Important AMCHA Study on Jewish Identity Goes Beyond Harvard

It’s essential to draw attention to the whole study, which includes “the nature, scope and trajectory of the threats to Jewish identity on over 100 college and university campuses most popular with Jewish students.”
December 6, 2022
Peter M. Fisher/Getty Images, modified

The “assault on Jewish identity” on college campuses, which AMCHA documented in a new study released this week, is noteworthy for its breadth and scope. The media headlines, however, have focused on one college, Harvard, because more incidents were reported on that campus.

As important as Harvard is, though, it’s equally important to draw attention to everything else in the study, which includes “the nature, scope and trajectory of the threats to Jewish identity on over 100 college and university campuses most popular with Jewish students.”

Among some of the major findings:

    1. Incidents involving the suppression, denigration or challenges to the definition of Jewish identity were found on nearly 60% of the campuses most popular with Jewish students, with several schools playing host to 10 or more such incidents in the 2021-2022 academic year.
    2. Incidents involving attacks on Jewish identity increased 100% to 200% in the academic year following the Israel-Hamas war, with the number of affected schools also increasing dramatically.
    3. Faculty and academic departments played a significant role in attacks on Jewish student identity: schools with academic BDS-supporting faculty were three to seven times more likely to have such attacks, and more than one-third of anti-Zionist challenges to well-established definitions of Zionism, Judaism and antisemitism took place in programs sponsored by academic departments.
    4. Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) played a significant role in attacks on Jewish identity, with the presence of a JVP or similar Jewish anti-Zionist group more than doubling the likelihood that a campus will play host to incidents involving the redefinition or denigration of Jewish identity.

Beyond the individual campuses, the most crucial finding in the study is the “insidious phenomenon that has taken root on college campuses of late: a pervasive and relentless assault on Jewish identity that is likely to have dire consequences for the Jewish community in the years to come.”

I wrote about this phenomenon recently when the Journal reported on the nine student law groups at UC Berkeley that changed their bylaws to eliminate any Zionist speakers. This was a “different type of antisemitism,” I wrote, “and it caught much of the community off guard.”

The point was not simply to attack Jews but to erase their identity. “This is not just offensive,” I added, “it’s humiliating. What made it even more humiliating is that no other group got this treatment — not Nazis, not homophobes, not transphobes, not Islamophobes, not racists.”

The AMCHA study has done the Jewish community a major service by showing the full dimension of this phenomenon, providing multiple examples and summarizing the implications as follows:

“In the short term, the pervasive and well-coordinated attacks on Jewish identity will undoubtedly result in increasing numbers of Jewish students feeling the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus, or to detach from Jewish life partially or completely.

“In the long term, the sheer scope of the assault on Jewish student identity – which is negatively affecting the level of communal identification and participation of an entire generation of young Jewish adults – presages a major crisis for American Jewry.”

What exacerbates the crisis is that the nature of the assault makes it harder to combat. Redefining Jewishness and its relationship to Israel, the study notes, “directly challenges the recognition of anti-Zionist harassment as a violation of anti-discrimination law.”

In other words, as the study elaborates: “Efforts focusing on using anti-discrimination law such as Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ensure that Jewish students are recognized and treated exactly as any other ‘protected class’ group when it comes to addressing anti-Zionist motivated harassment face considerable challenges because of the nature of the current assault on Jewish identity.”

As if those challenges weren’t enough, the study adds that “the pervasive denigration of Zionist Jews with antisemitic tropes of Jewish power and privilege threatens the assumption that Jews constitute an identity group worthy of ‘protected class’ status.”

Nevertheless, the study calls for the community to rise to the challenge and find “effective strategies” to tackle this insidious problem, noting that:

“Alternative approaches based on an understanding that all students, including Jewish students, have a constitutional right to be equally and adequately protected from behavior that limits their self-expression and ability to fully participate in campus life, irrespective of their identity or the motivation of the perpetrator, must be pursued.”

Perhaps most importantly, the study reminds us of the power of Judaism and Jewish community to strengthen Jewish identity:

“The Jewish community must invest in strengthening Jewish life on campus and enabling Jewish students of all backgrounds and levels of prior Jewish engagement to be part of a vibrant community that can provide the support, encouragement, education and fellowship necessary for not only weathering a toxic campus climate, but thriving as Jews.”

That strengthening of Jewish life and Jewish pride should apply to all campuses, Harvard included.

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