New York, NY, December 8, 2021 … During the 2020-21 academic year, a vocal segment of the anti-Israel groups and activists on campus continued to engage in rhetoric that often demeaned or ostracized many pro-Israel Jewish students. At times, antisemitic tropes were invoked. This became a flashpoint during the conflict between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, according to ADL’s (Anti-Defamation League) annual assessment of anti-Israel actions on campus.
ADL experts identified a pattern of anti-Israel groups and activists blatantly demonizing pro-Israel and Zionist students, which disproportionately impacted Jewish students. Occasionally, these activists espoused antisemitic tropes, such as those alleging Jewish or Zionist power and control over the media and political affairs. Such language can create a corrosive climate for many Jewish students on campus. ADL’s Center on Extremism, which monitors anti-Israel activities across the country, found this language primarily came from a handful of student activist organizations that often work in concert to spread anti-Israel and anti-Zionist messages on U.S. college campus.
“As we saw acutely during the May conflict with Hamas, the anti-Israel movement’s drumbeat of rhetorical attacks on Zionism and Zionists can truly hurt and offend many Jewish students, leaving them feeling ostracized and alienated,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL CEO. “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to harass and intimidate. While all students have a right to express their views about Israel openly, expressions of antisemitism under the guise of Israel criticism are unacceptable. Administrators, student and faculty need to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for all students, regardless of religion, nationality, or ethnicity.”
The ADL report found numerous examples where the campus anti-Israel movement’s rhetoric and actions crossed the line from legitimate criticism of the Israeli government into blatant expressions of antisemitism from certain groups and activists.
Calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) continued to be a cornerstone of anti-Israel campus activity during the last academic year. Student governments considered 17 BDS-inspired calls in 2020-21 and, of those, 11 passed, despite some containing blatant misinformation or language intimating support for violence against Israel.
Among the findings of ADL’s annual assessment of the Anti-Israel Movement on U.S. Campuses in the 2020-21 academic year:
- Much of the anti-Israel activist movement on campus continued to vilify Israel and Zionism and ostracize pro-Israel and Zionist students. This action disproportionately impacts large percentages of Jewish students, for whom a connection with Israel is an integral component of their religious, social, or cultural lives and identities. Many Jewish students reported feeling compelled to hide aspects of their identities.
- Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was the most active anti-Israel group on campus in the United States, consisting of a network of approximately 180 chapters across the country mostly concentrated in the Northeast, Midwest and California (20 or so chapters are based in Canada). The group organizes lectures, rallies, BDS resolutions and petitions; disseminates propaganda via its social media accounts and campus newspapers; and more. A significant segment of SJP’s rhetoric is combative and inflammatory, and some incorporates antisemitic tropes.
- Support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel continues to be a central feature of the campus anti-Israel movement. Student governments considered 17 BDS-inspired calls in 2020-2021. Eleven of them passed. A number of BDS resolutions called on their universities to sever ties, usually through endowments or other investments, with companies that provide services or equipment to the Israeli military. To date, none of these universities have divested from these companies, and in many cases, the university president directly condemned the resolution.
- Zionism, broadly defined as the movement for Jewish statehood in the Jewish ancestral homeland in the land of Israel, is almost universally opposed by anti-Israel student groups. Yet this opposition at times takes the form of active denigration and demeaning of Zionism and Zionists, with activists alleging that Zionism is an inherently bigoted ideology. Such rhetoric ignores that there are various schools of thought within Zionism, spanning the left-right political spectrum.
- In its most extreme and troubling manifestations, calls are made for individual Zionist and pro-Israel students to be barred from campus spaces, including, at times, from student government. Such calls almost always target Jewish students despite many non-Jews who also identify as Zionist or pro-Israel. In 2020-2021, Jewish members of student governments on at least two campuses faced personal harassment and exclusionary calls because of their expressions of support for Israel and Zionism. In one instance, harassment led to the student leader’s resignation.