This week, the Biden administration said it would amplify efforts to fight antisemitism on college campuses, directing the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to connect campus security with state and local law enforcement and expedite the processing of discrimination complaints under a statute that is intended to specifically prohibit certain forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia.
“The political leadership has been rock solid on this,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, said of the Biden administration after attending closed-door White House meetings on Monday to deliver recommendations for improving safety at schools. “They are focused on this like a laser, and they should be.”
Still, Republicans see opportunities to exploit divisions within the liberal coalition, highlighting the views of an energized left that casts the Palestinian cause as an extension of other racial and social justice movements.
They have focused on a few largely Black and Latino progressive Democrats — a “Hamas caucus,” Republicans provocatively call them — who have vocally opposed the Israeli government and voted against a House resolution last week condemning “Hamas’ brutal war against Israel” and standing with the Jewish state.
Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley, said Republicans were mischaracterizing a complex, emotionally fraught issue to score political points. He has urged school administrators to exercise their free-speech rights to denounce antisemitism, but he also argues that students should be allowed free speech, even if it is offensive or hateful.
“I think trying to exploit it as part of the culture wars is inappropriate, misleading, unhelpful,” said Mr. Chemerinsky, who has himself been the subject of antisemitic conspiracy theories in recent weeks. “For many, the existence of Israel, or opposition to it, is deeply personal. None of this tracks the traditional liberal, conservative lines.”
The specter of swastikas dotting college campuses known for their liberal values has been catnip for Fox News and other conservative news outlets. These outlets have delivered a drumbeat of coverage, casting antisemitic incidents — and the cautious responses many university leaders initially put out — as symbolic of views that have overtaken not just the Democratic Party but also the nation’s higher educational system.
Matt Brooks, the president of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said the issue exposed liberal hypocrisy, arguing that university administrators valued Jewish students less than other minority groups that have been targeted in recent years.
“If the roles were reversed, and it were African American students, if it were L.G.B.T.Q. students, the university no doubt would crack down and make sure that this was a safe space for them on the college campuses,” Mr. Brooks said. “They’re not doing that for the Jewish students. And it’s absolutely outrageous.”
In his speech to the R.J.C., Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina denounced what he called “poisonous antisemitism that has been allowed to fester on the radical left in American politics,” adding that universities “had no problem” speaking up about political controversies in the past. “But now? Now that their own institutions are being used as platforms to call for genocide? Now they offer pathetic equivocation or, worse, deafening silence.”
“They seem more offended by ‘microaggressions’ than by mass murder,” Mr. Scott said. “If this were any other minority group, hear me, the far left would be screaming from the rooftops.”