Photo: Rick Dikeman at English Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons

2020-2021 Case Western Reserve University CAMERA Fellow Isabel Davidson

When studying past dystopias in school, we assure ourselves that we would never have fallen for the same propaganda that brainwashed millions. We insist that we would have been abolitionists in America or would have protested against racism in apartheid South Africa. Legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its various branches are a direct result of our modern mindsets — we continue to take steps to prevent further suffering of minorities.

Specifically, Title VI of this act prohibits discrimination based on race, color or national origin in colleges that receive federal funding, stating:

No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

An executive order by the Trump administration added:

While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices. Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.

However, in the sea of political messages on a typical college campus, discerning what is and is not discrimination can perpetuate a harmful double standard for Jewish students. Campus life for Jewish students is anything but the utopia of inclusivity advertised in the brochures. We are frequently harassed by politically-motivated peers and professors and sometimes witness fellow students praise convicted terrorists with impunity, solely because their violent efforts contribute to delegitimizing Israel. For example, at my school, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) shared a post on their Instagram page (@cwru_sjp) that glorified Ghassan Kanafani, the terrorist responsible for the Lod Airport Massacre.

This, sadly, is just another instance of how CWRU students are forced to carry on our education in the face of unrelenting antisemitic messages. For Jews, Title VI guidelines are not only ignored, but universities also turn a blind eye to antisemitism on campus by refusing to take responsibility or action for on-campus incidents.

In early 2020, for example, the Radical Student Union (RSU) at Case Western Reserve University, a group on the AMCHA’s antisemitism watchlist for college campuses, reignited their Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Bombarded by flyers and stickers while walking to class every day, I made my own flyers that fact-checked the RSU’s erroneous accusations leveled against the Jewish State.

Poster found on Case Western Reserve University campus in February 2020 promoting the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement.

After I put up my flyers in the student center, I was followed by a stranger all the way home. I went to the school administration to inform them about what had happened. Using date and time records from my FitBit to help locate the security footage, the university’s Office for Equity found that one of the leaders of the Radical Student Union not only followed me to my dorm (which was nowhere near his own dorm) but was also taking photos of me with his cell phone the entire time.

Despite their telling me that the tapes were “disturbing to watch,” CWRU’s Student Conduct office emailed me saying they found no wrongdoing in this student’s actions, as there was “no evidence of religious discrimination.” I sent multiple emails providing more information on modern antisemitism and the nature of Judaism as an ethno-religion — specifically referencing Judaism’s ethnic origins in modern-day Israel as context for Title VI’s relevance to the harassment — but I was ignored.

After an attorney I worked with sent an email to the university’s Office of General Counsel referencing university handbook codes about general harassment and stalking, the Office cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — the act that keeps student educational records confidential — as a reason to ignore the attorney and my concerns about the student’s doings.

Although CWRU employs its own Office for Equityit became clear that the school officials had no idea how antisemitism rears its ugly head on college campuses in modern times. My request for modern-day antisemitism training for school officials went ignored, and I found myself instinctively asking where the panic button was when I started working in the on-campus kosher restaurant, fearful I would be targeted again.

During orientation week, every freshman sits through various diversity training seminars, where they are promised an education free of ignorance. When I started my graduate school orientation this fall at CWRU, I was again promised an education free of discrimination and harassment from other students. My experiences as an undergraduate at CWRU seemed to contradict these statements, so I reported the social media posts from the school’s SJP group praising terrorist Ghasan Kanafani to the Office for Equity. Again, I was ignored, and the post is still up to this day. The page blocked my personal page from seeing anything else.

University administrations across the country are pulling acceptances from students tweeting hateful messages or are expelling students who post videos of themselves using racial slurs or stereotypes at fraternity parties. But CWRU failed to adequately follow up on instances of harassment against Jewish students.

CWRU’s inaction has real consequences on Jewish lives, as anti-Zionism breeds acts of violence. For example, in 2020, there was a 14% increase in antisemitic hate crimes. More concerning, however, is the 60% of overall hate crimes contributed to antisemitism while Jews make up less than 2% of the American population. It’s time to end the double standard for campus equality in the lives of Jewish students around the world.

A slightly different version of this article was originally published in the Jewish Journal.

Contributed by 2020-2021 Case Western Reserve University CAMERA Fellow Isabel Davidson.

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