NEW YORK — Sarah Abonyi no longer feels free to express her ideas in the classroom. The University of New Mexico student worries about grade reprisals from professors who she said routinely denounce Israel during their courses.
“As a student the power dynamics are there. I feel powerless in a sense and very intimidated that these figures of authority and academic knowledge are basically invalidating everything I support,” she said.
Abonyi is one of several students featured in “Crossing the Line 2: The New Face of Anti-Semitism,” a new documentary film about the rise of anti-Israel activity and anti-Semitic rhetoric on North American college campuses.
“There is no longer a separation between fair criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism,” said the film’s producer Rabbi Raphael Shore, founder and CEO of Jerusalem U.
In the fall semester alone, there were 759 anti-Israel events at colleges and universities nationwide, according to Jerusalem U. Of those, 124 were in the Tri-state area, an increase of 85 percent from last year.
Additionally, university departments across the US sponsored 75 anti-Israel events and increased their sponsorship of anti-Israel events by 142%, according to Jerusalem U.
‘Now there is a new challenge and students are unprepared and parents are unprepared’
Shore produced the 2010 documentary “Crossing the Line: The Intifada comes to Campus” and the PBS film, “Israel Inside: How a Small Nation Makes a Difference.” He said he felt compelled to make this new film to educate and prepare high school students, college students, parents, administrators and community leaders for the realities of campus life.
“A couple of generations ago we went to college for two reasons, to get an education and to party. Now there is a new challenge and students are unprepared and parents are unprepared,” Shore said. “We need a paradigm shift. We need new solutions to prepare our kids.”
About 800 people attended the film’s Wednesday night premiere at the 92nd Street Y, which came on the heels of the release of two reports detailing the increase of anti-Semitism on campuses.
According to Trinity College and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, 54% of Jewish students surveyed at 55 US college campuses reported experiencing or witnessing anti-Semitism at their schools. The study was conducted in the spring of 2014.
Additionally, the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative think tank, released its list of 10 American colleges with the “worst anti-Semitic activity.” Cornell University and Columbia University top the list.
In “Crossing the Line 2,” students described increasingly hostile campuses, from fake eviction notices distributed to students at New York University to national campaigns such as Israel Apartheid Week.
“There are moments when you feel scared,” said University of New Orleans student Chloé Valdary in the film.
Valdary, who is the assistant of directors for the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, said she’s alarmed at the way anti-Israel activists equate Zionism with racism.
“It’s especially important on college campuses that don’t have this problem for administrators to see what is going on. They need to keep anti-Semitic forces at bay,” Valdary said.
Binghamton University student Justin Hayet agreed.
“It’s the fight of our generation. I think this film will be like a lighting bolt through college campuses to wake up to the problem,” Hayet said.
The film portrays several incidents, including footage of a Cornell University Students for Justice in Palestine’s anti-Israel demonstration. In it demonstrators can be seen spitting at Jewish students and screaming “f**k you Zionist scum.”
“Definitions of anti-Semitism change. The reason people oppose Jews in any given era is different. Now we live in the time of the Jewish state. So because this is the era of the Jewish state, the attack of the anti-Semite is focused on that,” Professor Robert S. Wistrich, head of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the study of anti-Semitism, said in the film.
In January the student senate at University of California, Davis adopted an advisory resolution calling for the divestment from businesses with connections to Israel. After the vote Jewish students and supporters of Israel were heckled by shouts of “Allahu Akhbar.” And Azka Fayyaz, UC Davis student senator and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, SJP, posted “Hamas and Sharia law have taken over at UC Davis” on his Facebook page.
In spite of the situation, all is not lost, said film director Shoshana Palatnik Wednesday night.
“We don’t think the campus is a hopeless place. Even as there is a rise in anti-Semitism there has been a rise in pro-Israel groups,” Palatnik said. “There is hope and optimism and these kids can make a difference. When they do stand up for themselves and each other they realize the power they have.”