This article first appeared in New English Review.
The year 2016 was not a good year for Jewish students at many of our universities. The AMCHA Initiative, which was co-founded by University of California Hebrew Professor Tammi Rossman Benjamin and UCLA Professor Emeritus Leila Beckwith, both of whom I am proud to call friends and colleagues, has since its conception, documented and protested the never-ending incidents of anti-Semitism directed at Jewish university students mostly in California. Along with the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law, they have identified the schools where incidents of anti-Semitism have occurred.
First a little historical background.
Anti-Semitism is often called the world's oldest form of hate. We are familiar with the Holocaust (with the possible exception of our university students who don't hear much about it in school). During the 1930s and 1940s, Hitlerian Germany led the way, and to their shame, several occupied European countries assisted the Nazis in their dirty work. The Nazis didn't care about the tenets of the Jewish religion as others did centuries before. They didn't care that German Jews were largely assimilated, and in many cases, converted to Christianity. It wasn't about religion. Jews were considered as a distinct and inferior race that must not be allowed to pollute "pure" German blood.
Today, anti-Semitism has morphed into something a little different yet incorporating the old anti-Jewish stereotypes. Much anti-Semitism is driven by opposition to the State of Israel. In the Middle East, that is mixed with age-old Islamic hatred of Jews right out of the Koran and the Hadith.
Today, there are very few Jews in Arab countries- having been driven out in 1948. The last remnants of the ancient Jewish community of Yemen are trying to get out. It is the Jews in Israel that cannot be dislodged. Not yet anyway.
In Europe, Jews are leaving in droves especially from France and Sweden. It is not so much European skinheads or neo-Nazis who are the problem though some rightest elements are also guilty; it is the Muslim immigrants who are making life miserable for Jews, who dare not walk around in Jewish garb lest they be insulted, spit upon, attacked, or even murdered by the newcomers. Meanwhile Europeans look the other way, afraid of offending the ever-volatile Muslims.
But here in the US, the focal point for anti-Semitism is in our universities. The main reason stated is Zionism and Israel. And who are the main perpetrators of the anti-Semitism that is becoming somewhat acceptable in academia? It is largely Muslim students, be they Arab, Pakistani, Afghani or Turkish etc. Together, they have organized a very effective nation-wide movement dedicated to de-legitimizing Israel. They insist they are not anti-Jewish. That wouldn't go over well with the public at large. Indeed, they depend on the support of misguided students- some of whom are also Jewish and radical, leftist faculty, again some of whom are also Jewish. Together, pro-Palestinian students can bully Jewish students, shove cameras in their faces, push BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) resolutions through student governments, and disrupt the pro-Israel events while always claiming it has nothing to do with Jews-only Israel.
In spite of the claims of such organizations such as the various Muslim Students Association (MSA) chapters and the brown-shirt Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), there is much evidence that it is really driven by Jew hatred. Just as in the Middle East, which cannot accept a Jewish state in its midst, accepts the legitimacy of the Protocols of Elders of Zion, and still reads Mein Kampf in Arabic, the signs are obvious.
If the problem is solely Israel, why are swastikas showing up on so many campuses? If it is all about Israel, why do the above groups invite speakers such as Mohamad al Asi to campus? In 2001, Al Asi, a Washington-based imam, spoke at UC Irvine before the Muslim Student Union (MSU) and proclaimed that "you can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can't take the ghetto out of the Jew". In 2008, on the so-called mock Apartheid Wall, the MSU placed a caricature of Ariel Sharon drawn in the stereotypical style of Julius Streicher's Der Stuermer. I saw it and photographed it. For years, the go-to speaker at UCI during bash-Israel week was the radical Oakland-based imam, Amir Abdel Malik Ali. His fiery and hateful speeches are always littered with attacks against prominent American individuals he identifies as "Zionist Jews" spitting the words out in English just as Nazis used to spit the word out (without "Zionist") in German. Once in my presence he told Jewish audience members that they were the "new Nazis".
And through the years, university heads, predominantly on the University of California campuses have denied there was a problem. Sadly, they were backed up by such national organizations as the Anti-Defamation League, the Orange County Jewish Federation, and the UC Irvine Hillel chapter. In the case of the latter two groups, they have actively fought against Jewish students and community members who chose to fight back and educate the local community as to the problem. Why? because they are too embedded with the university and have a conflict of interest in that they fear that if UCI's reputation got too bad, Jewish students would opt to go elsewhere. Without Jewish students there would be no need for these organizations on campus.
For years, university presidents and chancellors at the University of California and the California State University systems have brushed off complaints from organizations such as the AMCHA Initiative and the Brandeis Center. Finally last year, the UC Regents held working group meetings to specifically address anti-Semitism and write a revised Statement of Principles Against Intolerance that specifically mentioned Jewish students. Of course, the leftist academics and SJP opposed any revision, saying the vanilla version that spoke of intolerance in general terms was satisfactory. I had the honor of joining with my AMCHA colleagues in speaking at two of the working groups at UCI and UCLA. Finally, a much better version was passed in March 2016, and hopes were high that finally, the UC campuses would take the problem of anti-Semitism seriously. In my view, they have failed the test. Though UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman assigned a campus task force to look into the problem of anti-Semitism on campus, little has been accomplished if anything. On May 18, SJP goons and others disrupted a film event about the Israeli Defense Forces on campus sponsored by Jewish students in such a loud and forceful manner that the mostly female audience members called campus police to restore order. They were absolutely terrified. And the punishment? SJP received a letter of warning.
During my time teaching at UC Irvine and observing the events up close and personal, I have always maintained that 99% of the students were not involved in this ugliness. Yet, a tiny minority of students have been allowed to get away with hateful rhetoric and disruptive and intimidating actions. The only reason I can figure out why is that they are largely Muslim students, and the universities are afraid to confront them or punish them in any meaningful way. Even after the MSU disrupted the speech of the Israeli ambassador to the US at UCI in 2010 ( I was present), MSU's punishment was reduced to one quarter suspension even though they lied and covered up their actions both before and during the incident. It was the decision of the Orange County District Attorney to prosecute the 11 who were arrested at the scene, and they were convicted while top-ranking university officials argued that they should not be prosecuted. (We don't know if any of the students were suspended or expelled since that is covered under privacy laws.)
It is time to hold the universities to account for allowing this hostile environment to continue for our Jewish students. I fully understand the principle of free speech. Even hateful speech is also protected. Bullying, vandalism, and disruption, however, are not covered under free speech. Universities that receive public money must face the threat of a cut-off of funding. Donors-especially Jewish donors- must be educated as to what is occurring on the campuses they give to. They can make their voices heard with the university in question, and if not satisfied, can stop making donations. Universities must also be made to understand that Jewish students will choose to go elsewhere if the climate is not safe for them on any particular campus. Finally, lawsuits should be brought against universities that allow a hateful environment for Jewish students, which would never be tolerated against other protected groups.
Universities are under increasing fire for the absurd political correctness and liberal domination within faculty. The problem of campus anti-Semitism is a problem that is often overlooked by the public at large. What is tolerated on campus would never be tolerated in our communities. I am gratified that Congress recently passed the anti-Semitism Awarness Act even though it is opposed by much of academia including UCI's Chancellor Gillman and UCI Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky (both of Jewish background). The California Legislature, which normally doesn't do much of a positive nature, also passed a resolution in July 2015 putting the University of California on notice that they are monitoring the issue.
Anti-Semitism is on the march worldwide, and in the US, the main problem is in academia. It must be confronted and exposed. There is no room for this in American society-on or off a university campus.