The three swastikas found over the weekend inside a Jewish fraternity house at Vanderbilt University weren’t the first — the Nazi symbols were painted recently on Alpha Epsilon Pi houses at Emory University and the University of California, Davis.
It could be a drunken prank, or it could be that those few smears of graffiti represented something larger. A survey of 1,157 Jewish college students at 55 campuses released in February by Trinity College and the Louis D. Brandeis Center found that a whopping 54 percent said they had experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism in the past year.
As the Israel divestment movement heats up on campuses nationwide, scoring victories with a series of student government votes to divest, Jewish activists fear the side effect has been a wave of anti-Semitism.
“There’s an epidemic,” said Los Angeles-based author and conservative activist David Horowitz. “There’s a Jew-hating campaign on campus which is tolerated by the administrations. It’s disgusting.”
Alarmed by those reports, Jewish activists and others are launching initiatives aimed at combating the trend. Last month, Mr. Horowitz started a campaign and accompanying website on the subject with the provocative title Jew Hatred on Campus.
He plans to hold a Jewish Hatred on Campus Awareness Week this spring, when speakers such as himself, conservative pundit Ben Shapiro and human rights activist Nonie Darwish, a former Muslim, will hold “teach-ins” at universities.
The campaign coincides with the release of “Crossing the Line 2” by Canadian-Israeli filmmaker Raphael Shore. The film examines what Mr. Shore sees as a surge of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment on U.S. and Canadian campuses.
The film is a follow-up to “Crossing the Line,” released five years ago. Mr. Shore said he made a sequel because he believes the problem is getting worse and that students will be more receptive to the message than they were in 2010.
“The awareness and the openness of the student community to understand the seriousness of the problem has increased,” Mr. Shore said.
Another of his films is “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” which was criticized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“Crossing the Line 2” features scenes of campus rallies showing Jewish students being harassed and anti-Israel speakers and chants. In interviews, students say they feel increasingly uneasy about showing public support for Israel, although they emphasize that they generally feel safe on U.S. campuses.
“When we made the first film five years ago, there was a lot of people who felt that maybe the problem was overstated a little bit. Maybe the film is exaggerating the nature of the concern,” Mr. Shore said. “That is no longer the case. Today, there’s much more awareness that this is a problem that is growing and becoming more prevalent. It’s something that the Jewish community as well as academia needs to grapple with.”
Critics say the rise in anti-Semitism has accompanied the growing influence of the campus anti-Israel movement, led by the Students for Justice in Palestine, which for over a decade has waged a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
The group, which has chapters on 115 campuses, has had unprecedented success in the past year in efforts to sanction Israel for what members describe as human rights violations against Palestinians.
No university has agreed to divest from Israel, but student governments at a half-dozen institutions this year have voted to recommend it.
Nowhere has the issue received more focus than at UCLA, where the student government voted 8-2 in November to call for the University of California system to divest from companies doing business with Israel, citing human rights violations against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“No UCLA student should be forced to funnel their tuition to the killing of their own family,” Students for Justice in Palestine member Ayesha Khan said at the meeting, according to the Daily Bruin.
Tensions escalated in February when student government members interrogated judicial board candidate Rachel Beyda on whether she would be able to remain unbiased because she is Jewish. Her nomination was approved, but only after a faculty member intervened and the original vote to defeat her candidacy was overridden.
In a Tuesday editorial, the Daily Bruin said the questioning occurred in “an atmosphere rife with ignorance and suspicion.”
“The statements speak to an environment that has formed on a council and a campus frequently rocked by contentious and bitter debates on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the editorial said.
Israeli divestment resolutions won student government approval in February at Northwestern and Stanford universities, followed by the University of Toledo in a March 3 vote.
At the University of California at Davis, a divestment resolution passed in January was overridden three weeks later by the student court, which said it fell outside the student government’s purview.
Members of Students for Justice in Palestine say they are no strangers to racial and ethnic attacks. In a Feb. 10 statement after the divestment vote, UC Davis Divest said “racial harassment and abuse of Palestinian, Middle Eastern, Muslim and other allied supporters intensified, resulting in a drastically oppressive campus climate.”
“Students have been the brunt of racial epithets, hostility, and death threats on social media to the point where many members of our community feel unsafe to even walk on campus,” the statement said. “Given the vicious Islamophobia that has spread, the Muslim Student Association held an emergency town hall meeting on campus to address the unsafe environment.”
Mr. Horowitz was hit by charges of Islamophobia after his group surreptitiously put up posters on 60 campuses in February showing Hamas operatives dragging a lifeless Palestinian and preparing to execute another, with the name “Students for Justice in Palestine” and hashtag #Jewhaters.
“It hardly bears repeating that SJP at UCLA is an organization that prides itself on its opposition to all forms of racism and bigotry, and which is open to and promotes the membership of students from all walks of life,” the group said in a Feb. 22 statement.
“As organizers, we are concerned that these acts are an attempt to delegitimize and slander the work that we have done to pass divestment on our campus,” the group said.
The episode also revealed a divide in the Jewish community: Among those condemning the Horowitz posters were five leading UCLA Jewish organizations.
“While we have in the past condemned speakers sponsored by SJP for their anti-Semitic rhetoric and believe the inappropriate singling out of Israel to be discriminatory, we wholeheartedly condemn these actions and the malicious intent behind them,” the five Jewish groups said in a Feb. 24 letter to the Daily Bruin.
Mr. Horowitz, who calls Students for Justice in Palestine a “hate group,” chalked up the letter to a fear of offending others and told the Jewish Journal, “They don’t want to recognize they have enemies.”
Jew Hatred on Campus also sparked a brouhaha with the Feb. 21 release of “The 10 Campuses with the Worst Anti-Semitic Activity.” The list was based on campus activity as well as speakers and professors known for their anti-Israel views.
The list drew several retorts in the “It’s tough all over” vein.
“What about the USA campuses being influenced by Israeli/Jewish lobbies not wanting to discuss and teach the Palestine Holocaust on campuses yet no problem with teaching the Jewish European Holocaust?” Deborah Beaudoin-Zaki said in an online reply.
Mr. Shore said his film isn’t advocating an end to debate on campus over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, he said, he wants to show that “too often, it’s crossing a line into anti-Semitism, and it’s happening more and more frequently.”
“In general, Jewish and pro-Israel students are fine and comfortable and can express their Jewish-ness and pro-Israel-ness freely,” Mr. Shore said. “But there’s this increasing and problematic trend. And there are times on a growing number of campuses when it’s challenging to be Jewish and pro-Israel.”