American Campuses in the Heat of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 8:42am

This article was written by Sara Merken, who recently completed an HonestReporting internship. Sara  is starting her sophomore year at George Washington University, where she is studying journalism.   The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has found its way into conversation among college-aged students in America. Dialogue between those who hold conflicting viewpoints is undeniably important. But the manner in which the conversation occurs, however, is what many universities struggle with.   For example, New York University and Northeastern student-run organizations of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) generated conflict between Jewish and Palestinian students in a way that did not provide for healthy conversation. The distribution of bogus eviction notices at Northeastern in March and at NYU in April sparked controversy about the elements of free speech provided by the United States Constitution.   This eviction notice was presented to NYU students.


Although non-Jewish students also received false notices demanding they move out of their dorms, Jewish students felt specifically targeted. It is unclear whether SJP chose to put the notices on dorms with higher Jewish populations, but it is speculated by TorchPAC, a pro-Israel student organization at NYU, that this was the case. According to SJP at both universities, the eviction notices were created to represent the reality that Palestinians face on a daily basis. And Phan Nguyen, a member of SJP at NYU, claimed that the notices were meant to “raise awareness of home demolitions in Palestine.”   Similarly, Jewish students at the University of Michigan became victims of hate speech. In March, Israel National News reported that Jewish students at Michigan were called “kikes” and “dirty Jews” by students who supported BDS. In the same article, it is mentioned that pro-Israel UMich students also received fake eviction notices in December. The university failed to take action against the pro-Palestinian activists.   Whether the false eviction notices and words of hatred were intentional acts of anti-Semitism or catalysts for dialogue, the individual university administrations’ handling dealt with the conflicts was highly problematic. Northeastern rightfully suspended, but then reinstated SJP. On the other hand, NYU and UMich took no action against the activists.   The NYU student newspaper, Washington Square News, reported in April that NYU spokesperson John Beckman claimed that the university “will be looking into the incident and taking further action after the investigation concludes.”   But nothing was ever done. Because of the apparent need to maintain free speech policies, universities are allowing Jewish students to be targeted.   The population of Jewish students at the universities has seemingly no correlation as to whether or not the administration opposes the anti-Semitic actions. According to, 28% of NYU’s undergraduate population is Jewish, while Michigan holds 18% and Northeastern only 7%. Despite the smaller proportion of Jewish students, Northeastern administration understands that students would rather feel safe than engage in threatening discourse to enhance education.   NYU, Michigan, and the many other university administrations ignoring anti-Semitism on campus are morally wrong. No student should feel unsafe, no matter his or her religion or nationality. The administrations need to step back and analyze the anti-Semitism on their campuses. Jews should no longer be victimized.   Although dialogue is necessary in creating an open environment for ideas to be shared, fake eviction notices and unprompted hate speech cannot be tolerated. Conversation between individuals and groups should be respectful, rather than one-sided intimidation.   In order to stop outward hatred of Jews on campuses, college students need to ask themselves: if you were to see a threat, would you do anything about it?   If the answer is no, it is clear that the world has not moved forward. If the answer is yes, it is necessary to teach others to do the same.


Image: CC BY-SA HonestReporting, Nina Geometrieva,


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Original article can be viewed at American Campuses in the Heat of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on HonestReporting.

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