The new report on antisemitism on college campuses by Trinity College’s Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar is disturbing. Who wouldn’t be disturbed to discover that 54 percent of Jewish students say they have experienced or witnessed antisemitism in a given academic year?
Of particular concern is the support this finding gives to the report of the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews that younger Jews experience more antisemitism than older Jews. Since World War II, the evidence has been that antisemitism in America has been fading away. Now it seems to be on its way back.
What immediately springs to mind is anti-Israel sentiment on campuses. As has been widely reported in the Jewish press, the BDS (Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions) movement against Israel has gained traction at a number of colleges and universities, and in some cases has led to ugly attacks, verbal and otherwise, on Jewish students.
But Kosmin and Keysar find little evidence linking reported antisemitism among American students to hostility to Israel. That, they point out, is much more the case in Britain.
“My own view,” Kosmin told the Ledger, “is that part of it is linked to social media in many ways because inhibitions and civility have been eroded in this generation.” In other words, young people, accustomed to the free flow of hostility in the digital world they inhabit, just feel freer to throw around insults than their parents.
“Also, as we point out, to some extent, the Jewish students are more sensitive these days,” Kosmin said. “We spent a lot of time teaching them about Holocaust education; 28 percent of these students who replied to us have been to Israel and half of those went on Birthright, so they know the history and so they, to some extent, pick up these nuances, not just when someone uses an allusion to a classic antisemitic or anti-Judaism term.”
If he’s right, young American Jews may be less the object of a rising tide of antisemitism than canaries in a mine of free-flowing vituperation. Young Americans in other groups, too – African-Americans, Latinos, gays and lesbians, WASPs, you name it – may all be experiencing an increase in the kind of random disparagement Jews report receiving from their peers.
At this point we don’t know, and shouldn’t take much consolation from the thought. What’s needed is further study.