The new loyalty oath imposed on Jews

More Zionists are keeping their opinions to themselves, on campus and beyond (

On college campuses, in progressive organizing spaces, in some professional contexts, and even among friends, Americans are increasingly being told their Zionism is disqualifying. For many Jews, that means an aspect of their own identity makes them persona non grata in spaces where left-wing views are paramount. For non-Jews, maintaining until-recently mainstream, pro-Israel opinions means risking social stigmatization and professional harm. Although this problem has begun to gain some visibility, it’s time Americans understood the extent of the social pressure to self-censor or else face the mob. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jews keeping their Zionism hush-hush weren’t eager to be interviewed. However, 32 Jewish and non-Jewish students and young alumni, academics, communal and advocacy group figures, governmental leaders, activists, and creatives contributed to this article. Taken together, what follows is a portrait of profound societal changes.

These changes, it must be noted, affect all Jews in these spaces because they are greeted with suspicions and assumptions about their support for Israel that they must either dispel or confirm. And this manifests in various ways. 

In 2015, University of California, Los Angeles, student Rachel Beyda was expecting to be confirmed without incident to the student council’s judicial board but was met with a bizarre question from a member of the council: “Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” Beyda was asked, “how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?” After a lengthy discussion of Beyda’s Jewish identity, from which Beyda was excluded, her nomination was voted down. (This was only reversed when a faculty adviser to the council stepped in.) 

The incidents that make national headlines give the public a rare window into the discrimination regularly wielded in left-of-center institutions. For example, there was an explosive controversy about whether one can be both a feminist and a Zionist, which the Women’s March’s then-leader Linda Sarsour answered firmly in the negative. Jewish lesbians were ejected from Chicago’s Dyke March for carrying a Pride flag emblazoned with a Jewish star because some attendees were uncomfortable with the symbol’s association with the Israeli flag. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) was “demonized by extremists as a white supremacist, as a supporter of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, [and] genocide” for condemning Hamas’s terrorism. The Washington, D.C., chapter of the environmental group Sunrise Movement refused “to participate in a voting rights rally” alongside three Jewish groups. An undergraduate at the State University of New York, New Paltz, was expelled from a “sexual assault awareness group” she co-founded over an Instagram post describing Jews as indigenous to Israel. And the list goes on.

Each time a particularly egregious case broke through, though, it quickly faded from the news, as true inclusion was quietly eroded yet again. 

Support for Israel, of course, is mainstream among American Jews. In 2019, Gallup found that “95% of [American] Jews have favorable views of Israel,” and in 2021, the Pew Research Center reported that 82% of American Jews consider Israel “‘essential’ or ‘important’” to their Jewish identity, one of the highest markers of commonality among famously fractious co-religionists. 

Yet younger Jews are feeling compelled to camouflage that piece of themselves. A 2021 Brandeis Center poll found that “50% of Jewish [college] students hide their Jewish identity and more than half avoid expressing their views on Israel.” A 2022 survey by the American Jewish Committee reported that “28% of American Jewish millennials say that [the] anti-Israel climate on campuses or elsewhere has damaged their relationships with friends” and “23% reported that the anti-Israel climate on campus or elsewhere has forced them to hide their Jewish identity.” These are nontrivial numbers. 

This shift toward stigmatizing Zionists has been snowballing for decades, according to Brandeis University professor emerita Joyce Antler. “Progressives were always divided about Israel, but that sense of Israel as an aggressive, imperialist state grew from the late 1960s through the early 1980s,” she told the Washington Examiner magazine. “Many of the feminists I interviewed for [the book Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement] about their experiences in the 1970s and 1980s mentioned their hesitancies to identify publicly as Jews or to support Israel.”

The timing is conspicuous. “The USSR invested massive resources into inculcating [conspiracist anti-Zionism] among its supporters among [the] Western Left” during the 1970s-1980s, said Izabella Tabarovsky, a senior program associate at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute. “Today’s hard Left reproduces verbatim the slogans, motifs, and explanatory logic of conspiracist Soviet anti-Zionism.” 

“We’re well beyond demonization and delegitimization of Israel. We’re now into [attacks on] Zionists, on Israel supporters here, and moving into targeted attacks on Judaism,” said Miriam Elman, executive director of the Academic Engagement Network. “What’s changed in the last decade or so is how anti-Zionist Jews have been pushed to the forefront to minimize [charges of] antisemitism and hostility toward Zionists.” 

Implicit and explicit pressures are forcing American Jews to adapt. One common adjustment involves first impressions. 

Kayla Hutt, a freshman at New York University, recalled showing her “Why NYU” application essay to her high school headmaster: “There was a big chunk of it that was about the Chabad and the Hillel, and the overall Jewish community at NYU. … He told me I shouldn’t have that in there — that it’s enough they’ll see I go to a private yeshiva high school and I shouldn’t rub it in their faces that I was in the Israel Awareness Club and that I’m a proud Zionist.”

The headmaster’s strategy was successful but left Hutt feeling that “it’s very complex. We spend our entire lives in private Jewish school, are taught Jewish values and taught to lead Jewish lives, but at the same time, we’re living in America, immersed in this secular world as well.” 

Hussein Aboubakr Mansour, an educator with StandWithUs and project director at the Endowment for Middle East Truth, recalled learning a former colleague’s LinkedIn page made no mention of his previous employer: “I reached out to the guy, and he said he’s proud of his work there, but there’s a complication of working with a Zionist group and now working in the financial sector. … A lot of young Jews told me they do this or know people who do this. If they’re applying to college, they do not mention it. Several told me they have two resumes. One’s sterilized with no mention of Jewish or Zionist activism, and one mentions those in case the organization they’re applying to is friendly.” 

Interviewees shared two explanations for why Zionist affiliations are scrubbed from resumes or LinkedIn. Either the reference is considered professionally irrelevant or erasing it sidesteps controversy. 

The latter particularly motivates junior faculty, who can lose job opportunities for minor reasons. Ayal Feinberg, who chairs the junior faculty section at the Academic Engagement Network, said younger academics who study Israeli Jews may “submit two different CVs, one that mentions Israel and one that doesn’t.” In other words, even researching Israeli Jews could work against junior faculty.

That hesitancy continues in other workplaces and organizing spaces, too. Dr. Dana Steiner, director of ACCESS Global at the American Jewish Committee, recounted three experiences of young professionals she knows. A woman working at a “middle of the road” news organization “has had a really hard time with how headlines are written about anything to do with Israelis and Palestinians because they’re often inaccurate or jump to conclusions before details emerge. She’s said she feels like she cannot say anything because the newsroom is cloaked in an understanding Israel is the enemy.” 

A second young professional urged her advertising company to issue a “statement condemning antisemitism [in May 2021]. The company ultimately retracted the statement … [which] put this person in a tough position.” Finally, Israel’s 2021 war with Hamas divided a tech company’s Jewish affinity group. Some members wanted to comment, while others declined to support Israel, leaving the pro-statement group feeling unsupported. 

Joshua Washington, executive director of the Institute for Black Solidarity With Israel and a recording artistand composer, shared, “There are Palestinians in the music space, and from my experience, they’re usually more outspoken than my Jewish friends in the space. If they’re Zionist, they’re afraid of outing themselves and being a target.” 

Longtime Democratic activist Steven Goldstein lamented, “I don’t think substantively that American Jews have changed much, but they’ll sooner tell a pollster the truth than their progressive friends.” Many are “afraid they’ll lose cachet in the progressive movement.” Goldstein said it isn’t all among young people, either: “These are people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, even 60s.”

Younger Jews feel that transformation in social acceptability deeply. In the words of one recent NYU School of Law graduate, “It was everyone against Jews at NYU Law. You can’t walk in with an IDF shirt. No one would talk to you. You’d lose a lot of friends. Even some professors would grade you differently.” 

A second recent NYU Law graduate offered: “I don’t hide that I’m Jewish or Zionist, but I don’t know I want to go around publicizing it, and that’s most likely because the loud voices that are anti-Zionist and antisemitic are so prevalent. … Had I not had these encounters at [NYU], I’d probably see it as a nuanced issue but wouldn’t feel as strongly as I do about not wanting to openly pick a fight — because they were so aggressive, because some of the things they said felt threatening. Seeing that is scary and upsetting. You carry that, and it’s part of the calculus going forward and what you’re sharing with people.” 

Students and recent graduates described sharing pro-Israel views only around trusted friends out of fear of vilification on campus. 

Benjamin Rosenzweig, a Swarthmore College junior and Israel on Campus Coalition fellow, depicted a campus where anti-Israel students freely chant “From Swarthmore to Gaza, globalize the Intifada,” while even mildly pro-Israel speech is chilled. Needless to say, when Rosenzweig ran for student government, he “didn’t mention Israel. None of us do because we don’t feel safe mentioning those convictions.” 

Students self-censor for self-protection. Feinberg observed that “the propaganda that compares Jews to white nationalists is pervasive on campus and really silences Jewish vocal opinion on Israel. When the accusation itself is so damning, it puts people on the defensive. … It feels completely overwhelming for most casually Jewish students on campus. Their identity is important to them, but it’s not something they’re ready to go to war over every day.”

In some cases, war really is an apt metaphor. Anti-Israel forces have insisted on drawing sides, and supporting Israel can mean facing serious blowback. 

When one California woman launched a local chapter of Solidarity Sundays, an organization devoted to anti-discrimination activism, she contacted the group’s leadership. She told them upfront she was a Zionist. The response, in her words: “Maybe you should find a different group.” 

“When I applied for Ph.D. programs, I was told in the face by one of the biggest names in Middle Eastern Studies in the West that your affiliation with pro-Israel organizations is a problem for … get[ting] into academia. He said it very directly,” recalled Hussein Aboubakr Mansour. “It’s not my own personal tragedy, but I’m joining a community that’s already suffering.” 

Michael Goldstein, adjunct professor at Brooklyn’s Kingsborough Community College, recounted a former friend’s helping hostile colleagues access his private Facebook account, which included some Zionist posts. Faculty “put nails in the tires of my car” and distributed “10,000 flyers, 40 or 50 in every classroom, calling for me to be fired because I was a Zionist.”

Even for those not on faculty or running for a student government position, hostility to the Jewish state can worm its way into their social circle. A girlfriend ended things with Mason Quintero, an Amherst College senior and former president of Amherst Hillel, for being pro-Israel, and later, at a collegewide bar night, a student told Quintero’s friend, “You can’t introduce Mason to that girl” because “he’s a Zionist.” Another apolitical friend asked Quintero if he were indeed “a f***ing Zionist.” Quintero recalled, “He knows me well, so he gave me the benefit of the doubt, but his gut reaction was disgust. … He associates [Zionism] with violence.” When Quintero explained that “Zionism means Jewish people should have self-determination in their homeland,” his friend suggested coining a new word. 

Cardozo School of Law student Adela Cojab, whose lawsuit against NYU prompted former President Donald Trump’s executive order confirming that Jewish students are protected under civil rights law, experienced social isolation. “My professor approached me from Arabic class. Students refused to partner with me or with anyone who’d partner with me. It felt uncomfortable. Students were talking about me in front of my face, ‘That’s the Zionist.’ The professor and I agreed I would no longer come to classes, and I didn’t take final exams in the same class as my peers.” 

Cojab asked, “If we had a class with white students who wouldn’t work with a black student over BLM support, we’d understand that as racism because BLM is inherently tied to her identity. Why don’t we see Zionism the same way?” 

Zionist identity was also treated differently at the University of Southern California. Rose Ritch, a recent USC graduate, spoke openly about her involvement with Jewish and pro-Israel campus organizations while campaigning to be student body vice president in 2020: “If it was going to be an issue, I wanted to know. It wasn’t, since we got elected.”

However, after the campus president was accused of racial microaggressions, “questions were raised about me as a Zionist” within hours. Ritch’s queer identity was welcome, but for some, her Zionist identity was intolerable. Those students initiated impeachment, while school administrators offered Ritch insufficient support. Three weeks later, Ritch resigned. 

Ritch, whose allegation of a hostile campus environment is now being investigated by the federal Department of Education, recalled “significant attacks and backlash on social media.” Ritch reflected, “It took a toll on my mental health. It was a bit of a scary time, to say the least.” Even “going to the grocery store was stressful … because I knew there were people there who supported my removal and opposed my being a Zionist. I was always a little on edge because I didn’t know who I’d run into.” 

Social media magnifies this hostility. Nathaniel Buzolic, an actor known for The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, has firsthand experience. “The business of social media is to grow and please a bigger crowd,” which means embracing silence or the pro-Palestinian view. Buzolic speaks out as a Christian who’s visited Israel because “it’s the basic responsibility of people who do know [about Israel] just to share it as much as possible.” That sharing carries consequences, though. “The hate I get on a daily basis about Israel is unbelievable. Especially during the height of the May 2021 war, I was losing 100,000 Instagram followers a week for posting the truth about Israel. … It made me realize how much the world hates Israel.”

Buzolic recalled another Vampire Diaries actor making “a snide remark [on Twitter] about how I have a big mouth when I talked about Israel. I asked him to jump on a live chat on Instagram because I knew a lot of the information he was giving out was memes and not true. We’d been friends for a long time. … He refused. It’s easy to put up a meme … pump things out like Bella Hadid and her father were doing and Dua Lipa, who’d never been there, but when you have a real discussion, it’s different.” 

Buzolic “used to get a lot of sponsored brand deals,” but Israel boycott supporters pressured companies to cut ties. There have also been “threats on my family, the most vile things said about me, my girlfriend, my mother. [Anti-Israel people] don’t care. They have no rules.” Buzolic, who has previously visited “Jenin, Jericho, and Nablus,” is now cautious when visiting the region, aware he’s made enemies. 

Many of those I spoke with counseled that the window to reverse this trend is still open, but it will require a refusal to be browbeaten. The Kennan Institute’s Tabarovsky encouraged American Jews to learn from Soviet Jews, organizing and educating themselves and others about Zionism so their numbers, and confidence, would grow. 

Mansour also looked to history. “A lot of antisemitism historically starts with social bullying,” he said, urging pride in Jewish and Zionist identities. “Feelings of shame, being apologetic or shy, it feeds the bullying, it feeds the hostility, it feeds the aggression. It’s counterproductive.”

“There is nothing easy about the current situation,” Tabarovsky said. “Those who wish Jews ill invested much effort and resources into developing and honing their messaging. We either invest in developing tools to enable us to make up our own minds about what’s happening to our community, or we continue letting political actors use us as a tool in their political agenda. There are no other options.”

To read more, please visit the Washington Examiner.

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