Monday, December 16, 2013
The Alarming Rise of Campus Anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism on U.S. college campuses is growing at an alarming rate. It has escalated to the point that Jewish students on campuses have been physically attacked or threatened for peacefully demonstrating their support of Israel. Events demonizing Jews and even glorifying the murderers of Jews, in the guise of anti-Israel rhetoric, are tolerated by campus administrators despite the hostile environment such events create for Jewish students who are open about their beliefs in support of the Jewish state.
Title VI of the Civil Rights act of 1964 prohibits various forms of discrimination at federally funded programs, including higher educational institutions, but the Obama administration’s Department of Education has so far refused to enforce it against federally funded universities and colleges that have allowed anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students to go on with relative impunity. For example, in a letter rejecting a complaint that had accused a California state university of allowing a hostile environment for Jewish students to exist on campus, the education department’s Office for Civil Rights wrote: “In the university environment, exposure to such robust and discordant expressions, even when personally offensive and hurtful, is a circumstance that a reasonable student in higher education may experience. In this context, the events that the complainants described do not constitute actionable harassment.”
The same administration that decries even the slightest hint of so-called Islamophobia has treated hate speech and threats against Jewish students, which create a hostile environment for them, as the legitimate exercise of free speech. This double standard is only encouraging more hate and threats directed at Jewish students.
A study of Religious Tolerance on Campus published by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in December of 2011, entitled “ALONE ON THE QUAD: Understanding Jewish Student Isolation on Campus,” surveyed over 1,400 students in the United States. The Institute, which claims its survey to be one of the largest and most comprehensive of its kind, found that “Over 40% of students confirm Anti-Semitism on their campus.”
“Ample anecdotal evidence suggests that, over the last decade, Jewish college students have faced rising levels of anti-Semitism on campuses across the United States,” the Institute’s report concluded. “[Anti-Israel] divestment campaigns, protests, rallies, guerrilla theater and inflammatory speakers have featured anti-Jewish rhetoric. With insufficient response from administrators, these events have developed into hostile environments, where Jewish students and others have been maligned and threatened.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents for 2012 showed an increase in anti-Semitic incidents on campus – nearly triple the number of reported incidents in 2012 versus 2011. “Some of those incidents included the use of anti-Semitic imagery under the guise of anti-Israel activism, with conspiracy theories about Jewish political and economic control being voiced on campus,” the ADL report said.
To put a human face on these findings, consider the physical injury suffered by a UC Berkeley student, Jessica Felber. Ms. Felber was assaulted at a 2010 Apartheid Week event during which Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated Muslim Student Association (MSA) established a mock checkpoint that included fake barbed wire and AK-47 firearms. At the time, Ms. Felber was holding a sign that said “Israel Wants Peace.” She claimed that a leader of SJP deliberately rammed a shopping cart into her back, causing injury that was serious enough to require medical attention.
This was not an isolated incident at Berkley. It fits into a pattern of intimidation where members of SJP set up these mock checkpoints and demanded that students passing by announce their religious affiliation, with Jews picked out for intimidation. Jewish student events have been disrupted and speakers heckled with chants such as “Seig Heil.”
Other California state universities have also witnessed a pattern of anti-Semitic behavior that creates a hostile environment for Jewish students and visitors on campus. Recently, the president of San Francisco State’s General Union of Palestine Students, Mohammad G. Hammad, posted a picture of himself with a knife, writing: “I seriously cannot get over how much I love this blade. It is the sharpest thing I own and cuts through everything like butter and just holding it makes me want to stab an Israeli soldier.” Following up on his general expression of violent intent, this Pro-Palestinian student leader reacted to a 20 year old female Israeli soldier’s shooting of an Arab who had what appeared to be a gun pointed at her fellow soldier’s head, by writing on social media: “Anyone who thinks there can be peace with animals like this is absolutely delusional, and the only ‘peace’ I’m interested in is the head of this f____g scum on a plate, as well as the heads of all others like her, and all others who support the IDF.”
A Jewish student at San Francisco State University could understandably be afraid of speaking out in support of Israel and its defense force if the price of such support is a threatened beheading, especially when the university’s administration does little to discourage such threats for fear of supposedly impinging on the exercise of free speech. As an article in the Jewish Press put it: “Can the SFSU environment be considered a safe one with a student leader – let’s say that again, a student leader! – who has already posed making threats while caressing a knife, and is now calling for the beheading of IDF soldiers and anyone who supports them?”
Anti-Semitism isn’t a new phenomenon on the San Francisco State University campus. As far back as 2002, following a rally by Jewish students who naively hoped to engage pro-Palestinian students in a dialogue for peace, the pro-Palestinian students surrounded the 30 remaining Jewish students, shouting death threats. They were reported to have said: “Get out or we will kill you,” “Hitler did not finish the job” and “Die racist pigs!” So much for peaceful dialogue.
At the University of California, Davis, a rally in November 2012 entitled “March in Solidarity with Gaza” led to a student occupation of a building where the protesters hung a larger banner that read “DAVIS+GAZA ARE ONE FIST” from the building’s entryway. A Jewish student and supporter of Israel trying to enter the building at the beginning of the “occupation” was physically blocked from entering because he was a “Zionist.”
At the University of California, Irvine, a Jewish student was told to “Go back to Russia where you came from” and called a “F___ing Jew.”
The Muslim Student Union (MSU) has displayed posters on campus that equate the Star of David with the Nazi swastika. The MSU also regularly invites hatemongers to speak, whose hate speeches border on incitement to violence.
One repeat anti-Semitic invitee, Amir Abdul Malik Ali, gave a speech at a 2006 MSU event, where he told a crowd of roughly 200 cheering students: “They [Jews] know that their days are numbered.”
In another speech at UC Irvine in 2010 he referred to Jews as “the new Nazis” and “the party of Satan.”
While promoting their own hate speech, which they insist is fully protected under the First Amendment, the Muslim Student Union organized demonstrations disrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on the UC Irvine campus. The disruptions got so out of hand that security intervened and escorted Ambassador Oren out of the room for his own safety. At least in that case, an Orange County, California jury found ten Muslim students guilty of criminal misdemeanor charges, although they got light sentences of probation, community service, and fines. UC Irvine administrators also suspended the MSU for a short time, but that did not deter more confrontational behavior from the MSU when their suspension ended.
Except in rare cases such as the incident involving the disruption of Ambassador Oren’s speech, the courts have not taken harassment complaints from Jewish students and faculty seriously. Indeed, a United States federal district court judge in northern California nominated by President Obama concluded that evidence of hate-filled demonstrations at a number of California state universities involving physical intimidation of Jewish students was not strong enough to overcome First Amendment protection of such activities as free speech.
The anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses, of course, are not confined to California. They have occurred coast-to-coast.
For example, in a January 2012 incident in Seattle, Washington, the ADL reported, “a male student returned to his dorm room to find a swastika and the word ‘jew’ written on his door.”
In March 2012, a female student in Boca Raton, Florida stood up in a biology class and ranted against Jews whom she accused of thinking they own the country: “I will f—ing kill you at the Holocaust events all over the world.”
Yeshiva University in New York, the ADL reported, received threatening voicemails in July 2012 such as “Execute all persons, Jewish persons,” and “warning all Jews, the nuclear Holocaust is coming.”
At Columbia University, Jewish students taking courses in its Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures program are insulted by their professors and intimidated not to question the strident anti-Israel indoctrination these professors are dispensing in their classrooms.
Although “Jews” and “Zionists” are used as interchangeable epithets, some hatemongers try to hide behind a supposed distinction. Jews are fine, they say, as long as the Jews keep their support of the Jewish state of Israel completely to themselves.
How does one distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and the camouflaged form of anti-Semitism that uses the Jewish state and its supporters as surrogate targets? Natan Sharansky, one of the founders of the Refusenik movement in Moscow who later emigrated to Israel and served in various governmental and non-governmental leadership positions, proposed what he called the 3D test to evaluate rhetoric that purports to be legitimate criticism of Israel. The line between legitimate criticism and anti-Semitism manifesting itself with regard to the Jewish state of Israel is crossed, Sharansky said, when the rhetoric or conduct contains one or more of the following “3D” components:
1. Demonization – “For example, the comparisons of Israelis to Nazis and of the Palestinian refugee camps to Auschwitz…”
2. Double Standards – “It is anti-Semitism, for instance, when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while tried and true abusers like China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria are ignored.”
3. Delegitimization – “While criticism of an Israeli policy may not be anti-Semitic, the denial of Israel’s right to exist is always anti-Semitic. If other peoples have a right to live securely in their homelands, then the Jewish people have a right to live securely in their homeland.”
The 3D’s, coupled with physical intimidation, make up the toxic mix that confront Jewish students on too many U.S. campuses today. University presidents must take personal charge of campus-wide campaigns to push back. In addition to promptly disciplining those who engage in harassment of Jewish students, university administrators from the top down should work hard to foster “an environment of civility,” according to Kenneth L. Marcus, President and General Counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights under Law and former Staff Director at the United States Commission on Civil Rights. Administrators should not take the politically safe route, he advises. Speaking out publicly against campus anti-Semitism is more effective “than taking a quieter approach” that sweeps the problem under the rug. They should explain, Marcus recommends, how anti-Semitic incidents on campus “resemble other ugly incidents which the administration has addressed with equal seriousness” and explain “the future and ongoing policies and practices which will prevent recurrences.”
Finally, when President Obama addressed the Muslim world in his June 2009 Cairo speech he promised: “I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” Sadly, he does not consider it his responsibility to fight against negative stereotypes, let alone harassment, of Jews on campus or anywhere else.