More Anti-Semitism On Campus
03/28/03
Staff Writer
The home page of the University of Colorado Web site reveals a scene of striking beauty: an exquisitely designed red-brick, neo-Gothic building set against the rugged peaks of the Rockies. But for Jewish students on the Boulder campus, the idyllic scene of the American West belies their experience on the front lines of a new kind of anti-Semitism playing out in recent years at American colleges and universities spurred by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last September, as Jewish students were holding a pro-Israel peace vigil, they were confronted by an angry crowd shouting "Nazi" and other epithets. Later "Jews rot in Hell" was spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity house, and a sukkah was defaced with a swastika. These episodes are part of a 24 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campuses nationwide in 2002, according to a survey released this week by the Anti-Defamation League. It marked the third straight year that incidents increased, the ADL said. The number of incidents, classified either as vandalism or harassment, jumped to 106 in 2002, compared to 85 the previous year. The 106 incidents are still below the 1994 high of 143. Overall, incidents across the United States increased about 8 percent, to 1,559 in 2002 from 1,432 in 2001, according to the Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents. New York continues to rank first in the nation among states for anti-Semitic incidents, with 302 reported. But that marked a 25 percent decrease from the 408 incidents in 2001. In New York City, incidents were down as well, to 141 from 238. Jeffery Ross, ADL's director of campus and higher education affairs, said the spike in college incidents followed increased violence last spring in the Middle East. "When the situation in Israel and the territories was most intense, the reflection on campus was most intense," he said. Ross said the ADL is careful to distinguish between anti-Israel campus activities, which in and of themselves are not counted as anti-Semitic acts, and actions that cross the line from criticizing Israel's policies to becoming anti-Jewish. For example, he cited fliers for an April 8 anti-Israel rally distributed by Palestinian students at San Francisco State University. The flier pictured an old Palestinian man and a young girl under the words "genocide of the 21st century." That in itself would not be counted as anti-Semitic. But the poster also featured a can labeled "Palestinian children meat made in Israel, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license." "Here you have a flier from an anti-Israel rally in which you have disgusting anti-Semitic imagery," Ross said. "If you wanted to include anti-Israel incidents with anti-Semitic incidents, you'd have a much higher number," he explained. One campus that had experienced a plague of anti-Semitic events in the past, SUNY Binghamton, saw a decrease in 2002. "I think there were campuses with increases, but Binghamton University was not one of them," said Gary Coleman, executive director of the Hillel there. There are two ways of determining whether an anti-Israel incident should be included in the audit, Ross said. One is, "It's like pornography. You know it when you see it," he said. "When the situation goes beyond criticism of the actions of the government of Israel to the problem that it is not what Israel does but that Israel exists." The second is the use of classic symbols of anti-Semitism, like swastikas. Ross said whether the surge of campus incidents continues next year will depend on the outcome of America's invasion of Iraq. "Much of the leadership of the anti-war movement has a distinct anti-Israel attitude," he said. One piece of good news on campus, he said, is that after being taken by surprise by anti-Israel campus activities, Jewish campus leaders have mobilized and "are coming back swinging." They have launched pro-Israel programming to counter the student activism on behalf of the Palestinians. Nationally, ADL said that more than two-thirds of the 1,559 incidents were acts of harassment, including intimidation, threats and assaults. For example in September, the car of a Jewish couple in Phoenix, Ariz., was defaced with "Die Jew" scrawled in red paint. In June, Middle East protesters shouted "Jews go to hell" and "Jews are murderers" at visitors leaving the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. But there were also violent attacks: In Oakland, Calif., arson badly damaged a synagogue. In Worcester, Mass., more than 120 gravestones were overturned at the Hebrew Cemetery of Auburn. ADL attributed the national rise in incidents to a dramatic increase in the number of attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in the Bay Area of northern California. A total of 118 incidents were reported there in 2002, compared to only 13 in 2001. In response, "ADL has stepped up its efforts to respond to and prevent further acts of anti-Semitism," said Jonathan Bernstein, ADL regional director. A sharp increase was noted in anti-Semitic incidents directed toward Jewish institutions: 39 compared to one in 2001. ADL is responding by helping Jewish institutions continue to improve their security. "We are deeply concerned that despite the strides we have made over the years, anti-Semitic incidents continue to be carried out in large numbers," said ADL national director Abraham Foxman. "While we can take comfort that this year's numbers have not increased substantially, it is unsettling that we are still experiencing anti-Semitism at an average rate of four incidents per day." The ADL, which has been issuing its annual audit for 15 years, divides anti-Semitic incidents into two categories: harassment, which includes threats and assaults directed at individuals and institutions; and vandalism such as property damage, cemetery desecration or anti-Semitic graffiti. The figures are compiled by ADL using law enforcement statistics and data from the organization's 30 regional offices. In New York City, the number of incidents dropped in every borough. The breakdown: the Bronx, five incidents in 2002 from 13 the previous year; Brooklyn, 36 from 78: Manhattan, 69 from 99: Queens, 21 from 36; and Staten Island, 10 from 12. Regarding the drop in the city vs. the rise nationally, the director of ADL's New York Region attributed some of it to increased tolerance by New Yorkers after the 9-11 tragedy. "We think after 9-11 people were sensitized in a new way to the ugliness that can come from hatred and were going out of their way," said Joel Levy. "I can't prove that scientifically, but it's logical and I think it does reflect New York as a multi-ethnic, very, very tolerant city." Levy also cited the "good police work in New York," as well as efforts by the police, ADL and other organizations in promoting tolerance. Among the worst incidents in the city: On Staten Island, more than 150 headstones were toppled at the Baron Hirsch Cemetery, the largest Jewish cemetery in the borough. And in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn, vandals spray-painted 37 cars with swastikas. Westchester County dropped to seven incidents from 15. Long Island saw a rise, 140 incidents from 122. Etzion Neuer, regional director of ADL's Long Island office, called the increase mild and attributed it to better tracking and reporting by the bias crimes units in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Upstate reported 24 anti-Jewish incidents in 2002, down from 48 in 2001. "Though the numbers have dropped significantly, each and every incident is of concern," said Levy, "as it takes only one act of anti-Semitism to affect an individual or an entire community."

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