Tuesday, August 21, 2012

University of California Takes a Positive Step re: Anti-Semitism

Gary Fouse

Hat tip to AMCHA Initiative.

I scoffed when University of California President Mark Yudof created his UC Advisory Committee on Campus Climate, Culture and Inclusion a couple of years back. Every time he gets a new complaint about anti-Semitism on UC campuses, he trots out this body to show he is dealing with the problem.

Finally, however, I have to compliment (with certain reservations) this body for the just-released study they have done on the problem facing Jewish students on campus whenever some group decides to hold an anti-Israel event.

Below is a letter from the AMCHA Initiative to the committee thanking them for their report but cautioning them about the attempts of groups like Jewish Voice for Peace to have Yudof table the report.

Dear UC Advisory Committee on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion:
We are faculty at the University of California who, for the last several years, have been involved with efforts to document and address campus anti-Semitism in institutions of higher education in the United States. We are also co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative, an organization dedicated to informing the California Jewish community about manifestations of harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on California campuses.
We are writing to you today to concur with a crucial finding of your commttee's report, "Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team Report and Recommendations," written by Richard Barton and Alice Huffman:
As the report states:

“Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians. The anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities.”
Our own extensive experience confronting anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California confirms this important finding. We have found that bigotry against Jewish students has occurred over many years and on many University of California campuses. For more than a decade, Jewish students have been subjected to: swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti; acts of physical and verbal aggression; speakers, films and exhibits that use anti-Semitic imagery and discourse; speakers that praise and encourage support for terrorist organizations that openly advocate murder against Israel and the Jewish people; the organized disruption of events sponsored by Jewish student groups; and the promotion of student senate resolutions for divestment that seek to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State.
Over the last few years, Jewish members of the campus and California communities have expressed their distress at this long-standing and pervasive problem. For example:
  • In May 2010, 60 Jewish students on three UC campuses (UCB, UCI and UCSD) responded to an on-line questionnaire about campus climate that we posted. These students described feeling harassed and intimidated on their campuses: more than two-thirds felt that anti-Israel events and campaigns promoted hatred of the Jewish State and of Jews and even expressed the concern that such hatred might lead to violence against Jewish students on their campus, with some stating that it already had. Almost all the students felt that their administrators do not treat Jewish concerns as sensitively as they treat those of other minorities. (See Here for a selection of student responses to the questionnaire).
  • In May 2010, 70 UC Irvine faculty members signed an open letter stating that they were deeply disturbed about activities on their campus that fomented hatred against Jews and Israelis, and that many faculty and students felt intimidated, and even unsafe.
  • In June 2010, more than 700 Jewish UC students signed an on-line petition expressing outrage at anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery on campus. They asserted that these events "are as offensive and hurtful to Jewish students as a “Compton cookout” or a noose are to African-American students."
  • In June 2010, the leadership of twelve national Jewish organizations -- including United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Orthodox Union, which represent two of the three major religious Jewish movements in America -- signed a letter to President Yudof asking him to acknowledge and address the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California.
  • In September 2011, more than 5,000 members and supporters of the California Jewish community signed an AMCHA Initiative petition to President Yudof expressing their deep concern about the longstanding and pervasive harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on UC campuses and urging him to address the problem promptly and forcefully.
  • Earlier this month, the AMCHA Initiative sent to the UC Regents and President Yudof a letter signed by more than 1,000 members and supporters of the California Jewish community, that asked the Regents and President to carry out their legal and moral obligations to ensure that UC classrooms are not being used to promote anti-Semitism.

We are aware that there are individuals and organizations that dispute the Fact-Finding Team’s report and have asked President Yudof to table it. However, we question their motives and believe a review of their actions, as described below, indicates that the welfare of Jewish students is not their goal. Rather, their aim is to involve the University of California in enacting a political agenda that seeks to harm Israel and those who support it. Indeed, their extensive participation in events on UC campuses that demonize and delegitimize Israel is itself a significant part of the problem confronting Jewish students.
Prominent among those who are working to suppress the report’s findings is The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an anti-Zionist Jewish organization that is on the Anti-Defamation League's list of top ten anti-Israel groups in America. (See HERE for the JVP email campaign to force President Yudof to table the report). The JVP supports anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns and according to the Anti-Defamation League, "uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of antisemitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility."
The JVP and its chapters have: endorsed the campaign to force the two largest state pension funds to divest from Israel; endorsed the United Methodists divestment campaign; supported the anti-Israel divestment resolutions in the UC Berkeley and UC San Diego student senates; signed an open letter in support of the organizers of the National BDS (PennBDS) conference at the University of Pennsylvania February 3 - 5, 2012, whose goal was to promote international BDS campaigns; and is a member of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, whose campaigns include boycotting Israel and calling for a halt to all US aid to Israel.

We believe that the Jewish Voice for Peace, and other such organizations and individuals seeking to tarnish the findings of the report and to have it tabled, do so disingenuously, in order to continue to use the University of California to achieve their political agenda. That goal is unworthy of a great University and cynically ignores the welfare of many Jewish students.

We urge you to carefully consider this report and to address the serious campus climate issues facing Jewish students at the University of California.

Thank you,

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative

Leila Beckwith
Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative

Cc: UC Chancellors
UC Regents
California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson

Bcc: Members and supporters of the Jewish community

If I may engage in a little nit-picking. First of all, the report does not mention once the groups(s) responsible for hosting the specific events that feature extremist speakers, some of whom have engaged in anti-Jewish rhetoric. That would be the various Muslim Student Associations on UC campuses as well as the Students for Justice in Palestine. In that regard, the report is similar to how the Europeans report riots in their streets by young Muslim males. ^They are identified generally only as "youth". You cannot engage the problem if you don't name the parties involved.

There was also a reference to some Jewish students criticizing the involvement of the outside community in getting involved and portraying a negative image of UC Irvine. I have addressed that before and will do so again. The Jewish student community at UCI is like the Jewish community at large, quite diverse and differing in such things as religious outlook, political views, attitude towards Israel, or desire to be involved in the whole controversy on campus. It is quite true that if a Jewish student cares little for asserting his or her Jewish identity or support for Israel and just wants to get on with the business of getting an education, UCI is a pleasant environment. I would guess that most Jewish students choose not to get involved when the MSU brings their circus to town every May in the form of anti-Israel week. If they don't care what people like Amir Abdel Malik Ali or Mohammed al -Asi say about Jews in front of the microphone, they have no problem. However, the members of the local Jewish community and others (such as myself) have chosen to get involved and challenge the MSU and their hate merchants in a civil and legal manner in accordance with the rules of the university. We will also exercise our First Amendment rights within the law and within the bounds of civility. We will continue to do that whether certain students or the Orange County Jewish Federation and Hillel object or not.

Other than that, I am glad to see the report. I would like to see how the recommendations are acted upon. A good start would be to tell the MSAs to find speakers other than Malik Ali. He can take his soapbox to the nearest local park. In addition, it is time for US universities to recognize that the so-called "plight" of the Palestinians, which is largely of their own making, is hardly the number one issue of concern in US academia-notwithstanding the efforts of a small but very vocal minority.

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