by Jacob Plitman
A NEW STUDY by the Stanford Graduate School of Education finds that most Jewish students do not experience widespread antisemitism on campus, that they chafe at the conflation of Zionism and Judaism, and that they struggle with their relationship to Israel and its policies.
“Contrary to alarmist reports that describe colleges and universities as ‘hotspots of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment,’ we found that students do not experience campuses this way,” the authors note in the report’s conclusion.
The report also notes that students find the overall tone of the Israel/Palestine debate off-putting and alienating on the part of both the activist and organized Jewish communities.
If students are not experiencing widespread antisemitism, what accounts for the common perception that campus is an antisemitic battlefield where anti-Israel sentiment veers into antisemitism? The reports’ authors lay the blame partially on previous surveys’ “difficulties in defining what counts as political speech and what counts as antisemitism.” They argue that allowing students to define “antisemitism” as they understand it blurs the lines between anti-Israel and antisemitic experiences, as those students who are very supportive of Israel may be more likely to perceive strident criticism of Israel as antisemitic while others may see it strictly as political.
The study also found that most students reject the conflation of Judaism and Israel. One student is reported to have said, “I was raised to associate Judaism and Israel. That said, there’s no core reason why that should be true. Israel is a country, Judaism is a religion.” Only a small portion of the students surveyed believed that anti-Zionism is synonymous with antisemitism.
The students’ perspectives on Israel itself displayed a “tension between sentimental attachment and critical thought,” especially regarding Israel’s role in the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Jacob Plitman is an associate editor of Jewish Currents. He tweets @jacobplitman.