Why Alumni Are Engaged in Fighting Antisemitism on Campus

Alums for Campus Fairness stands up for Israel on campuses across North America; photo: courtesy

By Avi D. Gordon

For years, too many inside our community looked the other way as proponents of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement built deep networks on American campuses, creating a hostile environment for Jewish and Zionist students in the process. We didn’t look to coordinate responses between groups and campuses. We didn’t build broad coalitions. We thought ignoring the problem would starve it of oxygen and make it go away. We were wrong.

In recent years, the community mobilized on campuses in new ways. Significant resources have been deployed. Nationwide coalitions are sharing best practices. BDS on many campuses and within academic circles is on the retreat.

There is a new key ally for Jewish and pro-Israel students who seek to exist in an environment free of hate and discrimination: alumni.

This new community to fight campus antisemitism has mobilized through Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF), an organization that I have the honor of leading. Within a few years since our founding, ACF has grown to over 5,500 alumni and 39 chapters across the country. At our first ever-conference this month, 50 alumni flew to Los Angeles from across the country. Our partners joined us at our conference, recognizing the inimitable power alumni hold to help students on the ground. We heard from a number of leaders of pro-Israel organizations including Hillel International, StandWithUs, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, Chabad on Campus, Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Zioness; among many others.

Alumni had previously been an untapped resource for students and faculty on the ground. ACF empowers alumni to speak out against antisemitism and bigotry taking place on far too many campuses across the country. After two years as the Executive Director of ACF, I am proud to see our hard work bearing fruit.

ACF is galvanizing alumni to ensure that universities remain pillars of open dialogue and equal opportunity for all students, including Jewish students and their allies. When a panel of anti-Israel speakers presented at UMass Amherst, ACF was there with many of our partners, calling on the administration to take action. What we received was one of the strongest condemnations of this program that the pro-Israel community has ever seen. After New York University (NYU) bestowed the President’s Service Award to Students for Justice in Palestine, ACF spearheaded a letter of 140 faculty and alumni signatories calling on NYU President Andrew Hamilton to rescind the award. And earlier this academic year, we released a comprehensive report documenting the systemic antisemitism and demonization of Israel at Columbia University. The media covered our work widely, recognizing the importance of exposing this hotbed for hate.

ACF has grown into America’s unified alumni voice on issues of antisemitism, demonization of Israel, and bigotry. We position our alumni activists on the front lines of these key issues at their alma maters. After working in the pro-Israel space for a decade, seeing the impact of mobilizing alumni has shown me the incredible impact of tapping into new constituencies.

During the two-day gathering of ACF members, the palpable energy in the room drove home just how important it is to bring a diverse coalition of stakeholders together when working to combat hate. The room was filled with action-oriented alumni who want to help stem the tide of rising antisemitism and bigotry at their alma maters. And getting passionate leaders together in a room for a quick 30 hours can make a huge difference.

The ACF conference was a stepping-stone for many of our leaders to understand their ability to be change-agents for students today. We had alumni of every age – from people who matriculated in the 1950’s to ones who graduated last year – come together to learn, activate, and engage for the future. Even though our members have had varied experiences with antisemitism on campus and in life, our programming was data-driven and action-oriented in a way that made it applicable to all of them. And everyone is passionate about our collective mission and broad coalition to end bigotry and rising intolerance on campus.

Our intergenerational movement is growing. We are fighting for Jewish and Zionist students at universities across the country, ensuring that these students feel supported and heard by the people who graduated before them. Building this coalition will change the shape of on-campus discussions for decades to come. The pro-Israel community needs ACF’s active participation.

Avi D. Gordon is the executive director of Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF). Avi has nearly a decade of experience in the Pro Israel campus community, working for organizations such as StandWithUs, AEPi and AJC.