September 2016 -- Elul 5776,  Volume 22, Issue 9

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Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

Divestment Resolutions Linked to Anti-Semitism Surge, New Study Reveals

 Nearly 100 more incidents of anti-Semitism occurred on campus during the 1st six months of 2016 compared with the 1st six months of 2015, according to AMCHA Initiative’s mid-year study that was recently released. The AMCHA Initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to combating, monitoring and documenting anti-Semitism at institutions of higher education in America. AMCHA is the Hebrew word meaning “your people,” and also connotes “grassroots.”

 

Calls for Israel’s elimination on campus tripled, and that expression highly correlated with actions that harm Jewish students,  the study found. “The growing problem of campus anti-Semitism is no doubt a serious threat facing the Jewish community, but this disturbing and dangerous spike and the bolder, more brazen, methods of those perpetrating this hate are particularly alarming,” cautioned Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA Initiative director and co-founder.

 

The study, which examined anti-Semitic activity from January – June 2016 on more than 100 public and private colleges and universities with the largest Jewish undergraduate populations, found that 287 anti-Semitic incidents occurred at 64 schools during that time period, reflecting a 45% increase from the 198 incidents reported in the first six months of 2015.

 

The study also revealed the following disturbing trends:

 

• Suppression of speech approximately doubled from 2015 to 2016. In 2016, 14 incidents that restricted Jewish students’ civil rights by suppressing their speech, blocking their movement or hindering their assembly were found on 12 campuses. These incidents reflect a significant increase from the first half of 2015, in which eight incidents of suppression occurred on seven campuses.

 

• Expression denying Israel’s right to exist nearly tripled from 2015 to 2016 and correlated with actions intended to harm Jewish students. The first half of 2016 saw an almost three-fold increase in the number of campus incidents that contained expression opposing the existence of Israel, a recognized form of anti-Semitism by global leaders such as President Obama, Pope Francis and the prime ministers of Canada, Britain and France and the world’s preeminent scholars of anti-Semitism. There were 43 such incidents in 2016 compared to 15 during the first half of 2015. In fact, expression opposing the existence of Israel highly correlated with conduct that targeted Jewish students for harm.

 

 • Divestment resolutions are fueling anti-Semitism. In 2016, the student governments of 10 schools in the study considered anti-Israel divestment resolutions. Of these 10 schools, eight showed the largest increase in anti-Semitism from 2015 to 2016. Conversely, seven of the nine schools in the 2015 study that considered or voted on divestment resolutions showed a marked decrease in anti-Semitic activity in the first half of 2016 when no divestment resolution was considered. The two schools that did not decrease in anti-Semitic activity hosted discussions and votes on divestment.

 • Anti-Zionism, particularly Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities, anti-Zionist student groups, and faculty boycotters, remain the strongest predictors of anti-Semitic incidents on campus. Consistent with 2015, this study revealed that anti-Semitism was twice as likely to occur on campuses where BDS was present, eight times more likely to occur on campuses with at least one active anti-Zionist student group such as SJP, and six times more likely to occur on campuses with one or more faculty boycotters. In fact, schools with more faculty boycotters and more BDS activity tended to have more incidents of anti-Semitic activity.

 

• Schools to watch in 2016. Schools with the largest increase from 2015 to 2016 are Columbia University, Vassar College, University of Chicago, NYU, University of Minnesota, University of Massachusetts (Amherst), University of Wisconsin (Madison), University of Florida and the University of Washington.

 

“Instead of just boycotting Israel, the anti-Zionists are now boycotting Jewish students,” stated Professor Leila Beckwith, AMCHA co-founder and one of the study’s lead researchers. “Sadly, all too often it is not debate but hate. The lines between political discussions on Israeli policy and discrimination toward Jewish students are being blurred. Anti-Zionists are attempting to harm, alienate, and ostracize Jewish students; it is Jewish students’ civil rights that are being trampled. To properly address this rise in anti-Jewish bigotry, universities must adopt a proper definition of contemporary anti-Semitism and use it to educate the campus community about the distinct line between criticism of Israeli policies and discrimination against Jewish people.”

 

The report concluded with recommendations for university administrators including (1) adopting a definition of anti-Semitism that identifies all forms of anti-Jewish bigotry, including when criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism; (2) allocating resources to educate students and faculty about contemporary forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish discrimination; and (3) establishing clear guidelines about free speech protected under the First Amendment and conduct which violates others’ civil rights, including disrupting or shutting down campus events and restricting free speech and right of assembly.