Study says BDS on U.S. campuses leads to anti-Semitism

A mock Israeli checkpoint set up during
A mock Israeli checkpoint set up during "Israeli Apartheid Week" in May 2010 on the University of California, Los Angeles campus AMCHA INITIATIVE PHOTO

A new survey released Monday offers data backing up the argument that anti-Israel activity—by entities including student groups, academics, and boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement advocates—contributes directly to incidents of anti-Semitism on college campuses.

The study, conducted by the anti-Semitism watchdog group AMCHA Initiative, investigated anti-Semitic activity on more than 100 public and private colleges and universities over the duration of one year. Previous surveys commonly assessed levels of campus anti-Semitism by measuring student attitudes and subjective reports. According to AMCHA, this study assessed anti-Semitic activity by focusing on confirmed incidents compiled from media reports and eyewitness accounts. The campuses selected to be surveyed have the largest Jewish undergraduate populations in the country.


According to the study’s executive summary, three different kinds of activity were analyzed: “anti-Semitic expression,” meaning incidents with language or imagery that used one or more of eight tropes included in the U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism; “targeting of Jewish students,” meaning incidents involving behaviour that targeted Jewish students for particular harm including physical assault, harassment, destruction of property, discrimination, and suppression of speech; and “BDS activity,” meaning the promotion or endorsement of an anti-Israel boycott, divestment, or sanctions effort. Campus BDS campaigns routinely employ rhetoric and imagery intended to demonize and delegitimize Israel, expression that is consistent with the State Department definition of anti-Semitism.

Among the schools examined in the study, 70 per cent hosted events deemed anti-Semitic, and more than 300 incidents of anti-Semitism took place in 2015 on the surveyed campuses. Perhaps most revealing is that 99 per cent of campuses that have at least one anti-Israel student group saw at least one anti-Semitic incident, compared to 16 per cent of campuses with no dedicated anti-Israel groups. Fifty-seven of colleges and universities with at least one anti-Israel student group had one or more incidents that targeted Jewish students for physical harm.

“No student should ever be targeted for harm because of his or her perceived religious or ethnic identity, and yet, at far too many schools, Jewish students are routinely threatened because of their identity,” said Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, AMCHA’s director. “These findings provide, for the first time, objective confirmation of student reports of widespread anti-Semitism, as well as evidence that the primary agents of anti-Semitic activity are anti-Zionist students and faculty boycotters and BDS is the strongest predictor of anti-Jewish hostility on campus.”

Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., was found to have the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the study, with 16 in 2015. A slew of California schools followed, as University of California (UC), Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, and UCLA rounded out the five schools with the most anti-Semitic incidents. San Diego State University, UC Santa Barbara, Stanford University, Northeastern University, and the University of Michigan completed the top 10.

Schools such as Vassar College, Oberlin College, and the University of Illinois at Chicago have recently made headlines due to alleged anti-Semitic activity. Vassar and Oberlin have found the spotlight due to anti-Semitic behaviour of speakers and professors, respectively. All three schools were in the AMCHA study’s top 18 schools in terms of reported incidents of bigotry toward Jews.


The study also revealed that 81 per cent of colleges with one or more BDS advocates among the faculty had at least one incident of anti-Semitic activity, while 17 per cent of schools with no faculty boycotters of Israel had incidents of anti-Jewish activity.

AMCHA’s survey concludes that the strongest indicator of campus anti-Semitism stems from campuses with anti-Israel advocacy groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and faculty members that endorse boycotting the Jewish state.