October 12, 2022 - Recent years have seen an increase in reports of Jewish college students facing antisemitic comments, vandalism, and efforts at exclusion from university-recognized social or academic groups. 2022 has been marred by such controversies at schools like the University of Vermont and UC Berkeley School of Law. This is unacceptable anywhere, but especially in institutions of higher learning, which must be committed to a safe and open community for all students, even while protecting the right to free speech.
Let us say explicitly to our students - to all Jewish students: we are with you as you joyously live your Jewish identity, which includes expressing your connection to Israel. You have the right to live and learn on campus proudly and to participate fully in campus life and activities without harassment.
What often determines the success of such harassment and antisemitic acts is the level of response from university presidents, deans, professors, and other professionals on campus. We want to express our appreciation for campus professionals who are pushing back against those trying to advance antisemitic views. When such incidents occur, the campus atmosphere could cause some Jewish students to feel vulnerable and marginalized, but when campus professionals speak vigorously and forcefully against antisemitism, Jewish students feel supported in their ability to participate fully and safely in campus life. Often such harassment is dressed up as "only" anti-Israel criticism. Free speech on campus includes the right to be critical, even sharply critical of Israel's policies. But when those policies of Israel's government being criticized are blamed on Jews , when such efforts deny the right of the Jewish people to have a Jewish, democratic state in their historic homeland (the essence of Zionism), or when students are barred from any campus activity based on their identity as Jews or Zionists, that crosses the line into antisemitism and must be treated and responded to as such.
In this context, we want to acknowledge and commend the constructive leadership modeled by UC Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and by Berkeley professors such as Ethan B. Katz, Associate Professor of History, who have spoken and acted with conviction against efforts to ostracize students and others who are proud Zionists. When such leadership is lacking and outside help is necessary, such as has been the situation at the University of Vermont (UVM), we deeply appreciate the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights' work to address campus antisemitism including, in UVM's case, launching a full investigation as to whether the school has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. We hope the university will act effectively on the investigation's findings.
Within our Reform Movement, we are committed to better preparing our students to know what their rights are on the college campus, and how to respond effectively to antisemitic speech and actions should they arise. At the URJ, we will be deepening both our college programming and our pre-college programming (including NFTY, the RAC's L'Taken seminars, and the new Israel Teen Fellowship program). The URJ is already in conversation with Hillel International and the Anti-Defamation League about ways to strengthen our longtime partnerships to be more effective in supporting our college students. The CCAR offers resources, including those related to our commitment to Zionism and our fight against antisemitism. The CCAR, ACC and ARJE urge Jewish students in need of support at any campus to contact and partner with their local Jewish professionals as well as their home congregational rabbis, cantors or educators, who remain committed to the Jewish lives and well-being of their students, even while far away. These students are not just our future leaders, but our present. We need their passion, vision, and love of Israel and of Jewish life to ensure our community is ever more vibrant today, this new year, and for generations to come.
Union for Reform Judaism
Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman (she/her)
Rabbi Rick Jacobs (he/him)
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Rabbi Lewis Kamrass (he/him)
Rabbi Hara E. Person (she/her)
American Conference of Cantors
Cantor Seth Warner (he/him)
Rachel Roth (she/her)
Chief Operating Officer
Association for Reform Jewish Educators
Marisa Kaiser, RJE (she/her)
Rabbi Stacy Rigler, RJE (she/her)