Last week, Carol L. Folt, president of the University of Southern California, released a letter to the University’s Jewish community in which she promised “specific new actions to . . . combat antisemitism” at USC.
This isn’t the first time President Folt, who took office in 2019, has commented on antisemitism. In 2020, Rose Ritch, then vice-president of the student government, resigned amid a social media campaign to “impeach her Zionist ass.” Like other Jewish students who take exception to the idea that Jewish states alone have no right to exist, Ritch was familiar with ignorant, vile equations of Zionism with white supremacy. But after weeks of variations on this theme, Ritch had had enough.
Her resignation letter drew a response from President Folt, who agreed that Ritch had been subjected to “antisemitic attacks” and pointed to rising antisemitism on American campuses, including USC. Yet the “Stronger than Hate” campaign she endorsed in response, though run through USC’s Shoah Foundation, addresses antisemitism only as one among a grab-bag of other hatreds. A document explaining the program leads with “anti-Black racism” and recognizes only one kind of antisemitism, the right-wing kind.
Last week’s statement was occasioned by the social media pronouncements of an engineering student, who said, among other things, “I want to kill every motherf**cking Zionist” and “yel3an el yahood” (curse the Jews). Perhaps the “Stronger than Hate” campaign, looking solely to its right, didn’t reach this particular student who was serving as “diversity, equity and inclusion senator” for the engineering school’s Graduate Student Association.
President Folt says that USC will now form a new Advisory Committee on Jewish Life to “review a number of proposed actions to tangibly support Jewish and Zionist students, faculty, and staff.” USC will also ensure “Jewish representation and inclusion in” its “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts,” and supplement its “bias and harassment training protocol . . . to include antisemitism.” In a final move, not specific to antisemitism, USC will establish a “student-focused campus pledge to act in accordance with our community principles and unifying values.”
I’m no fan of campus values statements, too often invoked when a campus is preparing to suppress someone’s speech. But USC’s belated move to include antisemitism among the affronts to campus values it aims specifically to address is laudable. One applauds, too, Holt’s recognition that “Zionist students, faculty, and staff” have confronted hostility—in one instance, in a statement released by an academic department—on campus. All this is welcome in an atmosphere in which, as Bari Weiss has said, “assaults on Hasidic Jews in the streets of New York are overlooked” by the same crowd that “goes to the mat over the ‘cultural appropriation’ of a taco.”
That is not to say that the kind of antisemitism to which President Folt was directly responding is the only form of antisemitism USC and other universities must confront. The inadequacy of shaking one’s fist at the right as a remedy for campus antisemitism won’t be remedied by shaking a fist at the left. There is reason to worry about antisemitism among young right-wingers, even if they are a marginal force on most campuses. They are, according to one recent survey, more inclined than their left-wing counterparts to agree that “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to America,” that “it is appropriate for opponents of Israel’s policies and actions to boycott Jewish American owned businesses in their communities” and that “Jews in the United States have too much power.”
But at colleges and universities, right-wing antisemitism is in no danger of being downplayed, much less made respectable. In contrast, the left-wing penchant for pinning every evil, from American police brutality to tuition hikes on Zionism is respectable in some academic quarters and downplayed in most.
Nearly a third of Jewish students report experiencing antisemitism directed at them on campus or by a member of their campus community. They report, too, high levels of concern about both right-wing and left-wing antisemitism. Responding to the former on campus is important. Responding to the latter is both important and overdue.