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What I’m Telling My Son About Anti-Semitism as He Starts College

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My oldest son graduated high-school in June. Now he is headed off to college–after a gap year studying Russian in Moldova, which my Soviet-born parents are not ecstatic about, as I wrote here.

Back in 2015, I wrote about how I will not be sending any of my children to anti-Semitic universities.

While I 100% support students’ right to free speech, I feel no compulsion to support that Constitutionally-protected free speech with my money. I feel exactly the same way about businesses that discriminate against interracial couples. They’re free to do so, and I even appreciate their honesty, but I won’t pay them for it.

So my son is not going to a college notorious for its anti-Semitism. But, like so many other things, anti-Semitism is on a spectrum. Just like no one person is totally free of prejudice, no place is completely devoid of it either.

What varies is merely frequency and intensity. I should know that better than anyone.My alma mater, San Francisco State University, is currently being sued for 20 years of a hostile environment for Jewish students. I graduated from SFSU in 1993, which was almost 25 years ago, so my experiences aren’t included in this particular round-up.

But, considering that, while I was there, a local paper printed an article entitled “Spies for Zion,” accusing the Hillel—of which I was then president—of spying on their fellow students and then reporting their activities and utterances to the Mossad, I am going to venture that those “hostile environment for Jewish students” charges have some merit.

Last summer, my son was Bronfman fellow. He tells me there was a lot of discussion about campus anti-Semitism while his cohort was in Israel. It’s one of the reasons why my son went looking for a university where anti-Israel activism is not a major priority. (We can play the Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism hair-splitting game another time, with plenty of anecdotal examples and counter-examples from both sides.)

I supported his decision. Just because I was an activist in college doesn’t mean he has to be. For one thing, it’s exhausting. And soul-crushing. At a recent conference for writers on issues of school choice, those of us assembled received a pep talk about how hard it is to go against popular opinion, but we should remember we were fighting the good fight. I came home and told my husband, “I couldn’t figure out why the speech sounded so familiar, until I realized it was the same one we got in college about being pro-Israel!”

But I have some bad news for my son. No matter what college you go to, there will be some form of anti-Semitism there. Don’t be fooled by chest-thumping declarations of open-mindedness, and acceptance of all beliefs and so-called “intersectionality.” Because as the Chicago Dyke March demonstrates, even progressive spaces can foster anti-Semitism. I realize last month’s events stunned a ton of people. Not me. Things like this were constantly happening in San Francisco, especially at SFSU, years ago.

And, unfortunately, I tell my son, we can’t sue them away.You see, free speech is free speech is free speech and, no matter how hard many college campuses are trying to limit it to only those speakers they agree with, until the Constitution is amended, that’s the way things are (or should be; see college attempts to shut it down, above).

Those folks have the right to say whatever they wish. Just like you have the right to counter them. Or not.

I wish the SFSU plaintiffs luck with their lawsuit, only because it will help bring to light just what conditions are like for students there, and what tuition money, not to mention tax-payer money, is being spent on (one year I was there, the student senate passed only five resolutions–one had to do with school business, all the rest addressed Israel). Not because I expect it to do any good.

I wish my son luck as he embarks on his higher education journey. He can opt to dive into the campus anti-Semitic fray or not—that’s up to him. But he should know that the choice to engage or withdraw will always be there, sometimes on a daily, or a class by class, basis.

Because anti-Semitism will always be there, no matter where he goes. Sometimes it will be coming from the people most eager to tell you how non-discriminatory they are. Luckily, as an African-American, my son already has a head start on understanding that.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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