Ancient Hatred at a Campus Near You

The discovery of parcel bombs mailed from Yemen that targeted Chicago-area synagogues reminds us that North America is not immune to the resurgence of anti-Semitism around the world. Internationally, the level of anti-Semitic incidents has been surging for much of the past decade. This latest attack reminds us that the problem is not limited to foreign shores. In 2009, the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents recorded worldwide (1,129) increased more than 100 per cent over 2008. So far, North America hasn’t seen the level of animus experienced in other parts of the world, but there’s cause for concern. On this continent, the most serious concerns emanate from the very institutions usually thought to be bulwarks against irrational prejudice – the major research universities.

Just a few months ago, for example, two Carleton University students reported being attacked by fellow students wielding a machete at an off-campus bar; the attackers berated them as “Jews” and “Zionists.” Last year, Jewish students were besieged inside the York University offices of Hillel, a Jewish campus group; assailants reportedly banged on walls and floors and yelled anti-Semitic slurs. These two incidents, sadly, are part of a broader pattern of hostility that many Canadian – and American – Jewish students are reporting.

This North American problem is not unrelated to the outbreak of incidents that have been chronicled elsewhere in the world, particularly in Western Europe and the Middle East. According to the U.S. State Department, global anti-Semitism has had four major sources: traditional centuries-old European anti-Jewish prejudice, associated with stereotypes of Jewish control of government, the media, international business and the financial sector; an aggressive “anti-Israel sentiment that crosses the line between objective [political] criticism of Israeli policies and anti-Semitism”; Muslim anti-Semitism, common among Europe’s growing Muslim population, based on age-old hatred of Jews, as well as Muslim opposition to Israel and American policies in Iraq; and anti-globalism that spills over to Israel and to Jews identified with Israel, globalism and the United States.

By and large, the most significant recent episodes of anti-Semitism on North American college campuses have been associated with anti-Zionism, arising partly in response to the second intifada, the situation in the Gaza Strip, and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

In Ottawa this week, Parliament is playing host to the second international conference of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, an event sponsored by the Department of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism and attended by more than 100 parliamentarians from 45 countries.

This conference is an excellent opportunity for Canada to provide human-rights leadership on a global stage. But meaningful leadership must be based on three principles:

First, anti-Semitism in higher education must be treated with the same seriousness as any other form of hate or bias – no more and no less. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has just announced that it will protect Jewish students from harassment under the same statute used to protect black, Hispanic and Arab students. University leaders should insist on such equal treatment as a starting point.

Second, universities must insist on both equal opportunity and the freedom of speech. These two values are mutually reinforcing. For example, administrators should be especially leery of hooligans who interrupt Jewish events on campus in order to suppress speech that is supportive of (or antagonistic to) the state of Israel.

Third, university leaders must not be timid about naming and shaming hate and bias incidents when they arise. Anti-Semitism and racism must be called by their proper names when they are found, and they must be condemned with full force and vigour. Only in this way will the scourge of bigotry be removed from our halls of learning.

Kenneth Marcus is director of the anti-Semitism initiative at the Institute for Jewish & Community Research and author of Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America.
(Tags: University, Anti-Semitism, America)