The Hate for Jews at Sarah Lawrence Does Not End with Administrators; It Has Deeply Infected the Faculty as Well.

There is no ambiguity about where Sarah Lawrence and many other schools stand in relation to Jews today.
November 3, 2023
MTSOfan/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED

The current climate on college campuses for Jewish students is incredibly dangerous. Cases are now commonplace with the most visible being Jewish students at Cornell, for instance, having been physically threatened and forced to hide in their dorm rooms for safety. As a political science professor at the Sarah Lawrence College for almost 15 years, I have sadly borne witness to the hostility toward Jews on my own campus and around the nation. Fortunately, a host of Jewish institutions and groups are beginning to push back in earnest and the Board of Directors of Hillel of Westchester, the local branch of the international Jewish campus agency, just wrote a letter to the president of Sarah Lawrence College demanding that the College take the “steps necessary to combat anti-Semitism on campus” as there is “persistent and pervasive … discriminatory conduct suffered by Jewish students.”

While it is yet to be seen how effective demands for Jewish security will be, it is critical to no longer hide or minimize what Jewish students are facing on our campuses but support the Jewish students and acknowledge that Jewish hate is rampant in our higher education system.

While Sarah Lawrence has had a long and troubled history with Jewish students, the school’s stated policies and mission theoretically promote open inquiry, diversity and tolerance. Despite this, I could not agree more with Hillel’s statement to the school’s president that, “Jewish students are harassed, intimidated, bullied, and “cancelled” for simply expressing themselves as Jews, or discussing or identifying with Israel, a place of deep religious and cultural connection for many Jewish students.” The fact of the matter is that today, and even before the tragedy in Israel with the terror attack from Hamas, Sarah Lawrence, along with far too many other colleges and universities, has failed to truly embrace diversity and inclusion, instead becoming incubators of hate, divisiveness and exclusion, and has chosen a deeply disturbing path.

 Rather than host a collaborative event to honor all lives lost, the school administration advocated for a group that deliberately employed language used to dehumanize people and justify their murder.

Jewish students are forced to contend with antisemitism on campus and are subjected to intense abhorrence from diversity administrators who fracture the student body based on identity politics, condition discussions and the terms of discourse, and punish dissent with biased reporting systems. Administrators have perverted reality into a world of oppressors versus the oppressed; Jews are the oppressors and Israel is considered a genocidal, apartheid-imposing, colonialist state. One former DEI official observed that “criticizing Israel and the Jewish people is not only acceptable but also praiseworthy.” Behavior like this happens far too often at Sarah Lawrence.

Just in the past few weeks, there was a “solidarity vigil” in the school’s Remy Theater—the most prominent outdoor space on campus—organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that has already been cited as antisemitic. The group invited students to “join us to honor all civilians lost to senseless colonial violence not just this past week but those who have been martyred by said violence over the past 75 years.” The use of “colonial” in the statement unmasks the group’s antisemitism. Rather than host a collaborative event to honor all lives lost, the school administration advocated for a group that deliberately employed language used to dehumanize people and justify their murder. This vigil was political and one that was hostile, threatening, dangerous and incredibly upsetting to Jewish students.

The College not only did not stop the event, but also it offered a very central, public location to send a message about the school’s views surrounding Jews on campus. They even encouraged Jewish students and Jewish affinity groups to attend. As progressive Congressman Ritchie Torres notes, Jewish students are surrounded by “young people who have been indoctrinated with a hatred for Israel so visceral and fanatical that it renders them indifferent to the barbaric butchering of Israeli civilians and children.”

Students on campus are now regularly protesting and chanting variations of “from the river to the sea” and are explicitly calling for the dismantling of the Jewish state. This phrase is an antisemitic charge denying the Jewish right to self-determination and included in this is the violence and deadly removal of Jews from their ancestral homeland. Students may have a right to say this, but words are not without consequence. Student speech is free, but this behavior is a clear breach of our Principles for Mutual Respect, which include inflicting no harm on one another, in word or deed. Calling for the murder of one’s peers is a problem, calling for the annihilation of the state of Israel is a problem, and calling for genocide against the Jewish people is a problem; all are in violation of the school’s stated values and rules for conduct. Even the White House released a statement proclaiming that, “Delegitimizing the State of Israel while praising the Hamas terrorist murderers who burned innocent people alive, or targeting Jewish students, is the definition of unacceptable—and the definition of antisemitism.” Despite this dangerous conduct, the College says and does nothing, leaving Jewish students to wonder what their very classmates and dorm mates who may live across the hall from them would actually do to them if they had the chance.

The hate for Jews at Sarah Lawrence does not end with administrators; it has deeply infected the faculty as well. While some faculty are avowedly anti-Israel, and they teach accordingly, I have experienced the antisemitism at Sarah Lawrence firsthand far too many times. At the start of my career and before my tenure, when swastikas appeared on my office door, I was urged strongly by my colleagues to say and do nothing because doing so would draw too much attention to myself. I would need to simply toughen up and accept this. Despite being a Sabbath-observant Jew, when important holidays fell on school days, I was told that I had to work or I would not be supported for tenure. I was frequently informed that I needed to see students for various events on Saturdays despite it being the Sabbath. To this day, I still feel sick to my stomach that I was forced to violate my religious beliefs at a school that theoretically embraces religious pluralism and supports diversity.

In faculty dining room discussions or faculty meetings, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish statements are commonplace at Sarah Lawrence. Meetings would rarely go by without my colleagues using words like “occupiers,” “colonizers” and “apartheid” in addition to overused tropes about power, money and control. Implicit in their messaging is violence and the delegitimization of both Israel and the views and values of Jews. My colleagues regularly virtue signal their progressive and thus antisemitic bona fides when talking about their courses and discussions with students. So much of the teaching and purported “scholarly output” that occurs today is the promotion of advocacy and activism. Faculty support and participate in antisemitic teach-ins and extra-curricular protest activities and regularly encourage students to do the same. And despite offering course descriptions that look balanced, the actual course material is often prejudiced. Jewish students tell me regularly that there is an intense anti-Zionist bias in the room and that they self-censor in numerous courses fearing bad grades and evaluations that could jeopardize their academic futures. One student reported to me that a professor slipped and called me a “white-skinned Taliban,” given my political leanings; I can imagine what is said and goes unreported and unshared.

In a sad and ironic turn, U.S. Ambassador to Japan and Sarah Lawrence graduate Rahm Emmanuel has purportedly remarked that “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The safety, continuity and security of the Jewish people is under severe threat. The crisis will have some benefits if leaders protect students on increasingly dangerous campuses. In the wake of Hamas’s brazen attack on Israel, antisemitism has shown its ugly face on college campuses for all to see.

When Hamas brutally murdered hundreds of Israelis, raped numerous women (including some who had been killed), burned children and babies, kidnapped over 200 of all ages, and took them to Gaza, Sarah Lawrence remained silent. But I cannot remain silent. The Hamas massacre was the most brutal attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust. There is no ambiguity about where Sarah Lawrence, many of its faculty, and countless other schools stand in relation to Jews today. Hillel is absolutely justified and ethically obligated to demand basic safety and equal educational opportunities for Jewish students which are being denied. I am glad that Hillel has spoken up and I hope that their letter and my story serves as a warning to the Jewish community: Sarah Lawrence college is morally bankrupt, as evidenced by how the College has consistently dismissed, ignored and permitted the antisemitic conduct that has become so pervasive on campus. Hillel has no intention of walking away from supporting the Jewish students who are in crisis, but the serious dangers to Jewish students at Sarah Lawrence can no longer be ignored and can no longer go unreported.

Samuel J. Abrams is a professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence College and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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