An Open Letter to Campus Presidents: Zero Tolerance for Antisemitism

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Enforce Codes of Conduct in the Wake of a Flood of Antisemitic Harassment and Discrimination on Campus Since October 7

Dear University President:

In the last two months, since the brutal Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, we have seen an unprecedented rise in antisemitism in the U.S., especially on our college campuses.  Shockingly, many students engaging in this activity – including harassment, intimidation, and other clear violations of student codes of conduct – have not faced consequences.  This is unacceptable.  Full stop.  Universities have by and large been derelict in their duty to protect Jewish communities on campus, in many cases raising serious concern under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.  Simply put, to date, there have been too few consequences – that must change.

During winter break, college and university administrators have a short window to reflect on their campus climate and take proactive steps to ensure that students will return in early 2024 to campuses where their safety – physical and emotional – is prioritized.  Campus administrators must speak now, in a clear voice, about what is expected of community members and what will happen if those expectations are not met.  This is the time to make clear that violations of student codes of conduct, faculty codes and handbooks, and policies that apply to student groups will result in serious consequences.  Anything less is unacceptable and complicity in activity that is fueling a hostile environment for Jewish students on campus.  Universities must welcome students, professors and staff back to campus in 2024 with a renewed commitment to ensuring their safety and guaranteeing them the right to learn, free from discriminatory harassment. In 2024, commit to zero tolerance for antisemitism.

Climate on Campus Since October 7

ADL has been tracking antisemitic incidents – including incidents of vandalism, harassment and assault – since 1979.  According to our data, antisemitic incidents have been on the rise for years, reaching record highs in 2022. 

Between October 7 and December 7 of this year, ADL recorded the highest number of antisemitic incidents ever recorded during any two-month period since we began tracking these incidents. In the wake of the war, between October 7 and December 18, we have tallied a total of 2,513 incidents across the country – a 323% increase year-over-year – including a shocking 470 antisemitic incidents on college and university campuses.  By way of comparison, during the same period last year, ADL recorded only 40 such incidents on campus.  At least 1,754 of the incidents we have tracked can be clearly linked to the Israel-Hamas war.

Such incidents have included anti-Zionist harassment targeting Jewish students, and anti-Israel demonstrations and protests with students chanting antisemitic and threatening slogans like “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “There is only one solution: Intifada revolution!” Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), on many campuses a university-recognized and funded student organization, has led the anti-Israel charge. SJP’s antisemitic campaign against the “normalization of Zionism” has long been used to exclude and marginalize Jewish students, and in the wake of October 7, the national group has endorsed and glorified terrorism as legitimate “resistance.”  In order to “Free Palestine,” the group says, it will require “Not just slogans and rallies, but armed confrontation with the oppressors.”

Across the country, SJP chapters have made their viewpoints clear. “We reject the distinction between ‘civilian’ and ‘militant.’ We reject the distinction between ‘settler’ and ‘soldier,’” the George Washington University SJP wrote, “A settler is an aggressor, a soldier, and an occupier even if they are lounging on our occupied beaches.” The SJP chapter at Tufts University said the attack by “liberation fighters” (i.e., Hamas) exhibited “creativity.”

This type of rhetoric has in some cases fueled harassment, violence, and threats on campus. At Cooper Union in New York City, as a group of protesters were filmed banging on the windows and doors of the library while shouting, “Free Palestine!,” leaving the visibly Jewish students inside intimidated and afraid. The following day, a demonstration near Tulane University’s campus spiraled out of control when protesters clashed in a physical altercation. The fight appeared to have stemmed from an attempt to light an Israeli flag on fire. And at Cornell University, law enforcement and the FBI were called in response to violent online threats targeting Cornell Jewish students as well as the center for Jewish life on campus.  A student believed to be responsible for the posts is now facing federal criminal charges.

In addition, we have seen educators on campus supporting antisemitic rhetoric, endorsing behavior in violation of university policies, and even offering extra credit for participation in anti-Israel rallies.  At Cornell University, a professor publicly declared during a rally that Hamas’s attack was “exhilarating” and “energizing.”  This professor was subsequently placed on leave.  At Stanford University, an instructor reportedly asked Jewish and Israeli students to identify themselves during class and told those students to stand in the corner, while telling other students that “This is what Israel does to the Palestinians…Israel is a colonizer.” The University removed the instructor from teaching responsibilities, and an investigation is ongoing.  And an Assistant Professor at UC Davis tweeted that, “One group of ppl we have easy access to in the US is all these zionist [sic] journalists who spread propaganda & misinformation,” and that, “They have houses w addresses, kids in schools…they can fear their bosses, but they should fear us more” alongside a knife, hatchet, and three blood drop emojis. UC Davis’s Chancellor has since condemned the post, and the University is investigating whether this post violates campus policies.

On November 6, Hillel International, ADL, the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP launched the Campus Antisemitism Legal Line (CALL), a free legal protection helpline for students who have experienced antisemitism.  CALL was developed to allow any student, family, faculty, or staff member to report incidents of antisemitic discrimination, intimidation, harassment, vandalism, or violence on campus that might require legal action. Lawyers assess reports of antisemitic discrimination and hate, conduct in-depth information-gathering interviews, and provide pro bono representation for victims who choose to move forward with specific cases. In the weeks following, CALL has received over more than 400 unique requests for assistance.

To better understand the impact of the increasingly hostile campus climate for Jewish students in the wake of the Israel-Hamas War, the ADL Center for Antisemitism Research (CAR), Hillel International, and College Pulse conducted a longitudinal survey of American college students before and after the Hamas terror attacks on October 7, 2023. 

The findings are deeply sobering:

  • 73% of Jewish college students surveyed have experienced or witnessed some form of antisemitism since the beginning of the 2023-2024 school year alone. By comparison, 43.9% of non-Jewish students reported the same during that period. Prior to this school year, 70% of Jewish college students experienced at least some form of antisemitism throughout their entire college experience.
  • Since October 7, the percentage of Jewish students who said they feel comfortable with others on campus knowing they are Jewish dropped by nearly half. 63.7% of Jewish students pre-October 7th felt “very” or “extremely” comfortable but now only 38.6% feel the same.
  • Most significantly, the data shows that a plurality of Jewish students do not feel physically safe on campus. Prior to 10/7, two-thirds (66.6%) of Jewish students said they felt “very” or “extremely” physically safe on campus, compared to less than half (45.5%) post-10/7.
Campus Antisemitism


  • Feelings of emotional safety among Jewish students changed even more dramatically – two-thirds (65.8%) of Jewish students said they felt “very” or “extremely” emotionally safe before 10/7, which fell to a third (32.5%) after 10/7.
Campus antisemitism


  • A majority of all students — Jewish and non-Jewish — feel like their campus administration has not done enough to address anti-Jewish prejudice at their universities, with 70 percent of students saying their university should do more to address the issue.

When asked who should do more to address the issue, most students (48.2% of Jewish students and 38.5% of non-Jewish students) placed the onus on campus administrators.  ADL agrees. Campus administrators have both a legal and moral obligation to ensure their students are physically safe and can access educational opportunities on campus, free from discriminatory harassment.  During these weeks when students are off campus, administrators must act to ensure that their campuses will be safe when their students return.

Free Speech, Hostile Environments and Codes of Conduct

The ability to express controversial and even offensive ideas is a cornerstone of our nation’s democratic ideals. And while even the most heinous speech is largely protected by our federal and state constitutions – and ADL staunchly and consistently supports this bedrock principle of American democracy – there is nothing about the First Amendment that prohibits a college or university from using its own expressive rights in response to antisemitic hate speech on campus. Not only is such a response often a moral imperative, but it also may be required in the context of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Indeed, in cases where harassment on a campus involves protected student speech, a school still has an obligation to respond under Title VI if the discriminatory harassment contributes to a hostile environment for students based on their protected identity characteristics. And on private college and university campuses, certain forms of speech otherwise protected by the First Amendment may nevertheless violate a school’s code of conduct or other applicable policies.

The interplay between protecting free speech rights and addressing speech that creates a hostile environment, incites violence, constitutes harassment, or otherwise violates a school’s code of conduct, was front and center during a U.S. House of Representatives Committee Hearing on December 5, 2023, when Presidents from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania equivocated on whether calls for genocide against Jews would violate student codes of conduct. 

ELISE STEFANIK: Ms. Magill, at Penn, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Penn's rules or code of conduct, yes or no?

LIZ MAGILL: If the speech turns into conduct, it can be harassment, yes.

ELISE STEFANIK: I am asking specifically. Calling for the genocide of Jews, does that constitute bullying or harassment?

LIZ MAGILL: If it is directed and severe or pervasive, it is harassment.

ELISE STEFANIK: So, the answer is yes?

LIZ MAGILL: It is a context dependent decision, Congresswoman.


 ELISE STEFANIK: The answer is yes. And Dr. Gay, at Harvard, does calling for the genocide of Jews violate Harvard's rules of bullying and harassment, yes or no?

CLAUDINE GAY: It can be. Depending on the context

ELISE STEFANIK: What's the context?

CLAUDINE GAY: Targeted as an individual, targeted as -- at an individual, severe, pervasive.


ELISE STEFANIK: So, the answer is yes, that calling for the genocide of Jews violates Harvard code of conduct, correct?

CLAUDINE GAY: Again, it depends on the context.

(Hearing Transcript, pp 212-217)

In the wake of the hearing, Professor Claire Finkelstein, University of Pennsylvania Professor of Law and Philosophy and an expert on free speech issues, as evidenced by her seat on Penn’s Open Expression Committee and chairing the law school’s committee on academic freedom, astutely observed that universities – public and private – are not as constrained to address hateful speech as they have claimed.  She first explained that private universities are not actually bound by the First Amendment.  She went on to note that even public universities, which must comply with the First Amendment, are still permitted to impose time, place, manner restrictions on speech and restrict speech that incites violence, that constitutes threats of violence, or that involves targeted harassment. She concluded, “With or without the First Amendment, calls for genocide against Jews – or even proxies for such statements... are in the present context, calls for violence against a discrete ethnic or religious group. Such speech arguably incites violence, frequently inspires harassment of Jewish students, and, without question, creates a hostile environment that can impair the equal educational opportunities of Jewish students.”

Following the hearing, both President Gay of Harvard and President Magill of the University of Pennsylvania issued clarifying statements.  In addition, several large universities publicly stated that calling for genocide would violate their student codes of conduct, including the University of Michigan, Stanford University, and NYU. The San Jose Mercury News questioned Bay Area campuses about their codes of conduct and whether calls for genocide would violate their codes. Santa Clara University said yes; UC Berkeley, San Francisco State University, and San Jose State University said threats of violence do violate the code but did not clearly answer whether the language at issue would violate the code.

Enforcement of Codes of Conduct

We have seen some colleges and universities responding appropriately, including proper enforcement of student code of conduct policies since October 7.  Investigation of allegations of violations and imposition of discipline for such violations must become the norm.

At NYU, the administration has reportedly investigated over 90 student behavior complaints.  To date, at least one student who tore down posters of Israeli hostages has reportedly been suspended, removed from on-campus housing, and had their scholarship rescinded.

Disciplinary hearings are being conducted at Harvard for at least four students in connection with a “Pro-Palestine Week of Action” that included occupying campus buildings, a rally, walkout, and chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”  At MIT, students who participated in a pro-Palestine protest in an area where per school policy, major demonstrations are not authorized, were suspended from participating in campus activities outside of class. 

Universities have also taken action in situations where professors have reportedly used antisemitic and anti-Israel rhetoric in the classroom.  According to Inside Higher Ed, there are over a dozen cases of professors being investigated or disciplined, including at Emory, UC Davis, Ramapo College in New Jersey, Cornell, and the University of Arizona.  These cases include ongoing investigations, and some that have led to terminations or suspensions. 

ADL Recommendations

In advance of the return of students to campus in early 2024, universities must commit that conduct that violates student – or faculty – codes of conduct will result in disciplinary action as permitted and prescribed by those codes.  Simply put, there will be consequences on campus when conduct crosses the line.

Universities Must Reaffirm their Commitment to Zero Tolerance for Conduct that Creates or Contributes to a Hostile Environment

Students and parents across the nation are concerned about what a return to campus in 2024 will bring.  Universities should proactively reassure their communities of their commitment to provide safe environments where all can learn, and they should outline the steps they will take to fulfill this core obligation.  Communicate to your students and faculty before they return to campus that there will be zero tolerance for conduct that creates or contributes to a hostile environment.  Clear communication and zero tolerance policies have been a hallmark of how universities have addressed conduct rules governing violations of alcohol and drug use prohibitions, violations of academic and honor codes, and other important code provisions.  It must become standard with regard to harassment and intimidation as well.  To date, college and university administrators’ silence has only emboldened students who have brazenly violated code provisions.  Communicate clearly now about what is expected of the campus community and how those expectations will be enforced when students return to campus.

Universities Must Enforce Codes of Conduct to Protect the Safety of their Jewish Communities

Universities must follow through on their words with action.  This requires enforcing codes of conduct and ensuring appropriate disciplinary action is taken to protect Jewish student safety and deter further harm.  These codes – as well as codes that govern faculty conduct inside and outside the classroom – must be enforced equitably and consistently, not selectively in a manner where harassment of some groups or by certain students is treated more seriously than harassment of other groups or by other students.  Moreover, to the extent permitted by law, universities should publicize how and when consequences have been imposed for code of conduct violations that relate to identity-based harassment or discrimination.


We look forward to continuing to serve as a partner in this work.

Jonathan Greenblatt

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