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Antisemitism on a California Campus: Perceptions and Views Among Students

Abstract

This article explores the relationship between antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes among university students. Critics maintain that hostility toward Israel is an indicator of the “new antisemitism.” Activists and their advocates insist that anti-Israel attitudes and behaviors reflect a political conflict and have little to do with antisemitism. Existing empirical scholarship shows a strong link. Evidence is presented from a survey of a random sample (N = 468) of undergraduate students at the University of California, Irvine. The results show a modest but statistically significant correlation between antisemitic and anti-Israel attitudes. However, the evidence also shows that the two sets of attitudes are mostly separate. Multivariate analysis demonstrates that anti-Israel attitudes are the strongest predictors of antisemitism even in the presence of other hypothesized determinants. The article also explores the demographic factors contributing to simultaneously high levels of antisemitism and anti-Israel attitudes. Contrary to much commentary, but consonant with a significant stream of scholarship, campus effects are weak to nonexistent.

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Notes

  1. “UC Irvine Chancellor: Anti-Israel Protesters ‘crossed the line of civility’” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, May 20, 2016. “UC Irvine Anti-Israel Group Punished for Disrupting Pro-Israel Event,” The Forward, September 4, 2017, https://forward.com/fast-forward/381748/uc-irvine-anti-israel-group-punished-for-disrupting-pro-israel-event/, accessed October 17, 2018.

  2. For example: “Anti-Semitism at UCI Irvine,” https://www.adl.org/sites/default/files/documents/assets/pdf/israel-international/Anti-Semitism-at-UC-Irvine-NW.pdf; “AMCHA’s Responses to Antisemitic Activity at the University of California Irvine,” https://amchainitiative.org/amcha-responses-uc-irvine/.

  3. For more context see Kopstein (2018).

  4. https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/regmeet/mar16/e1attach.pdf.

  5. According to a 2019 summary of surveys of American Jews, 9 in 10 American Jews are more sympathetic to Israel than to the Palestinians, and 95% have a favorable view of Israel. https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/247937/americans-views-israel-remain-tied-religious-beliefs.aspx. To the degree that UCI’s Jewish students reflect these proportions, we would expect strong identification of Jewish students with Israel. A 2017 Pew survey, on the other hand, noted increasing divergence between American and Israeli Jews on a broad range of issues. https://www.pewforum.org/essay/american-and-israeli-jews-twin-portraits-from-pew-research-center-surveys/.

  6. UCI’s academic year begins at the end of September. We collected data close to the beginning of the academic year in order to have at least one cohort of students with close to zero campus treatment.

  7. Due to the small number of African American respondents (corresponding to their tiny percentage of students at UCI—approximately 1%), we restrict our analysis of ethnic groups to Whites, Latinos, and Asians. Although the university does not collect data on religion, the university’s Hillel organization estimates their numbers at less than 500. In our sample, representative in most other respects, we have four. This small number diminishes the need to test for “contact effects” with Jews on campus.

  8. As part of a broader study of “Foreign Policy and Community Relations,” students were also asked a parallel set of questions measuring attitudes toward China and Chinese Americans. We restrict our analysis in this article to Israel and Jews.

  9. Kempf (2012), for example, using German and Austrian samples, found that a majority supporting pro-Palestinian positions were not antisemitic but did so from pacifist orientations and a concern for human rights.

  10. The questions here represent standard ones in the literature. We report the mean results and standard deviations in parentheses On religion: (1) “Aside from weddings and funerals, how often do you attend religious services?” 2.37 (1.22); (2) “People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, how often do you pray?” 2.36 (1.28); (3) “Religion is important in my life” 3.39 (1.78); (4) “The bible is literally true, from Genesis to Revelations” 2.7 (1.68). On activism: (1) “How often do you follow the media coverage of politics?” 2.34 (.97); (2) “I consider myself active in politics on campus” 2.21 (1.16); (3) “I am active on campus in supporting human rights” 3.06 (1.42); (4) “I am an advocate of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions to support human rights” 3.7 (1.5). We chose which questions to include after consulting with specialists in US public opinion. The activism measure skews leftward, since we prompt human rights and boycott advocacy.

  11. Jonathan Marks, “A New Strategy on Campus: Blame the Jews,” Commentary Magazine, November 15, 2029. Replacing the activism index with the question focusing purely on boycott advocacy does not change the sign of the coefficient.

  12. Of the 209 students who classified themselves as Asian, 18 also classified themselves as Muslim.

  13. Substantive effects calculated from the logistic regression using Clarify (King et al. 2000) yield comparable results. If all variables in this regression are held at their mean, there is a 16% chance of landing in this category, but when the dummy variable “Muslim” is coded uniformly as 1, the probability rises to 24%.

  14. Focusing on this question and excluding the biblical literalism question made sense for comparing Muslims and non-Muslims.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey S. Kopstein.

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Shenhav-Goldberg, R., Kopstein, J.S. Antisemitism on a California Campus: Perceptions and Views Among Students. Cont Jewry 40, 237–258 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12397-020-09320-8

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Keywords

  • Antisemitism
  • Campus
  • Anti-Israel
  • California
  • Attitudes