On March 1, Binghamton University’s Zionist Organization held its fourth annual ZED Talk event, an imitation of TED Talks geared toward Zionist education and discussion. Among the four speakers present were BU graduate student Nadiya Al-Noor. A Muslim Zionist activist, Al-Noor told her personal journey of going from loathing Israel and believing Hamas to be an “interest group” to now being one of the largest pro-Israel voices on campus. Perhaps what was most striking and thought-inspiring, however, was her exploration of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses.
As both a religious Jew and a strong pro-Israel advocate at BU, I often find it mystifying when I read about incidents of anti-Semitism on other campuses. Jewish students who attempt to express their support for Israel are viciously taunted, booed and denigrated at schools such as Vassar College, Ohio University and Columbia University. At University of California campuses, you can find graffiti reading “Zionists should be sent to the gas chambers,”
Nazi flags hanging in dorm rooms at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and disruptions of Hillel events with verbal harassment such as “Get the hell off our campus!” and “Long live the Intifada” at San Francisco State University. It’s important to note that these incidents don’t only come from sentiments of formal anti-Israeli groups but exist within the general student body as well.
And if you think a significant Jewish presence on campus would deter anti-Semitic sentiment, you would unfortunately be wrong. Roughly 29 percent of students at Brooklyn College are Jewish, yet students have reported being messaged “I hope you don’t walk alone on campus” on social media and verbally assaulted because they wore a kippah (customary Jewish hat). At Brandeis University, a whopping 49 percent of students are Jewish. However, a study conducted by the Steinhardt Social Research Institute of 3,000 students found that 75 percent of these students had been exposed to anti-Semitic rhetoric and 33 percent harassed because they were Jewish.
It is reported that across schools like Northwestern University, Stanford University and University of California, Berkeley, Jewish students are ostracized and shunned from participating in student governments, rejected from progressive social justice activities such as pro-choice rallies, anti-rape demonstrations and racial justice conferences because of their “Jewish agenda” and support for Israel.
I find myself appalled at what my fellow Jewish students are enduring across the nation because I personally do not endure the same on my own campus. BU’s student body is unique in that we choose to celebrate our differences instead of exploiting them. Our African, Asian, Black, Latino, Muslim and Jewish organizations are all intertwined and allied to create a beautiful and holistically accepting student body.
While Jewish students and student activists alike on the University’s campus are blessed to have such an unobstructed space for free expression, we must not become too comfortable and take this for granted; no, we fortunately do not have to deal with the issues other campuses do, but we also cannot become too complacent or stagnant in apathy.
As Al-Noor said, “The Jewish and Muslim communities here are on good terms because we see each other as people. We don’t allow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to define our lives.” Just a couple weeks ago, an interfaith dinner was held and our Muslim Student Association is partnering with our Hillel for a mosque-synagogue interfaith trip.
Get involved. Not just in your own cultural or religious group, but reach out and build bridges and connections with the multitudes of student groups on campus. At what appears to be the zenith of a political movement with a surge of youth involvement in a variety of arenas and opinions, it is imperative to bridge the gap between our voices, because, really in the end, it is our humanity that unites us.
Dalya Panbehchi is a CAMERA on Campus Fellow and an undeclared freshman.