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It’s Not All Bad News for Jewish Students on American Campuses

With the endless spats of anti-Semitism within our major political parties and a constant stream of “anti-Zionist” claptrap coming out of universities on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s nice to hear some good news about being Jewish on campus:

A recent Brandeis University study of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on American college campuses finds information completely un-shocking to anyone who’s ever talked to more than three Jewish students: an overwhelming majority do not see their campus as “hostile to Jews.”

The author distills the following from the Brandeis study:

1. 95 percent feel safe on campus

The majority of Jewish students polled said they hadn’t experienced anti-Semitism on campus and didn’t see their campus as “hostile to Jews.” Over 95 percent of Jewish students polled say they feel safe on campus.

2. Hostile remarks? Yes. Hostile environment? No.

The majority of Jewish students polled said they had heard “hostile remarks toward Israel.” However, the majority of students at three out of the four schools did not characterize their campus as a “hostile environment toward Israel.” At University of Michigan, 51 percent of Jewish students saw their campus as hostile toward Israel.

3. Low support for academic boycott of Israel

Support for an academic boycott of Israeli scholars and universities is scarce. Academic boycotts weren’t widely supported among Jewish and non-Jewish students at any of the four institutions — with the highest percentage at 12 percent at Brandeis University. (It’s interesting — and possibly telling — that surveyors chose not to measure support for economic divestment from Israel.)

4. They have other things on their minds

Israel and other Jewish issues weren’t pressing concerns for the majority of Jewish students polled. Topics like race, mental health and sexual assault were ranked higher by a majority of students at all four schools.

Unmistakably, anti-Semitism is on the rise around the globe, so it is a positive sign that so few American Jewish students feel their campuses are unsafe.

Having said that, Hailey Levien recounts her experiences being ostracized that are far too common. Recounting bullying she received online and in person for her assertion that anti-Semitism was a problem in left-wing circles, she noted:

What left me feeling the most stuck was the irony of it all. I was being marginalized for implying that I was marginalized. In standing up for my identity as a Jewish person – which, according to my bullies, comes with no legitimate oppression – I was supposedly crying wolf. When in actuality, these individuals came to my workplace to single me out, a form of marginalization, in order to argue that Jewish people are not a group that gets singled out.

She goes on to ask questions many of us have uttered in the last few decades:

So, how can we, young American left-wing Jews, continue to cultivate communities for ourselves? How can we be allies to one another in moments when we feel isolated from both the activist community and the more conservative Jewish community? How can we encourage non-Jews to be our allies when it poses a risk to their social status in left-wing circles? How can we emphasize that extremism – both on the left and right – ultimately pushes people who care out of the conversation and eventually leads to their silence? Given these challenges, how can we excite other young American Jews to invest in a better Israel by fighting for democracy and justice in our homeland? And how can we make space for ourselves as a marginalized identity (despite many Jews’ white-passing privilege) in an era of identity politics on the left?