There is a disturbing rise of antisemitism here and around the world. Nowhere seems to be inflicted with as much antisemitism as on college campuses. Good old-fashioned parenting might just be one way of reducing this alarming trend.
FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told a U.S. Senate hearing that antisemitism is reaching “historic levels” in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has recorded a significant spike in antisemitic incidents across the United States since the Hamas attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. Preliminary data from ADL Center on Extremism indicates that reported incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault increased by 388% over the same period last year.
Almost daily there are reports from college campuses across the country of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incidents. These occurrences have gone so far as celebrating Hamas’ terrorist attack. The founder and executive director of Stop AntiSemitism, Liora Rez, said, “It’s very frightening to be a Jewish college student right now. We think the floodgates have opened up. … It’s a nightmare.”
Polling shows while the overall attitude among Americans is in strong support of Israel, there were dramatic differences among the age groups polled, particularly with young people. Those aged 18-24 years old registered the highest level of anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas sentiment.
Parents of college students have a unique position in effecting change in thinking in this population.
One can speculate on why the trends are why they are. Generation X and older are likely to have lived with or known those who have served in World War II and observed the horrors of the genocide of six million Jews, or they might have known someone who has survived the Holocaust. Younger generations may no longer have these connections. They may have already lost those people in their lives.
College students will be headed home for the upcoming holidays, which affords a wonderful opportunity to talk to your children about why Israel and Jewish people deserve the right to self-determination, and how it is wrong for anyone to want to eliminate an entire population from the world.
I am by no means trying to simplify the issue of antisemitism. Rather, I am offering another tool in the toolbox of reducing Jewish xenophobia. It can be during the most complex and overwhelming times that even the smallest acts can do some good, and that is where parents can come in.
Here’s a starting point:
Initiating a dialogue with your child about what they know, or have heard, or are thinking about the war in Israel.
Explain that the actions of the terrorist group Hamas do not represent all of the Palestinian people.
Talk about the two-state solution and the complex history and the politics over Gaza. Acknowledge that there can be disagreements over the idea of a two-state solution, that you can believe think leaders in the region are corrupt and ineffective and feel for the innocents in Gaza as well. But draw the line that no one should be championing the elimination of an entire race of people.
Educate your child on the history of antisemitism.
Look at the Anti-Defamation League’s website together.
Visit the St. Louis Holocaust Museum or watch a virtual tour of Auschwitz together.
Suggest books to read or even initiate a book club with your student. There are plenty of websites with book recommendations or ask a local librarian.
Have a discussion about free speech: who protects it and who it doesn’t.
Encourage your student to check in on any Jewish friends they might have.
Review the Hate Symbols database together. Ask your child if they have seen any of those symbols on campus or on their social media.
Ask your student if they have ever heard or uttered the words “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Then follow up and ask if they know what it means.
If you or your child does not know, here is a primer: It is fundamentally a call for a Palestinian state extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, territory that currently includes Israel — which would mean the dismantling of the Jewish state, including through the removal, usually violently, of Jews from their ancestral homeland.
Provide a safe space for your child to reach out to you day or night, if they encounter situations that they do not know what to do about.
Suggest on-campus resources.
If your family prays together, pray for Jews, Palestinians, and for peace.
As a parent, you have a tremendous influence on your child’s core values. This is especially true at a time in their lives when they are establishing their own sense of right and wrong. Send them back to school with understanding and compassion in their hearts.