Combating campus antisemitism: A call for decisive action in America’s universities

In an era when antisemitism has reemerged with a vengeance on college campuses across America, the need for action has never been more urgent. As Jewish students face an onslaught of hate — from overt acts of aggression to insidious anti-Israel rhetoric — it’s clear that our identity is under siege. As a concerned Jewish leader, I am alarmed to see Jewish students facing escalating harassment, vile rhetoric and overt discrimination. This bigotry has gone on too long and must be forcefully confronted before it becomes further normalized.

The Oct. 7 terrorist attack and the ensuing war in Gaza have exacerbated the surge in campus antisemitism that has been taking root for decades. It has also unfortunately conflated political discourse with atrocious antisemitic attacks. It is essential to underscore that criticism of Israeli policies should never serve as a veneer for prejudice and discrimination against Jewish students. This conflation is ignorant and racist. Singling out and maligning students over a complex geopolitical issue thousands of miles away is unconscionable.

The response from American university administrations has been tepid at best. While some leaders have made nominal efforts to address these concerns, their actions have vastly fallen short of addressing the root causes of antisemitism or stemming its tide. This lack of decisive action has allowed hate to fester, making it imperative that campus leaders adopt a zero- tolerance policy towards antisemitism, enforce strict disciplinary measures against perpetrators and foster an academic environment that celebrates rather than marginalizes diversity. 

Diversity Equity and Inclusion offices across the country revealed their lack of empathy for Jewish students post-Oct. 7. This unfortunate truth stems from Jews being viewed as white and privileged and thus not recognized as a minority. It’s disheartening to witness DEI initiatives neglecting the unique challenges and experiences of Jewish students, dismissing their voices and concerns. If not all minorities can fit under the DEI umbrella, how can these services possibly function effectively? The short answer is: They can’t.

Antisemitism continues spreading under the cover of political debate as most university administrators turn a blind eye. This passivity must end. University administrations must reform curriculums and initiatives that encourage anti-Israel biases. Academic freedom and rigorous standards, not ideological indoctrination, should shape campus climates.

Most critically, Jewish students, faculty and alums must spearhead this fight. Hoping bigotry disappears on its own is simply not an option. We must boldly assert our identity and construct broad coalitions demanding change. Anti-Israel groups have become adept at manipulating campus politics against Jewish students. We must counter them through bold activism and a coordinated mobilization of our collective voice.

Jewish groups must put aside differences and unify behind this cause. Through petitions, protests, civil rights complaints and lobbying efforts, we can leverage strength in numbers to pressure administrations. Jewish students have power when acting in mass. While combating bigotry, we should also dialogue with other marginalized groups facing similar struggles. Justice is not zero-sum; prejudice harms us all.

This resurgence of antisemitism demands communal vigilance and action. I founded The Jewish Future Promise to inspire Jewish pride and solidarity against these challenges. The Promise is an opportunity that I implore Jews from all walks of life to take part in to secure the future of Judaism and Jewish culture for generations to come. It’s time for us to stand together, proud of our heritage and determined to confront and overcome the forces of hate and discrimination. Join us in building a stronger, more resilient Jewish community for the future. Past generations did not cower in the face of Jew-hatred, nor can we. The hard-won acceptance Jews have achieved in the diaspora cannot be taken for granted. We also cannot depend on others to stand with us and support our survival. We must take this as an opportunity to create a united front under our faith and collectively say, “Never forget and never again.”

To every Jewish student, faculty member and alum: your engagement and activism are the keystones of change. Together we can ensure that our voices are heard and reclaim our rightful place on campuses as equals, free from fear and discrimination. Your passion and courage give me hope that campuses will someday be safe, welcoming places. Stand proud, mobilize allies and let your voices be heard. Our shared heritage teaches resilience against hatred. United, we can build a more just and safe future.

Mike Leven is the founder of The Jewish Future Promise. He currently serves on the boards of the Marcus Foundation, Georgia Aquarium, Zionist Organization of America, Jewish National Fund and AEPi Fraternity Foundation, and is an honorary board member of the Birthright Israel Foundation.