New Study by Professor Kelman Finds Lower Levels of Anti-Semitism at U.S. Universities

In recent years, there has been a widespread sense that college campuses have become increasingly tolerant of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment.

A research team from the Concentration in Education and Jewish Studies at the Graduate School of Education, led by Taube Center for Jewish Studies Director Ari Y. Kelman, set out to ask Jewish students at five Californai university campuses how they experience everyday life, whether they feel they are under attack or if their campuses are "hotspots of antisemitism," as some reports have claimed.

Contrary to widely shared impressions, the team found "a picture of campus life that is neither threatening nor alarmist. In general, students reported feeling comfortable on their campuses, and, more specifically, comfortable as Jews on their campuses."

Interviewees reported low levels of antisemitism or discomfort, but did encounter discomfort particlarly from tensions within campus debates about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which they characterized as "strident, inflammatory, and divisive."

Based on interviews with 66 undergraduate students at five California universities, the report, entitled "Safe and on the Sidelines: Jewish Students and the Israel-Palestine Conflict on Campus," finds:

  • Students feel safe on campus.
  • Students reject the conflation of Jewish and Israel.
  • Students struggle with Israel, and many feel an affinity to Israel, which they carry from their childhoods, but they also readily acknowledge that Israel's politics and policies generally often contradict their own political values.
  • Students find the tone of campus political activism in general, and around Israel and Palestine specifically, to be severe, divisive, and alienating.
  • Students who wish to speak up often opt out, choosing silence and avoidance over direct engagement in a political arena that they find off-putting and unproductive.
  • Students avoid conflict by avowing ignorance.
  • The persistence of internal conflicts, the tenor of campus debate, and the expectations about what others think students should feel and how they should identify often result in student disengagement from both political discourse and from the campus Jewish community.