ADL Report Shows Increase in Anti-Israel Activity on U.S. College Campuses

Hateful BDS Tactics Employed by Student Groups Remain a “Deeply Troubling Phenomenon,” Says ADL’s CEO

New York, NY, November 18, 2015 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today released a new report examining the state of anti-Israel activity on university and college campuses across the United States in the 2014-2015 academic year. The report also makes projections for the 2015-2016 academic year, which has begun with an upsurge in anti-Israel events, backing from university departments, and a continued Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.

As a first step to respond to these challenges, ADL announced a new social media initiative, @CampusADL, intended to support students facing anti-Israel activity and anti-Semitism on campus.

The report highlights a significant increase in BDS campaigns and other explicitly hostile programs against Israel during the 2015 academic year: 

  • In Fall 2015, over 150 explicitly anti-Israel events have taken place, up from 105 events that occurred during the same period in 2014;

  • 15 anti-Israel events have been sponsored or co-sponsored by university departments, including at the University of California-Berkley, Drew University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice;

  • At least 10 percent of events have been co-sponsored by student groups whose primary missions do not focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, effectively sending a message to the general campus community that their missions are aligned.

“Student groups at a number of campuses are sponsoring a range of programs and initiatives designed with one goal: to isolate, defame and delegitimize Israel,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “Many of these efforts have resulted in increased tension between students and have fostered a hostile atmosphere for pro-Israel and Jewish students. We are particularly concerned by the support these initiatives have received from faculty members.”

ADL noted that the most active group on campus is the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the primary organizer of anti-Israel events and the group most responsible for bringing divestment resolutions before student government bodies. The New York City chapter of SJP recently invoked anti-Semitic stereotypes in a statement promoting the Million Student March, a national day of protest over tuition fees, student debt and wages for campus workers. The group referred to those who run the City University of New York (CUNY) as a “Zionist administration,” a framing clearly intended to make Zionism a derogatory word through implicitly linking ‘Zionists’ to financial challenges that students on campus face and invoking a classic anti-Semitic stereotype which blames Jews for the financial woes of others. 

Organizations including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) are among the entities furthering anti-Israel activity on U.S. campuses. These groups have been actively engaging in coalition building with other student organizations that traditionally have not been involved in Middle East peace issues.  

“The tactics employed by the BDS movement - along with the continued efforts by anti-Israel student groups seeking to stifle discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel in general through disruption and defamation - is a deeply troubling phenomenon that has contributed to an atmosphere at some institutions where Jewish and pro-Israel students feel uncomfortable voicing their views or even asserting their Jewish identity,” Mr. Greenblatt said.

The report also details the strategies used in many BDS campaigns as anti-Semitic, noting however that not all advocates of the BDS campaign are themselves anti-Semitic and may be driven by their perception that they are engaging in legitimate criticism of Israel.

“BDS is not an effort designed to engender a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Mr. Greenblatt said. “It does not seek to achieve a two-state solution that benefits all parties. Instead, it seeks to undermine the Jewish State of Israel. It’s an agenda of anti-normalization that demonizes Israel and its citizens simply because of their identity. This is the antithesis of constructive dialogue that the university should embody. In practice, the BDS movement’s indiscriminate targeting of individuals based solely on their national origin and irrespective of views or actions is inherently anti-Semitic. While most incidents of anti-Semitism on campus are not generated by BDS, anti-Israel activity can often cross the line to anti-Semitism or foster an atmosphere in which anti-Semitic stereotypes are tolerated.”

Mr. Greenblatt added, “We respect a robust debate about Middle East policy. There are complex political, social and humanitarian crises in the region that demand attention and merit serious, thoughtful debate.  Many Jewish students actively take part in these debates and freely participate in campus life without fear.  However, BDS poisons the atmosphere for serious intellectual debate and contributes to an environment of intimidation. Countering today’s anti-Israel bias and anti-Semitic incidents in an institutional setting remains a substantial challenge.”

In 2014, ADL tracked over 520 anti-Israel events on campus representing a 30 percent increase from the previous academic year. There were 19 campuses in which students introduced divestment resolutions and referenda, a 21 percent increase from when 15 campuses considered such campaigns in the 2013-2014 academic year.

ADL continues to be engaged in efforts to counter BDS and other anti-Israel activity, including hands-on support to students and campus professionals. Since September 2014, the League has been running its Words to Action program, an interactive education program for college and pre-college students designed to empower and equip them with constructive and effective responses to combat anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias on campus.

In an effort to directly engage with Jewish and pro-Israel groups and students on college and university campuses, ADL launched @CampusADL, a Twitter handle which provides students with detailed backgrounders, as well as alerts to upcoming events and campaigns.

The League has also been encouraging university chancellors and administrators to speak out against divestment resolutions, assert that the campus in question will not entertain divestment, and take proactive steps to ensure a safe and hospitable campus environment for all students.

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