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After the heinous massacre perpetrated by Hamas against Israelis on October 7, 2023, we saw a huge rise in attacks against Jews on US university campuses. Many student groups sided with Hamas immediately, before any retaliation by Israel. Hateful harassment of Jews followed, and three presidents of top US universities infamously replied to the Congress inquiry that the calls for genocide of Jews may or may not be against university policies, "depending on the context".

There is a stark contrast between the acceptance of harassment of Jews and the extreme lengths the same campuses would go to prevent the mildest micro-aggression against any other minority. This acceptance of antisemitism is certainly not a free speech issue because, first of all, violence that sometimes accompanies verbal attacks is not protected, and second, freedom of speech gets constantly trumped at the same campuses by the "safety first" concerns.

Thus the question: what caused the rise of antisemitism on US campuses?

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    The second paragraph misrepresents the situation w/r/t the actions of university administrations. It is untrue that universities "accept" antisemitism. Here is a description of part of Harvard's response: "the University has increased security in vulnerable places such as student residences. In addition, University police have been in communication with local, state, and federal law enforcement about threats to the community. Administrators have also provided organizers of events, including protests, with clear policies and requirements — and potential penalties for violating guidelines."
    – Juhasz
    Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 21:49
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    First, let's acknowledge that, yes, there is a problem (in the USA on both sides, btw, one of the first people killed was a 6 yr old Muslim kid). But, yes, people are saying all sorts of antisemitic crap. Now, the question for you, is how do you expect this Q to be answered factually and objectively, in a relatively short form. What will make a good answer? Antisemitism runs the gamut from the right wing, to conspiracy theories about Jews running the world, to supporting Hamas' atrocities. Do you expect a non-opinion answer? What would it look like? Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 23:36
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    If you picked one subject, like the rather disgraceful hemming and hawing of the university presidents, that would at least narrow the subject. But, still, would it be answerable? It seems more of a sociological issue than purely a political one. I am not voting to close on "discredit" basis - as 3 ppl have done already - discrediting racism/antisemitism is fine by me - but well, I can't help thinking this question needs to focus a lot more on achieving an answerable form. Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 23:39
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    VTC. There was no attempt to make this question more focussed , more answerable and more narrowly "about governments, policies and political processes". Answers are still likely to be heavily opinion-based as it currently stand. Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 19:37
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    Voting to close - Please back your claims and provide some references that antisemitism has indeed increased in college campuses. (Note that opposition to Israel and / or support for Palestine does not automatically mean such advocates are also antisemitic.)
    – sfxedit
    Commented Dec 14, 2023 at 4:36

3 Answers 3

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What causes the rise of antisemitism at US university campuses?

Mostly, nothing. That is, AFAICT, what we're experiencing is the portrayal as anti-semitism of a wave of protest of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

One tenet of this framing attempt is the declaration that opposition to Zionism is anti-Semitic, as in a recent statement by the House of Representatives. Another tenet is the description of Israel as a victim engaged in self-defense, in context of its current military campaign, due to the October 7th attack. This view is apparently shared by some of the users here on Politics.SX; yet even they must acknowledge that the opposite view is not based in anti-Jewish sentiment, but in one's perspective on the struggles of occupied and colonized peoples.

All this is not to say that there isn't anti-semitism, i.e. anti-Jewish racism, in the US (and we remember the Tree-of-Life synagogue shooting as a recent painful example); but the campus protests are almost entirely separate from this, uh... let's call it sphere: As far as I can tell, it is not that antisemitic movements outside of campuses have started being active in campuses, nor that students have embraced anti-Jewish racism or begun to circulate anti-semitic literature etc.

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    That's not the entire story though. By Oct 10th, before much happened in Gaza, Harvard student groups were already getting pushback for a letter holding Israel responsible. Not sure when it was published but if it was already making the news 3 days later it must have been right after 10/7. One can be highly critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians and still think that letter stunk of supporting Hamas (and looking mighty much like antisemitism), coming so soon after the attack. Commented Dec 12, 2023 at 23:56
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    Big -1. Anti-Semitism and opposition to the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip are conceptually separate, and plenty of people hold the latter opinion without being anti-Semitic. Most, undoubtedly. But suggesting that they are entirely separate is very disingenuous, or more charitably simply naïve, because there are some people who hold both opinions, or unfortunately let the vehemence of their anti-Israeli sentiment lead them into ideas that are anti-Semitic.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 10:47
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    Both Islamaphobic and anti-Semitic incidents have measurably increased in the USA since early October. And maybe some people do not trust CAIR, the ADL, or the NYPD, but surely they can agree that more people saying that Hitler was right or calling for death to Jews is increased anti-Semitism.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 10:50
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    @Obie2.0: I didn't say anti-semitism and anti-Zionism are entirely separate, I said the surge in activity on US campuses and anti-semitism are entirely, or almost entirely, separate. I will edit emphasize this point.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 10:50
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 13, 2023 at 11:05
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There are many causes of the rise of antisemitism at US university campuses, including:

  • Perception of Israel (a Jewish state) as the aggressor and the colonizer, and Palestinians as victims and the colonized in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
  • Perception that the US is impeding the peace process by supporting Israel militarily and politically.
  • Antisemitism is present at low levels in the population. It is known from the study of history to go up and down with time, and happens to be currently rising across the world.
  • Relative lack of mention of antisemitism in DEI initiatives, for example relatively infrequent mention of it in DEI training.
  • The above point itself might be caused in part by the fact that the Jews are considered to be a successful minority, like the Asians, and thus not requiring special protected status more often awarded to minorities that are underrepresented in certain fields.

Notes:

  • Some of the considerations and public perceptions are opinions may often lack support in facts, but that the perceptions themselves exist remains a fact.
  • This post should not be misconstrued as a justification or promotion of antisemitism. I am against discrimination or persecution based on religion or ethnicity.

References:

IL support by age

Views of Israel vary markedly across age groups of Americans. While a majority of those ages 65 and older (69%) and ages 50 to 64 (60%) have positive views of the country, only about half of those ages 30 to 49 (49%) and around four-in-ten of those under 30 (41%) feel the same. Around a quarter of the oldest age group also feel very favorable toward Israel, while the youngest age group is more likely to say they feel very unfavorable (17%) than very favorable (10%).


antisemitism rise

More than nine-in-ten U.S. Jews say there is at least “some” anti-Semitism in the United States, including 45% who say there is “a lot” of anti-Semitism. Just 6% say there is not much anti-Semitism, and close to zero (fewer than 1%) say there is none at all.

Moreover, three-quarters (75%) say there is more anti-Semitism in the United States than there was five years ago. Just 5% say there is less, and 19% perceive little or no change, saying there is about the same amount of anti-Semitism as there was five years ago.


Antisemitism has existed for centuries in the United States. [...] FBI data shows that in every year since 1991, Jews were the most frequent victims of religiously motivated hate crimes, according to a report which was published by the Anti-Defamation League in 2019. Evidence suggests that the true number of hate crimes against Jews is underreported, as is the case for many other targeted groups. [...]

Public opinion surveys paint a mixed picture. According to a survey which was conducted by the Anti-Defamation League in 2019, antisemitism is rejected by a majority of Americans, with 79% of them lauding Jews' cultural contributions to the nation, however, the same poll found that 19% of Americans adhered to the longstanding antisemitic canard that Jews co-control Wall Street, and 31% agreed with the statement "Jewish employers go out of their way to hire other Jews".


Owens, along with fellow Republican lawmakers and witnesses who testified before the committee, said DEI programs promote hatred by dividing students into either the oppressed or the oppressors. That dichotomy doesn’t make space for Jewish students to be considered oppressed, they said.

“The modern form of antisemitism is more subtle, for it is often disguised under progressive political innuendos,” Owens said. “For example, Offices of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion steeped deeply in the doctrine of Marxism are anything but inclusive for Jews.”


In Inclusion delusion, we looked at 741 DEI staff at 65 universities who have Twitter accounts, and we just analyzed the content of their Twitter accounts to see what they had to say about Israel and for comparison purposes, what they had to say about China. We suspected, and the data confirmed, that they're obsessed with Israel relative to China. They talk almost three times as much about Israel as China, but also they're almost completely critical of Israel. 96% of all of these Twitter communications were critical of Israel. While those about China, 62% were favorable.


Jews have been greatly over-represented among intellectual elites, in the professions, the universities, among business leaders and the very rich in 20th century. Weyl and Possony (1963, p. 142) calculated that in the period 1901–1962 16% of Nobel prize-winners for science were Jewish. They estimated the world population of Jews in 1938 at 18 million and the world population of European gentiles at 718 million, and calculated that Jews were over-represented by a factor of approximately 6.6. Jews have been about half of the world’s top rated chess grandmasters between 1851 and 2000 (Rubinstein, 2004) and of the champion American bridge players and theoreticians (Storfer, 1990).


Of the 965 individual recipients of the Nobel Prize and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences between 1901 and 2023, at least 214 have been Jews or people with at least one Jewish parent, representing 22% of all recipients. Jews comprise only 0.2% of the world's population, meaning their share of winners is 110 times their proportion of the world's population.

Jews have been awarded all six of the Nobel Foundation's awards:[3]

  • Chemistry: 36 (19% of total)
  • Economics: 38 (41% of total)
  • Literature: 16 (13% of total)
  • Peace: 9 (8% of total)
  • Physics: 56 (25% of total)
  • Physiology or Medicine: 59 (26% of total)
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Background
The whole story, on which the OP is based, can be found, e.g., here:

On the afternoon of October 7th, homes in Gaza-border communities are ablaze, babies were being murdered and hoards of terrorists were massacring young people who just came to dance. The IDF had not yet fired a single bullet at Gaza residents. The country was still in a state of shock as the numbers of dead and kidnapped was just beginning to become clear. Then, an open letter was published by 33 student organizations at Harvard University, claiming that “the Israeli regime (is) entirely responsible for all unfolding violence… today’s events did not occur in a vacuum.“

As the OP correctly describes, the inability of this and other University Administrations to deal with this and subsequent events led to the testimony of there university presidents in front of the US congress: House passes resolution condemning testimony by university presidents over antisemitism. The University of Pennsylvania president subsequently had to resign from her position: Penn’s Leadership Resigns Amid Controversies Over Antisemitism.

Prevalence of antisemitism on campuses
The quoted Ynetnews article mentions the high support for Hamas actions among the young people, reaching 51% percent Why is support for Israel lower among Gen Z and millennials?:

A Harvard CAPS-Harris X poll was conducted a day after The New York Times reported on a hospital blast in Gaza (originally, the Times attributed the blast to Israel via Hamas officials, but the U.S. later said intelligence pointed to a stray rocket from Gaza).

The poll found that a slight majority of 18- to 24-year-old respondents (51%) said they believed killings of Israeli citizens by Hamas, a U.S State Department designated terrorist group, could be justified by the grievance of Palestinians. The 25-to 35.-year-old group wasn’t far behind with 48% of them also expressing that sentiment.

By contrast, the vast majority of older Americans, including those aged 55 to 64 said the killings could not be justified (89%) with modestly higher support from those 65+ (91%).
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Some of the reasons why these attitudes are considered antisemitic are:

  • They justify murder by political reasons, based solely on the fact that the victims were Jews and/or Israeli citizens and/or present in Israel at the time of the attacks. Indeed, it is rare that for either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel supporters to use the same language to describe the deaths of Gazans, although one could equally link it to Hamas policies.
  • Hamas, although a national liberation movement, is not really a movement for social liberties - rather it aims at installing an Islamic State on the combined territory of Gaza, Israel and West Bank, routinely persecuting minorities, other religions, women, opposition, etc. In other words, Hamas is antithetical to everything that a western liberal stands for. In other words, supporting Hamas in no way amounts to supporting Palestinian people and their rights - the only reason for such support is that it allows to blame Israel, expressing hatred against Jews in supposedly "legitimate" way.

Causes
Ignorance
The main cause is the basic ignorance. Indeed, when asked to assume the responsibility for their signatures, many claimed that they acted in ignorance:

On the days following the letter’s publication, a backlash came from Israeli and Jewish benefactors. Captains of industry and CEOs of foundations donating millions to Harvard demanded the names of the students who had signed the letter be revealed. Their main contention was wanting to ensure that they wouldn’t “inadvertently hire“ any of them, and so it was important to know exactly who they were. Revealing their names shocked many signatories. Some pulled their signatures. Others claimed they didn’t know what they were signing.

DEI programs
The Republicans predictably blamed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programs: House Republicans Blame DEI Programs for Rise in Campus Antisemitism.

Owens, along with fellow Republican lawmakers and witnesses who testified before the committee, said DEI programs promote hatred by dividing students into either the oppressed or the oppressors. That dichotomy doesn’t make space for Jewish students to be considered oppressed, they said.

“The modern form of antisemitism is more subtle, for it is often disguised under progressive political innuendos,” Owens said. “For example, Offices of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion steeped deeply in the doctrine of Marxism are anything but inclusive for Jews.”

Rise of Socialism
An interesting corollary to the claims about Marxist influence in the above quote is the claim that the October 7 attack was a spontaneous uprising of the oppressed, as exemplified, e.g., by this comment (whose author I do not name):

Moreover, you'll remember that the Oct. 7th attack was carried out by the armed wings of most Palestinian political movements, plus the popular resistance committees which are non-partisan. Plus non-affiliated bunch-of-people.

The notion of spontaneity here is contradicted by high technical level and preparation required for such an attack, and the fact that it had been in preparation for years before - Israel Knew Hamas’s Attack Plan More Than a Year Ago

There is also a historical link between Socialism and anti-semitism, notably due to the Soviet support of the Arab states (which was motivated by geopolitical reasons, but couched in Marxist terms.) The popularity of the socialist ideas in the wake of the Great Recession and the fact that the young people know of the horrors of the Communism only from history books, may contribute to the rise of antisemitism. Proving causality here is difficult, but the correlation is clearly present.

Individual Insecurity
Hatreds are usually a consequence of inner insecurity, where one tends to blame one's own failures (whether real or expected in future) as an influence of other groups - the immigrants who take the jobs, the Jews who control the government and access to important positions, etc.

Although Harvard students are among the most privileged people on the planet, with rather secure future, it is likely that many of them feel deficient, when compared to the prominent Harvard graduates, which count among them Nobel prize winners, US Presidents, and other top figures: The Inadequacy Complex

I think that almost all of us at Harvard have insecurities about our place here, but but nobody likes to talk about them. Getting into Harvard is undeniably a prestigious achievement, but one for which I’ve always hesitated taking full credit. Perhaps it is a side effect of feeling like an overwhelmingly normal person at Harvard. Like many others, when I go back home, I am inundated with the same question: “How did you get in?” I cannot answer, because to be honest, I do not know why I, out of thousands of other candidates who probably shared the same qualifications as me, got into Harvard.

Remarks:

While some of these are due to the blockade by Israel, Hamas actively interferes with freedom of religion, assembly, expression, academic freedom, rule of law, and personal liberties. The details can be found in the Freedom House report on Gaza.

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    The question in that poll is itself bias, as it assumes Palestinian grievances and implies that these grievances should be directed at Israel rather than Hamas that rules Gaza. Even though the framing of the question is highly suggestive and contributes to the ignorance, the response is appaling.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:54
  • @Michael valid point. Thanks.
    – Morisco
    Commented Dec 15, 2023 at 16:57
  • I'm really skeptical of that poll. So, Pew recently did a poll asking whether Israel and Hamas, respectively, bore responsibility for the war in the Gaza Strip, and even in the 18 to 29 age group, even among Democrats in that age group, a plurality said that Hamas was "a lot" to blame (a plurality also said the same about Israel), with under 10% saying that it was not at all to blame (and a large number of "unsure" responses, admittedly. That would seem hard to reconcile with this poll being correct.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 3:59
  • Similarly, a recent YouGov/The Economist poll found 64% of people in that age group stating that current US military support for Israel was either insufficient or about right. That seems hard to reconcile with about half thinking that the attacks could be justified (or the roughly even split between "should support Hamas" and "should support Israel" that the Harris poll found, with a plurality saying that the USA should not support either party).
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 4:34
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    @Obie2.0 why 99% and not 95% or 99.9% ? Anyhow, statistically it means half. And no, one may support Hamas simply because one hates Israel, and it us more likely, since one can hardly support what Hamas does to its own people. Again, this is covered in the answer.
    – Morisco
    Commented Dec 16, 2023 at 8:36

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