, because Jews are the center of the world."

There are numerous signs that college anti-Zionism is reverberating off campus. In June 2021, more than 250 journalists from some of the most respected newspapers in the United States signed an open letter that they would no longer objectively report the news or give credence to Israel government reports. The following month, a Black Jewish woman who was chief diversity officer of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators was hounded from her job for deploring antisemitism in the U.S.

In the realm of human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders, and most other major multinational NGOs, present an outsized body of criticism against Israel. Worse still there is an alliance of tax-deductible entities called #DropTheADL with the sole function of destroying the ADL.

Anti-Zionism has similarly pervaded the arts. Any artist wishing to perform in Israel is now subject to a barrage on social media.

In the world of finance and business, bias against Israel is clearly visible. Morningstar, a large rating agency, has enabled boycotters of Israel.

For those who brush off the extent of the problem, which stems from our schools, here are a few things to consider.

We are living in an era starkly influenced by ideas born in universities. Who would have guessed in 1990, when Judith Butler publisher her book Gender Trouble, that 30 years later, her views that gender is a social construct would have become mainstream? The campus has been an incubator for the advancement of African American political participation and rights following a decades-long generational arc.

Now anti-Israelism is caught in a major generational rift that will catch up to us. Though most Americans are still sympathetic to Israel, polls show that the younger the American the more hostile they are to Israel. The same generational divide is apparent in Democratic Party. Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions participants may not have succeeded yet in a world where Boomers and Generation X are still in power, but the times they are a-changing.

American Jews, especially the older generation, must come to terms with the extent of the problem and address it inside the community. Presently, we have a generation of historically illiterate young Jews who are largely clueless to the fact that anti-Zionist claims of Israeli settler colonialism, apartheid, and supremacy are boldfaced lies.

Jews must be reminded that Zionism is a national liberation movement like those of other small peoples in the region such as the Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds, Maronites, and Copts who adopted similar political strategies. They need to taught how to quickly and categorically refute the absurd comparisons with British colonialism and Nazism.

Second, we must make a difficult choice about the size of our tent. Respected Jewish organizations and even some rabbinical schools have done little to counter anti-Zionism—some even proudly tolerate it in the name of pluralism and abstract criticisms of the nation state. We have to recognize, as we have at other times in Jewish history, it is time to part ways. There is an unbridgeable gap between those who support Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and those who think that the one Jewish nation on the planet should be dissolved.

Finally, students don't typically arrive on campus hating Israel, but they often leave fully indoctrinated in conspiracy theories about Israel and Jews who support Israel. The professoriate is now so committed to anti-Zionism that even with pockets of resistance it is hard to imagine any change from within. We need to appeal to those who should be the adults in charge, such as the trustees of the universities or the state legislators, to return our universities to being places of truth.

As the new semester gets underway, we need to be aware that campus-based anti-Zionism—based, increasingly on antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories—has a vibrant afterlife in American society. It is time to shed the delusion that "kids" on campus will grow out of the beliefs they acquired while students. It is time for American Jewish leaders to proactively respond to the new/old antisemitism, cloaked in the false virtue of human rights advocacy.

Scott A. Shay is the author of Conspiracy U: A Case Study (Wicked Son, 2021).

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.