An underappreciated but crucial dimension of the campus antisemitism wars is how much of the discussion turns on the idea of fear by Jewish students. It’s crowding out some other arguments that might be more successful.
“Jewish students, faculty, and others are fearful for their own safety,” William Ackman wrote in his Dec. 10 letter to members of the Harvard governing boards.
“Students were terrified by this protest and the violence it endorsed,” said a Nov. 30 statement by Harvard Hillel in response to an anti-Zionist demonstration in which activists stormed the campus calling for the destruction of Israel.
US Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) spoke about the issue recently on Fox News, referring to a recent hearing of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce where US college presidents testified on campus antisemitism: “What was probably the most tragic aspect of the hearing to me was there were a number of Jewish students from those schools in the audience sitting behind them, and to watch, just the fear, as they’re listening to the presidents of these universities fail to answer a basic question of moral clarity, it was abysmal.”
The president of Yeshiva University, Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman, recently pointed to a 1990 law, the Clery Act, describing the hate crime of “intimidation” — literally, to render someone timid, or easily frightened. Berman wrote that “the definition of intimidation for Clery purposes is the one used by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program: ‘placing another person in reasonable fear of bodily harm through the use of threatening words and/or other conduct,’ even ‘without displaying a weapon or subjecting the victim to actual physical attack.’” There’s that “fear” word again.
Fear is a totally reasonable human reaction to recent events. When significant numbers of students and faculty react to the rape, beheading, and burning of Israelis on Oct. 7 by blaming Israel, by cheering on the attacks, or even by physically attacking Jewish people and property in America, “fear” from the minority of visibly Jewish or pro-Israel students and faculty makes sense, alongside horror, anger, and disgust.
This is the case even though the students and faculty, at a baseline level, are not cowards. I know some of the Jewish students at Harvard and at other universities; they are brave. Many universities, Harvard in particular, are indeed swamps of antisemitism. As a legal matter, Berman is doubtless correct about the legal definition of intimidation as something that elicits, as a reasonable reaction, the emotion of fear.
Yet emotion is a key word. That’s a practical problem on several levels.
From the point of view of educating future Jewish leaders or even just getting through the days ahead, the community needs to be cultivating the heroic virtues of courage and strength, not fixating on fear.
From a religious point of view, the Bible and the liturgy are full of messages from God and Moses to fear God, but not to fear people or enemies, because God is with the Jewish people. The emphasis is on the individual overcoming fear by placing faith in God, not on summoning university administrators to remove the fear-inspiring conditions.
Not that such demands on the administrators shouldn’t be made. But there are a range of ways to frame language around fear. On one end, there is, “I’m afraid that if one of these extreme anti-Israel students gets carried away, this could end in violence.” Or, “I’m afraid that if you don’t do something about these radical, mediocre professors, they are going to indoctrinate another generation of anti-Israel extremists, and ruin this university’s reputation.” On the other end, there is, “I’m afraid to go to class because I might be in the same lecture hall with the student I saw last week enthusiastically chanting ‘intifada, intifada, globalize the intifida.’”
From a legal point of view, the “reasonable fear” standard is subjective. As the college presidents told Congress last week, it depends on the context. What may make someone afraid after Oct. 7 might differ from what might have made someone afraid before Oct. 7. People may have different levels of fear response depending on their physical size, their level of self-defense training, their understanding of Arabic, whether they are alone or with a group, in daylight or in the dark, in the presence of police or without police, or even whether they themselves are visibly Jewish or not. As a result, it’s an imprecise yardstick to use to police campus speech. What about the Arab student who feels “reasonable fear” because of the presence of a Jewish student in an Israel Defense Forces t-shirt? The more fearful students claim to be, the more power they have to shut down the speech of the other side.
My own view of it is that for positive change to come on American college campuses, Jewish students and parents and their allies will need to accompany the “fear” argument with an array of other arguments.
There’s an educational argument that reasoned conversation rather than shouting slogans is more conducive to teaching and learning, and that narrow ideological conformity is educationally stifling of independent thought.
There’s a moral argument that Israel is superior to the Hamas terrorist organization, that antisemitic discrimination is wrong, and that part of a university’s job is teaching students to make such moral distinctions.
There’s an excellence versus mediocrity argument that the faculty leading the charge against Israel are mediocre and that adopting their policy recommendations, such as boycotting Israel, will damage the missions of teaching and research.
Relatedly, there’s a competition argument, that if a particular institution fails to navigate these issues successfully, then talent and resources will flee to competing institutions that do a better job.
If those other arguments fail to prevail, then fear — not only for bodily harm of individual students, but for the future of America — will indeed be warranted.
Until then, though, the focus on fear may be impeding progress for Jews and Israel on American college campuses.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.
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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism
South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.
South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.
“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”
CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”
First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.
Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.
Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination
Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.
Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.
“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”
“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.
The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.
“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”
300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.
The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.
More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.
Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.
“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution
The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.
“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.
It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.
The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.
“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.
Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.
“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”
Other council members voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.
Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.
“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”
University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.
“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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