The U.S. Commision on Civil Rights Public Education Campaign to End Campus Anti-Semitism.
On October 23, 2007, a first-year student at George Washington University reported the appearance of a swastika on her dorm room. Over the next four days, she reported two more swastikas drawn on her door, each larger than the preceding. Meanwhile another swastika appeared suddenly on the door of a GWU sophomore living in another residence hall. A total of eight swastikas appeared on campus during a ten-day period.
The university, Hillel, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) got involved. The media reported the story widely. Washington wanted to know: Who perpetrated this crime? Was anti-Semitism rife at GWU? Was this incident indicative of rising anti-Semitism on campuses across North America?
Anti-Semitism is nothing new on college campuses or in society at large. In the past three years alone the ADL reported 260 anti-Semitic acts on college campuses across the United States and 5,126 communitywide. In a 2006 study conducted by Hillel, 51% of college students reported that they felt anti-Semitism during the past three years either on campus or while they were still in high school.
But feeling can be deceiving: The 2000 National Jewish Population Survey reported that while the vast majority of college students perceived anti-Semitism, only 26 percent had personally experienced it.
So is anti-Semitism rampant on campus or not?
"No," explains Hillel Associate Vice President for Communications Jeff Rubin, who counsels campuses when anti-Semitic incidents occur. "While we take all incidents seriously, most reported 'anti-Semitic' occurrences may be simple vandalism, inter-personal hostility, or simple ignorance of symbols that are offensive to Jews."
In many cases, anti-Semitism is in the eye of the beholder. Individuals' definition of anti-Semitism may be so broad as to include off-hand remarks or even protected political speech.
Those who follow campus trends generally classify anti-Semitic into different categories:
Anti-Israel political speech that becomes anti-Semitic speech or acts.
Academic freedom permits the wide expression of political beliefs. Sometimes, speech that opposes Israeli policies crosses the line into outright anti-Semitism. In February 2005 the Palestinian club of a New York-area college posted a sign showing the Star of David morphing into a swastika, and reading: "History Repeats: Look What Hitler Taught Some of His Victims."
Often hatred is obvious. A cartoon was published in an October 2007 edition of a Southwest campus newspaper that blatantly promoted the "cheap-Jew" stereotype. Editors of the paper later issued an apology, took the cartoon from the Web site and fired the cartoonist from the staff. During the same period, a sukkah was set on fire and destroyed at a Hillel at a California university.
Interpersonal problems expressed as anti-Semitism.
When individuals from different backgrounds meet on campus - whether from different regions of the country, economic backgrounds, or religions - friction may occur. That friction occasionally manifests itself as anti-Semitism.
After a weekend of traveling in 2004, a student at a New England-area state university returned to her dorm to find the walls of her room scrawled with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans. The perpetrators were later identified as the student's roommate and the roommate's boyfriend.
Anti-Semitism Born of Ignorance
Students may say, write or do anti-Semitic things out of a lack of understanding of the Jewish community. Following the 2004 Palestine Solidarity Movement Conference at Duke University, an editor for Duke's campus newspaper, The Chronicle, authored an op-ed entitled "The Jews" where he accused Jews of exploiting the events of the Holocaust for political gain as well as accusing them of taking advantage of the privilege Jews have for being white, writing, "Jews can renounce their difference by taking off the yarmulke. Clearly, this is not a luxury enjoyed by all minority groups. To be Jewish is to have the right to move seamlessly between the majority and minority, without constraint." The author was fired from the newspaper staff.
"Anti-Semitism remains an unfortunate fact of life in the 21st century. All Jewish institutions are subject to the occasional anti-Semitic graffiti and Hillel is no exception," says Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone. "We are fortunate to have a professional staff that is sophisticated in its understanding of anti-Semitism. Our Hillel professionals can distinguish between political debate and anti-Semitism, between a random incident and a hate-crime."
Firestone recalls an incident at at the University of British Columbia on the eve of Kristallnacht, the Nazis' infamous Night of the Broken Glass, when two boulders were thrown through the windows of the Hillel building. "There was no doubt in the mind of Vancouver Hillel Director Eyal Lichtmann that this was anti-Semitism. There was no attempt to rob the building. Eyal concluded that this was a direct act of vandalism reflecting 'shattered glass' and an act of intimidation against the Jewish students and the Jewish organization on campus."
Lichtmann quickly convened a round-table discussion with students and all of the relevant campus and community stakeholders. The meeting focused on a show of support for Jewish students, what can be done in the future, and the appropriate actions of the university and student government in responding to these types of issues. His message was clear: The campus Jewish community will not lower its profile nor desist from its many programs in the face of violence.
"Eyal turned this sad incident into a teachable moment for Hillel students. Even at this late stage of human history, it's a lesson that still needs to be learned," Firestone said.
Whenever anti-Semitism occurs, it exacts a toll on individuals, on the campus Jewish community, and on the campus at large. Hillel works with its many partners on campus and in the community to address the personal pain and broader community-relations implications of these incidents. When these events rise to the level of crimes, local legal authorities may be called in. Until recently, however, no federal agency monitored anti-Semitic acts.
In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) expanded its jurisdiction to include anti-Semitic acts due to the work of then-director Kenneth L. Marcus. Later, as staff director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Marcus helped to create a Web site that enables college students to report and address incidents of anti-Semitism.
"This Web site demonstrates to the campus community that the U.S. government will not countenance discrimination against any group," says Marcus. "We are gratified that it has proven useful to some students on campus."
The USCCR Web site includes links to community organizations, such as Hillel and the ADL, that can help students and universities deal with the trauma of anti-Semitism. These groups follow a hierarchy of procedures to repair the campus.
- Make sure the victim of an attack is taken care of physically and psychologically.
- Work with the local police to secure the facility and locate the perpetrators.
- Work with the university and other partner agencies to address the community-relations aspect of the situation.
- Report the incident to the USCCR through their Public Campaign to End Campus Anti-Semitism Web site.