UM breaks the trend as antisemitism rises on college campuses

Antisemitism is on the rise across college campuses in response to the Israel-Hamas war, according to several sources. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Alex Proimos

October 7, 2023, was supposed to be a day of celebration for the Jewish people. Instead, one of the most sacred Jewish holidays became a day of indescribable horror as Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack on Israel massacring children, raping women and kidnapping innocent civilians.

Even before the Israeli military invaded Gaza, the deadliest day for the Jews since the Holocaust triggered an outbreak of antisemitism, notably at many colleges throughout the U.S.

A new study from the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International found that 73% of Jewish college students have experienced or witnessed antisemitism on campus since the start of the 2023-2024 school year. That’s more than double what a study of prior years showed.

The consequence, according to the ADL study, is a sharp decline in the number of Jewish students who feel safe, physically and emotionally, on campus. Before Oct. 7, 67% of Jewish students felt safe physically, and 66% emotionally. Those percentages have plunged to 46% and 33%, respectively.

In testimony before Congress on Dec. 5, 2023, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed that hate crimes have soared by 60% across the U.S. since the Hamas massacre, with “the biggest chunk of those” being antisemitic. In October, Wray told lawmakers that antisemitism was reaching “historic levels” as “the Jewish community is uniquely targeted” by terrorists. He added that Jews, who account for only 2.4% of the U.S. population, account for about 60% of all religious-based hate crimes.

The University of Miami has proven to be a notable exception among college campuses with Jewish students feeling comfortable walking to class as their University administration spoke out against the Hamas attack and antisemitism. On Oct. 9, two days after the attack, Hillel arranged a vigil in support of Israel.

“It had over 600 people. I felt extremely safe. I felt unity within the Jewish community and the greater Miami community,” said Sofia Bronstein, a freshman majoring in legal studies and finance.

In the months following the attack, student organizations such as Chabad, Hillel, and Students Supporting Israel have held multiple pro-Israel events.

Joia Intrator, a sophomore majoring in computer science, spoke on her experience as a board member of SSI. “I’m proud to be part of SSI. We have done so many amazing things as an organization since October 7th.”

In addition to the student-led groups being quick to respond, UM’s leaders showed support for Israel early on.

“I think the University has responded amazingly, a few days after Julio Frenk sent out such a supportive email that condemned Hamas and supported Israel and made it clear that he was there for his Jewish students,” Intrator said.

President Frenk and his administration went even further. In late November at an event at UM Hillel, he addressed antisemitism on campuses today.

“The attack and targeting of innocent civilians by a terrorist organization violated a foundational value of universities everywhere: to promote knowledge and understanding as a way of resolving complex issues,” Frenk said.

The immediate and absolute condemnation that Frenk displayed is in stark contrast with many leaders at elite universities who were slow to denounce Hamas and antisemitism forcefully.

Two weeks ago, at a congressional hearing, the presidents of Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology refused to give straightforward answers to questions when asked if they would discipline students who called on campus for the genocide of the Jews. The commotion that followed has already led to the resignation of Penn’s president.

“The Brown [University] administration has been better than the other elite universities we have seen in the news,” Gabriel Burstyn, a freshman at Brown University, told The Miami Hurricane. “However, this is not a high bar and Brown could do better. The university has done nothing to stem the growth of anti-semitic rhetoric on campus.”

Brown has faced a series of antisemitic incidents in recent years, including swastikas carved into desks and a note at the Brown Hillel calling for the gassing of Jews and praising Hitler.

Columbia University has faced a series of antisemitic incidents since the start of the Gaza war. Manhattan’s district attorney has charged a suspect in the assault of an Israeli student on campus, a swastika was found on a bathroom wall, and students say they’ve been subjected to antisemitic slurs. Columbia is among a half dozen colleges now under investigation by the federal government. In response, the university has created a task force on antisemitism and suspended some anti-Israel groups.

“Directly following the horrific terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7th, prior to any IDF retaliation, many groups at Columbia posted statements that blamed Israel for October 7th,” said Shmuel, a Columbia Law student who prefers to be identified solely by his first name. “An event last week took place in the School of Social Work that was titled ‘Significance of the October 7th Palestinian Counteroffensive,’ with a gun on the flyer.”

While the FBI has indicated that antisemitic incidents are greater in number, Islamaphobic incidents are also on the rise, with students who are Muslim and Palestinian reporting increased harassment.

“We at the Department of Education, like the nation, see the fear students and school communities experience as hate proliferates in schools,” Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary of civil rights for the department, told the Associated Press.

The department says it is taking “aggressive action” against discrimination and that schools that have violated civil rights laws could face penalties.