On a Monday during Hanukkah, someone took eight Hebrew texts down from the shelves of Indiana University’s Wells Library, put the books in eight different bathrooms, threw them in toilets and urinated on them.
The next day, two rocks were thrown into Jewish buildings on Indiana’s campus.
The same week, a large menorah at the University of Florida was uprooted and vandalized — the night after people heckled the Hillel center, yelling, “Fuck the Jews.”
These events appear be part of a larger trend: The Anti-Defamation League has received reports of at least 260 anti-Semitic incidents on campuses over the past three years.
Kenneth Marcus, former staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said that the resurgence in anti-Semitic activity had occurred “more in California than in any other state.”
Marcus attributes the increase in anti-Semitic incidents like these to a number of factors, including the state’s left-leaning tendencies, larger Arab and Muslim population and campuses more tolerant of extremist ideologies.
At Stanford in late 2009, a sukkah — a temporary hut constructed in celebration of the festival of Sukkot — in front of the Hillel building was vandalized with graffiti. Administrators and investigators were never able to ascertain whether the act was simply a random act of vandalism or a purposeful act of hate. Similar incidents have occurred regionally, on campuses such as San Jose State.
Rabbi Mychal Copeland, the Stanford Hillel rabbi, said that whatever the motivation, the event was still damaging.
“Whether or not it’s ever determined, at some level, it doesn’t matter because of [Jews’] history as tiny persecuted people over a long history,” Copeland said.
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, lecturer in Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz, pointed to political tendencies of university faculty members.
“It’s anti-Zionist faculty who use their position as faculty members to promote a political agenda,” Rossman-Benjamin said. “I think that what happens in the classroom influences what happens in the campus square and gives it legitimacy.”
Rossman-Benjamin believes this variety of factors, at times, forms a “perfect storm” that produces an outpouring of anti-Semitism.
One example of this occurred at UC-Irvine in the early 2000s, where Jewish property was defaced with swastikas and Jewish students were physically assaulted.
Susan Tuchman, legal director of the Zionist Organization of America, described how at UC-Irvine “students reported that they’ve been afraid to wear a kippah or Star of David” and how many “students and faculty feared for their physical safety on the campus.”
While Irvine experienced traditional forms of anti-Semitism, experts note the recent rise in campus anti-Semitism has been characterized by a new form of anti-Semitic rhetoric, which blurs the line between anti-Israel political expression and outright anti-Semitism. Kenneth Marcus noted that this type of rhetoric has become increasingly common in the past decade.
“Discourse regarding Israel is used as a cloak for animus toward the Jewish people,” he said. “This has had a significant increase since the start of the Second Intifada a decade ago and the failure of the Oslo Process.”
When asked how to differentiate between anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment, Marcus pointed to Israeli author Natan Sharanksy’s “3-D Test,” which lays out three forms of rhetoric that are, in his mind, anti-Semitic – namely, demonization, double standards, and delegitimization.
Marcus said that much of the rhetoric surrounding Israel on college campuses today often fails the “3-D Test.” He pointed to the divestment movement (BDS) as one example of the use of double standards.
“[It would] otherwise be inexplicable why they’re focused on Israel, not China, Saudi Arabi, the Sudan, or any of other countless examples,” he said.
University and National Responses
University response to anti-Semitic rhetoric varies—and some argue the response at some schools lacks proper aggression.
At UC-Irvine, the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism concluded that the university administration did not act strongly enough in condemning instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric. Furthermore, the report criticized prominent national organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel, for failing to hold the “University and its leadership accountable for its failure to support an environment conducive to all students.”
According to Susan Tuchman, such failings are not limited to the Irvine campus.
”You often see college administrators either remain silent in response to anti-Semitism,” Tuchmann said. “Many administrators say that we know that this speech is hateful, hurtful, and offensive, but there’s free speech and therefore we can’t intervene.”
Tuchman described how when her organization, ZOA, filed a civil rights complaint in the case of UC Irvine, the response was unexpected.
“I thought other organizations would publically support what we did. And that was not the response that we got,” she said.
Rossman-Benjamin said national groups like Hillel often have conflicts of interest, which can cause inaction.
“On the one hand, they want to keep the students safe,” she said. “But on the other hand, they want to give two images: one that they’ve got everything under control and two that their university is a really wonderful place with a thriving Jewish life because of Hillel.”
However, Rossman-Benjamin argued that the role of national organizations is advocacy.
“Ultimately, the only people can really take care of this problem is the administration,” she said. “Hillel can bring pressure.”
She said the use of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the classroom was her real concern.
“If [professors] keep it outside of the classroom, it’s not my issue,” she said. “What really is wrong and corrupts the notion of a university is when that gets brought into the university.”