How a tiny student group ended up at the White House antisemitism roundtable
When the White House convened a summit of Jewish leaders to discuss efforts to combat the recent rise in antisemitism Wednesday, many familiar faces were sitting around the table: The three major Jewish denominations were represented — including three Orthodox organizations — as were establishment stalwarts including the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Hillel.
But one group stood out, if only because it hasn’t in the past — the relatively unknown Jewish on Campus.
The organization was founded two years ago to highlight alleged incidents of antisemitism at colleges and universities, and is staffed by two current students and a recent graduate.
“We are honored that the Jewish students are at the table where this important conversation is happening, and we are taking Jewish students to the table with us,” Michal Cohen, the group’s marketing officer, said in an email.
Jewish on Campus’ inclusion in the roundtable is notable both because it is far smaller than all but one of the other organizations participating — and because several significant Jewish organizations, which take more progressive approaches to antisemitism, appear to have been shut out of the event.
Some progressives missing
Bend the Arc, T’ruah and J Street — all of which have worked on combating far-right antisemitism, and urged caution when it comes to policing Palestinian activism — dwarf the student group in budget, staffing and membership but were not included in the roundtable.
“T’ruah is definitely working a lot on antisemitism and is a trusted voice in that space,” Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the group’s executive director, said in a text message. She confirmed that her organization was not invited. Bend the Arc did not respond to a request for comment.
Logan Bayroff, a spokesperson for J Street, said the organization was not invited. “We understand that it was a small gathering,” Bayroff said, “but nonetheless we definitely want to be included in such critical discussions.”
Other groups with liberal agendas had seats at the event, hosted by second gentleman Doug Emhoff, including the Religious Action Center, representing the Reform movement, and National Council of Jewish Women, which has close ties to the Biden administration. Both focus on progressive domestic advocacy but are largely aligned with the rest of the establishment when it comes to addressing antisemitism.
“Honestly, I feel seen,” said Sheila Katz, the chief of NCJW. “It was beautiful to hear Emhoff’s remarks and to be reminded by the whole administration that what we’ve been experiencing is something they notice and are addressing.”
Scott Lasensky, who served as an advisor on Israel and Jewish affairs during the Obama administration, said that while he had never heard of Jewish on Campus he was not surprised that they were included.
“I imagine someone in the White House thinking, ‘Let’s have young people,’” Lasensky said. “It doesn’t worry me.”
Integrity First for America was the other small nonprofit at the roundtable. Though it is not a Jewish organization, it financed the civil lawsuit against the deadly, far-right 2017 rally in Charlottesville and its chief, Amy Spitalnick, has participated in other anti-extremism efforts organized by the Biden administration.
A spokesperson for Emhoff did not respond to questions about how participants were selected.
Aligned with establishment
While Jewish on Campus has occasionally criticized the Jewish establishment for failing to listen to students, it agrees with those organizations about how to define and combat it.
It has produced TikToks supporting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, and criticized a progressive alternative that seeks to distinguish between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The group also mixes reports of swastika graffiti, antisemitic slurs and professors who schedule exams on Yom Kippur with accounts of student government votes targeting Israel as examples of antisemitism faced by college students.
Katz said several Jewish leaders at the roundtable brought up the IHRA definition.
“Lots of yay IHRA,” she said in a text message. “No pushback.”
Jewish on Campus partnered last year with the World Jewish Congress, which is led by Republican megadonor Ronald Lauder, but Cohen said her group’s invitation came directly from Shelley Greenspan, the White House liaison to the Jewish community.
The World Jewish Congress did not participate in the roundtable, but a spokesperson praised Jewish on Campus and said that its founder Julia Jassey “will express the perspectives of both Jewish on Campus and World Jewish Congress.”
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated the last name of J Street’s spokesperson. He is Logan Bayroff, not Smith.