By Ron Krudo 

I'm glad they are enjoying college... but

 

December 8, 2017



“It’s great to hear that your children are loving college, and not experiencing much anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism. They deserve to enjoy their time at school, just like everyone else!”

That was my answer to a parent who recently commented, “my kids say they never see anything,” and asked, “is the situation on campus really that bad?”

The truth is that most Jewish students will never experience the kind of hate we often read about in the news. I know, because when I was in college, I was one of those kids who didn’t see anything.

I grew up in a very Israeli home, participating in Jewish youth programs in Orlando and spending most of my summers visiting family in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. But when I got to Florida State University, I decided it was time to just be me and not focus on Israel or Judaism.

My first two years consisted of classes, water polo, student government and fraternity parties. Aside from the occasional visit to Chabad and Hillel, I wasn’t involved in Jewish life on campus. I didn’t know about anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism, didn’t want to know and would have confidently stated, “that doesn’t exist here.”


But I was in for a rude awakening. I spent the summer before junior year for two months volunteering in Israel. Still feeling energized and inspired by that experience, I decided to go to class wearing an IDF T-shirt. Suddenly, another student started screaming, “you white colonizer, you took the land away from the indigenous people.”  

I was shocked. My blood boiled. I was especially offended because, despite having fairly light skin, I’m not white. My Middle Eastern family returned to Israel as refugees from Turkey and Iraq, and would be considered people of color in America. But this was the first time anyone had challenged me about Israel on campus, and I wasn’t confident enough in my own knowledge to respond. My initial instinct was to pretend it didn’t happen and keep walking.

I realize now that my lack of awareness about this hate didn’t mean it wasn’t there. I was able to remain oblivious to the problem because I wasn’t involved or chose not to see it, until I was targeted personally.

My reason for being in college didn’t change. I was still there to have fun and get an education. But I did gain motivation to learn about Israel and the conflict, and become more active in the pro-Israel community. I no longer wanted to ignore the hate, or be frozen in silence when confronted by it.


So what did I do? I found the pro-Israel club on my campus and reached out to organizations like StandWithUs. I spent 3 years doing pro-Israel activism at FSU, organized a statewide conference called Florida Loves Israel, and ultimately joined the campus department at StandWithUs, an international Israel education nonprofit.

Not every school has the types of problems I faced. Your son or daughter shouldn’t expect to be verbally harassed every time they wear a Star of David necklace or even an IDF T-shirt. Most will enjoy campus communities where Jewish life is vibrant. But that doesn’t mean that we should sweep the hate that does exist under the rug.

According to a 2015 Brandeis University study, 32 percent of Jewish students reported having been personally harassed for being Jewish, while nearly 40 percent witnessed this happening to someone else. According to a 2016 Brandeis follow up study, schools with higher levels of hostility towards Israel also tend to be more hostile environments for Jewish students overall.

More and more often, my colleagues and I are forced to tackle outright anti-Semitism. After a wave of racist incidents in the University of California system in 2015, we supported a student campaign to persuade the UC Regents to take action. This led to the UC Principles Against Intolerance, which recognize that, “anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism and other forms of discrimination have no place,” at the university, while affirming the crucial importance of academic freedom and free speech.


This year, we see “white nationalist” leader Richard Spencer bringing his hate to campus and using Israel and Zionism to whitewash his racist views, while anti-Israel groups exploit this far right resurgence to further smear Israel and the Jewish community, associating us with fascism and white supremacy. At a time of rising hate on both sides of the political spectrum, supporting Jewish and pro-Israel communities on campus is more crucial than ever.

This doesn’t mean we should constantly be on the defensive. We must focus our energy on building thriving Jewish communities and telling Israel’s inspiring story proactively. That is the majority of what we do at StandWithUs. But we also need to be ready to stand up to the hate and counter the propaganda that often distorts the debate about Israel and the conflict.

That’s why I’m proud to work with exceptional student leaders who do educate their peers and stand up to hate. In many cases, I believe these leaders make it easier for everyone else to enjoy their time at school, and not have to worry about the kind of hostility I faced. By empowering them further, we can set the agenda with positive education and ensure that our communities are prepared for any challenge they may face, both on campus and beyond.

Ron Krudo is StandWithUs executive director for Campus Affairs. 

 

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