In his column about the growth of anti-Semitic sentiments and acts on college campuses, occurring even those in schools and communities where the mere number of Jews would suggest an unfavorable environment for such overt acts, Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer calls for thought on how to prevent this modern-day threat. I would suggest that in addition to a concern about the blatant acts of anti-Semitism (such as the vandalized mezuzah at Lynn University in Florida) there is an equally serious threat posed by the highly organized and well financed anti-Israel campaign on American campuses which is not only directed against Israel but against Jewish students and Jewish institutions as well.
We only have to look to what has occurred in New Jersey’s own state university, Rutgers, and at Columbia and NYU, right across the river in New York, to recognize that we Jews are under attack on college campuses, and as a result our children and grandchildren are facing a hostile environment if they want to express their Jewishness or their support for Israel on their campuses.
If only this situation were a reflection of individual acts of religious hatred or extreme political activism — but it is not. The current situation is a reflection of a well-organized program supported by ample financing that must, indeed, be met head-on, as Rabbi Engelmayer suggests.
But is all the news coming from college campuses bad news? No, it is not.
There are many Jewish institutions, from local actions to national programs, that are addressing this threat to Jewish college students Five of them deserve special attention.
The American Jewish Committee is an exceptional organization that advocates for and supports Jews around the world. It has one program called LFT (Leaders for Tomorrow) that helps high school students develop a strong Jewish identity and trains them as advocates for Israel and to be voices against anti-Semitism. LFT gives students the tools to talk about the issues impacting world Jewry today, and the confidence to stand up for these issues in college and throughout their lives, no matter how difficult the situation. As the AJC says, “Our work has demonstrated that the best way to inspire young Jews is to prepare them with information, tools, and skills before they start college. Once Jewish students go off to college, they have greater demands on their time and often find themselves on the defensive when it comes to many of these subjects, especially Israel. LFT proactively equips them to meet these challenges.” (Go to https://www.ajc.org/lftinfo/ )
StandWithUs works vigorously to meet the challenge of campus anti-Semitism and anti-Israel campaigns. One of its initiatives is to support both Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders as they stand up to the misinformation upon which these campaigns rely. In its brochure, StandWithUs refers to an all-too-common situation on campuses today — the focused anti-Israel and anti-Jewish campaign of Students for Justice in Palestine, which presents itself as the Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions movement aimed at Israel’s Palestinian policies.
In fact, this movement has embraced other “progressive” movements to join them in what has become a broad-based anti-Israel and anti-Semitic movement. StandWithUs, in partnership with other Jewish organizations, has successfully confronted SJP head-on with alternative and accurate messaging that informs the local community that is “impacted by the slanderous messages.” It also publishes a pamphlet, “Know Your Rights,” for students, which addresses the challenges these kids will face and what they can legally do when confronted by them. (Go to https://EndBDS.com and https://StandWithUs.com/)
The Anti-Defamation League also has been actively involved in addressing these campus issues with its “A Campus of Difference” program. It reports that to date, more than 56,000 faculty, staff, administrators, and students in 900 colleges and university campus nationwide have participated in the program. (Go to https://www.adl.org/programs-for-colleges-and-university-campuses)
Now let’s get local. Rutgers in New Brunswick has one of the largest percentage of Jewish populations in a U.S. college. It’s estimated at 25 percent. Yet two professors on that campus engaged in some of the vilest slander of Jews and Israel, and the university’s response to the strong call from individual and organized Jews around the state to remove those professors from the college was tepid. Eventually the university took action and the issue of the two professors affecting students with their hatred seems somewhat under control. That is the unfortunate side of the Jewish experience at Rutgers.
But then there is Rutgers Hillel, right in the middle of the campus, in a big, gorgeous building that stands proudly as a resolute statement that Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture are alive and well on campus. Every Friday night the huge dining hall at Hillel is filled with several hundred Jewish students and their guests as they gather for a festive Shabbat dinner. Jewish life in all its forms, from religious to cultural, thrives at Hillel. SJP is not dead on the Rutgers College campus, but Jewish students have their anchor in Rutgers Hillel and that strength will allow them to face anti-Semitism on their campus as a united and strong body and they will prevail. (Go to https://rutgershillel.org/) And Rutgers Hillel is not alone. Hillel connects with Jewish students around the world at more than 550 campuses. (Go to https://www.hillel.org/)
Last but not at all least, there is the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. As the central Jewish agency in our community, the federation supports a broad spectrum of Jewish institutions serving our community, but also actively engages with the problem of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli action on campus together with many of those institutions. When the Rutgers problem became acute, the federation was there, arm in arm with other New Jersey Jewish institutions, advocating for our Jewish students. (Go to https://www.jfnnj.org/)
My answer to Rabbi Engelmayer’s call to “consider what we must do as individuals and as a community” is simple enough: financially support these and other organizations that are addressing the problem. The “enemy” has endless financial support coming from certain Gulf countries — endowing “Middle East Studies” departments at many universities in the United States (or at least they are disguised as such, but really they are nothing more than propaganda outlets for their messages of hate toward Jews and Israel).
If we are to fight this enemy by supporting our children in the college environment we must meet them head-on with equal resources. Shaking our heads in dismay at this horrible development on our college campuses is not enough. We need to act with our financial support for the organizations that are doing something about it. I have listed five organizations and there are more. Don’t shake your head — go on line and make a contribution now!
I would offer one last suggestion. Learn if anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities on the campus of your alma mater are making it tough for Jewish students to live a Jewish life on campus without an adequate response by the administration. If so, when the yearly envelope arrives asking for your annual contribution to the university, write and explain that you are withholding your contribution this year and will consider renewing your contributions when the university properly addresses and solves the problem of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel activities on campus. University administrators listen very carefully to supportive alumni, and it makes a difference. And then take the money you were going to send your alma mater and make a contribution to AJC, StandWithUs, the Hillel on campus, or the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
Each of us can and must make take action by making a contribution in support of our students. They are the future of our people.
Bob Peckar, who lived in Alpine and now lives in Boca Raton, Florida, has been actively involved with Jewish organizations in Bergen County for many years and is a member of the National Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee. He is the Founder of Peckar & Abramson, a national law firm headquartered in River Edge.