With many of us sending our children off to college soon, we must all be aware of a painful truth: Some or our kids will face anti-Semitic harassment on their campuses. Last month, AMCHA Initiative, a group that documents campus anti-Semitism, released a study showing “an alarming spike in campus anti-Semitism” in the first half of 2016. There were almost 100 more anti-Semitic, Israel-bashing incidents during the first six months of 2016 as compared to the first six months of 2015.
These findings are alarming, but rather than overwhelm us, they should inspire us to action. The community should demand that college officials finally recognize that campus anti-Semitism is a serious problem they must effectively address, in the same forcefull was they respond – as they should when African American, women and gay students are targeted.
We see college officials displaying an unacceptable double standard, vigorously responding when other groups are attacked, yet tolerating and even ignoring racism against Jewish students.
For example, last year, fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma were caught on videotape chanting the “n” word and referring to lynching. The university president wasted no time in expelling two fraternity leaders, disciplining more than 20 other students and shutting down the entire fraternity – even though not everyone had been involved – because the racist chanting created a hostile learning environment for others.
Contrast that response with how the University of Michigan responded when an anti-Israel campus group sponsored a divestment resolution in 2014, and the group’s supporters harassed and intimidated the resolution’s opponents. Students were reportedly cursed at, threatened and called “kike” and “dirty Jew” simply because they exercised their right to challenge an organized effort to harm the Jewish state. One student described the campus environment as “frightening,” with some afraid to go to class because they felt unsafe.
The administration failed to protect Jewish students again last year. When the same group constructed a huge anti-Israel display in the center of campus, a Jewish student approached them and respectfully expressed concern about the timing and appropriateness of the display. Two terrorist attacks had occurred in Israel that very day, killing, among others, Ezra Schwartz, a Jewish American doing a “gap year” in Israel. Instead of showing understanding, the anti-Israel group retaliated against the Jewish student, falsely accusing him of ethics violations and calling for his removal from student government.
The administration said and did nothing to protect the Jewish student and his legal right to challenge anti-Israel conduct, sending the message to him and every other Jewish student that they could be targeted by Israel-bashers and could not count on the administration to intervene.
These troubling examples are not unique to the University of Michigan. They must motivate all of us to demand that college leaders finally take the harassment of Jewish students as seriously as they take the harassment of other targeted groups. We must not tolerate the exercise of a double standard anymore. University leaders must start making it crystal clear that Jewish and pro-Israel students have the same right to a safe and welcoming learning environment as everyone else and that anyone who violates this right will be held accountable.
Susan B. Tuchman, Esq. is director of the Center for Law and Justice at Zionist Organization of America.