The hidden antisemitism plaguing college campuses

Growing up Jewish wasn’t easy.

Honestly, I’ve learned to deal with blatant antisemitism. Coming from a community that was overwhelmingly white with few Jews, actions like penny throwing and distasteful jokes about the history of my people were quite commonplace. 

I was never one to hide my identity; even as a progressive Jew, I have always associated myself with my culture and held it quite close to me, oftentimes to my detriment. So, like I said, I got used to it. I became numb. This is not to dismiss the hurtfulness of these actions nor to discount the experiences of any other Jewish-identifying individuals, but for me, the best defense was indifference.

Entering higher education was supposed to be a turning point — a way for me to place all of this behind me and truly embrace my culture and identity. However, what no one tells you about the real world is that even though blatant discrimination may dwindle, the presence of casual discrimination and microaggressions is all too common.

Even before entering Tufts as a first-year, I became concerned. On many of the main classes of 2024 social media pages, political debates were extremely frequent. Unfortunately, a favorite topic of conversation was the Israel-Palestine conflict. At times, when discussing the conflict, the legitimacy of Zionism and the existence of a Jewish state came into question, leading many to state their belief that Israel has no right to exist. I often felt targeted, feeling the need to completely disconnect for short periods to process my thoughts.

I should qualify this by saying that I am by no means a supporter of the Israeli government. There is little justification for the horrible conflicts in the area, and many of the actions taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of the administration are barbaric. However, I will always be pro-Israel. Let me explain.

The opposition to the existence of a Jewish state is inherently antisemitic. Jews, throughout history, have been persecuted wherever they are a minority, from slavery in Egypt to the Spanish Inquisition to the Russian pogroms and the Holocaust. Jews are a universal scapegoat, so the only place we can be safe is a place made for us. The important distinction here is the difference between opposing Israel’s actions and opposing Israel itself; the opposition to Israel’s actions is completely justified and is no different than opposing the actions of any other nation. However, disputing Israel’s legitimacy as a nation essentially questions the legitimacy of the Jewish people, which is completely unacceptable. 

Holding the Jewish people accountable for the actions of the Israeli government is not only unreasonable but antisemitic and offensive. Yet, here we are. 

Pro-Palestinian sentiments are popular, for good reason, among college students. However, in some instances, due to a lack of education or, regrettably, an antisemitic bias, they can lead to the development of an anti-Zionist agenda.

This brings us to the referendum proposed by Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine this past fall. The referendum, although well intentioned, brought about questions concerning the legitimacy of Israeli statehood, in addition to associating the Anti-Defamation League, an organization created to combat antisemitism, with harmful militarization. This rhetoric is antisemitic, regardless of whether it was meant to be or not. In fact, the current allegations of discrimination in the TCU Judiciary during the referendum approval process create even more concern that its genesis was antisemitically charged.

In November, the referendum passed with a 68% majority. Let me be clear: I am not calling 68% of the student body antisemitic. However, the lack of explicit bias almost makes the result more concerning, showing a true misunderstanding of what is and isn’t antisemitism.

The main issue is a lack of education regarding modern antisemitism. As I mentioned earlier, and of which I am continuously reminded, the most common discrimination that many minority adults experience is remarkably subtle and oftentimes played off as a “miscommunication.” Many Jews are told that antisemitism doesn’t exist anymore and that Jews are immune to discrimination, falling under the model minority myth — a harmful narrative leveraged against some minority communities to minimize and invalidate the discrimination they face. This is part of the reason that Jews are often excluded from activism; their proximity to Israel makes them “oppressive” in many undiscerning eyes, and their existence as a “model minority” makes many believe that they do not experience the pain that other groups endure. Sadly, this is far from the reality — in 2019, 62% of religiously motivated hate crimes in the United States were committed against Jews, a figure that has unfortunately continually risen over the past few years. In the current hyperpolarized environment and with the rise in more visible manifestations of white supremacy, hate crimes against Jews have been increasing significantly year after year.

Fortunately, there is a way to combat the antisemitism at Tufts and other universities and make your Jewish friends feel more comfortable: learn and listen. This process is an essential first step toward addressing implicit biases and discrimination. I implore you to read about Jewish culture, how it connects to Israel and the importance of drawing distinctions between Jews and the Israeli government. And most importantly, if a Jewish person tells you something is antisemitic, just as with any other type of discrimination, listen to them. Don’t make excuses. Be better.

I look forward to the next three years for many reasons, not least of which is the hope that our campus can become a far more inclusive place for people of all backgrounds, and that all forms of discrimination can be called out. A better Tufts, or any college campus, means a place where no one feels under attack, and that includes Jewish students.