Campus Antisemitism Legal Line could be college gamechanger

Antisemitic incidents surged globally since Oct. 7 but most aren’t reported. Here’s why

Up to 79% of antisemitic harassment is never divulged, according to experts who weigh in on ‘obstacles’ that deter Jewish victims – especially youth – from speaking out

Reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: A hand-drawn swastika is seen on the front of Union Station near the Capitol in Washington, January 28, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Illustrative: A hand-drawn swastika is seen on the front of Union Station near the Capitol in Washington, January 28, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

NEW YORK — John Michael Graves, 25, was walking out of his Moishe House residence in Seattle when he spotted half a dozen antisemitic flyers “plastered” onto poles near the unmarked building’s gate.

“I ripped them down. It’s not clear how they even knew it was a Moishe House,” said Graves, referring to a cooperative group home for Jewish young adults. The flyers read “F–k You Israel” with crossed-out Jewish stars and were affixed onto street poles during the afternoon of October 24.

“It really hit me in the gut,” Graves told The Times of Israel. But he and his fellow residents did not report the incident to the Moishe House movement, which says it reaches 70,000 Jews in 27 countries, including six locations in Israel.

“We were scared and — it sounds ironic now — because this is going in a newspaper and more attention is being drawn to ourselves — I didn’t want to make it a bigger deal than it was,” said Graves. He is one of four residents in his Moishe House, which are generally populated by a mix of young professionals and grad students.

“We are programmed to think it’s just some flyer, not an active death threat,” said Graves, who added that Moishe House has been an “incredible” resource for himself and other residents regarding the Israel-Hamas war.

“When I saw the posters, I felt my hand grabbing at my Jewish star necklace,” said Madison Holt, 23, another resident of Moishe House in Seattle.

John Michael Graves. (Courtesy)

“I couldn’t decide if I wanted to hide my necklace or not. I have always felt safe living here, but this definitely was a wake-up call for how things have changed since October 7,” Holt told The Times of Israel.

Since the unprecedented Hamas massacres of 1,200 people in Israel last month and the taking of some 240 hostages, the Moishe House movement has provided new resources to its “community builders” around the world, including access to emotional support services, said Graves.

Now, six weeks after the eruption of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, world opinion has shifted away from recognizing and mourning these atrocities.

The reluctance of Graves and Holt to report this incident of antisemitism is part of a widespread phenomenon, experts told The Times of Israel. Nearly four in five Jews who experience antisemitic harassment do not report it to law enforcement or media, according to American Jewish Committee statistics.

Moishe House resident Madison Holt. (Courtesy)

“Varying degrees of trauma” are behind the lack of reporting, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spokesperson Jake Hyman told The Times of Israel.

“Some people may report right away, while others may want to pretend it never happened, which would be understandable,” said Hyman.

An important development for universities, said Hyman, is the new “Campus Antisemitism Legal Line” (CALL) for any student, family, faculty, or staff member to “report incidents of antisemitic discrimination, intimidation, harassment, vandalism, or violence that may necessitate legal action,” said Hyman.

Intake reports will be handled by lawyers working pro bono to represent victims “who choose to move forward with specific cases,” said Hyman.

“CALL will also provide referrals to social services, mental health counseling services, and other relevant support services in their area,” said the ADL spokesperson.

Not in my name

Experts told The Times of Israel that many high school pupils and college students are afraid to document harassment because it’s “nearly impossible to report anonymously if one wants an investigation with actual results and repercussions,” said Yael Lerman, executive director of the Saidoff Legal Department at StandWithUs, a pro-Israel educational organization. (This reporter works for StandWithUs as the director of its Holocaust Education Center.)

“Students who file discrimination or bias complaints under their name nearly inevitably become targets for ongoing harassment or social media by individuals, by anti-Israel student groups, and even in-person,” Lerman told The Times of Israel.

Several copies of this flyer were posted onto poles adjacent to a Moishe House building in Seattle, Washington, October 24, 2023. (John Michael Graves)

The non-reporting of antisemitism extends beyond student bodies, said Lerman.

“Many Jewish professionals on campus are not reporting antisemitic incidents because they are scared by what they see,” said Lerman, an attorney who leads a StandWithUs-cultivated network of lawyers willing to defend victims of antisemitism on campus, for free.

“They delete evidence and hope that by not dealing with it, it will go away. The idea of holding antisemites accountable through the criminal justice system instead of remaining scared hasn’t taken hold yet in a broad enough way,” said Lerman.

With social media and evolving technologies, students and staff alike are “afraid of being doxed and targeted for more harassment by being willing to come forward as witnessing antisemitic attacks,” Lerman said.

Feelings of shame

The Israeli American Council (IAC) pointed to “shame” as one reason why so many American Jews do not report on antisemitism.

“We know this because when we do receive reports [of antisemitic incidents], many times students and parents will indicate that they have experienced several other incidents before deciding to report,” said Karen Bar-On, the IAC’s vice president of activism.

“Also, when we discuss the topic with community members or provide antisemitism training to educators and students through our school or community events, they will bring up cases they have experienced while admitting they have not reported them,” Bar-On told The Times of Israel.

Founded in 2007, the IAC represents more than 800,000 Israelis and their families living in the US. Bar-On echoed attorney Lerman in asking Jews to reconsider the importance of reporting antisemitic harassment, as opposed to brushing it off.

“First and foremost, we need to let people know how to report and constantly remind them what resources are at their service,” said Bar-On. “More importantly, community members must understand the importance of reporting and standing up to each and every incident they experience, no matter how ‘minor’ they may feel it is,” she said.

Abraham Foxman, national director emeritus for the Anti-Defamation League, speaks at the Israeli American Council’s eighth annual summit in Austin, Texas, on January 20, 2023. (David Finkel photography)

According to data collected by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in 2021, 79% of American Jews “targeted by antisemitic remarks did not report these incidents,” said Aaron Bregman, AJC’s director of high school affairs.

“Many high school students who face antisemitism, discrimination, or bias choose not to report these incidents, fearing social retaliation and potential isolation,” said Bregman.

Another factor involved in underreporting is that students “may not be certain whether they have experienced discrimination and may underestimate the severity of the issue,” said Bregman, adding, “Some students may also struggle to recognize and define antisemitic actions, hindering their ability to report accurately.”

Bregman told The Times of Israel that “uncertainty” around discrimination “often stems from a perception that [Jewish students’] experiences do not compare to the discrimination faced by their peers,” he said.

Several experts pointed to “microaggressions” as key to understanding the underreporting phenomenon. One long-time student services director at Ivy League universities said that far too many professors “challenge observant Jewish students about missing class during Jewish holidays,” she told The Times of Israel.

Additionally, students may assume they have documented an incident when, procedurally, they haven’t.

“Students think they have reported something when they comment on it in an institutional survey, but that reporting doesn’t get shared with the systems that track or even do anything about antisemitism on campus,” said the former Hillel professional, who asked to remain anonymous due to her position in academia.

Disbelief that anything will be done

Across the Atlantic, in Britain, a “large proportion” of antisemitic incidents in public schools and university campuses are never reported, said Dave Rich of the Community Service Trust, which has recorded and responded to antisemitism since 1984.

“The most likely reasons for not reporting are that they don’t feel anything will be done, or they don’t know how to report,” Rich told The Times of Israel.

Hamas supporters at a march in London, November 11, 2023. (Metropolitan Police)

Within Europe, the European Union has conducted research into antisemitism in 2012 and 2018. Findings demonstrated that “most antisemitic harassment was not reported to anyone,” said Rich.

“We don’t have specific data for non-reporting of campus or school-related antisemitism, but this gives some indication of what we might be looking at,” said Rich.

With private Catholic universities in the US now opening their doors to enroll harassed Jewish students, the public is still only seeing the “tip of the iceberg” regarding antisemitism, experts believe. Without a significant increase in victims reporting on incidents of harassment, discrimination against Jews may continue to fly mostly under the radar.

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