How to Deal with Anti-Semitism on Campus
Anti-Semitism is gaining traction on many college campuses across America. Instead of an atmosphere where ideas are exchanged and intellectual curiosity is encouraged, there is bigotry, discrimination, and offensive commentary against the Jewish population. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a major contributing factor, considering the divestment and the anti-Israeli campaigns. There is a culture of targeting Israel that in turn targets Jewish students. As in general society, the perpetrators appear to be one particular group: the Islamic extremists and their supporters.
Ariela Keysar, who wrote a detailed "Anti-Semitism Report" with Barry A. Ksomin, found that more than half of American Jewish college students personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism last year. Two glaring statistics stand out: college students are five times more likely to have encountered anti-Semitism in the U.S. than other age groups, and 54% of Jewish students in the sample survey reported having been subject to or witnessed anti-Semitism on campus.
UCLA was recently in the news with the overtly anti-Semitic actions on campus. Rachel Beyda, a Jewish student, was going to be confirmed by the student council as an appointed justice to the Judicial Board. During the process, she was asked, "Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community… how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?" This interrogation coincided with UCLA's annual Israel Apartheid Week. It was reported that after Rachel left the room, the discussion consisted of "forty minutes of unequivocal anti-Semitism." Even though all thought her amply qualified, half of the council did not want to confirm her because of "Rachel's Jewish identity."
In response to this and other actions, David Horowitz of the David Horowitz Freedom Center has initiated JewHatredonCampus.org. His organization placed posters at UCLA linking the group "Supporters for Justice in Palestine" with terrorist activities. For example, one poster depicted the body of a lifeless Palestinian civilian being dragged through the streets of Gaza by Hamas operatives while tethered to a motorcycle, with the bottom caption "#JewHaters." Interestingly, UCLA's chancellor, Gene D. Block, came out strongly against what he calls intolerance and bias on the campus. But the point to be made is that he wrote his condemnation only after the poster depiction of the Palestinians, which occurred days after the Rachel Beyda incident. He needed a tit-for-tat before he publicly spoke.
American Thinker interviewed David Horowitz and two UCLA Jewish student leaders regarding anti-Semitism at UCLA. The Jewish students wonder if Horowitz is an extremist who is just adding fuel to the fire, while David Horowitz questions if some Jewish groups on campus are appeasers. Although they differ in the tactics to be used to battle anti-Semitism, all are in agreement that a contributing factor is the "liberal" atmosphere at UCLA.
Horowitz told American Thinker, "The Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice In Palestine are hate groups whose only purpose is to demonize the State of Israel. They receive campus funding and campus support. There is this hypocrisy and double standard. Think about it: if they said these things against blacks, would there still be the same reaction? With the campaign 'Jew Hatred On Campus,' we are attempting to shift the conversation from the ludicrous, whether Israel is an apartheid state, to whether these groups are hate groups. We want to put forward the truth and present the propaganda of lies."
Rebecca is a UCLA junior who writes for UCLA's Jewish news magazine, Ha'Am. She decided to engage the students who put up the Israel Apartheid Wall Installation on campus. It is painted with different misfacts about the conflict. Her feeling is that this wall is an attempt to recruit support from the black and Hispanic communities on campus, associating their experiences with Palestinian issues. According to Rebecca, the discourse was respectful, with a give-and-take, until the Muslim representative saw her necklace that identified Rebecca as Jewish. From that moment she never looked her in the eye and refused to continue the conversation. Rebecca said, "I was really bothered, since she refused to talk to me only because I was Jewish. She utterly disrespected me. It became obvious it was not OK to have a dialogue with people who want to challenge the facts. They do not want any dialogue."
Tammy, a senior and a past president of Hillel, believes that being anti-Israel, anti-Jewish state, is the "new manifestation of anti-Semitism. Yet we are fighting an uphill battle every time we try to stop the Israel Apartheid rhetoric, because we are accused of limiting freedom of speech. Yet they wanted to limit our freedoms, as evidenced with the Rachel Beyda incident. After it, many of us had breakfast with the chancellor and told him how disappointed we were that he waited to write his letter about Rachel Beyda. He apologized."
It became obvious in speaking to both sides that they are divergently apart in how to handle the growing issue of anti-Semitism. Horowitz believes that the posters and other actions are needed, because "groups like Bruins for Israel and Hillel are buying into the mythology of the Muslim groups. Instead of apologizing for our posters, they should stand up and confront the prejudices now, or it will be too late. People calling for the destruction of Israel on college campuses are waging a genocidal campaign against Jews."
Rebecca and Tammy want to marginalize these groups, and the way to do it is by ignoring them so they do not gain publicity. They both believe that a necessary step is to break down the barriers through forming interpersonal relationships with other groups, such as the blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Armenians. Tammy summarized the feelings of many Jewish UCLA students: "If we can make people understand who we are as Jews, we can talk about what Israel stands for. For example, both the Armenians and the Jewish students have experienced genocide. We could have a mutual event about this issue. Non-Jews looked at the posters put up by Horowitz's group as offensive, because other groups don't understand the meaning behind the Jewish state, its importance to the Jewish culture, and the demographics. We need to educate different cultures through our similarities, which is where I am invested."
Rebecca agrees and feels that it is important to have cultural awareness with these other groups. She wants to celebrate "our Jewish identity instead of constantly defending it. If we are constantly put on the defensive, we are letting the other side win. We should be showing other groups how proud we are to be Jewish – to create a meaningful Jewish experience, a home for the Jewish community that makes them feel welcome through the celebration of Jewish traditions and holidays. We should be sharing these cultural and religious aspects with other groups."
Both students point to the resolution recently passed by the Undergraduate Students Association Council as proof of making strides. They realize that this could either be a starting point or just a piece of paper that means nothing. However, they feel that it is a step in the right direction, since it calls for an active fight against anti-Semitism. The provisions include respecting the rights of the organized Jewish communities at UCLA; allowing those communities to define, within the guidelines of the national definition, what is and is not anti-Semitic, just as other communities are granted that right; and including in any proposed diversity requirements classes about Jewish history and current events.
There is a definite difference of opinion on how to combat anti-Semitism at UCLA. Horowitz wants to draw attention to the Islamic atrocities and attitudes against women, gays, freedom of religion, and civil liberties. Both students interviewed feel that the best way to deal with it is to ignore it. They want the outside community and people like David Horowitz to understand they do not know better than the students on campus. They want to work with the external Jewish community but emphasize that there is a need to work "with us, not independent of us. After all, we are fighting the same fight." Both sides need to speak to one another with a willingness to listen to each other's view, because this divisiveness is not a healthy way to handle college anti-Semitism.
The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews and author interviews and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.