Please follow this posting to the end for a link to a video on this issue, and information on how you can be involved.
On Monday, I attended a presentation at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin on anti-Semitism on the campuses of the University of California.
Rossman-Benjamin, who lectures in the Jewish studies department at the Santa Cruz campus of the university, focused on such UC campuses as Santa Cruz, Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Irvine. But her words apply in at least some measure to a host of other N. American universities, as well.
“Anti-Semitism,” as it is referred to here, appears in the guise of anti-Zionism. This is the new anti-Semitism: A double standard is applied to Israel; comparisons are made between Israel and the Nazis; claims are made that the Holocaust is invented or exaggerated.
While many of us are broadly familiar with the problem, the details, as provided by Rossman-Benjamin, are bone-chilling. Her report makes you want to shake your head in incredulity and ask, THIS is happening in America? Sadly, alarmingly, the answer is, yes.
Muslim groups supported by ethnic minority groups on the campuses speak about Israeli “crimes against humanity;” promote BDS campaigns; publicly display bloodied Israeli flags; call for the destruction of Israel; sponsor hostile films and lectures; and engage in harassment of Jewish students (interrupting Jewish programs, following Jewish students to their cars, etc).
The primary Muslim groups involved are Muslim Student Association, which had Brotherhood links at its inception and has come out in support of Hamas and Hezbollah, and SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine). They are officially university student organizations. There are documented instances of members of these groups involved in intimidation of and physical encounters with Jewish students and faculty. (See a report from Steve Emerson on this: http://global-security-news.com/2011/08/15/lawsuit-details-depth-of-berkeley-jewish-student-harassment/ )
What must be understood, however, is that sometimes faculty is also complicit. Anti-Israel conferences are sponsored by academic departments within the university, anti-Israel books are assigned in some classes. Some lectures are blatantly anti-Israel and refer to such things as “The Holocaust in the Holy Land.”
As one academic put it, what is being encountered is “propaganda spun to look like academic research.”
Implications of this academic influence are considerable, as graduates of these classes enter the business and government worlds.
Anti-Israel faculty claims protection under the aegis of academic freedom. But academic freedom does not sanction lies and misrepresentations posing as scholarly research.
If all of this is alarming, I find at one level nothing more reprehensible than the fact that some of the faculty members participating in the attacks on Israel are Jews. No reason for surprise here: we see leftist Jews taking inherently anti-Jewish and anti-Israel positions in many contexts. But it is no less shameful for it.
There is, for example, Santa Barbara campus professor William Robinson, who sent out an e-mail to his students with a lengthy series of pictures comparing Nazis to Israelis: a picture of Gaza and a picture of a concentration camp juxtaposed, etc.
Some of the Jews taking these positions actually are members of Jewish studies departments.
While it is not uncommon to think of such persons as self-hating, there is reason to believe that in this situation they are, rather, self-aggrandizing. Their position is actually better accepted in the left wing climate of California than staunch defense of Israel’s rights would be. These anti-Zionist faculty members benefit from speaking engagements and enhancement of their professional careers. Professor Gerald Steinberg, head of NGO-Monitor, who was at the presentation, talks about some individuals who receive funds from Europe.
The effects of this anti-Semitic activity are two-fold, although the two cannot be entirely separated.
On the one hand, there is delegitimization of Israel, with tens of thousands of students affected by the propaganda being presented in the guise of academic perspective. It is now considered academically legitimate to discuss Israel’s right to exist, although no other nation is discussed in these terms.
Secondly, the creation of a hostile environment for Jewish students on the campuses renders them less able to effectively defend Israel. Pro-Israel Jewish students not only feel intimidated, but fear that the climate will ultimately generate violence. They are also convinced that the university administration functions in an unfair manner: they don’t feel that they have official support.
Action to combat what is going on takes several forms. Pro-Israel students, faculty and concerned citizens are working to counter the delegitimization. Speakers are brought onto the campuses, information is distributed, etc.
The battle against anti-Israel faculty is also being undertaken, but is difficult. Efforts are underway to raise the awareness of administrators and academic faculties with regard to abuses of academic freedom. However, the administration is not always willing to enforce the university’s own rules, and faculties are not always willing to apply standards of scholarship.
Rossman-Benjamin, who is to be congratulated for her efforts in this regard, has decided to take on the issue of the protection of Jewish students on the campuses of UC.
This is, in some part, a legal battle, with regard to federal law under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Federally funded educational institutions must be free of bias with regard to race, color or national origin, but religion was not originally included and Jews were without this legal protection.
After a protracted struggle with regard to this matter — with a decision made to grant protection to Jews under Title VI in 2004, and then subsequently withdrawn again — the federal Office of Civil Right in October 2010 ruled that Jews were entitled to legal protection.
The ZOA was involved in this matter, having filed an appeal at one point, as is Rossman-Benjamin, who filed a complaint that OCR has agreed to hear. In the run-up to the OCR decision, 13 Jewish organizations urged the Secretary of Education to include Jewish students in federal protection under civil rights law, Several Congressmen have followed suit, and additionally have introduced legislation on the matter that is currently pending.
In the course of a campaign to mobilize Jewish organizations on the issue, 12 groups agreed to send a letter to UC President Mark Yudof, recommending that clear guidelines be established. Yudof ignored the recommendation.
Additional attempts are being made to rally Jewish organizations to support the Jewish students on the campuses — the goal is to get these groups to put aside divisive issues and present a united front, recognizing that attacks against the Jewish state are attacks against the identity of Jewish students.
There have been some positive responses. A courageous student group called Tikva, for example, works on the campuses.
But to some not inconsiderable measure this effort has been problematic.
Both ADL and the American Jewish Committee refused to sign the letter to Yudof. ADL’s Abe Foxman says there is no anti-Semitism on CA campuses (which, I will observe, given his recent history, is no surprise). Kenneth Stern, who is associated with AJC, signed on to a letter charging that federal law is being misused for political purposes to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel — which AJC Executive Director David Harris disavowed. The Orange County Federation supports the biased Olive Tree Initiative.
All of this, which is shameful and painful, marks the organized Jewish community as divided and easy to dismiss.
Rossman-Benjamin has been instrumental in establishing an Investigative Taskforce on Campus Anti-Semitism, which will be investigating and documenting incidents across the country, and making recommendations — especially with regard to behavior on campuses that defies university policies and federal law. This is planned as an initiative with teeth.
Most significantly, Rossman-Benjamin has established the Amcha Initiative, which is seeking to rally Jews at a grassroots level across the country to come out for the safety of Jewish students on campuses. People are being asked to sign on to a letter that will be presented to Yudof.
The Initiative website can be found at www.Amchainitiative.org . Please visit the site to see a video on the problem and learn more about the initiative.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.