Is anti-Semitism a growing problem at American colleges and universities? Some think so, and a recent survey seems to back up the sentiment. But a close look at the survey, or at least what its organizers are saying about it, raises some critical questions.
The Institute for Jewish Community and Research (IJCR) surveyed 1400 students about intolerance at American colleges and universities and published a summary of its “major findings”:
1. Over 40% of Jewish students confirm anti-Semitism on their campuses
2. Jewish students face anti-Semitism alone
3. Jewish students report anti-Israelism creeping into the classroom
4. Anti-Semitism is being normalized and underreported
5. A significant minority of Jewish students say anti-Israel protest targets Jews
6. The majority of non-Jewish students do not hold opinions on Israel
All of the above is troubling. Sort of. Because you have to wonder how the IJCR defines anti-Semitism and how their questions about it were expressed on the survey. Does the use of the word “confirm” suggest that the questions were leading?
I’m also curious about the term “anti-Israelism.” I suppose it means unreasonable criticism of Israel or delegitimization of its right to exist. But if the goal is to get people to parse—to see the fine distinctions between politics and religion and Zionism—then maybe we should avoid a term that conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism?
I have no doubt that many anti-Israel protests spill over into prejudice and Jew-baiting. And I have no doubt that many Jewish students feel isolated. Nevertheless I think there are a number of assumptions behind this survey.
The Institute for Jewish Community and Research calls itself “an independent, non-partisan think tank.” Generally it specializes in quantifying Jewish issues—for example, their reports on Jewish philanthropy are illuminating.
But in September the IJCR filed a civil rights complaint alleging that a Barnard University professor steered a Jewish student away from a class taught by a Palestinian-American. According to the Forward, the IJCR claimed that this was analogous to steering minority homebuyers away from particular neighborhoods.
Whether you think that’s a valid analogy or not, it seems clear that the IJCR is an advocacy group as well as a think tank. Why not just admit that? And why not publish the whole survey?