December 6, 2023

University of Denver officials launched an investigation last month to reports of anti-Semitic vandalism, one of the latest examples of what is believed to be a growing number of incidents involving anti-Semitism on college campuses.

According to news reports, pork products, which are forbidden to those who observe kosher dietary laws, were allegedly taped to the student dormitory door and mezuzahs – a symbol of Judaism – were removed from the door and defiled three times.

University, Va February 14 letter to students, condemned the actions and pledged to “promote a warm and welcoming campus in which all members of the community can thrive.” And in an emailed statement to Higher Ed Dive last week, Jon Stone, manager of media relations, said the university has “worked closely” with Jewish student life groups and the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to provide anti-Semitism programs to the campus community , among other events.

The University of Denver is not alone. In recent years, higher education administrators across the US have had to respond to a wave of anti-Semitic incidents.

Although the Anti-Defamation League does not consider Jewish students to be at a higher risk of violence than in the past, data shows they are more likely to experience an anti-Semitic incident on campus today than they were five years ago, said Elissa Buxbaum, the ADL’s director of campus affairs. .

How to fight

To prevent this, Buxbaum said, college leaders can incorporate messages about anti-Semitism and Jewish identity into educational initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion plans, websites and newsletters for alumni and departments. Administrators can also train staff to respond to incidents of bias and ensure the institution is fully inclusive.

“Anti-Semitism can dramatically affect a student’s college experience,” Buxbaum said. “It only takes one act of anti-Semitism against the college community to make all Jewish students feel unsafe or unwelcome on this campus.”

In addition, these actions can make students feel “not supported by their campus community,” he states Sandy Grawert, spokesperson for the Jewish campus organization Hillel International.

But as university leaders seek to protect their Jewish students, one expert on anti-Semitism on campus said they must also consider whether their actions will affect the free speech rights of other students.

Some Jewish students whose religious identity is closely tied to Israel may feel ostracized by groups like Students for Justice of Palestine or Jewish Voice for Peace, said Kenneth Stern, director of the Center for the Study of Hate at Bard College in New York. These groups often protest Israel’s actions against Palestinians or launch boycott and divestment campaigns against Israel, and can sometimes exclude students who identify as Zionists from “progressive spaces”.

In 2021, for example, two student groups at the University of Vermont, allegedly expelled students which membership expressed support for Zionism. And more recently, the Law Students for Justice in Palestine student group from the University of California, Berkeley they created a bylaw which banned people who supported Zionism from speaking at their events.

Such actions could make some students feel like they are being discriminated against because of their Judaism, said Stern, who wrote the book “Conflict for Conflict: The Israel-Palestine Campus Debate.”

“It hurts, but you don’t stop people from having political disagreements on hot-button issues.”

Incidents on the rise

In 2021 Anti-Defamation League recorded 155 anti-Semitic incidents on more than 100 college campuses in the US. That represents a 21 percent increase from the 128 incidents recorded in 2020, Buxbaum said.

Of the incidents in 2021, 87 involved harassment, 64 vandalism and four assaults. References to Israel or Zionism were made in 15% of cases. The audit counted cases involving anti-Jewish hostility, such as insults or conspiracy theories demonizing Jews as a group for real or perceived support for Israel, she said.

For example, Buxbaum said, mezuzahs attached to dormitory doors were desecrated, and anti-Jewish epithets like “kike” or messages like “Heil Hitler” were found scrawled in academic buildings and dormitories.

More than 30% of incidents on campus involved Nazi swastikas, sometimes with threatening messages aimed at Jewish students, claims ADL report.

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