Anti-Semitism on American college campuses was pervasive in the early decades of the 20th century, a time when Jewish students often encountered “quotas” in admissions for fear that they would “overwhelm” the student body. Shelly Tenenbaum, a sociology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, writes:
“Once one school introduced quotas, a chain reaction emerged since 'none wanted to become a dumping ground for unwanted Jews.' While Columbia and New York University, two of the first schools to implement quotas, used character tests, the Big Three—Harvard, Princeton, and Yale—developed exclusionary tactics such as requiring applicants to include photographs with their applications, provide information about religion and race, and complete personal interviews.”
Institutionalized discrimination against Jews disappeared in the late 1950s as American society became aware of anti Semitism. Today Jewish faculty thrive at the nation's top institutions, both as teachers and administrators. It is paradoxical, therefore, that the American college and university campus has recently emerged as one of the major sites for the expression and dissemination of a revived anti-Semitism.
In many cases, campus anti-Semitism is given a voice by faculty members who reframe Israeli self-defense against Arab aggression as terror; who depict Arab campaigns of genocide as liberation movements; who portray democratic Israel as an apartheid state; and who cloak their anti-Semitism with the more socially acceptable mantle of "anti-Zionism."
In this respect, a typical academic is Professor Joel Beinin, who teaches Middle East history at Stanford University. Referring to Islamic suicide bombers as "martyrs," Beinin speaks highly of Al-Ahram -- a state-run Egyptian newspaper that routinely features anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, endorses Holocaust denial, likens Israeli leaders to Nazis, and praises jihadists who blow themselves up in Jewish civilian centers.
The poet and Rutgers University professor Amiri Baraka has suggested that Jews deserve to be killed in retribution for their exploitation of blacks: “I got the extermination blues, jew-boys. So come for the rent, jewboys, or come ask me for a book, or sit in the courts handing down your judgements still I got something for you, gonna give it to my brothers, so they'll know what your whole story is, then one day, jewboys, we all, even my wig wearing mother gonna put it on you all at once.”
Depaul University professor Norman Finkelstein, himself the son of Holocaust survivors, claims that Jews have greatly exaggerated the extent of the Nazi genocide. In a January 2008 interview on a Lebanese television station, Finkelstein stated that he "was of course happy" to have recently met with leaders of Hezbollah, the terrorist group that candidly acknowledges its desire to murder Jews. "And I have no problem saying that I do want to express solidarity with them,” said Finkelstein.
Jennifer Loewenstein, Middle East Studies professor at the University of Wisconsin, has portrayed Israelis as "masters in the art of destruction" who conduct ruthless campaigns of "state-sponsored terror" replete with all manner of "killing," "maiming," "atrocities," and "bloody and sadistic torture." Asserting that the Jewish state "and its U.S. Master" now reside in "the lowest circle of Hell for betraying the name of humanity," Loewenstein contends that Hamas suicide bombings are "not an outgrowth of displaced fanaticism" but rather a form of "legitimate popular resistance."
Joseph Massad, Assistant Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History at Columbia University, routinely condemns Israel as a "racist state" and has said that "[e]very racist state should be destroyed."
In 2002, Kent State University history professor Julio Cèsar Pino wrote an effusive tribute to Ayat al-Akras, a teenage Palestinian suicide bomber who had recently murdered two Israelis in a Jerusalem supermarket. In that piece -- titled "Singing out Prayer for a Youth Martyr" -- Pino insisted that Akras had "died a martyr's death … in occupied Jerusalem, Palestine."
Apart from the rhetoric of professors such as these, the flames of campus anti-Semitism are further stoked by student groups favoring the dissolution of Israel as an independent state; depicting Israel as a human-rights abuser living on stolen land; and portraying Jews as modern-day Nazis. Among the more prominent of these organizations are the Students for Justice in Palestine, the Palestine Solidarity Movement, and the Muslim Students Association (which regularly sponsors events where the keynote speakers are rabid haters of Jews and Israel alike).
University campuses have also been center stage for the movement to divest funds from American companies based in Israel, or from corporations that conduct any sort of business with Israel. The aim of this movement is to force Israel to abandon, internally, its Jewish character and, externally, its sovereignty. Hundreds of U.S.-based professors have chosen to formally lend their names to the "U.S. Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel."
Harvard University President Lawrence Summers publicly noted the rising trend of campus anti-Semitism in 2002, when he lamented that “profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities.” But many university presidents have remained virtually silent on the matter. When anti Semitic incidents occur on their campuses, they tend to issue only weak and generic responses, if they say anything at all. Moreover, these responses are often delayed -- coming only as a reaction to pressure from students, alumni, faculty, and the surrounding community.
In 2006 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights published a study documenting what it termed an alarming proliferation of anti-Semitism in academia. According to the Commission's former staff director Kenneth L. Marcus, anti-Semitic incidents on U.S. campuses were occurring “in a volume not seen 15 or 20 years ago.”
Portions adapted from "Schooled in Hate: Anti-Semitism on Campus," by The Anti-Defamation League (1997), and "Campus Anti-Semitism: The Issues Have Changed, The Problem Has Not," by Janet Lubman Rathner and Alison Goldstein (Summer 2008).