Photo Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90
A Jerusalem rally in solidarity with US Jews following a wave of antisemitic attacks, January 5, 2020.

The AMCHA report issued this week, “Falling Through the Cracks: How School Policies Deny Jewish Students Equal Protection from Campus Antisemitism,” compares the two main mechanisms in place on campuses to protect students from harassment and bigotry: Non-Discrimination & Harassment Policies, and Student Codes of Conduct. The alarming results show that both policies fail to effectively address antisemitism on campuses today, leaving Jewish students vulnerable and endangered.

Non-Discrimination & Harassment Policies are designed to address instances of harassing behavior directed at students because of their membership in particular protected identity groups. While most minorities are protected by these policies, Jewish students who fall victim to anti-Zionist motivated harassment, the predominant form of antisemitism on campuses today, are often deemed ineligible for protection under this policy, since many university administrators do not consider support for Israel an expression of a Jewish student’s religious beliefs or ethnicity. Jewish students who are not protected by the Non-Discrimination and Harassment Policy must therefore seek redress under the school’s general Code of Conduct.


“Whether antisemitism emanates from the right, in the form of classic antisemitism, or from the left, in the form of anti-Zionism, the rhetoric used to portray Jews is becoming increasingly similar: Jews possess undue power and privilege, which they use to control and oppress others,” said AMCHA Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin.

“And while the antisemitism may be directed to different audiences, its intended effect is the same: to portray Jews as a threat to the common good, whose malevolent influence must be challenged and neutralized,” she added. “Yet, as the problem is rapidly becoming more acute, with a new massive assault on Jewish identity on campuses nationwide, a thorough examination of university policies reveals Jewish students are left neglected, vulnerable, exposed and without recourse against antisemitic harassment.”

AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin. / YouTube screenshot

The new study’s comparison of the Non-Discrimination & Harassment Policies and Student Codes of Conduct on 100 campuses most popular with Jewish students revealed that, despite the severity of the harassment, not one school afforded victims as much protection under its Code of Conduct as they received under the school’s Harassment Policy, leaving Jewish students unprotected from and vulnerable to the same harassment other students are protected from.

Here are a few key findings:

  • While every school’s Harassment Policy included verbal abuse as a form of harassment, nearly one-quarter of the Codes of Conduct did not include verbal abuse in their descriptions of prohibited behavior. Jewish students at a school with such a Code of Conduct who are not considered eligible for protection under the Harassment Policy have little or no administrative recourse from verbal harassment.
  • While every school’s Harassment policy defined harassment as conduct that limited, interfered with or impaired a student’s ability to participate in campus life, less than 40% of the Codes of Conduct described harassing behavior in this way; 60% of the schools that are most popular with Jewish students do not recognize this crucial impact of the harassing behavior and are therefore less likely to treat such behavior as seriously as they do when directed at members of “protected” identity groups.
  • More than one-third of the schools included in their Codes of Conduct statements affirming that harassment of students in “protected” identity groups would receive more severe punitive sanctions than similar behavior directed against “unprotected” students, thereby creating a more robust deterrent against the harassment of students in “protected” identity groups than against Jewish victims who are not recognized as “protected” students by university administrators.
  • While all Harassment policies included a description of robust protection from retaliation for those who filed complaints, almost half of the school Codes did not even mention retaliation protection, leaving Jewish students at a school with such a Code of Conduct who are not considered eligible for protection under the Harassment Policy less likely to report harassing behavior to administrators for fear of retaliation.
  • In more than three-quarters of the schools, complaints of harassment targeting students in “protected” identity groups were handled by a special administrative office that focused on handling complaints of harassment and discrimination exclusively, while complaints about harassing conduct directed at Jewish students covered only by the school’s Code of Conduct were handled by the same office that handles all student conduct complaints.

To remedy this inequality, the report recommends requiring schools to use a single standard to judge objectionable behavior: language and action deemed unacceptable when directed at students from one group must be deemed unacceptable when directed at any student, irrespective of the motivation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim.

Under the First Amendment, all students––including Jewish students––have a constitutional right to be equally and adequately protected from behavior that takes away their freedom of expression. And all students deserve an environment free from harassment that impedes their education and well-being. The researchers note that Harvard recently unveiled a draft policy that will do just that and can serve as a model for implementing this recommended approach. The Harvard draft policy guarantees unprotected students the administrative consideration of and response to harassing behavior equivalent to that granted to protected students.

The report also recommends new legislation, in the spirit of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, establishing a clear legal process and robust government enforcement mechanisms for ensuring that all students in state and federally-funded schools are equally and adequately protected from harassing behavior.


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