Antisemitism seems to have 'taken firm root' in US academia

Antisemitism surging, report finds, prompting fear for future of ‘Jewish life’ in West

The US saw a 103% increase in incidents fueled by Gaza war, a global report for 2023 shows, while France stands out with near-quadrupling of cases

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Thousands gather for a march against antisemitism in Paris, France, November 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Sylvie Corbet)
Thousands gather for a march against antisemitism in Paris, France, November 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Sylvie Corbet)

In 2023, France registered the highest increase in recorded antisemitic incidents of any country with reliable statistics, according to data released in a new report that warned that current trends could threaten the very “ability to lead Jewish lives in the West.”

Published Sunday by Tel Aviv University and the Anti-Defamation League, the report showed a near-quadrupling of incidents in France, from 436 in 2022 to 1,676 last year. It also highlighted antisemitism on US campuses, which the head of the ADL called the “most alarming” aspect of the surge of Jew-hatred in the United States.

Of last year’s antisemitic incidents in France, the tally showed that 74% happened after October 7, when invading Hamas terrorists killed some 1,200 people in Israel and abducted another 253, triggering a still-ongoing military campaign by Israel in Gaza and daily exchanges of fire with Hezbollah along the border with Lebanon.

In the United States, the tally more than doubled, from 3,697 incidents in 2022 to 7,523 last year, with 52% of the 2023 total occurring after October 7. In Canada, the increase was from 65 to 132; in the United Kingdom from 1,662 to 4,103; in Germany from 2,639 to 3,614, and in Italy from 241 to 454.

On an incident-per-capita basis, French Jews, who according to the report number about 440,000, were three times likelier to experience an antisemitic attack than Jews in the US, whose population the report estimates at 6 million.

“For those whose views serve an anti-Jewish and anti-Zionist ideological and instrumentalist purpose, October 7 was a golden opportunity to advance further their hateful and racist fringe perspectives into mainstream conservative discourse, using it to attack rivals, mobilize supporters and attract new followers,” wrote the authors of the US chapter of the report, which is titled “Antisemitism Worldwide Report for 2023.”

Illustrative: Anti-Israel protesters call for an intifada at a protest in New York City, September 17, 2021. (Luke Tress/Flash90)

The authors of the chapter on France interviewed Jonas Jacquelin, the rabbi of the Copernic Street Synagogue, the first Reform synagogue in France. He does not wear his kippa on the street, partly because he was raised not to and in part because he does not want to provoke antisemitic attacks, the authors wrote.

“The year is not 1938, not even 1933,” Prof. Uriya Shavit, head of The Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry and the Irwin Cotler Institute, wrote in a press release. “Yet if current trends continue, the curtain will descend on the ability to lead Jewish lives in the West – to wear a Star of David, attend synagogues and community centers, send kids to Jewish schools, frequent a Jewish club on campus, or speak Hebrew.”

The 148-page report features an essay devoted to antisemitism on US campuses, where the ADL recorded 913 incidents in 2023, or 12% of the annual tally for the entire country.

“Antisemitism today seems to have taken firm root in the academy,” the author of that essay, Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn, wrote.

On campuses across the US, anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian students have staged demonstrations that included the occupation of campus buildings and other disruptions and led to clashes with police, who have arrested hundreds of student protesters. A standoff at Columbia University in New York City between police and students occupying campus grounds ended in fresh arrests last week.

A car with smashed windows and anti-Israel graffiti reading ‘Intifada’ and ‘Free Gaza’ is seen at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon on May 2, 2024. (John Rudoff/AFP)

“Jewish and pro-Israel students have been physically assaulted, verbally harassed, bullied online, and generally made to feel unsafe on campus, while Jewish fraternities, Hillel and Chabad houses, and even dorm rooms have been vandalized,” Hirschhorn added.

Nearly 75% of American university students have said they experienced or witnessed some form of antisemitism since the academic year began, the ADL report notes.

“All this occurred as the leadership of academia fell silent, particularly at America’s most elite universities,” wrote Hirschhorn. She connected that reality, as she described it, to ethnic studies and discourses that vilify Jews and Israel as colonialist or oppressive; prevailing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) frameworks that fail to account for antisemitism; and Qatari and other funding from the Middle East.

“By dint of their affiliations, campuses sponsored by despotic and anti-Zionist regimes are sometimes silent partners to rampant human rights abuses and illiberal agendas,” Hirschhorn wrote.

Jonathan Greenblatt participates in a panel during the TAAF Heritage Month Summit at The Glasshouse on May 5, 2023 in New York City. (JP Yim/Getty Images via AFP)

In his essay in the report, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the ADL, called the proliferation of antisemitism on US university campuses the “most alarming” aspect of the national surge of Jew-hatred after October 7.

“We have seen instances where Jewish students barricaded themselves in a library because a pro-Palestinian mob was outside. We have heard stories of students being afraid to cross their campuses at night for fear of being attacked, or attending Shabbat dinners at their Hillels with armed guards posted at the doors,” wrote Greenblatt.

These and other events on US campuses, he added, mean that “the Jewish community is facing a crisis unseen in generations.”

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