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Jewish Identity Under Assault on College Campuses, New Amcha Initiative Report Says

Faculty and academic departments played a significant role in attacks on Jewish student identity

AMCHA Initiative's groundbreaking report, released yesterday, unearthed an insidious phenomenon taking root on college campuses: a pervasive and relentless assault on Jewish identity.

Unlike other campus studies released this year and in previous years, which examine whether campuses are safe or unsafe for Jewish students, this study investigated the nature, scope and trajectory of the threats to Jewish identity on U.S. campuses, and it found a staggering doubling of such threats at 60% of schools most popular with Jewish students.

The threats uncovered in the report include attempts to dissociate Zionism from Judaism, pit Zionism against progressive values, accuse Zionist Jews of undue privilege, power and control, and purge Zionism and Zionists from campus life. As highlighted by a recent Pew survey, which found that more than 80% of Jews view Israel as integral to their Jewish identity, the threats documented in AMCHA's study constitute a direct assault on the identity of many Jewish students.

The study also exposes the main sources of these threats, details how if left unaddressed this pervasive and relentless assault on Jewish identity will result in dire consequences for the Jewish community in the years to come, and offers recommendations to begin addressing this profoundly alarming problem.

Main Findings:

Incidents involving threats to Jewish identity were found on over 60% of the campuses most popular with Jewish students, with several schools playing host to 10 or more such incidents in the 2021-2022 academic year, including Harvard University, University of Chicago, Tufts University, UCLA and Rutgers University.

Incidents involving attacks on Jewish identity increased 100% to 200% in the academic year following the Israel-Hamas war, with the number of affected schools also increasing dramatically.

Faculty and academic departments played a significant role in attacks on Jewish student identity: schools with academic BDS-supporting faculty were three to seven times more likely to have such attacks, and more than one-third of anti-Zionist challenges to well-established definitions of Zionism, Judaism and antisemitism took place in programs sponsored by academic departments.

Jewish anti-Zionist individuals and organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) played a significant role in attacks on Jewish identity, with the presence of JVP or similar Jewish anti-Zionist group more than doubling the likelihood that a campus will play host to incidents involving the redefinition or denigration of Jewish identity.

In addition, despite the fact that anti-Zionist student groups like SJP were the only reliable contributor to incidents intended to silence Zionist expression on campus, faculty who support academic BDS were the largest contributors to rhetoric dissociating Zionism from Judaism, denying anti-Zionism is antisemitism and denigrating those who say it is, and using classic antisemitic tropes to vilify Jewish or Zionist identity.

In explaining these results, AMCHA's report states, "[W]hen faculty and academic departments assert as fact propositions that are germane to Jewish identity – for example, that Zionism is not an authentic part of Judaism; that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism; or that Zionists misuse religion to justify Israel's crimes – they provide those propositions with academic legitimacy and the power to justify and incite behavior that targets Jewish and pro-Israel students for harm."

In the short term, the pervasive and well-coordinated attacks on Jewish identity will undoubtedly result in increasing numbers of Jewish students feeling the need to hide their Jewish identity on campus, or to detach from Jewish life partially or completely.

In the long term, the sheer scope of the assault on Jewish student identity could negatively affect the level of communal identification and participation of an entire generation of young Jewish adults and presage a major crisis for American Jewry.

In light of the current assault on Jewish identity, which is deliberately intended to redefine Judaism and antisemitism to make it even harder for Jewish students to get the attention and protection they deserve from university administrators, AMCHA recommends adopting a behavior-based approach that would require schools to use a single standard to judge objectionable behavior: language and action deemed unacceptable when directed at students from one group must be deemed unacceptable when directed at any student, irrespective of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim.

AMCHA's report also recommends that the Jewish community invest in strengthening Jewish life on campus and enabling Jewish students of all backgrounds and levels of prior Jewish engagement to be part of a vibrant community that can provide the support, encouragement, education and fellowship necessary for not only weathering a toxic campus climate, but thriving as Jews.

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