According to the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, Jewish college students have faced rising levels of anti-Semitism on campuses across America over the last decade.
The IJCR, an independent, non-partisan think tank that provides research and policy analysis on a broad range of Jewish issues, recently conducted the study, “Alone on the Quad: Understanding Jewish Student Isolation on Campus.” They found that not only are anti-Israel sentiments on college campuses rising, but also more than 40% of Jewish students confirm anti-Semitism at their schools or in their classrooms.
Anti-Israel activities come in a variety of forms from divestment campaigns to protest rallies to guerrilla theaters featuring inflammatory speakers spewing anti-Jewish rhetoric. Many Portland Jewish students have faced anti-Israel activists.
“It is difficult to know how to respond to the anti-Israel events put on by the pro-Palestinian group on campus. I have seen anti-Israel events on campus such as the Palestinian rap group who performed last November,” said Austin Riley, a Jewish student at Portland State University who is involved with both Hillel and the Jewish Student Union.
Paul Bessemer, executive director of University of Oregon’s Hillel, says, “UO is a relatively tame campus as it goes. We have a couple local groups that are devoted to the elimination of the State of Israel, but even that is limited, and doesn’t generally include or get the participation of a large number of students.” However, he does point out that the line between anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism is tricky.
The IJCR found that nearly one-third of Jewish students agree that anti-Israel protests actually target Jews. Talya Pines, a PSU sophomore, has seen anti-Israel activities on campus and feels the anti-Israel sentiment seems to be targeted toward Jews. She added, “I also don’t think I have ever once heard or seen an actual criticism of Israel’s policies. I have only seen false statements being made with a complete disregard for the truth and history.”
Pines and the IJCR both point to lack of information about Israel as a huge catalyst for anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic activities on campuses across the nation. The IJCR study found that most non-Jewish students simply hold no opinion about what is happening in the Middle East – “The vast majority do not blame either the Palestinians or Israel for failure to achieve peace in the Middle East,” reads the study.
One would hope that professors would be able to educate the campus communities; however, Pines says at PSU this is not the case. “There is strong support and agreement with the anti-Israel activists by professors. There is a lack of truthful information about Israel on campus and many professors are facilitating this,” Pines explained.
Education about Israel has been the focus of many events on campus at both UO and PSU, who have tried to counter anti-Israeli rallies with organized publicity events for Israel. “I take a sensitive and educated response to anti-Semitism. At PSU, we have shown Israeli films on campus and have had pro-Israel Shabbat dinners,” explained Riley.
Bessemer, at UO, spearheads anti-Israeli activity by conducting a week of Israel Independence Day Celebrations in the spring, as well as by showing a variety of Israel-related films and speakers over the course of the year.
Portland native Max Werner is the current co-president of both the Jewish Student Union and Hillel at PSU. He hopes that having a strong relationship between Jewish and Middle Eastern student groups is another way to deal with anti-Israel activists. “Last spring we collaborated with nearly all of the Middle Eastern student groups on campus to put on the Stand Up for Peace Comedy Show which was a huge success and had a sold-out crowd of over 600 people from both the campus and the community,” said Werner.
Students can also join the Facebook group, Young Adult Supporters of Israel. Members of the group post articles and organize responses to anti-Israel activities in Portland. Group members even gathered at New Seasons Market on Southeast 41st and Hawthorne last November when the Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights boycotted Israeli goods.
Jonathan Morgan, a resident of Portland’s Moishe House sent a message to Jewish young people on Facebook; “Please help battle the recent overt rise of anti-Israel sentiment in Portland by ‘buycotting’ Israeli goods. It sounds weird to encourage making purchases on Shabbat, but the community needs to hear our voice of support for Israel and we need to vote with our dollars.”
While anti-Israel activities seem to be on the rise, so too are students who believe in standing up both for Israel and for truth.
“If the Jewish people unite together and unite with our true supporters, we can combat the lies with true facts about the conflict in Israel and the Middle East,” said Pines.