This week, I was able to talk to many Jewish students from around the world (including a friend from my alma mater who is visiting Israel) about what it is like to be a Jewish student on their university campuses.
I graduated from college just about a year and a half ago, and although much has stayed the same, it’s getting more difficult for Jewish students.
When I entered college in 2010, my professors were accommodating when I needed to miss class for the high holidays. Yet there always seemed to be a bonding event on Yom Kippur, and I had to miss tennis practices if I wanted to be on the Hillel board and attend Shabbat services and dinner. These little things made me feel different from the other students, but by far the greatest source of difficulty as a Jewish student on campus was the way I related to Israel.
I remember receiving a terribly inaccurate email, passed through my school’s list serve, calling Israel an apartheid state that commits war crimes. I remember getting an eviction notice put on my door, “mocking the eviction notices sent to Palestinians by the IDF.” I remember someone coming up to me in the dining hall asking me how “you [Jews] could do all of those terrible things to the Palestinians.” I remember being ostracized in a class and receiving a grade less than I deserved because the paper had pro-Israel content. I remember sitting in a meeting hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine, the group leader asking all the other students to disregard my opinion and that of my friend because we were from the pro-Israel group. I remember when I found swastikas drawn in the bathroom stalls on multiple occasions.
It was difficult being on a campus that was dogmatically critical of Israel, with an undercurrent of anti-Semitism. I have surmised that nearly all Jews around the world face the same problems that I faced in college. And on my campus, the Claremont Colleges, it is only getting worse.
I sat with my friend, who is visiting Israel during her winter break, as she lamented how our school has changed in the past couple of years for the worse. She described as unbearable the extreme political correctness, and she has even lost friends over it. She says that some school meetings are now segregated in order to give people of color “safe spaces.” For Jewish students, hostilities are at an all-time high. People freely disparage Jewish people on social media and there have been many bias-related incidents against Jews on campus. When they are reported, they are not taken as seriously as incidents related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc.
Around the world, the situation seems to be unfortunately similar.
This week I visited the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) congress, a gathering of around 70 Jewish students from around the world, at Kibbutz Tzuba, just outside of Jerusalem.
I volunteered with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a media-monitoring organization that works with students around the world to promote pro-Israel events, lectures, and media. CAMERA was the organization that helped me combat anti-Israel sentiment on campus and develop my leadership skills as a pro-Israel activist.
As I handed out fliers, candy, pens, and bags to the students at the conference, I schmoozed with them about their respective countries and campuses. Each and every one of them, from Mexico, Australia, Chile, South Africa, Italy, Russia, France, Israel, the U.K., to Germany, and more, cited anti-Semitism, anti-Israel sentiment and ignorance on their campuses.
One student from the U.K. told of being pretend-shot by anti-Israel protestors holding fake AK-47s. A student from Australia described an anti-Israel rally where someone persistently shouted, “Go back to Europe, Jews!” In South Africa, the head of the BDS campaign sang: “Kill the Jew” at an anti-Israel rally. In Australia, protestors waved bank notes exclusively at Jewish students attending a school lecture.
It saddens me to hear and to report that anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment is thriving all around the world on university campuses. But the good news is that conferences like WUJS ensure that Jewish students come together to problem-solve and be a part of the solution. Suggestions ranged from building personal relationships with other student groups, to providing alternatives when there are anti-Israel events, and applying for leadership roles in decision-making bodies.
Being Jewish in college may have gotten much worse in the last several years. But as long as Jewish students come out of these encounters stronger than ever before, that is reason enough to be hopeful, indeed something to celebrate.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her aliyah column on JNS.org, Facebook, and Instagram.