Universities and antisemitism

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Universities in many countries have been the site of antisemitic policies and practices at different times in their history. Several universities have restricted the admission of Jewish students, as well as the hiring and retention of Jewish faculty. In some instances, universities have supported antisemitic government policies and condoned the development of an antisemitic culture on campus. In most democratic countries, officially sanctioned university antisemitism was phased out in the years after World War II.

In recent years, accusations of antisemitism have sometimes been made in relation to the activities of pro-Palestinian organizations on university campuses. These accusations are controversial and have almost always been rejected by the organizations in question.

20th century[edit]


Historian Gerald Tulchinsky has written that Canadian universities were "rife with antisemitism" in the early twentieth century. Some universities restricted Jewish admission, Jews were banned from many fraternities and sororities, and many Jewish medical students were unable to find placements in Canada after graduation. (Despite this, Tulchinsky has also written that Canadian universities were "not hotbeds of antisemitism" in general and, indeed, that they played a significant role in the development of a Canadian Jewish culture.)[1]

McGill University and the University of Toronto

McGill University imposed strict quotas on Jewish students in 1920. Before the quotas were introduced, Jewish students represented 25 per cent of arts students and 40 per cent of law students. These percentages fell significantly in the following years.[2] Qualified Jewish graduates sometimes faced discrimination when applying for positions at both McGill and the University of Toronto.[3]

McGill continued to impose a 10 per cent quota on Jewish medical students until the 1960s; it was sometimes noted that the francophone Université de Montréal, unlike McGill, did not restrict Jewish admission after World War II.[4] The University of Toronto's medical school also required higher marks of Jewish students until the 1960s, and Toronto's Jewish Mount Sinai Hospital was denied status as a teaching hospital until 1962.[5]

Queen's University

In 1912, despite strong protests from Canada's Jewish community, the Government of Ontario approved a new constitution for Queen's University that included a phrase affirming that "the trustees shall satisfy themselves of the Christian character of those appointed to the teaching staff." In 1919, newly appointed principal R. Bruce Taylor made antisemitic statements at a meeting of university alumni, saying that "[t]he presence of many Jews tended to lower the tone of Canadian Universities." At least one graduate protested against this statement to the university's chancellor.[6]

Notwithstanding these developments, Tulchinsky has written that Queen's was "mildly more liberal" than McGill and the University of Toronto in accepting Jewish students and hiring Jewish faculty. Unlike the other universities, Queen's admitted German Jewish refugees as students in the 1930s and 1940s.[7]


Moshe Y. Herczl has written that universities were part of a larger phenomonen of antisemitism that took place in Hungary after World War I. Christian university students, sometimes joined by their professors, took part in violent demonstrations against Jewish student enrollment during the autumn of 1919. The authorities were forced to temporarily close the universities as a result of the disruption. Shortly thereafter, the Hungarian government prepared a law limiting Jewish enrollment to about six per cent of the total university population.

Several departments at Peter Pazmany Catholic University in Budapest supported the proposed quota, as did the administration at the Technical University of Budapest. Some professors called for Jews to be banned from Hungarian universities entirely. After some debate, the Hungarian parliament passed the quota legislation by a vote of fifty-seven to seven. It came into effect at the beginning of the 1920 academic year, coinciding with another round of antisemitic rioting on campuses. The number of Jews in Hungarian academic institutions fell dramatically in this period; at the University of Budapest, the numbers declined from 4,288 in 1917–18 to only 459 in 1920–21. Several European Jewish organizations opposed the Hungary quota law, arguing that it created a precedent that would be followed by other governments.[8]

Antisemitic rioting continued at Hungarian universities into the 1930s; Jewish students were ostracized and often physically attacked. Christian student associations introduced a petition in 1933 that called for a strict enforcement of government quotas, while other groups passed antisemitic manifestos. The disruption once again led to a temporary closing of the universities.[9]

Further antisemitic legislation was passed by the Hungarian parliament in 1939, on the eve of World War II. Among many other things, this legislation further restricted Jewish enrollment in universities.[10]

Accusations related to the Israel-Palestine conflict[edit]

Evidence of antisemitic incidents on university campuses across North America, Europe, and Australia since 2000 have been recorded by a number of sources. Though the circumstances surrounding the reported incidents are disputed, some maintain that campus activism supportive of the Palestinians and critical of Israel has created an atmosphere of anti-Jewish intimidation that erupts periodically in hate speech and even violence.[11][12][13] Others acknowledge that antisemitic incidents have occurred, but dispute the extent of them, and contend that commentators have conflated political anger with ethnic or religious hatred in an attempt to chill legitimate debate.[14]

Laurie Zoloth, former director of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University, has written of her distress at walking across campus past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, and posters equating Zionism with racism and Jews with Nazis, turning the campus into a "Weimar Republic with brownshirts you cannot control."[15]

Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs and former academic dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and John Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, have described the widespread allegations of antisemitism in Columbia University's Middle East Studies program as part of "an overt intimidation campaign" against faculty critical of Israel, spearheaded by a "propaganda film" (Columbia Unbecoming), and constituting a "classic illustration of the effort to police academia."[16]


In Australia, Daniel Wyner of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, says that the "vilification we feel as students on campus ... [is] coming almost entirely from the left." Grahame Leonard, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, says July 2006 had the most antisemitic incidents since records began in 1945, and that many of the incidents were on campus. In Sydney, some Jewish students have started to wear hats over their kippahs. Deon Kamien, former Victorian president of the Union of Jewish Students, told The Age: "It's not something I can put in words. A lot of students who would feel very comfortable wearing a kippah or T-shirt with Hebrew words on it now feel they are being targeted as Jews — not supporters of Israel, but Jews. When they walk past socialist stalls (on campus) they are called f---ing Jews."[17]


In September 2002, former Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was prevented from delivering a speech at Concordia University in Montreal after a student protest turned violent. Some protesters harassed the predominantly Jewish audience that had arrived for the speech, and there were reports of Holocaust survivors being assaulted.[18] Figures such as World Jewish Congress secretary Avi Beker described the incident as indicative of an "anti-Semitic campaign" on North American campuses,[19] while journalist Lysiane Gagnon accused the university's pro-Palestinian students union of "refus[ing] to blame those who broke windows, threw chairs around, spat at and shoved the Jewish students who wanted to hear Mr. Netanyahu".[20] The student union's vice-president of communications rejected Gagnon's charge, saying that his organization had on many occasions "publicly condemned any acts of physical violence [...] especially those acts that were anti-Semitic or anti-Arab in nature."[21] A representative of Concordia's Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights organization claimed that only a small minority of protesters had engaged in violent acts and argued that the protest itself was justified.[18]

An advertisement in the Globe and Mail on December 17, 2002, signed by 100 people, said that Canadian Jewish students are traumatized by on-campus antisemitism and dare not speak out in support of Israel or Judaism.[22] Signatories included Irving Abella, David Bercuson, Ramsay Cook, Michael Bliss, Margaret Atwood, Peter C. Newman, Neil Bissoondath, Francine Pelletier, and June Callwood.[23]

In 2009, some members of the Hillel organization at York University in Toronto were stalked and allegedly threatened by pro-Palestinian students at a protest. The Hillel students were allegedly barricaded into their centre, while protesters allegedly shouted what the Jerusalem Post described as "anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slurs".[24][25] The claims of antisemitic slurs were not reported by the media that were present at the time, and some have suggested that this accusation lacks credibility.[26] Two pro-Palestinian students, Krisna Saravanamuttu and Jesse Zimmerman, were issued fines for violating the university code of conduct.[27] Generally, York University faculty have largely rejected claims of increased antisemitism on their campus.[28]

On April 5, 2010, two Carleton University students, one of whom is Jewish, were assaulted by a group of men outside a bar in Gatineau, Quebec. [29] The assailants proceeded to assault the two students, and one of the perpetrators wielded a machete and began swinging at one of the victims. The two students escaped their attackers on foot with only minor injuries. The incident was investigated by Gatineau police.

Bernie Farber, the leader of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said in 2009 that he had never before seen such a bad atmosphere on Toronto streets and university campuses. Some have objected to this assertion[citation needed]. The author Rick Salutin argues that accusations of a "new anti-Semitism" in contemporary Canada are usually unspecific, and do not include verifiable names or quotations. He has also written that incidents of "name calling and group hate" at protests are not indicative of a new wave of antisemitism, which is universally regarded as unacceptable within mainstream Canadian discourse.[30]


In France, Patrick Klugman, President of the Union of French Jewish Students (UEJF), wrote in Le Figaro: "On some university campuses like Nanterre, Villetaneuse and Jussieu, the climate has become very difficult for Jews. In the name of the Palestinian cause, they are castigated as if they were Israeli soldiers! We hear 'death to the Jews' during demonstrations which are supposed to defend the Palestinian cause. Last April, our office was the target of a Molotov cocktail. As a condition for condemning this attack, the lecturers demanded that the UEJF declare a principled position against Israel!"[22]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the UK, the "Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism" reported that "when left wing or pro-Palestinian discourse is manipulated and used as a vehicle for anti-Jewish language and themes, the anti-Semitism is harder to recognize and define ..."[31]

The inquiry heard that University College, London invited members of the Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir to give presentations, although it has been banned from several countries because of its antisemitism. Hizb-ut-Tahrir has also been active at Queen Mary, University of London; Kingston University; and Birmingham City University.[32]

The report describes how "tensions and incidents on campus often peak around students' union votes concerning Israel and Zionism," listing by way of example several incidents precipitated by a 2002 University of Manchester students' union motion to declare that anti-Zionism was not antisemitism, and that Israeli goods should be boycotted. During the voting phase, according to the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester, a leaflet from the General Union of Palestinian Students quoting a neo-Nazi forgery entitled "Prophecy of Benjamin Franklin in Regard of the Jewish Race", was handed out to students lining up to vote.[32] The leaflet described Jews as vampires, and said that if they were not expelled from the United States, they would "enslave the country and destroy its economy."[33] When the motion was defeated, a brick was thrown through the window of one Jewish student residence while a poster with the words "Slaughter the Jews" was stuck to its front door, and a knife was stuck in the door of another.[33]

United States[edit]

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)'s 2002 audit of "Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Events" on college campuses across the U.S. included accounts of violent incidents.[34] An April 9, 2002, rally held by the Muslim Student Association at SFSU displayed posters bearing a picture of soup cans reading "Made in Israel" on the label, listing the contents as "Palestinian Children Meat," with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as the manufacturer, and the words "slaughtered according to Jewish Rites under American license."[35][36]

On May 7, 2002, a group of pro-Israel demonstrators at SFSU were confronted by pro-Palestinian counter-demonstrators after a rally. Both sides were described as "exchang[ing] taunts that descended into slurs", and the pro-Israel students were escorted back to the Hillel building under police protection. The university president subsequently remarked that "a small but terribly destructive number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, many of whom were not SFSU students, abandoned themselves to intimidating behavior and statements too hate-filled to repeat". Members of this group were reported to have yelled, "Hitler didn't finish the job".[37] This was adamantly denied by Palestinian activists present at the rally, who accused the pro-Israel demonstrators of calling the Arab students "sand niggers" and "terrorists." According to Leila Qutami of the SFSU's General Union of Palestine Students, "We were called 'Arab losers' and told to stick flags up our asses. And those are the things that are mentionable". One Jewish member of the pro-Palestinian counter-demonstration was quoted as saying that she heard "a couple of inappropriate, anti-Semitic things", but claimed that these were not representative of her organization's opinion. She blamed the presence of anti-Semites in the pro-Palestinian cause on "the confusion of Zionism with Judaism".[38]

There also were significant tensions between Jewish and Palestinian student groups at the University of California at Berkeley in 2002. During Passover, a cinder block was thrown through the front windows of the Hillel centre and the words "Fuck the Jews" were written on the centre's recycling bins. The culprits were never found, and these acts were condemned by Palestinian student leaders.[39] Palestinian students also argued that they were subject to harassment on campus, being labeled as terrorists or anti-Semites for voicing their opposition to Israel.[40] The tensions were especially strong on April 9, when two rival events took place at the same time: Jewish student groups held a vigil for Holocaust Remembrance Day, while Students for Justice in Palestine held a National Day of Action in conjunction with the anniversary of the Deir Yassin Massacre.[41] Some Jewish students criticized the pro-Palestinian group for distributing pamphlets that drew parallels between the Holocaust and Israel's military assault on Palestinian territories, while Palestinian students again complained that they were frequently slandered as antisemitic. A member of Jews for a Free Palestine who tried to recite a Hebrew prayer at the Palestinian event was drowned out by students from the Israel Action Committee, who repeatedly shouted "shame".[42]

In February 2006, members of the UC Berkeley Jewish fraternity chapter, Alpha Epsilon Pi, found the word "kike" painted in white on the deck of their house. The fraternity reported that although they had been targeted by racially charged comments before, that incident was the worst instance of antisemitism they had experienced; “It’s just really sad, in this day and age, that anti-Semitism can still exist on such a progressive campus,” said Joe Rothberg, president of the fraternity. “It’s just depressing.” [43]

Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, has written how two students of his wondered whether it was true that 4,000 Jews had failed to show up for work at the World Trade Center on September 11. "The worst crackpot notions that circulate around the Middle East are also roaming around America," he writes, "and if that wasn't bad enough, students are spreading the gibberish. Students!"[44]

In late October 2007, five swastikas were drawn on several buildings in the dormitories of the George Washington University.[45] One of these swastikas was found on the door of a Jewish student's dormitory. University officials condemned the occurrences. It later turned out, however, that the student had painted them herself, and that the entire incident was a hoax.[46]

A Hillel staff member at Brown University was attacked on March 15, 2008 when two Molotov cocktails were thrown at his apartment. The staff member was safe and continues to work at the Hillel at Brown, but moved out of his apartment. Law enforcement and university officials investigated the matter.[47]

Graffiti depicting a Star of David between the Twin Towers as an airplane flies toward them was found outside a classroom at UC Santa Cruz. Below the image of the towers was the number 666, a symbolic number representing the Antichrist. University faculty and administration quickly condemned the act as a hate crime.[48]

UC Irvine[edit]

The Zionist Organization of America filed a complaint against UC Irvine in 2005, alleging that the university had failed to take action against Islamic student groups that had allegedly engaged in antisemitic activities. Federal investigators declined to lay charges, determining that the activities in question were based on political opposition to the policies of Israel rather than antisemitism.[49]

In May 2009, UC Irvine hosted a two week event titled "Israel: The Politics of Genocide", sponsored by the school's Muslim Student Union. Scheduled speakers include Cynthia McKinney and George Galloway. Opponents of the event described it as antisemitic, and called for the university Chancellor to condemn both the event and the sponsoring organization.[50] One outdoor demonstration at this event included a display with an image of Jewish Holocaust victim Anne Frank wearing a keffiyah, in an apparent attempt to draw an analogy between her sufferings and the plight of the Palestinians in the Palestinian territories. The pro-Israel campus advocacy group StandWithUs has described this image as offensive.[51]

Another of the featured speakers at the 2009 event was Imam Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who delivered a speech entitled "Silence Is Consent." According to the university newspaper, Malik Ali described Zionism as a racist ideology, and denounced what he described as U.S. imperialism.[52] One student wrote an opinion piece that accused Malik Ali of promoting "naked hate" and of fomenting various antisemitic conspiracy theories against "Zionist Jews", including the belief that Jews were responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001, and quoted him as saying, "[The] Zionist Jew is in the party of Shaytan [Islamic term for 'Satan'] ... they follow the Shaytan’s power ... they like to operate behind closed doors."[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gerald Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews: A People's Journey, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press), 2008, p. 132-133, 319-321.
  2. ^ Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews, p. 133.
  3. ^ Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews, pp. 319-320.
  4. ^ Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews, p. 410.
  5. ^ Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews, p. 415.
  6. ^ Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews, pp. 132-133.
  7. ^ Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews, pp. 320-321.
  8. ^ Moshe Y. Herczl, Christianity and the Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry, (New York and London: New York University Press), 1993, 43-47.
  9. ^ Herczl, Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry, pp. 57–58.
  10. ^ Herczl, Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry, p. 118.
  11. ^ http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/93495/university-students-quit-after-toxic%E2%80%99-antisemitism-edinburgh
  12. ^ http://www.wnd.com/2011/07/319805/
  13. ^ http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1152&context=wmborj
  14. ^ Butler, Judith. "No, it's not anti-semitic", The London Review of Books, August 21, 2003. "Here, it is important to distinguish between antisemitic speech which, say, produces a hostile and threatening environment for Jewish students—racist speech which any university administrator would be obliged to oppose and regulate—and speech which makes a student uncomfortable because it opposes a particular state or set of state policies that he or she may defend. The latter is a political debate, and if we say that the case of Israel is different, that any criticism of it is considered as an attack on Israelis, or Jews in general, then we have singled out this political allegiance from all other allegiances that are open to public debate. We have engaged in the most outrageous form of 'effective' censorship."
  15. ^ Zoloth, Laurie. "Fear and Loathing at San Francisco State" in Rosenbaum, Ron. Those who forget the past. Random House, 2004, pp. 1–3.
  16. ^ Mearsheimer, John J. and Walt, Stephen. "Policing Academia" in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Kennedy School of Government Working Paper Number:RWP06-011, March 13, 2006, p.24.
  17. ^ Zwartz, Barney & Morton, Adam. "An unholy alliance", The Age, September 4, 2006.
  18. ^ a b Graeme Hamilton, "Nazi-hunter criticizes actions of Concordia", National Post, 16 October 2002, A2.
  19. ^ Anne Dawson, "Canada accused of failing to fight anti-Semitism", National Post, 19 November 2002, A9.
  20. ^ Lysiane Gagnon, "Here's to you, Mr. Robinson", Globe and Mail, 2 December 2002, A19.
  21. ^ Yves Engler, Letter, Globe and Mail, 5 December 2002, A26.
  22. ^ a b Gerstenfeld, Manfred. "The Academic Boycott Against Israel", Jewish Political Studies Review 15:3-4 (Fall 2003).
  23. ^ Farr, Moira. "When cultures collide on campus. Defending free speech at university in tense times", University Affairs, May 2003.
  24. ^ "York U. reprimands students for harassing Jews." Jerusalem Post. 25 May 2009. 5 July 2009.
  25. ^ Csillag, Ron. "Cops quell anti-Israel attack at Toronto college." JTA. 13 February 2009. 5 July 2009.
  26. ^ [1]
  27. ^ Meghan O'Toole, "Two York students sanctioned over confrontation", National Post, 23 May 2009, A18.
  28. ^ [2]
  29. ^ Rogers, Dave (2010-04-16). "Machete used in anti-Semitic attack in Gatineau, Carleton students say". Ottawa Citizen. Canwest News Service. Retrieved 2010-06-21. [dead link]
  30. ^ Rick Salutin, "Israel, apartheid, anti-Semites", Globe and Mail, 6 March 2009, A19.
  31. ^ "Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism" PDF (430 KiB), September 2006, p.38.
  32. ^ a b "Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism" PDF (430 KiB), September 2006, p.39.
  33. ^ a b "Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism" PDF (430 KiB), September 2006, p.40.
  34. ^ Anti-Defamation League, "Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Events on Campus", May 14, 2002, accessed January 9, 2006.
  35. ^ Letter from SFSU President Robert A. Corrigan to California State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed, SFSU website, July 25, 2002, accessed January 9, 2006.
  36. ^ Richman, Josh. "ADL: Antisemitic Incidents Soar in N. California", The Forward, April 4, 2003, accessed January 9, 2006.
  37. ^ William Booth, "On Campus, a Reflection of Middle East Anger", Washington Post, 19 May 2002, A3.
  38. ^ Featherstone, Liz. "The MidEast War Breaks Out On Campus", The Nation, June 17. 2002/
  39. ^ Michelle Locke, "Mideast conflict sparks protesters at UC Berkeley", San Diego Union-Tribune, 12 November 2002, F10.
  40. ^ Tanya Schevitz, "UC Berkeley's conflicts mirror Mideast's pain", San Francisco Chronicle, 5 April 2002, A1.
  41. ^ Charles Burress, "Cal chancellor calls for calm as rivals plan events today", San Francisco Chronicle, 9 April 2002, A1.
  42. ^ Liz Garone, "Berkeley Students Rally for Palestine", Washington Post, 10 April 2002, A3.
  43. ^ Lum, Jessica. "Jewish Fraternity Vandalized with Slur." The Daily Californian. Wednesday, February 15, 2006. [3]
  44. ^ Gitlin, Todd. "The Rough Beast Returns" in Rosenbaum, Ron. Those who forget the past. Random House, 2004, p. 264.
  45. ^ "No Arrests Made in Apparent GW Hate Crimes" NBC4 News
  46. ^ "Freshman who reported swastikas drew them as well"GW Hatchet
  47. ^ Jayakrishna, Nandini. "Hillel staffer moving on after attack." The Brown Daily Herald. 9 April 2008. 9 April 2008.
  48. ^ Brown, J.M. "UCSC probes anti-Semitic graffiti." San Jose Mercury News. 1 May 2008. 2 May 2008.
  49. ^ "Feds say UC Irvine fair in disputes between Muslims, Jews", Associated Press Newswires, 12 December 2007, 01:34pm report.
  50. ^ "Denounce Muslim group, UC Irvine chancellor urged." Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 12 May 2009. 12 May 2009.
  51. ^ "Creating Hate at UC Irvine." StandWithUs.org. 13 May 2009. 15 May 2009.
  52. ^ Sheba Ali, Daniel Johnson and Paul Oginni, "Week of Controversial Events Erupts in Protest", New University, 18 May 2009.
  53. ^ Elias, Aaron. "Speakers Favor Controversy Over Facts." New University. 18 May 2009. 18 May 2009.

Further reading[edit]