Shadows of Fear: Jewish Students Branded as Outsiders


Israeli and Jewish communities around the world solemnly commemorated the 6,000,000 Jews killed in the Holocaust on May 6 – Yom HaShoah. They also honored the heroism of survivors and rescuers. This year’s theme of destroyed Jewish communities resonates with the Israelis traumatized by the Iran-backed 10/7 Hamas attack and American university students being threatened, spat upon and shunned by much of their campus communities.

Social Exclusion: ‘I’ve lost lifelong friends’

Menacing activists who target Jews on campus prove that their antisemitism extends beyond the Hamas-Israel war. One of the main goals of anti-Israel groups protesting on about 100 university campuses has been to make it impossible for anyone – especially Jews – to support Israel. Some professors have even taken an active role in the protests. A key strategy is social exclusion.

A Jewish doctoral student is considering dropping out of Stanford: “I feel alienated, extremely alienated. It’s been so hard to find connection and community. I really think a lot about my mental health and whether this kind of daily antisemitism is something that’s worth it. How do you walk away from a Ph.D. at Stanford because of antisemitism?”

Campus protests also are spreading to high schools. Chicago senior Mira Rosenblum: “I learned in the early months of high school that if you don’t fit with the majority ideology, people will only see you as one aspect and won’t like you. I’ve lost many lifelong friends this year for being a proud Jew.” Friends of a 21-year-old Northwestern Univ. student recently called to tell her that they could not be friends anymore because she is “too much of a Zionist.”

‘Afraid to identify as Jewish’

A Jewish fraternity member at Stanford successfully ran for a student government seat but omitted his membership in Jewish groups because “I don’t think that writing anything about my Jewishness can help me. The last thing that I’m going to do is ever write about the fact that I’m Jewish.” Stanford campus Rabbi Dov Greenberg confirmed that Jewish students are “afraid to identify as Jewish” because they “don’t want to be bullied or harassed by other students. The one group that’s afraid to speak are the ones being attacked, the Jews.”

At UCLA, the university set up barriers that allowed anti-Israel protesters to limit access to parts of campus under their control. They required wristbands for access to these public areas. Students were asked if they were Zionists in order to enter these restricted zones. In one video, a protester acting as a guard told a Jewish student that “it’s time to go” after blocking him from entering. UCLA Divest also recently posted on Instagram its support for the horrific Hamas 10/7 attack.

Pro-Hamas protesters at UCLA restricted access to public spaces and provided wristbands only to students who oppose the Jewish state. (X screenshot)

Jewish students also are being restricted from public areas at other universities. Many students are feeling emotional distress, compounding their commemoration of the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

Holocaust survivor Bella Haim was traumatized by the Nazis, multiple existential wars against Israel and again on 10/7. The thought of visiting the Auschwitz death camp never occurred to her. Bella changed her mind following the death of her grandson Yotam after Hamas terrorists abducted him from a kibbutz near Gaza. At the annual March of the Living at Auschwitz, Bella declared: “I’m here to show we are alive, we have risen from the Holocaust and we will rise again from Oct. 7.”

Recently, the 2023 Antisemitism Worldwide Report revealed a surge in anti-Jewish attacks even before the 10/7 attack. Lead researcher, Dr. Uriya Shavit: “If current trends continue, the curtain will descend on the ability to lead Jewish lives in the West – to wear a Star of David, attend synagogues and community centers, send kids to Jewish schools, frequent a Jewish club on campus or speak Hebrew.”

The Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of California at Santa Cruz recently included a demand to boycott Hillel – the leading Jewish student life organization across America – and local Jewish foundations. The ADL condemned their “expression of opposition to pillars of the Jewish community” and the university chancellor also rejected the demands. A number of the protesters arrested were not students but were partnered with SJP or other organized anti-Israel groups.

Protest Goals: Blackball Israel from Academic and Economic Alliances

Student demands are very similar and connected the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement against Israel. Activists present BDS as advocacy to help Palestinians, but in reality, the movement calls for the economic isolation of Israel and spreads evil lies that spark an increase in attacks even against American Jews.

Specific ultimatums include selling stocks of companies that support Israel, ending study abroad programs in Israel and falsely assert that Israel is committing ‘genocide.’ However, 38 states have anti-BDS laws – many passed with broad bipartisan support. While they may differ in specifics, they are intended to prevent discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or national origin.

Some universities are failing to enforce laws and their codes of conduct, while others are showing moral clarity. More than 2,000 protesters have been arrested. A few universities negotiated with pro-Hamas student protesters, resulting in a range of capitulation despite violent acts: forming a committee to review investments (Univ. of California, Riverside), a possible divestment vote by the board of trustees (Brown Univ.) and admitting Gaza students on scholarship (Rutgers Univ.). Rutgers also agreed to amnesty for any students arrested.

Seven Jewish members of Northwestern’s antisemitism committee resigned after a deal with protesters: “The overwhelming majority of your Jewish students, faculty, staff and alumni feel betrayed. They considered it home.” Universities taking a more active approach include the Univ. of Florida. Its president affirmed that protesters “don’t get to take over the whole university.”

Students Want to be Students: ‘We feel fatigued approaching finals’

University students – Jews and non-Jews – just want to live their lives: attend their classes, pass their finals and celebrate their graduation. However, interruptions continue to spread across the country. UCLA moved all of its classes online, Columbia and other universities cancelled their main commencement ceremonies and Emory Univ. moved its graduation ceremony off campus.

Columbia freshman Zachary Singerman: “Many of my non-Jewish friends are sick of the campus gates always being closed. There is a sense of fatigue, particularly approaching finals, at dealing with yet another escalation that brings news helicopters to campus. Instead of being able to access Butler Library to study, we are either trapped in our dorms – too afraid to leave – or barred from campus entirely. These protesters are destroying any semblance of campus unity and there are now deep tears in the fabric of the student body’s heart.”

Graduation ceremonies at the Univ. of Michigan and Northeastern were interrupted by pro-Hamas protesters. At UM, campus police had to intervene. One graduating student described how they are “ruining our graduation.” Jewish Northeastern Univ. graduate Jorge Batievsky: “I just want to take the time to appreciate the hard work I did and celebrate this great achievement.”

Students and Police Defend the American Flag: ‘We are not surrendering’

Anti-Israel students at a few universities removed the American flag and replaced it with the Palestinian flag. After police restored the U.S. flag at the Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, members of a Jewish and a Christian fraternity – Alpha Epsilon Pi and Pi Kappa Phi – defended the American flag and sang the national anthem. Brendan Rosenblum described how they were pelted with water bottles. AEPi brother Trevor Lan: “We wanted to ensure that the American flag wasn’t once again taken down.”

The NYPD also restored the American flag at Columbia Univ. NY Mayor Eric Adams: “My uncle died defending this country and these men and women put their lives on the line, and it’s despicable that schools would allow another country’s flag to fly in our country. So, blame me for being proud to be an American. We are not surrendering our way of life to anyone.”

Jewish and non-Jewish students at UNC protect the American flag. A full water bottle thrown by a pro-Hamas protester at the students can be seen passing the flag. (Screenshot, Bryan Anderson on X)

1.  Campus protesters are creating chaos for all students

The campus protests are not merely expressions of dissent, but deliberate attempts to sow chaos and division. Pro-Hamas protesters are using the threat of social exclusion to intimidate students – Jewish and non-Jewish – to support their cause. They also are causing disturbances on campus that prevent students from attending class, passing their finals and celebrating their graduation. At many campuses, freedom of speech crossed the line into instigating violence. Students Supporting Israel founder Ilan Sinelnikov was repeatedly punched in the head at the Univ. of California, Berkeley. This toxic environment is increasing discrimination against Jews – the exact opposite of an academic environment committed to fostering dialogue and understanding. University leaders must commit to promoting an inclusive atmosphere that promotes tolerance and coexistence.

2.  Laws and university codes must be enforced to counter violence

Physically assaulting students, preventing them from accessing public spaces and trespassing all violate laws and university student codes of conduct. Universities are not only failing to enforce their own regulations, but many are unwilling to involve the police. Some have their own police departments that fail to intervene as necessary (e.g., UCLA) while private universities like Columbia must request for police to enforce laws on its own campus. Setting up a tent camp and barricading parts of the campus are prohibited acts for any demonstration. Allowing unlawful protests to continue sets a dangerous precedent for American society and jeopardizes civility.

3.  Anti-Israel Jewish groups do NOT represent the larger Jewish community

Pro-Hamas activists routinely defend themselves from accusations of spreading anti-Jewish hatred by pointing to the small, but vocal fringe Jewish groups that support the destruction of Israel. This includes the anything but peace-seeking Jewish Voice for Peace. Despite the College Democrats of America recently falsely claiming JVP represents the majority of American Jews, the group supports terrorism against Israelis – including the Hamas 10/7 attack – and the anti-Jewish Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement. Its activists also were seen at university protests with forbidden food during the Passover holiday and a sign with Hebrew words printed backwards. According to Pew Research, 82% of American Jews feel that Israel is an important or essential part of being Jewish.

A. Free legal assistance against antisemitism from kindergarten to college

  • Campus Antisemitism Legal Line (CALL) to address anti-Jewish incidents on university campuses. Launched by the ADL, Brandeis Center, Hillel International and Gibson Dunn law firm.
  • StandWithUs Saidoff Legal Department provides pro bono lawyers focused on defending Israel and fighting antisemitism from Kindergarten to college.
  • The Campus Civil Rights Project by The Lawfare Project provides guidance and legal assistance to students, professors and campus groups.
  • K-12 Antisemitism Legal Line for California residents. This program was launched by the ADL, Brandeis Center and StandWithUs because “far too many school principals and administrators are failing in their legal responsibilities and choosing to sweep escalating antisemitism under the rug.”

Examples of situations that may be legal violations, include:

  • Being treated differently or discriminated against because you or your organization is Jewish
  • In-person or online harassment
  • Intentional damage to your property or a physical attack because you’re Jewish

B. Peacefully support Jewish students on campus

Besieged Jewish students need help. You can attend counter-protests to show your support, make donations to campus organizations, contact university administrators to advocate for the enforcement of rules, engage with non-Jewish student groups to promote solidarity and educate friends, family and colleagues about what is happening on university campuses and about Jewish history, traditions and contemporary issues.

C. Hold universities accountable

Universities must swiftly address anti-Jewish hatred on campus, ensuring a safe learning environment for all students. Urge administrators to strengthen protections for Jewish students by enforcing their policies, conducting external reviews of anti-discrimination policies and adopting the International  Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. Seek guidance from Jewish campus organizations and maintain respectful communication. Administrators must be held accountable for their actions – and inaction.

D. Demand universities update and enforce their codes of conduct

The ADL is calling on all campus leaders to ensure that their existing codes of conduct are enforced. Universities appear fearful in acting as enforcers against their own students. The ADL also created a template – Harassment that Creates a Hostile Environment – that can be integrated by universities into their existing codes of conduct. It addresses targeted attacks against individuals based on identifiable characteristics, including religion, ethnicity and national origin.

E. Ask your Congressional members to pass bills protecting Jewish students

Contact your U.S. Representative and Senators and urge them to support pending legislation. Demand your senators pass the Antisemitism Awareness Act recently passed by the House. The bill would direct the Dept. of Education to treat attacks against Jewish students as a civil rights violation and use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism to determine violations. Also request support from your U.S. Representative and Senators to support the College Oversight and Legal Updates Mandating Bias Investigations and Accountability (COLUMBIA) Act, which would allow the Dept. of Education to impose a third-party monitor for antisemitic activity on any campus receiving federal funding. Congressional representatives respond best to personally written emails.

Jewish American Heritage Month

Honoring Jewish Contributions to American Progress, History and Culture

In a painful irony, while the Hamas-Israel war rages and protests roil campuses this month, May is Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM), a celebration intended to educate the American public about the historic contributions of Jews to the United States in all sectors of society – including science, medicine, music, arts, sports, business and humanitarian efforts.

Read more about Jewish American heritage

Israeli Memorial Day

Yom HaZikaron is the day of national remembrance in Israel to commemorate all the soldiers who lost their lives defending the State of Israel, as well victims of terror in Israel and around the world. This Memorial Day is held immediately preceding Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. Tragically this year we will all remember the civilian and IDF victims of the Oct. 7 attack, as well as those who have been killed in the ensuing war. The American Zionist Movement presents several resources and guides that can help communities, organizations, synagogues and schools to mark this solemn and important day.

Israeli Forces Enter Rafah in Attempt to Rescue Hostages and Destroy Hamas

After repeated calls for civilian evacuations, the Israeli Defense Forces entered Rafah on May 6. At the last minute, the Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists appeared to accept a ceasefire agreement that was not approved by Israel. Hamas repeatedly refused Israeli offers over several weeks of negotiations in an attempt to delay the IDF and force Israel to accept its terms.

Hamas announced that “during the first phase, Hamas releases 33 Israeli detainees (alive or corpses).” Israel initially demanded the release of 40 living hostages, all of them women, children, elderly and sick. This was reduced to 33 after Hamas stated that there were not 40 living hostages in this category. Hamas also claimed that the deal would end the war. This would allow Hamas to retain control of Gaza, a position that is untenable for the Jewish state given that Hamas and its Iranian sponsor are dedicated to the destruction of Israel.

The Israelis have been clear that their goals are to eliminate Hamas control in Gaza and the return of their hostages. Hamas is desperate to remain in power. An increasing number of countries are willing to allow Hamas to achieve this objective because of fears of a deeper humanitarian crisis following an Israeli operation against Hamas in Rafah. The southern Gaza city is the remaining Hamas stronghold.

The Israeli military recently called, texted and dropped flyers to 100,000 Palestinians in eastern Rafah advising they evacuate. This came only days after Hamas fired mortars from Rafah towards a Gaza-Israeli border crossing where humanitarian aid enters Gaza. The salvo killed four Israeli soldiers. Hamas also fired rockets into northern Israel from inside Lebanon.

Iran-Backed Hezbollah Ramps Up Rocket Fire

Iranian-backed terrorists in southern Lebanon continue to launch rockets into northern Israel. A barrage of 60 rockets injured an Israeli civilian and damaged multiple homes and cars – including an ambulance. A drone carrying explosives injured two more Israelis.

A senior Hezbollah leader warned that a full-scale war would end life for Israelis in the north “once and for all.” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed that a “there’s a real threat there of a full-scale war with Hezbollah, which militarily is a lot more challenging and destructive than Hamas.” The Florida senator also stated that the continuing attacks and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Israelis is not “getting nearly enough attention.”

The ADL and Tel Aviv Univ. Publish Annual Antisemitism Worldwide Report for 2023

The 10/7 Iran-backed Hamas attack helped fuel a fire that was already out of control. The Report emphasizes that most countries with large Jewish minorities also saw increases in the first nine months of 2023, before the war started.

TAU Prof. Uriya Shavit: “The year is not 1938, not even 1933. Yet if current trends continue, the curtain will descend on the ability to lead Jewish lives in the West – to wear a Star of David, attend synagogues and community centers, send kids to Jewish schools, frequent a Jewish club on campus or speak Hebrew. One of the biggest challenges of our time is how to mobilize support for the fight against antisemitism without making it the definer of Jewish identity.”

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt: “This year’s report is incredibly alarming, with documented unprecedented levels of antisemitism, including in the U.S., where 2023 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents ever recorded by ADL. Antisemitism isn’t just an abstract issue. It is a real-life threat to Jewish life in America and Jews around the world, and our history teaches us that we do not have the luxury to be indifferent when moments like these occur. That means we need to be clear-eyed about the threats we face and have the determination to confront them.”

Daily News Briefs

In light of the surge of current relevant news, please subscribe to our Daily News Brief, a digest of critical news headlines curated from thousands of media addressing issues that affect the Jewish world.

Click here to sign up

This content is developed by The Focus Project in partnership with Mercaz USA. The Focus Project distributes weekly news and talking points on timely issues concerning Israel and the Jewish people, including antisemitism, anti-Zionism and the delegitimization of Israel. It represents a consensus view across a spectrum of major American Jewish organizations. Mercaz USA recognizes and respects the diversity of views on these issues among its readers and the community at large.

The Focus Project develops and distributes news, background, history and weekly talking points on timely issues to inform individuals and organizations about issues affecting the American Jewish community and Israel, and help readers speak with more consistency and clarity. The editions also provide potential responses for addressing incidents of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. With input from a spectrum of major American Jewish organizations, we focus on that which unites us, rising above political and individual agendas. Recognizing that hatred of Jews comes in many forms and directions, we strive to address all sources as they arise, and educate our growing audience on topics ranging from inter-religious relations to relevant international developments. From week to week, we may focus on issues arising from the political left, university campuses, from the political right and from institutions, government, and corporations. We don’t try to address all issues in each edition. We hope you will find this information useful in your writing and/or speaking. We are always open to your feedback: