Misunderstanding antisemitism in America (Musa al-Gharbi, 1/11/24, Slow Boring)


Contrary to widespread narratives, students do not internalize the views of their professors very often. Young people’s attitudes tend to be fairly stable throughout their college careers, and the limited change that occurs seems to be driven much more by peers than professors.

And far from pushing politics in the classroom, surveys suggest that more than 80 percent of scholars who work on Middle East issues self-censor on the topic of Israel and Palestine. Overwhelmingly, this self-censorship entails refraining from criticism of Israel, typically out of fear of retaliation by external stakeholders, university administrators or student mobs.

Moreover, rather than education pushing people to hold antisemitic or anti-Israel views, college attendance and completion are inversely correlated with antisemitism. The overwhelming majority of college graduates embrace one or fewer of the Anti Defamation League (ADL)’s fourteen antisemitic attitudes. And even people who just attended some college but didn’t graduate tend to be significantly less antisemitic than those who didn’t go to college at all:

Higher education also corresponds to greater knowledge about the Holocaust and lowered propensity to engage in Holocaust denial.

And although this question is importantly distinct from antisemitism per se, the more college Americans get, the more likely they become to express positive views of Israel (and the less likely they become to view Israel unfavorably).

Why are so many people convinced that the opposite is true?

In part, it’s because, as has chronically been the case in “campus culture war” discourse, narratives about colleges and universities after October 7 have been driven heavily by sensationalized events at a small number of elite schools whose culture, policies and students are deeply unrepresentative of higher ed writ large.

Exacerbating this problem, many inappropriately conflate trends among young people as a whole with trends among college students in particular and then inappropriately blame institutions of higher learning and “radical professors” for trends that are common among young people writ large, even those that did not attend college.

The widespread tendency to conflate opposition to Zionism, criticism of the Israeli government, or support for the Palestinian cause with antisemitism reinforces these misperceptions.

There’s nothing more American than the insistence on universal self-determination.