Antisemitism on US Campuses | Facing History & Ourselves

Antisemitism on US Campuses

Read a report that sheds light on the persistence of antisemitism on college campuses across the United States.
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English — US
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  • Social Studies
  • Antisemitism

When researchers Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar conducted their national demographic survey of American Jewish college students, they were not focused on an in-depth investigation of antisemitism. Their survey explored a wide range of topics. So they were very surprised to find that a majority (54%) of Jewish students in their study reported having been subject to or witnessing antisemitism on their campus. Kosmin and Keyser’s report, which covers the 2013-2014 academic year, sheds light on the persistence of antisemitism and the multiple forms that it takes. It also reveals that antisemitism is a problem on campuses across the US:     

 Anti-Semitism is prejudice and/or discrimination against Jews, individually or collectively, that can be based on hatred against Jews because of their religion, their ethnicity, ancestry, or group membership. It assumes that Jews share particular characteristics in common and think and act in special or “different” ways from other people. It manifests itself in a variety of forms – words, ideas and actions. It can involve bigotry, bullying, defamation, stereotyping, hate crime, acts of bias and scapegoating. Over its long history, anti-Semitism has been used to blame all kinds of evil on the Jews. Thus it has a wide repertoire at its disposal and uses deeply rooted and sometimes contradictory tropes – e.g. Jews are materialistic, cheap, greedy, good with money; they control the media, banks, the government, and plot to take over the world; they’re all Communists; they’re all capitalists; they committed deicide; they think they’re chosen and better than everyone else; they are inferior, unpatriotic, disloyal; they are cruel, cowardly, warmongers. Due to a litany of innate faults, anti-Semites believe Jews are not entitled to the same rights or consideration as other people, including self-determination.

. . . For many people the term anti-Semitism arguably conjures up an image of a violent and highly emotive act committed by extremists, by neo-Nazis and other committed bigots. In other words, acts by hate-fueled individuals who subscribe to racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and other bigoted ideologies. It is not surprising that many people think this way about hate crimes because of the tendency of the media to focus on the most extreme and serious incidents, as is the case for crime reporting in general. This focus might be more credible if “anti-Semitic” incidents are indeed mostly committed by “extremists.” Our data suggest this is unlikely to be the typical case. The anti-Semitic incidents reported by Jewish students instead mainly occur as part of the unfolding of everyday life as much as through political extremism. Yet for the media especially, photographic evidence of the swastika has “marketability” much greater than any other form of anti-Semitic activity. In short the drama of extremism is the news, for academics as well as journalists. 

. . . Much of what Jewish students report can be categorized as “low level” offenses (such as insults, hostile leaflets, name calling and damage to property belonging to or sponsored by Jewish campus organizations – e.g. posters, graffiti, theft). However, the “everyday” opportunistic and indirect character of most of these incidents needs to be understood within the wider social context of campus life. This “ordinary” offense has a huge impact on the lived reality of Jewish life on today’s university campuses and impacts the whole campus climate. It certainly seems to create a sense of grievance and hurt among Jewish students, many of whom believe it has become socially acceptable to provoke or disparage Jews. 

It is important to let those that suffer a wrong or hurt judge its salience. Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem per se: it is a societal issue. However, judging whether or not it is present and how serious is very much for Jews to decide. To do this most Jews arguably bring much more sensitive antennae, an understanding rooted in painful memory, and a greater historical awareness than do most gentiles. 1

  • 1Barry A. Kosmin & Ariela Keysar, “National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students 2014: Anti-Semitism Report,” February 2015, accessed August 23, 2016. Reproduced by permission of The Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture, Trinity College.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History & Ourselves, “Antisemitism on US Campuses,” last updated January 5, 2017. 

This reading contains text not authored by Facing History & Ourselves. See footnotes for source information.

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