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Jewish student group analyzes a year of antisemitism, finds concentration in the Northeast

An analysis of antisemitic incidents on college campuses tracked by a Jewish student group last year and released Monday found reports of bigotry split between classical antisemitic tropes and forms of anti-Zionism.

Most responses collected for the report, compiled by Jewish on Campus, an undergraduate student-run nonprofit organization that started in July 2020 as an Instagram campaign, came from Massachusetts, Vermont and New York — followed by California, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.

The report was based on 544 reports that students made to Jewish on Campus using online forms throughout the year, mostly solicited from the group’s Instagram page. Of the incidents reported in the survey, 486 took place in the U.S. The researchers behind the survey were able to independently verify 5.5% of the submissions, and noted that some incidents may have been counted twice because multiple people submitted reports about them.

The universities with the highest number of reports were the University of Vermont, Tufts University and George Washington University.

The report is anecdotal, not a formal study, and was not weighted to represent the experience of all Jewish college students — for example, 68% of the respondents were women. Instead, it was an analysis of individual reports that Jewish on Campus had collected over the past year as part of its mission to document and amplify instances of antisemitism at colleges and universities.

More than half of the reports of antisemitism fell into one of three categories: demonization of Israel, condoning terrorism against Jews or Israelis and denying self-determination. The remainder, about 45%, was forms of “historical antisemitism,” including tropes about Jews and support for Nazis.

The researchers defined “denying self-determination” as “denying Israel the right to exist, denying Jewish people the right to reside in Israel,” and “denying Jewish people the right to self-govern in Israel.” In the survey, all of these were considered antisemitic. The study listed participation in the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement as falling within its purview, alongside physical assault and vandalism. It also deemed “Deadly Exchange,” a Jewish Voice for Peace campaign to stop programs in which American police train in Israel, to be a form of antisemitism.

In classifying some rhetoric and actions focused on Israel as antisemitic, Jewish on Campus relied on the U.S. State Department’s working definition of antisemitism, which is similar to controversial language used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and promoted by many mainstream Jewish groups. The question of how to define antisemitism in relation to criticism of Israel has caused a split between some establishment Jewish organizations and their more liberal peers in recent years.

Demonization of Israel, the Jewish on Campus survey noted, was highest between May and July, during an escalation of tensions in Israel and the West Bank.

72.4% of the submissions were of incidents that took place in person, while 12.4% described encounters on social media. Most of the submissions named students as perpetrators, though 122 named professors, and many named clubs or administrators.

A 2020 investigation by the Forward found that many universities do not report nearly as many antisemitic hate crimes to the U.S. Department of Education as are reported by the news media.

Update note: This story has been expanded with additional information about the Jewish on Campus survey.

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