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UC students show hardening attitudes toward Israel in ADL survey

A study from the Anti-Defamation League of four UC campuses, including UCLA shown here, found college seniors more critical of Israel than freshmen. But opinions about Jews held steady across grade levels except for a rise due to the Gaza conflict.

Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

The longer students remain at the University of California, the harsher their views become towards Israel — but not towards Jews — a new survey of more than 2,000 students at four UC campuses has found.

The results, released Thursday by the Anti-Defamation League, an international civil-rights group that fights antisemitism, found that fourth-year students held stronger views against Israel than did first-year students on such questions as whether the US should impose sanctions on the country and who was more responsible for violence during the last three years, Israelis or Palestinians.

The survey did identify anti-Jewish feelings on the campuses, but did not find that they increased the longer students were in college. These antisemitic views range from the idea that it’s right to boycott businesses owned by American Jews, to believing that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust, according to the survey of 2,237 students at UCLA, UC Merced, UC Irvine and UC Riverside.

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The strongest predictor of anti-Jewish attitudes turned out to be anti-Israel attitudes, the survey found.

“There are those who maintain that Jews are overly sensitive or alarmist, that anti-Semitism isn’t increasing on campus, that criticism of Israel is completely independent of anti-Semitism,” said Jeffrey Kopstein, a political science professor at UC Irvine and one of the three researchers who conducted the survey. “This study shows that such claims simply aren’t true.”

The survey’s purpose was to quantify the sometimes amorphous allegations of antisemitism that have percolated for years on UC campuses and have escalated since Oct. 7, when Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, invaded Israel and triggered Israel’s war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza, Kopstein said.

Between June 2023 and March of this year, the researchers emailed a 10-minute, anonymous questionnaire to a random sample of 16,000 undergraduates across all years and majors. They sent weekly reminders and dangled the chance to win an Apple iPad or $10 gift cards for turning in the questionnaire.

Ultimately, more than 2,200 students responded, or 14%.

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Most responses came during an unprecedented time on college campuses across the country, as thousands of students protested against Israel and the war, which has killed more than 38,000 people and led to widespread conflict in Gaza.

Remarkably, however, the researchers had begun surveying students at one campus, UC Irvine, four months before Hamas attacked Israel. This allows them to see how students’ responses varied before and after the invasion.

“Given the human toll of (the) attacks, antisemitic attitudes after Oct. 7, 2023 should have decreased on campuses, regardless of attitudes towards Israel,” the report said. “That was our working hypothesis.”

But that didn’t happen, even before Israel escalated its retaliatory war.

Students at a pro-Palestinian rally at San Francisco State on May 6 created a banner that distinguished between anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments. A new survey of UC students finds not everyone makes that distinction.

Nanette Asimov / The Chronicle

Instead, anti-Jewish responses from UC Irvine students intensified after Oct. 7 on all eight questions measuring antisemitism, although the 532 students who responded before the invasion were not the same people as the 106 who responded afterwards.

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  • Before the invasion, 15.4% of the UC Irvine respondents said they believed it was “appropriate for opponents of Israel’s policies to boycott Jewish-American owned businesses.” That rose to 23.6% after the invasion.

  • Students who said Jews “talk too much about the Holocaust” grew from 8.5% before the invasion to 10.4% afterwards.

  • The greatest jump was among students who said that Jews were “more loyal to Israel than to the US,” with 25.2% in agreement before the invasion, compared with 43.4% afterwards.

The questionnaire also asked whether students believed that Jews “care what happens to anyone but their own kind,” whether Jews “have too much power in our country today,” and whether Jews “use Christian blood for their ritual purposes” — a historic trope.

In each case, the percentage of students who agreed with the statements rose after the Hamas invasion.

The researchers asked the same questions on all four campuses after the invasion.

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The largest percentage of students, 28.6%, said they believed Jews were more loyal to Israel than to the US, while the smallest, 5.8%, said they thought Jews used the blood of Christians for rituals.

What the researchers did not find was an increase in anti-Jewish opinions among students who had been at school for four years vs. one year.

“Our (year-to-year) analysis is inconsistent with the view of the University of California as a ‘liberal brain-washing factory,’” the report said. “More likely is students are deriving their view of Jews either before they arrive from home, or from sources outside of campus.”

Attitudes against Israel, on the other hand, were stronger among upperclassmen.

The survey included five questions about Israel, answered by 1,698 students.

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  • Nearly three out of four students, 73%, said that “Israeli leaders are not sincere in their pursuit of peace.”
  • A solid majority of 60% said that Israelis were more to blame than Palestinians for violent incidents over the last three years.
  • Almost as many, 57%, said the US should impose sanctions on Israel.
  • Just 26% said they felt “admiration or respect” towards Israel.
  • Nearly 73% said “there are no justifications for Palestinian suicide bombers that target Israeli civilians.” Whether the remaining 27% thought there were justifications was not clear.

The researchers created an index to determine the level of anti-Israel sentiment among students based on their responses. Seniors scored 8 points higher than freshmen, Kopstein said, indicating that their views of Israel were harsher than their younger counterparts.

The survey found no difference in attitudes between students studying the hard sciences vs. the humanities.

The findings have a margin of error of less than 3%, the researchers said.

Kopstein — who in March spent two nights in his office in solidarity with a UC Berkeley professor protesting campus antisemitism — conducted the survey with Ana Schugurensky, a doctoral student in political science at UC Irvine, and Rachel Shenhav-Goldberg, of Tel Aviv University, who studies racism in Israel and antisemitism in North America.

Reach Nanette Asimov: [email protected]; Twitter: @NanetteAsimov