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How Universities Should Confront Antisemitism on Campus

By Brandeis University President Ronald Liebowitz:

The shamelessness of antisemitism in higher education has been unmasked with the horrific Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Until now, examples of antisemitism have been mostly beneath the surface and largely unaddressed: student organizations blocking leadership posts for pro-Zionist students; faculty refusing to write letters of recommendation for students who wish to study in Israel; administrators treating claims of harassment against Jews differently from other groups.

No surprise, then, that so many leaders of elite colleges and universities were caught off-guard with late or insufficient communications in response to the Hamas attack — the worst violence against Jews since the Holocaust.

Brandeis University is a secular institution founded by the American Jewish community in 1948 to counter antisemitism and bigotry in higher education. So where do Brandeis and higher education find themselves today? Unfortunately, things are no better and possibly worse: Faculty and students, through social media and university-chartered organizations on campuses across the country, celebrate the barbaric killing of Jews just because they are Jews. To counter this, leaders at colleges and universities must find their moral compass and no longer allow speech that constitutes harassment or threat of violence to flourish on our campuses. The logic of antisemitism is that left unchecked, it corrodes even the most basic moral standards that stand in its way.

Specifically, chants and social media posts calling for violence against Jews or the annihilation of the state of Israel must not be tolerated. This includes phrases such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — which calls for the erasure of the Jewish state; “there is only one solution” — which echoes the Nazi strategy of killing all Jews; and “intifada, intifada” — an incitement to violence against Israeli civilians. Although some news outlets mischaracterized the student sentiment on the Brandeis campus, our community rejects terror and antisemitism alike. In fact, a student-led open letter standing with Israel and the Jewish people, and denouncing the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas, garnered more than 1,300 signatures.

Student organizations that do engage in such practices should lose all privileges associated with affiliation at their schools. In no way does this violate higher education’s deep and enduring commitment to free speech. With the focus on creating an environment for exchanging ideas freely for the purposes of challenging one’s limited views, freedom of speech rightly understood demands also the responsibility to uphold community standards against the incitement of violence and harassment, and free of intimidation.

Read the rest of the article in The Boston Globe.