Type to search

Research United States

Study: Antisemitic acts involving israel ‘far more likely’ to create hostile climate for Jewish students

Source: AMCHA Initiative

In our annual report on antisemitic activity on U.S. campuses, released today, AMCHA Initiative found that Israel-related antisemitic incidents were considerably more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students than incidents involving classic antisemitism.  And a close analysis of incidents from 2015 to the first half of 2018 revealed that Israel-related incidents are becoming significantly more flagrant, with an emergent shift from boycotting Israel to boycotting actual students and student groups.In recognizing that antisemitic incidents given equal weight in an audit may not have an equal impact on Jewish students, either individually or collectively, AMCHA’s latest study sought to go deeper than previous studies and look beyond the tallies to better understand how antisemitism affects American campuses today. This examination revealed that Israel-related antisemitic incidents were considerably more likely to contribute to a hostile environment for Jewish students than incidents involving classic antisemitism, and that anti-Israel campus activities are no longer intent on harming Israel, but increasingly, and alarmingly, they are intent on harming pro-Israel members of the campus community.

To better understand to what extent antisemitic incidents affect the campus climate for Jewish students, AMCHA researchers closely examined incidents of anti-Jewish (classic) and anti-Zionist (Israel-related) harassment, vandalism and assault on U.S. campuses in 2017 for evidence of intent to harm.  The researchers developed a new index to distinguish between incidents that deliberately and directly intend to inflict harm on Jewish students such as physical attacks, threats, destruction of property, bullying, and suppression of speech, and those that express bigoted beliefs and opinions about Jews or Israel but do not show evidence of intent to harm. The researchers also examined whether each incident was carried out by more than one individual, and whether the perpetrators were affiliated with groups.  According to sociological and psychological research, bullying by multiple persons or a group, known as ‘mobbing,’ enhances the emotional stress of its victims.

The analysis revealed the following main findings:

  • Israel-related incidents were significantly more likely to contribute to a hostile campus 
    • Although classic antisemitic incidents outnumbered Israel-related incidents three to one, less than 25% of classic incidents demonstrated intent to harm, whereas 94% of Israel-related incidents did.
    • Israel-related incidents with intent to harm were 6.5 times more likely to have multiple perpetrators and 7 times more likely to be affiliated with groups than classic incidents.
  • Genocidal expression was the most common feature of classic antisemitic incidents though most incidents did not show intent to harm Jewish students
    • Incidents of genocidal expression, such as imagery (e.g. swastika) or language expressing a desire to kill Jews or exterminate the Jewish people, rose dramatically from 46 in 2015 to 113 in 2016 to 153 in 2017.  However, there were only 39 in the first half of 2018 as compared to 86 in the first half of 2017, suggesting a possible overall decrease in 2018 if the trend continues.
    • 75% of the incidents involving classic antisemitism in 2017 involved genocidal expression, though less than one-fifth had intent to harm Jewish students or staff.
  • Suppressing speech and ostracizing and excluding Jewish and pro-Israel students from campus life were the most common form of Israel-related antisemitic incidents
    • 44% of Israel-related incidents involved behavior intended to silence expression, including shutting down, disrupting, defacing or other attempts to interfere with Israel-related events, displays or trips.
    • 76% involved behavior that directly and personally targeted students or groups for denigration or discrimination in order to ostracize and exclude them from campus life.
  • Many informative trends emerged from 2015 through the first half of 2018
    • Attempts to silence pro-Israel expression stayed relatively constant.
    • Incidents involving attempts to ostracize or exclude pro-Israel students and staff from campus life more than doubled.
    • Attempts to ostracize and exclude pro-Israel students and staff became much more flagrant.  Incidents including open calls to boycott interaction with or expel actual on-campus students or student groups increased from 3 in 2015 to 4 in 2016 to 14 in 2017, and 18 in the first half of 2018 alone.

Despite the fact that acts of Israel-related antisemitism appear to be the larger contributor to a hostile environment for Jewish students, university administrators have generally been far less likely to adequately address these Israel-related incidents than they have acts of classic antisemitism.  In large part this is due to university administrators recognizing that classic antisemitism may violate state or federal anti-discrimination law and most schools’ peer-on-peer harassment policies which prohibit the harassment of students based on characteristics such as race, color and gender, as well as religion and ethnicity.  However, university administrators rarely recognize anti-Zionist harassment as a form of unlawful discrimination, because they see it as motivated by political considerations rather than ethnic or religious ones.

The reality, however, is that harassment is harassment.  The effect of pervasive intolerant, exclusionary and harassing behavior on students is the same, regardless of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim.  And the abhorrent behavior that prevents students from an education free from harassment must be addressed, and addressed equitably

While efforts are afoot to ensure that Jewish students are protected from anti-Zionist harassment through federal and state anti-discrimination laws, there are immediate steps that university administrators can and should take now including issuing an ‘equity statement’ assuring all students that they will be equally protected from harassment and intolerant behavior; amending university policies to prohibit peer-on-peer harassment that suppresses freedom of speech and assembly and interferes with any student’s access to educational opportunities; and instituting educational programs to encourage the expression of a wide range of views in a civil, productive and respectful manner.