May 25, 2024
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‘National Emergency’ of Hate Toward Jews on Campus

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt spent two weeks traveling to college campuses across the country and has a disturbing assessment: “Seeing it firsthand it is worse than you get from watching these clips,” on the internet or on television.

He witnessed the glorification of terrorism by student pro-Palestinian protesters, vile antisemitic and anti-American chants and signs, spoke with Jewish students so terrified they burst into tears and college administrators losing control of their campuses.

Jewish students spoke of being abandoned by their “so-called friends,” of being isolated from normal college activities by classmates, being physically threatened and harassed and being forced off campus out of fear for their safety.

In some cases, public safety and police seemed unwilling or unable to handle the protestors and he chided administrators for not enforcing disciplinary and/or legal measures against protestors for entering buildings, vandalism, blocking other students from attending class and attacking, intimidating and harassing them, noting there should be consequences rather than concessions.

“I’ve never seen a moment like this before,” he said, calling it “a national emergency” during a virtual program on May 1, “Campus Antisemitism Crisis: Fighting Hate from Home.”

As the father of two college students himself, Greenblatt added: “We are well past the alarm phase. It is appalling and really heartbreaking. I have seen this myself, students crying, yelling, shaking with exhaustion and fear and frustration and, you know, rage as they share their stories of intimidation and harassment and the failure of administrations to help.”

He said it was long overdue for campus presidents to use their voices to call out unruly protestors.

“We wouldn’t tolerate this level of hatred being directed at any other minority group and we shouldn’t tolerate it against Jews,” said Greenblatt, who said while criticizing Israel or supporting Palestinians is acceptable, calling for the removal of Jews, Zionists and Israelis from campus is not.

His concern was echoed by New York Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-Dist. 15) who Greenblatt described as an ally, hero and champion to many in the Jewish community for his staunch support of the community and Israel.

Torres, who left the Congressional Progressive Caucus over its stance on Israel, acknowledged “many people are in a state of shock [that] a Black, gay, Latino member of Congress can care deeply about fighting antisemitism and I reject the notion that one must be Jewish to fight antisemitism, just like I reject that notion that one must be Black to combat anti-Black racism.”

Torres drew an analogy between the struggles of the LGBTQ community to come out of the closet and what is happening to Jews, including those who identify as progressive.

“Historically, society said to LGBTQ people, you have to be in the closet; you have to be ashamed of who you are,” said Torres. “But that is the same message the progressive movement is sending to young Jews, that in order to be part of our club you have to be in the closet about your Zionism. You have to be ashamed of your Zionism. That to me is not progressivism. That is a perversion of progressivism.”

He spoke of Jewish civil rights leaders, some who gave their lives so that Black people like himself could have the right to vote and live freely. “We are all in this together and we all have an obligation to fight hate and extremism no matter what direction from which it comes,” said Torres.

Responding to the alarming rise in campus antisemitism over last months, Torres said, “The post- Oct. 7 world did not change the state of antisemitism on college campuses, it reveals what higher education has become. There has been a concerted effort to indoctrinate our students with a hatred for Israel that is so visceral and so fanatical that it renders them indifferent to the value of Jewish life. That is what we’re seeing on college campuses.”

Torres noted the ideas of settler colonialism, decolonization, and intersectionality have been brewing in academia for a long time and have now reached the boiling point, driven by social media.

He said Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Law should protect Jewish students, but Torres said he believes “the federal government has been essentially ineffective in enforcing Title VI.”

Although the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched almost 100 university investigations across the country for Title VI violations for allegedly failing to protect Jewish students, Torres is proposing there be federal antisemitism monitors at universities to ensure compliance with a loss of federal funds for not doing so. He called on bipartisan legislators to come together to find a solution to a crisis that is so serious it transcends political allegiance.

“My message to the next generation of Jewish students is to be the Maccabees of the modern world,” said Torres. “If you censor yourself, if you are in the closet about your Zionism and your Jewish identity then you become part of the problem not part of the solution. So I would just tell people to stand up to the problem, stand up to the intimidation and harassment, to be proud of their Judaism, their Zionism. Because where there is fear there cannot be freedom.”

Equally disturbing for Greenblatt is that these pro-Palestinian demonstrations are being organized by outside organizations.

“These are not sudden swells of grassroots energy,” said Greenblatt, who singled out the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), an organization he described as “openly glorifying terrorists,” including plane hijackers, endorsing the killing of college students at Hebrew University and celebrating Iran’s recent drone attack on Israel. On its website PYM describes itself as a “transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians in Palestine and in exile worldwide as a result of the ongoing Zionist colonization and occupation of our homeland.”

Additionally, among the other key players he called out were Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which has been causing unrest on campuses for years, who Greenblatt called probably the biggest driver of current campus turbulence and always refers to Israel as “the Zionists’ state.” He noted after the Oct. 7 terrorism attacks on Israel, SJP called it “an historic win for Palestinian resistance” and has called for “armed confrontation with the oppressors.”

Greenblatt also called out Jewish Voice (JVP), pointing out they are outliers “on the furthest fringes of our community” who claim that Israel is the “root cause” of the violence. He said the group retweeted posts stating, “Curse the Jews” and “Death to America.”

At UCLA he witnessed pro-Palestinian demonstrators chanting anti-American slogans and destroying American flags. Many there and at other universities had their faces covered by masks to conceal their identities, adopting the tactics of white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan and their white hoods or the Proud Boys and their face masks.

“It is completely unacceptable,” he said. “I don’t think any university should permit full-faced masking, especially when it’s done in service of intimidating, harassing and tormenting other people. I don’t think it’s a free speech issue at all. I think it’s public safety.”

Greenblatt noted not every protestor wants to harm Jews or destroy Israel and reminded the Jewish community to have compassion and open hearts to innocent Palestinian civilians who are being killed or injured.

“The Torah teaches us, the Talmud teaches us that any innocent killed is like the loss of an entire world,” he said.

The program also featured Bari Seitz, a freshman at the University of Texas- Austin and vice president of Longhorn Students for Israel, who spoke about the problems on her campus and Francine Ephraim, the parent of a student at Tufts University, who organized with other parents to control the situation and ensure a smooth commencement.


Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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