Anti-Jewish prejudice is a growing concern on U.S. college campuses and at an increasing number of secondary schools. In the last five years, 42% of American Jewish college students or parents of college students reported that they have known someone who experienced antisemitism in a college setting. 54% said anti-Israel campaigns, such as the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement, were a problem for Jewish students.
Educational institutions have the responsibility to protect students, staff, and faculty from antisemitism, harassment, and hostile campus environment that are the results of real or perceived Jewish and/or pro-Israel identities. Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects people from discrimination based on race, color, or national origin in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance, including from the U.S. Department of Education. The law protects Jews from antisemitic harassment or other forms of discrimination, including those based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics. Please note that the suggestions offered below are not exhaustive. There is always more that can be done.
First and foremost, universities and secondary schools should work to incorporate the “3 A’s” into their policies: Awareness, Allyship, and Action. They are incorporated below and can be found in full here.
Raise awareness | Show awareness of campus antisemitism and name it as an essential element of campus commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Use the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism as a resource | Reporting antisemitism, offering trainings, and creating committees to combat the problem should all be rooted in a foundational understanding of what antisemitism is. Put simply, we cannot address something we cannot define. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism is a clear and concise description of antisemitism in its various forms, including conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, prejudices against Jews, and the denial of Israel’s right to exist. Today, it is the most widely adopted and used definition of antisemitism in the world, employed by over 800 entities, including over 30 governments. This definition is a non-binding educational tool for identifying and understanding antisemitism. It is expressly not intended to censor valid criticism of Israel. Educational institutions must make it clear that in identifying antisemitism, there is no institutional restriction on protected speech.
Share resources with students | AJC’s Translate Hate, an online and in-print glossary, is a powerful, visual educational tool for students to identify antisemitic tropes, words, and symbols that often hide in plain sight. Public libraries in cities around the country have begun offering copies as a resource for readers; educational institutions can also use this model.
Responding to Antisemitism
Condemn unequivocally | It is essential that university and secondary school administrations issue clear and unwavering statements condemning antisemitism when incidents occur on campus, or elsewhere if they regularly issue statements on external events. These statements should specifically name antisemitism and avoid performatively adding reference to other forms of hatred and bigotry. Such language diminishes the seriousness with which fighting antisemitism should be addressed.
Have a clear policy about antisemitism | Using the IHRA Working Definition as a guide, ensure clarity as to what is considered antisemitism on campus. In particular, it is critical to differentiate between legitimate criticism of the State of Israel and antisemitic rhetoric and exclusion measures. Institutions should be aware of the ramifications of campus initiatives and events that create a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students, such as inflammatory and violent rhetoric on “apartheid walls” and the like. It should be made clear that it is antisemitic to exclude Jewish students or groups from campus social justice spaces because of their support for Israel, particularly when no other ethnic or religious group is asked about their connections to another country.
Enhance bias reporting policies and procedures| All universities and secondary schools should have a clear and transparent mechanism for students to report antisemitism and should be transparent about the measures taken in response to such reports. Antisemitism should be treated with the same seriousness as other forms of bigotry.
Establish a standing committee/task force to address campus antisemitism | Secondary schools and universities should create committees or task forces to combat antisemitism comprised of administrators, faculty, and Jewish students (as well as Jewish parents in secondary school spaces). Such committees or task forces will not only address incidents of antisemitism as they arise but will also proactively work to prevent antisemitism and to foster an inclusive environment for Jewish students.
Be an ally | Demonstrate solidarity with Jewish students, including:
- Model “tone at the top” attention and concern for Jewish students’ rights and needs together with those of other groups.
- Issue presidential statements condemning antisemitic incidents when they occur.
- Show up in person at Jewish student events and celebrations.
Integrate antisemitism as a focus within DEI | During freshman orientation in high schools and on college campuses, students receive several mandatory trainings including anti-harassment training and anti-racism training. Antisemitism is rarely included. Particularly on the heels of this past year’s surge in antisemitism, we are encouraging educational institutions to integrate antisemitism as a focus within DEI and in student trainings related to DEI, including first-year and transfer students’ orientations. AJC is happy to furnish guidance on how to provide such training.
Open lines of communication with Jewish and pro-Israel students | On campuses nationwide, Jewish and pro-Israel students have reported a sense of isolation, including at times from the administration, leading them to conclude that their concerns are not recognized. This can be remedied, at least in part, by regular formal points of contact with Jewish students, such as scheduled meetings with Jewish student leaders and visits to Jewish student gatherings and programs. It can also be remedied by having administrators check in with—and express their concern for—Jewish students following antisemitic events in America or around the world.
Foster relationship-building programs | Universities are encouraged to create programs which build relationships among diverse student religious and cultural groups.
Enhance campus awareness of Judaism and Jewish culture and practice | Ensuring accommodation of Jewish observances, including Shabbat, major Jewish holidays, and dietary requirements, will help Jewish students feel included on campus.
Support varied academic perspectives | Students taking classes on Jewish history, Zionism, Israel-Palestine, and related topics should be exposed to multiple perspectives. Often Jewish, Israeli, and Zionist voices are not included in these conversations. Universities should consider offering courses on antisemitism, which would address historical and contemporary antisemitism in all its forms.
Encourage media literacy | Research shows that misinformation and conspiracy theories spread through unscrupulous media outlets and on social media have the potential to impact not only people’s beliefs but also their actions. Indeed, many perpetrators of recent physical attacks against Jews in America were shown to have been influenced by and contributed to the virulent antisemitic content on various social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram. As conspiracy theories take an ever-growing hold on social media, robust education on the importance of critical thinking and interrogation of sources for bias and untruths is critical.
Additional Guidelines for Secondary Schools
Include Jews and antisemitism in ethnic studies and other DEI curricula | The importance of education in the fight against antisemitism cannot be overstated. General programs designed to combat racism and intolerance provide an important framework, especially for diverse and multicultural societies. However, on many campuses and secondary schools today antisemitism is not considered within these frameworks. If educational efforts to combat antisemitism are to truly succeed, special attention must be paid to the specificity of the problem. As states consider ethnic studies curricula and other curricular content that addresses diversity and combating intolerance, lessons should include Jews, Jewish history and contribution to America, Jewish diversity, and contemporary antisemitism. As antisemitism presents itself in unique forms, teachers should be trained both to teach about the topic accurately and to be alert to its presence in the classroom. Finally, anti-Israel animus can be a form of antisemitism, and students should have a nuanced and balanced understanding of the State of Israel and the people who live there.
Strengthen secondary school education on the Holocaust | Holocaust education plays a critical role in understanding where unchecked antisemitism can lead. A nationwide 2020 survey of Millennials and Gen Z on Holocaust knowledge conducted by the Claims Conference found a clear lack of awareness of key historical facts; 63 percent of respondents did not know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust and 36 percent thought that “two million or fewer Jews” were killed. Because antisemitism did not end with the Holocaust, Holocaust education should include examples of contemporary antisemitism, using the lessons of the Holocaust to emphasize to students that it is incumbent on everyone to speak out against hatred both on and offline. Students, parents, and educators should review the laws around Holocaust instruction in their state. If the state does not mandate Holocaust education, call on local elected officials, school boards, and principals to include it in curriculum requirements, utilizing the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s educational materials. If the state does have Holocaust education curriculum guidelines, urge elected officials to conduct an audit of the efficacy of the Holocaust education provided.
Guard against bias related to Israel | Secondary schools have a responsibility to ensure that discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are not biased or one-sided. In the context of any study of the conflict, students should be taught about Jewish historical connections to the land of Israel, and that Judaism as a religion is integrally tied to the land, to the city of Jerusalem, and other holy sites. Many students do not know that Jews are from Judea—the ancient name for Israel—and have lived continuously in the region for thousands of years, nor are they aware that coming out of two millennia of persecution, including the Holocaust, many Jews see Israel as the only place where they can live free from fear and persecution. Additionally, as part of any study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, students should be taught the history of Zionism as a movement of national liberation, and the diversity and modernity of contemporary Israeli society.