Nov 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Elite universities get tougher on antisemitism


On NYU's campus in Manhattan, Milton Cohen, a student from Israel, offers to speak about his home country. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Top universities, under pressure for being silent or soft on antisemitism, are being forced to take tougher lines on verbal and physical violence against Jews.

  • Columbia on Friday suspended two pro-Palestinian groups as official student groups through the end of the fall term.
  • The university said Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) "repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation."

Why it matters: Frightened students complain that universities have done too little to support them since the Israel-Hamas war began five weeks ago. Irate megadonors contend Ivy League universities are being too timid in confronting antisemitism.

What's happening: Long-simmering tensions are erupting in violence — and shattering the sense of safety that makes colleges hubs of free discourse, AP reports.

  • Jewish and Muslim students are witnessing acts of hate, leaving many fearing for their safety even as they walk to class.

Zoom in: In addition to Columbia's action, two other Ivies, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, this week took "more direct action" against antisemitism after their initial responses were condemned as weak, as The New York Times put it.

  • Harvard president Claudine Gay said in announcing a board of advisers to "begin the vital work of eradicating antisemitism from our community": "The ancient specter of antisemitism, that persistent and corrosive hatred, has returned with renewed force."
  • In Philadelphia, Penn President Liz Magill said this week that "vile, antisemitic messages were projected onto several campus buildings": "For generations, too many have masked antisemitism in hostile rhetoric. These reprehensible messages are an assault on our values and cause pain and fear for our Jewish community."

In Massachusetts, Brandeis University banned a pro-Palestinian student group over social media posts that defended Hamas.

Zoom out: Since the war began, antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents have been documented globally and coast to coast.

  • The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Center on Extremism on Oct. 25 reported a nearly 400% year-over-year increase in reports of antisemitic harassment, vandalism and assault.
  • The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America's largest Muslim civil liberties organization, this week reported an "unprecedented surge" in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bias.
  • The Islamic Society of Boston, which calls itself New England's largest mosque, told The Boston Globe that incidents of hate and harassment have primarily targeted students and women wearing hijabs or other head coverings.

The big picture: FBI Director Chris Wray warned in Senate testimony on Oct. 31 of a rising threat of domestic terrorism — "not just homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization, but also domestic violent extremists targeting Jewish or Muslim communities.

  • "Here in the United States," he said, "our most immediate concern is that violent extremists — individuals or small groups — will draw inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks against Americans going about their daily lives."
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