Letter to College Presidents

The David Horowitz Freedom Center joined other concerned organizations in signing the following letter which was sent to campus administrators across the nation expressing our concern about the recent upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents on campus and the climate of intimidation and fear this has created for Jewish students.  In this letter, we outline the necessary steps campus administrations should take to ensure that Jewish students have a safe and non-hostile campus environment.  Among these are such measures as ensuring that there is a clear mechanism for students to report harassment and intimidation, that anti-Semitic episodes are quickly dealt with and publicly condemned, and that all university personnel are educated in the U.S. government standards on anti-Semitism, so that they will recognize when anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism cross the line into anti-Semitism. 

Please follow-up on this letter with your campus administration, re-submit it to them if necessary, and ask that they meet with you to respond to its concerns and to the specific issues that Jews and supporters of Israel face on your campus.

Dear __:

We are national organizations that share a deep concern about what Jewish and pro-Israel students are likely to face in the coming academic year.  This latest war between Israel and the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas in Gaza is likely to trigger an upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents on campus.  We expect you to treat Jewish students the way you would any vulnerable or targeted minority on campus:  You have the responsibility to provide them with a non-hostile learning environment, conducive to learning.  We expect you to take all necessary steps to prevent violence, threats of violence, harassment and intimidation, so that once the academic year begins, Jewish students need not fear for their physical or psychological safety and well-being.

Our concerns about a likely increase in campus anti-Semitism are unfortunately justified.  Since this Hamas war against Israel began, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents worldwide has been alarming, including in France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Austria, India, and Australia.  We are not talking about legitimate political discourse about the war.  We mean signs and slogans targeting Jews; chants such as “Death to Jews” and “Jews your end is near”; Jewish buildings and synagogues being vandalized and destroyed; and Jews being threatened and even physically assaulted.  These are hate crimes, plain and simple, which are understandably causing Jews around the world to feel vulnerable and fear for their safety.

The Hamas war against Israel has likewise provoked a backlash against Jews right here in the U.S.  Synagogues and Jewish property have been vandalized.  At rallies, demonstrators have chanted, “Jesus killers” and “drop dead.”  Jews have been surrounded and even physically assaulted.  Many of our organizations have been subjected to threatening, anti-Semitic phone calls and on-line attacks.  At least one campus has been tainted by anti-Semitism already.  Swastikas were painted on mailboxes in front of a Jewish fraternity house at the University of Oregon in Eugene.  

This upsurge in anti-Semitic attacks is not surprising.  In the work our respective organizations do on college campuses, we have seen first-hand that when the problems in the Middle East escalate against Israel, so do the intensity and viciousness of the anti-Israel activities on campus.  

This phenomenon is peculiar and disturbing, to say the least.  There are regimes around the world demonstrably guilty of unspeakable atrocities and grave human rights violations against civilians.  For example, since the uprising against the Assad regime in Syria began in March 2011, more than 170,000 Syrians have been killed, including more than 1800 people in a two-week period.  But students, student groups, and faculty on our college campuses pay little if any attention to these regimes that exhibit such brutality and barbarism.  They focus their rage singularly on Israel, condemning the Jewish State with a viciousness that is not applied to anyone else.  Making matters worse is the fact that around the world, Jews are being held collectively responsible for Israel’s actions.  You cannot tolerate the collective punishment of Jewish students on your campus. 

Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.  But some is, according to the standards used by the U.S government.  

In a report on contemporary global anti-Semitism, the U.S. State Department provided examples of the ways in which anti-Israel and anti-Zionist criticism cross the line into anti-Semitism:    

  1. Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination;
  2. Applying double standards to Israel;
  3. Using symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis;
  4. Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; and
  5. Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.

As the State Department noted, “disproportionate criticism of the Jewish State and/or Israelis and demonizing them as barbaric, unprincipled, selfish, inhumane, etc. is anti-Semitic and has the effect of causing global audiences to associate those bad attributes with Jews in general.”

Jews comprise only 2.2 percent of the U.S. population, but the FBI’s latest hate crime statistics show that in 2012, two-thirds of all religious hate crimes targeted Jews.  Even before this latest Hamas war against Israel, some Jewish students on college campuses were already feeling targeted on their campuses, in large part due to students and student groups promoting vicious anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment that crossed the line into anti-Semitism according to U.S. government standards.

We are especially concerned about a group that calls itself “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP), which has played a significant role in creating a hostile campus environment for Jewish students.  At Vassar College last February, this hate group tried to shut down a planned class trip to Israel to study water issues, causing students in the class to feel bullied and unsafe.  In May, Vassar’s SJP posted a vile Nazi propaganda poster on its Tumblr page, depicting a many-armed figure holding a bag of money, with an American flag flying on top and a Jewish Star of David dangling from the bottom.  Vassar’s president condemned the SJP’s conduct as “racist” and “anti-Semitic,” and directed the SJP to “cease representing itself as an official Vassar group” until an investigation of the group’s conduct as a bias incident was completed.

 At Northeastern University, the SJP also engaged in conduct that threatened and intimidated Jewish students.  This hate group sponsored protests endorsing terrorism against Israeli Jews and calling for Israel’s destruction.  Its members deliberately disrupted a Holocaust Awareness Week event, interfering with the speakers’ free speech rights and the audience’s right to hear their speeches.  During midterms last February, the SJP planted authentic-looking “eviction notices” under dorm room doors, simulating the notices that they claim Israel uses when it demolishes illegally built structures.  The university administration condemned the SJP, writing, “You have not shown a concerted effort to improve your practices and educate your members on how to properly operate your organization within the boundaries of university policy.”  The SJP was placed on probation and is permitted to operate provisionally in the fall, provided that it establishes new leadership, undergoes leadership training, and attends monthly meetings with administrators.

The SJP at New York University engaged in similar anti-Semitic intimidation tactics when it distributed fake eviction notices to students’ dorm rooms.  These notices were more blatantly anti-Jewish than the ones the SJP used at Northeastern.  At NYU, the notices falsely accused Israel of trying “to ethnically cleanse the region of its Arab inhabitants.”  The NYU administration launched an investigation, noting that the SJP’s conduct “is against our rules, is an intrusion into privacy of students’ rooms, and is inconsistent with our expectations for how discourse should be conducted here, as it does not allow for any real exchange of ideas.” 

Given this troubling backdrop on campus, as well as the alarming number of anti-Semitic incidents that have recently been occurring, it is imperative that you keep your campus physically and emotionally safe and conducive to learning for all students.  We recommend the following steps be taken, all of which are appropriate and doable:

  • Review and augment campus security and ensure that security personnel are prepared for the potential for violence and are appropriately trained to respond to it.  Local police officials should also be alerted.
  • Ensure that there is a clear mechanism for reporting harassment, intimidation and hate crimes on campus, and that students are made aware of it. 
  • Issue strong public statements to the university community, urging students, faculty and other members of the community to engage in discussion and debate in a civil, tolerant and respectful manner.
  • Respond promptly to any anti-Semitic incidents that do occur, by publicly condemning the anti-Semitism and the perpetrators, and publicly affirming that anti-Semitism is inconsistent with the university’s values of civility, respect and tolerance.
  • Immediately and thoroughly respond to possible infractions of university rules and policies (including student-filed grievances and complaints), and hold wrongdoers accountable for their misconduct.  No student or student group should be given special treatment and be allowed to violate rules and policies without consequence.
  • Immediately report alleged or suspected criminal conduct (e.g., violence, threats of violence, vandalism) to the appropriate authorities.
  • Familiarize administrators, faculty, security and other university personnel with the U.S. government standards on anti-Semitism, so that they will recognize when anti-Israelism and anti-Zionism cross the line into anti-Semitism.  (Enclosed is a copy of the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which was part of the Department’s report on contemporary global anti-Semitism.)
  • Ensure that anti-Semitism in all its forms (using the U.S. government standards on anti-Semitism as a guide) is a focus of the university’s diversity education for students, staff and faculty.  Students and student groups that engage in anti-Semitic conduct should be supervised and mentored, and required to undergo sensitivity and tolerance training.
  • Issue a statement to faculty making it clear that students must be able to express their views in class without fear of intimidation or reprisal.
  • Exercise your moral duty as a leader and educator and publicly speak out if anti-Israel speech and conduct on campus cross the line into anti-Semitism, making it clear that there is no moral equivalence between Hamas and Israel, that Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union, and that the Hamas charter calls for the murder of all Jews and the destruction of Israel.
  • Educate the campus community about the facts concerning the recent violence, including that Hamas started this war by launching thousands of missiles into Israel, deliberately targeting Israeli civilians, that Hamas deliberately placed weapons in schools and put a command center underneath a major hospital in Gaza, that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and that all nations, including Israel, have the right to self-defense – a right the U.S. exercised after 9-11. 

We appreciate that college campuses should encourage free and open debate and the robust exchange of ideas.  We support these principles.  But none of us should tolerate a campus where students and student groups flagrantly disregard university rules and policies – supported by university funds, no less – without consequences.  None of us should tolerate a campus climate of fear or disrespect, which can seriously impair the physical and psychological health of students and create conditions that negatively affect their learning and their ability to achieve their full potential.  Indeed, these were the words that the U.S. Department of Education used in a policy letter confirming that Jewish students have the legal right under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to a non-hostile learning environment, and that publicly-funded schools have the legal responsibility to protect them.

We are ready to work with you to ensure that the climate on your campus remains physically and emotionally safe and conducive to learning for all students.  

Respectfully submitted,