Back to School With Antisemites

It is now fully taken for granted on many college campuses that Jewish students are under suspicion.
September 21, 2022

Jewish students have returned to campus for a new year of acquiescent antisemitism—the sinister, sneaky kind that masquerades as human rights, restricts free speech, denies freedom of association, and banishes those who deviate from pre-approved, intersectional viewpoints.

It is now fully taken for granted on many college campuses that Jewish students are under suspicion. They might audaciously harbor beliefs that the Jewish people are entitled to self-determination. Zionism might be an essential part of their identity—no less than skin color or gender preference.

Of course, to say anything like that openly, on campus, would be a social media death wish. Rush Week would come to a standstill—Jews consigned to Greek life as Trojan Horses, with antisemitism still the gift that never stops giving.

Antisemitic tropes and canards have been resurrected, now pervading the ivory tower without ever setting foot in History class. Vilifying Israel and ostracizing Jewish students, whether they are avowedly Zionists or not, has become the new campus rage, one that is curiously exempt from all those woke protocols about “diversity” and “inclusion.” Apparently, there is already too much Jewish diversity, and Jews are too privileged—by their skin color and economic class—to warrant any protection at all.

Students who will not swear a symbolic oath that Israel is an odiously racist, colonial enterprise now find themselves excluded from campus life altogether.

And that seems to suit college presidents just fine.

It’s a classic double bind, a crass bait and switch: If Jewish students show support for Israel, they have committed a microaggression against Palestinian students, who are somehow endangered by any Zionist sympathies and who, as persons of color, must be deposited gently into a “safe space.”

No similar “safe space” is granted to students who identify as Jews with ancestral ties to Israel, however. When it comes to the Jewish state, there is nothing but unabashed hostility—the shouting down of pro-Israel speakers, the welcoming of outside guests who valorize terrorism against Jews, the passing of BDS resolutions and chanting of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” an anthemic call to genocidal arms.

No similar “safe space” is granted to students who identify as Jews with ancestral ties to Israel, however.

To voice an allegiance with Israel is perceived as an act of violence against Palestinians. To call for the death of Jews in general and Israelis in particular, well that falls under the category of academic freedom and the exercise of free speech.

Obviously, intellectual honesty and moral consistency are, nowadays, housed entirely off-campus.

The semester just started, but it’s not too soon to hand out report cards on how unwelcoming college has become for those who stand in solidarity with Israel. One way to accomplish that is to ban such sentiments, altogether.

That’s precisely what student organizations at the law school of the University of California, Berkeley, did this summer: pass a bylaw prohibiting any outside speakers who support Israel from appearing on campus. The ostensible reason was to preserve the “safety and welfare of Palestinian students on campus.”

Of course, such benevolent action also stifles debate, forecloses the possibility of hearing the merits of the pro-Israel perspective, and places Jewish students who support Israel in an impossibly precarious position. They happen to share a view that is not only disfavored on campus—it’s now officially off-limits!

I spoke at Berkeley Law School not too long ago. Under the new rules, the invitation would have been rescinded. Before my remarks, they were handing out flyers that read: “Thane Rosenbaum believes in killing Palestinian children.” As I stood to speak, I was instantly jeered and interrupted.

I remember saying: “Do you not all realize that Berkeley is the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement? How can you shout-down a speaker on this campus?”

That question bears repeating now, too. The law school has banished Zionists from intellectual life and human fellowship. Such are the destructive shenanigans of the progressive left, repaving the campus green with flashing red stop signs in the service of imposing silence.

Something is terribly wrong with California. At the University of Southern California, the acting president of the student government was faced with impeachment, not because she was a woman, or a lesbian, but solely because she was Jewish and an advocate for Israel. Students launched a social media pressure campaign to have her resign, charging that her favorable feelings toward Israel rendered her a racist unfit to serve as a student leader.

University officials refused to involve themselves in student politics. They are now paying the price for their inaction. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has commenced an investigation under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funding from engaging in discriminatory behavior based on ethnic identity—specifically, antisemitism.

Something similar occurred at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2015, when a female Jewish student seeking appointment to the Judicial Board was forced to explain at a public hearing how she could perform, impartially, as a student judge given her Judaism and involvement in Jewish activities.

Ironically, Israel was never mentioned at all. This was simply rank antisemitism—pure and simple. Her Judaism alone was a cause for alarm. The more typical anti-Zionism reappeared during that same year at the University of California, Davis. Jewish students who opposed a BDS resolution were taunted, and a Jewish fraternity defaced.

The East Coast is faring no better. A Title VI investigation alleging antisemitism at the University of Vermont is underway. Students allege that rocks were thrown at the campus Hillel, pro-Israel students were excluded from campus organizations, and a teaching assistant threatened to downgrade Zionists.

Similar Title VI investigations were launched against Duke University, the University of North Carolina, Brooklyn College, State University of New York, New Paltz, and at the University of Illinois. The Department of Education, and the Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, which have represented students and faculty, have been keeping busy.

At least none of these institutions of higher learning are planning to bestow an honorary degree on the current president of Iran. Appearing on “60 Minutes” the other night, his malice was in fine form when he raised doubts about the Holocaust. He conceded that there seemed to be “some signs,” but it should be investigated further.

It’s a shame Shi’ite Muslims don’t observe Rosh Hashanah. Iran’s president would do well to consider changing his nasty habit of bigotry against Jews.

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.”

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.