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Are Jewish students safe at the University of California?

by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin Thursday, Mar. 26, 2015 at 11:16 PM

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz and cofounder and director of the AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that combats campus anti-Semitism.

What is the campus climate like for Jewish students at the University of California? As the old Jewish joke goes: in one word, good; in two words, not good.

Let’s start with the good.

Last week, UC President Janet Napolitano and Board of Regents Chair Bruce Varner issued a strong statement condemning recent anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses, which have included swastikas spray-painted on a Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis and the inappropriate questioning of a candidate for the student judiciary board about her Jewishness and Jewish affiliations at UCLA.

The Napolitano-Varner statement was issued on the heels of two other unprecedented responses to escalating anti-Semitic activity on UC campuses: the student senates at UCLA and UC Berkeley each unanimously approved resolutions condemning campus anti-Semitism.

Both resolutions invoked the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism as a standard for identifying anti-Semitic activity. The world’s most authoritative and well-accepted formulation of contemporary forms of anti-Semitism, the State Department’s definition recognizes that anti-Semitism often “manifests itself with regard to the state of Israel” and can include language or behavior that “demonize[s] Israel” by “blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions,” “delegitimize[s] Israel” by “denying Israel the right to exist” or applies “double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”

These three statements by UC officials and student leaders acknowledging and condemning the heretofore officially unacknowledged problem of anti-Semitism on UC campuses are all good, and the student resolutions invoking the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which recognizes that certain expressions of animosity towards Israel are anti-Semitic, are very good indeed.

Now let’s turn to the not so good.

These commendable statements pay little, if any, attention to the enormous elephant in the room — the fact that the recent anti-Semitic incidents are directly related to the virulently anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaigns being promoted on UC campuses. For example, the swastikas drawn on the Jewish fraternity house at UC Davis appeared less than two days after a contentious vote in the student senate on an anti–Israel BDS resolution. Just after that vote, a student council member who had sponsored the divestment bill wrote on her Facebook page: “Israel will fall insha’Allah #UCDDivest”; and the four student senators who challenged the candidate for the judicial board because she was Jewish were sponsors and supporters of the most recent anti-Israel BDS bill at UCLA.

In fact, Jewish students on each of the UC campuses that have played host to BDS campaigns — Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz — have reported being the victims of anti-Semitic activity, including harassment, physical and verbal assault, threats, vilification, and discrimination; defacement and destruction of their property and the property of Jewish student organizations; and the disruption and shutting down of Jewish student events.

And it’s not just the BDS activity of anti-Israel students that has created a hostile environment for Jewish students on UC campuses. In a report of the campus climate for Jewish students at the University of California commissioned by former UC President Mark Yudof, Jewish students from seven UC campuses testified that one of the most distressing issues for them was the sponsorship of unambiguously anti-Zionist events by university departments and administrative offices. Since that report was issued in 2012, the problem has only gotten worse, with numerous departments and administrative offices on UC campuses sponsoring events which openly promote the boycott of Israel. Moreover, approximately 250 UC faculty members have endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities and scholars and more than 100 have publicly endorsed undergraduate and graduate students’ BDS campaigns, with many of these faculty using their classrooms and course curricula to promote BDS.

It should come as no surprise that BDS activity on UC campuses is linked to anti-Semitic behavior. Virtually every activity promoting BDS involves rhetoric that demonizes and delegitimizes Israel and holds it to an impossible double standard — exactly how the State Department defines anti-Semitism.

So while statements condemning swastikas and the rejection of a candidate for student government solely because she is Jewish are important and commendable, unless the direct relationship between BDS rhetoric and activity and anti-Semitism can be publicly acknowledged, these statements will do little to ameliorate the University of California’s “Jewish problem.” This will only happen when UC officials adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, and charge campus administrators with using the definition to identify anti-Semitic behavior and respond to it with the same promptness and vigor as they do all other forms of racial, ethnic and gender bigotry and discrimination.

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LATEST COMMENTS ABOUT THIS ARTICLE
Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 55 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
TITLE AUTHOR DATE
what next? are white students safe? nobody Saturday, Mar. 28, 2015 at 12:21 AM
Universities punish bigotry — but not anti-Jewish bigotry Susan B. Tuchman Sunday, Mar. 29, 2015 at 1:44 PM
what the zionists really want Meyer London Saturday, Apr. 11, 2015 at 4:19 AM
No Qite Raychul baychul Monday, Apr. 13, 2015 at 12:20 AM
attacks Meyer London Tuesday, Apr. 14, 2015 at 5:15 PM
mainstream media is controlled by the Saudis ha! Wednesday, Apr. 15, 2015 at 5:48 AM
Saudis in control Meyer London Thursday, Apr. 16, 2015 at 3:52 AM
Saudis in control Meyer London Thursday, Apr. 16, 2015 at 3:52 AM
imbeciles on parade underprivileged white male Friday, Apr. 17, 2015 at 12:06 PM
remedy Meyer London Saturday, Apr. 18, 2015 at 3:24 AM
Nazis on parade not a brown shirt Saturday, Apr. 18, 2015 at 4:17 AM
not a brownshirt Meyer London Sunday, Apr. 19, 2015 at 2:03 AM
You misread Plitvik Sunday, Apr. 19, 2015 at 8:27 AM
imbeciles on parade laughing man Sunday, Apr. 19, 2015 at 3:34 PM
except anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism Karla Sunday, Apr. 19, 2015 at 5:19 PM
Holocaust Remembrance and the New Anti-Semitism Rabbi Robert Kaplan: Sunday, Apr. 19, 2015 at 11:27 PM
Who is Rabbi Robert Kaplan and why should we care? Meyer London idVer:204ec8e5c4d091a216cf9b Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015 at 1:23 AM
No- I get it anti-zionism is anti-Semitism Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015 at 1:50 AM
land theft and murder as self determination Meyer London Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015 at 4:12 AM
Missing the point Missing the point Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015 at 5:47 AM
outstanding graphic laughing man Tuesday, Apr. 21, 2015 at 3:32 PM
wonderful graphic Meyer London Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2015 at 3:56 AM
Sheepdog clone laughing man Wednesday, Apr. 22, 2015 at 11:53 AM
daily laughs Meyer London Thursday, Apr. 23, 2015 at 3:04 AM
daily laughs Meyer London Thursday, Apr. 23, 2015 at 3:04 AM
So? So? Thursday, Apr. 23, 2015 at 7:03 AM
restrictions Meyer London Friday, Apr. 24, 2015 at 3:42 AM
There were no Pals then Jen Friday, Apr. 24, 2015 at 3:15 PM
Arabs in Palestine Meyer London Saturday, Apr. 25, 2015 at 3:37 AM
Twain mentions Israel Fail Sunday, May. 03, 2015 at 2:40 AM
One more minute Fail Sunday, May. 03, 2015 at 2:44 AM
Jews in Israel Meyer London Sunday, May. 03, 2015 at 4:05 AM
Fail Fail Sunday, May. 03, 2015 at 4:21 AM
Jewish Claim to Israel Schtarker Yid Sunday, May. 03, 2015 at 5:58 AM
religious myths as justifications for imperialist theft Meyer London Monday, May. 04, 2015 at 4:38 AM
religious myths as justifications for imperialist theft Meyer London Monday, May. 04, 2015 at 4:38 AM
religious myths as justifications for imperialist theft Meyer London Monday, May. 04, 2015 at 4:38 AM
Asked and Answered Jerusalem Monday, May. 04, 2015 at 5:45 AM
Palestine Meyer London Thursday, May. 07, 2015 at 4:13 AM
Palestine Meyer London Thursday, May. 07, 2015 at 4:13 AM
Arabs were the colonial invaders Arabs were the colonial invaders Friday, May. 08, 2015 at 5:03 AM
We don't agree on anything. Meyer London Sunday, May. 10, 2015 at 4:29 AM
The Arabs are the colonial invaders ARabs are the colonial invaders Sunday, May. 10, 2015 at 1:50 PM
Jews were indigeneous Jews were indigeneous Sunday, May. 10, 2015 at 3:28 PM
Palestinian Surnames Palestinian Surnames Sunday, May. 10, 2015 at 5:13 PM
Ancestors Meyer London Monday, May. 11, 2015 at 4:04 AM
Ancestors Meyer London Monday, May. 11, 2015 at 4:04 AM
author's residence Meyer London Monday, May. 11, 2015 at 4:30 AM
definition of Indigeneous FYI Monday, May. 11, 2015 at 5:25 AM
Martinez-Cobo Meyer London Tuesday, May. 12, 2015 at 4:03 AM
Its getting worse on campus Pollax Sunday, May. 17, 2015 at 4:51 AM
Its actually worse than that AMCHA initiative Sunday, May. 17, 2015 at 5:16 AM
swastika nuts Meyer London Tuesday, May. 19, 2015 at 3:03 AM
Just wondering Gleason Wednesday, May. 20, 2015 at 5:49 AM
swastika loons Meyer London Sunday, May. 31, 2015 at 3:22 AM

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