History of Campus Anti-Semitism: From the New Left to Today’s Left

By Jackson Richman

Just as anti-Semitism is not a novelty, so too is the hatred of Jews and Israel on college campuses.

Although there are nonstop reports of campus anti-Semitism, its history has been, if at all, barely discussed. This campus discrimination may not be rooted in Ancient Rome or Medieval Europe, but the trend extends for decades, at least since the New Left movement of the 1960s.

The New Left created the fearful and hateful environment for campus Jews which, unfortunately, permeates Jewish life on campus to this day.

My research makes it evident that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. In 1955, Eleanor Roosevelt observed that “Arab propaganda on American college campuses across the country is beyond the wildest imagination.”

“What is striking about the anti-Zionism derangement syndrome that spills over into anti-Semitism is its ahistorical nature,” the New York Times Roger Cohen wrote. “It denies the long Jewish presence in, and bond with, the Holy Land. It disregards the fundamental link between murderous European anti-Semitism and the decision of surviving Jews to embrace Zionism in the conviction that only a Jewish homeland could keep them safe.” The complex history of campus anti-Semitism highlights the denial and disregard Cohen describes.

What was the New Left?

The New Left was a worldwide movement which sought reform related to civil rights, LGBT rights, abortion, drugs, and other issues. In the U.S., the movement was associated with leftist ideals which dominated the 1960s and 70s, especially among college students. A prominent group within the New Left was Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), which protested the Vietnam War and championed other causes such as civil rights. SDS’s inaugural leader was Aryeh Neier, who fled alongside his family from Nazi Germany when he was two years old. (He later co-founded the anti-Israel group Human Rights Watch and served as the president of the Open Society Institute, funded by the anti-Israel billionaire George Soros.)

Other prominent New Left Jews included Mark Rudd, Jerry Rubin, and Abby Hoffman. Though Rubin and Hoffman were not part of SDS, they co-founded a similar movement, the Youth International Party, which led campus protests including at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where they were arrested along with former first daughter Amy Carter.

Jewish-Black Student Relations

Although left-wing Jews stood with their Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Congress of Racial Equality peers in fighting Jim Crow, a few years after the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s enactment, Jews were increasingly discriminated against in the movement as more radical groups like the Black Panthers gained popularity on campus. After Israel’s Six-Day War victory, members of the New Left increasingly demonized Israel as an “imperialist aggressor.” The June 1967 issue of the Black Panther magazine Black Power printed a poem which stated, “We’re gonna burn their towns and that ain’t all… that will be ecstasy, killing every Jew in Jewland.” A year later, Black Power leader Stokely Carmichael said, “We have begun to see the evil of Zionism and we will fight to wipe it out wherever it exists, be it in the Ghetto of the United States or in the Middle East.”

Carmichael’s work influenced campuses nationwide, especially at San Francisco State University. On November 5, 1968, the day before what would be the first sustained assault against an institution by its students, who in this case employed violence unprecedented in the history of American higher education, Carmichael proposed the idea of Black studies as a way to integrate his movement within an academic field. “When you talk about black studies you talk about methodology and ideology, not just another subject. Not the same methodology the white man uses, but a different methodology to communicate to us,” Carmichael said in an address to Black Student Union (BSU) students. “Different ideology means an ideology brooding in black nationalism. Not just adding black people to white history. That’s an insidious subterfuge.”

Embracing Carmichael’s vision, the university’s Special Coordinator of Black Studies, Nathan Hare, developed SFSU’s Black Studies program that would be anti-White. In the Fall 1968 issue of The Public Interest, education and civil rights scholar John H. Bunzel wrote: “[Hare] has been described as ‘a man seething with anger about the path of Negro leadership, the duplicity of whites, and the fallibility of many Negroes who follow both.’”

Bunzel added, “At a number of universities, militant students have demanded the admission of specific numbers of Negroes, which increasingly is being translated into quotas roughly equal to the proportion of Negroes in the total population of the locality or of the nation.” He cited Daniel Patrick Moynihan—no stranger to speaking on behalf of the Jewish people, even before denouncing the United Nations for its “Zionism is Racism” resolution several years later—who said, “Let me be blunt. If ethnic quotas are to be imposed on American universities... Jews will be almost driven out. They are not 3 percent of the population.”

Moynihan added, “America has known enough anti-Semitism…to be wary of opening that box again.”

After the five-month strike, SFSU acting president S.I. Hayakawa caved to student demands, which included establishing a degree-granting Black Studies department. This was a catalyst for eventually creating an academic program in Arab and Muslim studies in 2003 within the College of Ethnic Studies, which houses the Black Studies department. Four years later, the college founded the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Initiative (AMED). In an essay about SFSU’s anti-Semitic history, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, who leads the AMCHA Initiative, which monitors campus anti-Semitism, wrote: “The AMED program and the college went on to organize and sponsor events with anti-Semitic content.”

In July 2006, GUPS led a session at a convention hosted by SFSU for Al-Awda, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition—an organization which opposes Israel’s existence “by any means necessary” and has been affiliated with State Department designated terrorist groups. The session featured Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi as a keynote speaker shortly before she began her tenure as director and Senior Scholar of AMED.

In the 1990s, and the main catalyst of SFSU anti-Semitism was the Pan African Student Union (PASU), described by a member as the “ideological descendant of the original Black Student Union.” The group was heavily influenced by the Nation of Islam, adopting its Jewish hatred, which consisted of both anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric. For example, in 1994, a ten-foot Malcolm X mural, commissioned by the PASU and African Student Alliance, consisted of yellow Stars of David fused with skulls, crossbones, dollar signs, and the words “African Blood.” Jewish students cried foul at the anti-Semitic portrayal and asked for the incendiary parts to be painted over, a request the artist refused. In November that year, the PASU and the All African Peoples Revolutionary Party, founded by Carmichael, created an event featuring anti-Zionist activist Ralph Schoenman to speak, promoting it with fliers denouncing “Zionism is racism!”

“Come and learn why students resisted SFSU administration, CSU police, along with the Zionist powers who defaced the mural of Malcolm X at the end of last semester,” part of the flier stated. “Come and find out why the Zionists hide behind the term ‘anti-Semitic’ when they are condemned by the masses for their evil actions against helpless people.”

A year after the Malcolm X mural incident, a student newspaper published an op-ed by former student body president and PASU leader Troy Buckner-Nkrumah. “I do believe the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist, as I believe the only good Nazi is a dead Nazi, or the only good racist is a dead racist,” he wrote. “I support Palestinian groups like Hamas who have not sold out their land and continue to put bullets in settlers.”

He added, “At this time in the struggle the Zionist is a prime enemy of the black struggle for liberation. They co-opt our leaders and mislead our people, degrade our people — especially our women — through their influence and participation in the record, television and film industries. Not to mention the destruction the Zionists have caused throughout Africa, by arming and sustaining oppressive and illegal regimes in hopes to control the gold and diamond reserves, as was done in the apartheid state of South Africa since 1948.”

In 1997, PASU participants hung a banner alongside the Malcolm X mural, calling for the death of Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori and his “Zionist commandos.” The banner also featured an Israeli flag with a swastika and an American flag with a dollar sign. This act was followed by students handing out fliers demonizing Zionism as racism.

That same year, Corrigan admitted his institution is “the most anti-Semitic campus in the nation.”

However, SFSU hasn’t been the only campus with anti-Semitic activity.

In 1971, Jewish-Black tensions escalated at Brooklyn College when several Black students broke a jukebox in the canteen of the Student Union Building which was repeatedly playing an Israeli record, “B’shanah Habaah” (“Next Year”), which the students also broke, leading to a physical altercation that was almost immediately broken up by college security guards. Over the next several days, hundreds of Jewish and Black students brawled. According to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, “Some Jewish students said that the record-breaking episode ‘tore it for us.’”

“An on-the-spot survey yesterday by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency showed Friday’s episode might have been the immediate cause of the melee but not its real cause,” the May 1971 article added. “The fighting on Tuesday only disclosed the rancor, tensions, hostilities, misunderstandings and suspicions that have long existed between black and Jewish students at the college.”

In 1987, Queens College hosted an event sponsored by the Queens Black/Jewish People to People Project. It was led by Reverend Jesse Jackson and Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, who was known for advocating interfaith dialogue. Jackson’s invitation caused a major Jewish organization to withdraw its support, considering Jackson’s infamous history with the Jewish community, endorsing a Palestinian state and calling Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin a “terrorist” and his country as a “theocracy.”

Queens student Barry Friedman stood in front of a microphone in an auditorium of 1,700 Black and Jewish students and said, “Reverend [Jesse] Jackson, we can’t seem to get a dialogue going with the black students on campus. Can you help us?”

Jackson responded by pointing to the college’s BSU president Michael Reese and said, ”Brother Reese, are you still in the house? Do me a favor and walk over to that gentleman,” pointing to Friedman. The reverend attempted to reconcile the Black-Jewish relations on campus by asking, “Do both of you agree that tuition is too high? Do you both agree that President [Ronald] Reagan is not doing enough to help college students pay for school? Do you both agree that we should fight world hunger?” Responsively, Friedman and Reese nodded.

“Okay,” Jackson said. “Now you know that you agree on the major items. The rest should be easy to work out.”

“The two shook hands and the large audience cheered and applauded,” Alan Hevesi, a Jewish founding member of the Queens Black/Jewish People to People Project, wrote in the New York Times.

“That is what the Queens Black/Jewish People to People Project is all about – to mix people in a variety of settings so that they will come to see each other as humans, not as objects or stereotypes,” the Democratic New York assemblyman added. “Our purpose is to have people realize that they really agree on the important things – on the need for a better life for their children and for security in their old age; on the need for eliminating poverty, discrimination and crime, and on true equality and fairness. When people know that they agree on the basics, it will be easier to work out any differences.”

In September 1990, Dillard University in New Orleans established a National Center for Black-Jewish Relations. While he was an Ohio State University graduate student, founder Samuel DuBois Cook was startled when a professor told him “I’m a member of a minority, too.”

“What? You’re white,” Cook recalled replying. “How can you be a member of a minority?” The professor answered, “I’m Jewish.”

In an interview then with the New York Times, Cook added, “We have to understand Jews’ opposition to quotas because quotas were used to leave Jews out and oppress them and dehumanize them. By the same token, members of the Jewish community will have to understand why Jesse Jackson is such a symbol in the black community.” Six years later, Cook was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Holocaust Memorial Council alongside survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and five others. (Cook died earlier this year at 88.)

In July 1991, City College of New York professor Leonard Jeffries gave a speech at the Empire State Black Arts and Cultural Festival and accused Jews of being complicit in the slave trade and that they controlled the film industry alongside the Italian mafia.

Notwithstanding attempts at dialogue, the hatred persists.  For example, Black Lives Matter—a staple on campuses— has demonized Jews, especially in its official platform. Chloe Valdary, a Black pro-Israel advocate, wrote in Tablet, “An organization formed to confront systemic prejudice against black Americans—which predates the reestablishment of the state of Israel—is now intimating that such prejudice is caused by the Jewish state’s supposed genocidal tendencies (which, according to census reports, have led to a population increase among Palestinians).”

Another example is Black Student Union chapters aligning with the pro-Palestinian cause. In 2015, Columbia University’s BSU posted:

In light of recent flyering campaigns done by Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel (formerly known as LionPAC), in which they use the image and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in favor of their Zionist views, we as the Columbia University Black Students’ Organization, write to condemn their co-optation of Black liberation struggle for the purposes of genocide and oppression and we re-proclaim our unequivocal support of Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace – Columbia/Barnard Chapter, and the people of Palestine in their fight for freedom from Israeli apartheid.

The group added, “While we as an organization also acknowledge that Black and Jewish people also share a history of oppression, we understand that zionism [sic] has no place in our solidarity and, thus, we cannot and will not excuse the actions of the Israeli state and their acts of discrimination, segregation, and genocide. This is NOT what Black liberation activists stood for. This is not what we will stand for.”

History of Pro-Palestinian Campus Groups and Students for Justice in Palestine

In an interview Rossman-Benjamin said, “It was clear that at the very beginning, when the College of Ethnic Studies and the Black Studies program were established, that there was a very strong relationship between the BSU and Black Studies, and I believe it was this relationship that formed the model upon which AMED’s relationship with [General Union of Palestine Students] was based.”

During the same year as the 1968 strike, the General Union of Palestine Students (GUPS) was established nationally with a charter calling for the “armed struggle” against Israel to create a Palestinian state. SFSU’s chapter was founded in 1973.

In 2002, its SFSU members harassed Jewish students at a peaceful pro-Israel rally on campus. University president Robert Corrigan wrote, “A small but terribly destructive number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators [had engaged in] “intimidating behavior and statements too hate-filled to repeat.” He later suspended the group and its funding for one year.

In response, the Muslim Student Association and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, along with GUPS members, filed a Title VI complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights against the university, Corrigan, and top administrators. The act, part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, requires federally funded public and private universities ensure their programs and activities are free from discrimination based on “race, color or national origin,” or jeopardize losing their federal funding. According to the complaint, the plaintiffs suggested that in order to “alleviate the current hostile environment against Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans generated by recent University actions, the creation of an Arabic and Islamic Studies Department is imperative to educate the campus population about these cultures.”

Today’s Campus Anti-Semitism

The turn of the century only worsened matters for collegiate Jews.

“During the first years of the 21st century, the virus of anti-Semitism was unleashed with a vengeance in Irvine, California,” Kenneth Marcus, former head of the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, wrote in Commentary.

Marcus added this disturbing account:  

There, on the campus of the University of California at Irvine, Jewish students were physically and verbally harassed, threatened, shoved, stalked, and targeted by rock-throwing groups and individuals. Jewish property was defaced with swastikas, and a Holocaust memorial was vandalized. Signs were posted on campus showing a Star of David dripping with blood. Jews were chastised for arrogance by public speakers whose appearance at the institution was subsidized by the university. They were called ‘dirty Jew’ and “fucking Jew,” told to “go back to Russia” and ‘burn in hell,’ and heard other students and visitors to the campus urge one another to ‘slaughter the Jews.’ One Jewish student who wore a pin bearing the flags of the United States and Israel was told to ‘take off that pin or we’ll beat your ass.’ Another was told, ‘Jewish students are the plague of mankind” and ‘Jews should be finished off in the ovens.’

The virulence can be attributed to chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine. Founded in 2001 by former SFSU GUPS president Hatem Bazian—who was at the forefront of that 1994 mural of Malcolm X, featuring  yellow Stars of David alongside skulls, crossbones, dollar signs, and the words “African Blood”— at the University of California, Bekeley, where he is still a professor, SJP “aims mainly at intimidating and marginalizing Jewish students on campus. It uses violent imagery to bypass discussion and skip right to the hate, accusing its opponents of Apartheid, Nazism and genocide,” according to Campus Watch, which monitors Mideast studies on campuses. “Its extremist speakers use lies and distortions to portray Israel and its supporters as absolute evil to create a hateful worldview.”

According to an AMCHA report earlier this year, campus anti-Semitic activity skyrocketed by 40 percent in 2016. The report also mentioned the number of “anti-Jewish genocidal expression” doubled between 2015 and 2016. Rossman-Benjamin said, “In the first two and a half months in 2017 alone, there were more than 30 incidents involving anti-Jewish genocidal expression at the schools in our study, with several of these incidents affecting not only Jewish students but other members of the campus community who have been targeted for their opinion or identity.”

As SJP chapters sprout, BDS has infected campuses. Although the 2016-2017 academic year mostly consisted of student associations voting down BDS resolutions, there have been close votes, such as at George Washington University—whose student government narrowly voted down such a resolution last May— and similar victories at Tufts University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Mark Twain famously said, “The Jew saw [persecutors], survived them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities, of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert but aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jews; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

Twain’s quote applies to Jews in higher education. Collegiate anti-Semitism has existed for decades. Despite the vitriol, Jewish students continue to attend and graduate from college. Perhaps the secret to Jewish college students’ “immortality” are those forces which support Jewish identity like Hillel, other Jewish groups, and pro-Israel organizations on campus.

However, as history tells us, there is no sign of the scourge of anti-Semitism, let alone anti-Israel hatred on campuses, going away anytime soon.

About Jackson Richman 52 Articles
Jackson Richman is an editor and columnist at The National Discourse. His work has also been featured in The Weekly Standard, The Daily Caller, The Washington Examiner, Red Alert Politics, The Daily Signal, The College Fix, The Huffington Post, The Forward, New Voices Magazine, and other outlets. He has interviewed prominent personalities such as Pulitzer Prize winners Thomas Friedman and Charles Krauthammer, Fox News contributor Tucker Carlson, former State Department adviser David Makovsky, prominent American rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Iowa representative Steve King, FCC chairman Ajit Pai, Nebraska senator Ben Sasse, comedian Adam Carolla, and University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer.