True to its chameleonic nature, antisemitism on campus is constantly changing colors.
Some of the earliest documented campus antisemitism occurred during the early to mid-20th century, when American universities were faced with a large influx of Jewish students who emigrated from Europe. Back then, campus antisemitism manifested itself in the form of Jewish quotas, including at prestigious Ivy League universities like Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Princeton, until they were effectively outlawed in the 1960s and 1970s.
But in the past few decades, campus antisemitism has taken on more threatening forms, such as ultra-right white nationalism, Holocaust denial, anti-Zionism, and, more recently, the BDS movement.
The constant evolution of campus antisemitism means that to an extent, pro-Israel campus activism is reactive, rather than proactive, since we never know what form it will take next.
We must learn from our mistakes, anticipate where the winds are blowing and formulate a plan to stop the next iteration of campus antisemitism before it manifests itself.
In order to predict what will be, we must first identify what is taking place.
The BDS movement realized that having a fringe contingent of radical Jewish organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow in their ranks lends them credibility. By hiding behind the veil of their token Jews, they legitimize themselves on campus, even if their attacks don’t reach all the way to the Jewish state.
Additionally, while antisemites on the far-left constantly try to distinguish anti-Zionism from antisemitism, their actions tell a different story. Anti-Zionists are targeting Zionist students on a broad scale—not because of any Israeli government policies, but because of their Jewish identity.
Many of us have heard the disturbing story that the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union opted out of making kosher food available on campus since such food is “pro-Israel” (they later apologized, as if that rectified the injustice in any way). Also in Canada, a Jewish student at McGill University faced pressure to resign from the Student Union for accepting a Hillel-funded trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. (Un)coincidentally, a non-Jewish student who registered for the same trip received no such pressure.
“But in the past few decades, campus antisemitism has taken on more threatening forms, such as ultra-right white nationalism, Holocaust denial, anti-Zionism, and, more recently, the BDS movement.”
Another phenomenon has arisen, wherein antisemitic students have openly advocated not only for a boycott of Israel, but of pro-Israel students as well. This was evident in a recent op-ed in Arizona State University’s student-run The State Press, as well as 53 student groups in New York University that refused to co-sponsor events with pro-Israel campus groups.
It’s now likely that anti-Zionist students will intensify intimidation towards their peers by not simply threatening to boycott pro-Israel students, but the “undecided” ones, too. They will offer an ultimatum: join us or face certain social ostracization.
Perhaps most alarming, the antisemites on both fringes of the political spectrum are uniting against their common enemy, as noted in the groundbreaking new study on “The New Antisemites,” published by stopantisemitism.org and the Zachor Legal Institute. One would think that given how the extreme left justifiably hates white supremacy and how the extreme right unjustifiably hates everything that isn’t white, they would target one another. Yet they both operate on campuses in a bizarre harmony without obstructing each other, instead channeling their obsessive hatred towards Jewish and Zionist students. It’s entirely possible that the unofficial truce between the sides could give way to open friendship.
And lest you think this friendship is one-sided, it’s worth remembering that a former executive director of the pro-BDS Jewish Voice for Peace was twice interviewed on a podcast run by the American Free Press, an antisemitic media outlet founded by Holocaust-denying Willis Carto, labeled by the Anti-Defamation League as “one of the most influential American antisemitic propagandists.”
There are two counterarguments to the above assertion: that white supremacy is too maligned in mainstream American life for the far-left to align with, and that they are too ideologically opposed to join forces.
Well, yes and no.
Far-left antisemitic groups like SJP have engaged in open support for violence and terror against the Jewish state, and yet have not been marginalized by the entirety of the left. Thus, it’s unlikely that an alliance with the extreme right would cause people to change their tune if it hasn’t happened by now, as the anti-Zionist sympathizers would likely just ignore it.
Likewise, ideological opponents have long embraced one another for what they believed to be the greater good. As the Horseshoe Theory states, extremes are closer to each other than to the center. The Nazis and Soviet Union were diametrically opposed to one another, but identical in their execution of brutal fascism (they even signed a non-aggression pact in 1939). More recently, on American college campuses, a bipartisan coalition of 100 or so student groups has united to fight climate change. The point is that even groups that ostensibly disagree with each other can still find common ground when faced with an adversary they both hate more than they hate the other.
A possible way to prevent a formal alliance between both groups of antisemites is to show them that they are two sides of the same bigoted coin. If we can prove that they are indeed mirror images, then some of them may begin to change their mind. At the very least, we may be able to convince moderates of their similarities and prevent them from being indoctrinated by the fringe.
It is entirely possible that these predictions above may not come to fruition. What is undeniable, however, is the urgent need for us to be proactive. We must stop reacting on the antisemite’s terms and set the rules of engagement ourselves.
Originally published in jns.org.
Contributed by CAMERA’s Israel campus advisor Eitan Fischberger.