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August 25, 2023
(JNS) - One student has been told she doesn't get to talk because she's white and therefore couldn't have been oppressed. Another found colleagues to go "ghost white," fearing for safety on campus in the face of anti-Israel activism when he chose to move forward with hosting an event with a former Israel Defense Forces soldier.
The stories that pro-Israel college students shared with JNS earlier this week at the Israel on Campus Coalition National Leadership Summit about their experiences on campus ranged from being threatened and silenced to more promising feelings, which inspire confidence for the future.
At George Washington University, an urban campus mere blocks from the White House and State Department, Sabrina Soffer, a junior majoring in philosophy and public affairs and in Judaic studies, has experienced antisemitism. She turns to a statement from the late Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel-that indifference begets hatred.
"That's what you're seeing right now, especially on campuses," Soffer told JNS. "I've had various interactions with people where they're like, 'You can't talk because you're white and you were never oppressed.'"
At the University of California, Davis, the "full weight" of anti-Israel sentiment on campus hit Owen Krauss, a senior majoring in international relations and peace and security, when he planned an event with a former IDF soldier, who was to discuss giving humanitarian aid in Gaza, struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and "toxic masculinity."
"It was going to be a really great program," he told JNS. But after he marketed the event, and days before the program, Students for Justice in Palestine claimed that "the Zionists are having someone from the Israeli occupation force come, everyone needs to protest," Krauss told JNS.
As the group's criticism circulated on campus, there were concerns about student safety. Krauss chose not to cancel. He recalled that made his peers go "ghost white, like absolutely terrified because at Davis anti-Zionism, antisemitism is a huge problem."
"In fact, they were ranked one of the worst in the country," he said of his school.
Things are different at Emory University in Atlanta, according to Morgan Ames, a senior majoring in political science and religion, and Sophie Kalman, a sophomore studying political science and the Middle East.
In Ames's experience, there isn't overt antisemitism at Emory, which is nearly 20 percent Jewish. Kalman told JNS that she actually felt a bit out of place at the ICC summit since her school did not have as aggressive an anti-Israel presence as many others do.
"I feel this is what gives me a little bit of impostor syndrome," she said. "Being here at Emory is knocking on wood."
But three years before Ames got to Emory, eviction notices showed up on the doors of Jewish students' dorms. As a result, the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter was kicked off campus, "which was great, because for my first two years, there were no detractors," she said.
There was still concern about Emory's reaction to the notices, according to Kalman. The student group had its charter revoked not for committing a hate crime, she said, but merely for putting eviction notices on doors.
And Ames told JNS, anti-Israel activism is emerging among the Emory faculty. In 2021, the university hired an anthropology professor, whose doctoral thesis compared Israeli and Nazi policies. "It was blasphemy to me that they had hired a professor with this on his record," she said.
The professor is leaving Emory, Ames said. "But he somehow became the chair of the department and tenured in no time, and it was really disgusting," she said. "I had it out with the Jewish studies department about it."
At Oral Roberts University, an evangelical school in Tulsa, Okla., Carlos Vasquez, a senior who is pre-law, helped relaunch what he said was "a very dormant Israel club."
Vasquez knew he had the ability to kickstart the pro-Israel student group, even though he'd never done something like that before. Now, members of the group are participating in Zionist campus organizations and StandWithUs, he told JNS.
At Oral Roberts, there's no anti-Israel activity to speak of. "There are no anti-Israel demonstrations," he said. "There's no Israel hate."
Isaac Lichtman, who graduated in May from the University of Georgia with an economics degree, plans to spend a year on a fellowship in Krakow, Poland. He figures that like many state schools, the University of Georgia isn't particularly active politically.
"I never dealt with the antisemitism or the BDS that a lot of my peers that I meet at conferences like this have," he said.