As a nation, the Jewish people are stronger than ever, with many successes in medicine, science, technology, and other endeavors. The anti-Semitism that our grandparents experienced in the 1930s and ‘40s fortunately does not exist in the United States.
|A student at Virginia Commonwealth University promotes Israel programs on campus.
But a new kind of anti-Semitism has arisen in its stead, expressed as extreme anti-Israel and anti-Zionist bias and propaganda. One of the key playing grounds for this new anti-Semitism is on American college campuses, and it is occurring inside and outside the classroom. The good news is that there are legal tools available to address the problem.
Colleges and universities should be institutions of academic integrity, encouraging critical thinking and allowing for the expression and discussion of diverse ideas, including ideas that might be controversial or unpopular. Yet at many colleges and universities across the nation, classes about Israel and the conflict in the Middle East are beyond controversial; they are fueling anti-Semitism and a hateful bias against Zionism and the State of Israel. Many academic departments are failing to teach a diversity of perspectives about the Middle East conflict. They employ professors who use their classrooms as their own political soapboxes and present lectures that omit the facts and disregard reality. Academic integrity should allow for the expression of differing opinions, but it should not permit professors to teach outright lies to their students.
The bias against Israel in the college classroom should concern all of us. As Lebanese-born Arab reformer Brigitte Gabriel stated, “What is at stake [on campuses] is our future; the students of today will become tomorrow’s leaders.”
About two years ago, the documentary film Columbia Unbecoming depicted the harassment and intimidation that some Jewish students at Columbia University were experiencing in courses taught in Columbia’s Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures department. According to one Jewish student, her professor told her that because she had green eyes, she could not be a “Semite” and therefore could not have a voice in the debate about the Middle East or any claim to the Land of Israel. According to another Columbia student, who is Israeli and had served in the Israeli Defense Forces, a professor refused to answer his student’s question until the student stated how many Palestinian Arabs he had killed. These and other classroom experiences were creating an intimidating environment for Jewish students.
The classroom is not the only place on campus where anti-Semitism and a hateful bias against Israel are fueling the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students. Campus newspapers have become a hotbed of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment. For example, at the University of Massachusetts in 1995, the campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian, included a letter from an emeritus professor who wrote, “Judaism and the Jewish identity are offensive to most human beings and will always cause trouble between the Jews and the rest of the human race.” In 2003, Santa Rosa Junior College’s student paper, The Oak Leaf, published a student’s opinion article that said, “Israel is the largest and most dangerous terrorist organization in the world…. The Zionist Jews believe they are the ‘chosen people’ of god and that the world was given to them and is their possession. The Zionist Jews want to establish a Jewish holy land with no non-Jews present…. This attitude of racial hatred and genocide is also reflected in the Torah.”
Campus newspapers have become a hotbed of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel sentiment.
In addition, student groups on campus are sponsoring speakers and programs that are hateful toward Jews, Zionism, and Israel. Israel—the only established democracy in the Middle East, where Jews and non-Jews of every race and ethnicity possess the rights of free speech, freedom of the press, and complete access to the courts—is falsely compared to Nazi Germany or to apartheid South Africa. The IDF and various Israeli leaders are likened to the Nazis and Hitler. Stars of David are equated with the swastika on flyers for anti-Israel events, and propaganda recalling medieval blood libels is distributed on some campuses. For instance, at San Francisco State University, a Muslim student group circulated flyers depicting a can with a baby’s picture. The label on the can included the words, “Made in Israel,” and “Palestinian Children Meat.” Underneath the baby’s picture, the caption read, “Slaughtered According to Jewish Rites Under American License.” All of these comparisons and depictions are plainly intended to incite hatred of Jews and the State of Israel, and they have caused many Jewish students to feel harassed and intimidated on their own campuses.
The First Amendment protects these offensive words and actions, and thus colleges and universities cannot prohibit them. But colleges and universities have their own First Amendment rights; they can speak out against speeches and programs that are hateful toward Jews and Israel. Some already have. Lawrence H. Summers, the former President of Harvard University, noted in a September 2002 address the danger of “advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect if not their intent.” In 2004, the President of Rutgers University, Richard L. McCormick, condemned the publication of a cartoon in a student paper that made light of the Holocaust. He called the cartoon “outrageous in its cruelty,” and though he acknowledged that the First Amendment protected the publication, he characterized the cartoon as “vicious, provocative, and hurtful,” and “completely at odds with our values as a university.” When college officials speak out, they demonstrate to the campus community that while they cannot stop certain expressions of hate and bigotry, they condemn them.
The ZOA took legal action against the university on behalf of the Jewish students who were feeling harassed and intimidated.
At the University of California, Irvine in 2004, the anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment had escalated to the point where students no longer felt safe revealing that they were Jewish and supported the State of Israel. Some of the harassment and intimidation they were facing was fueled by an annual week-long event on campus that is sponsored by the Muslim Student Union. Though the event has been called “Zionist Awareness Week,” “Anti-Zionist Week,” and “Israel Awareness Week,” it has had nothing to do with creating awareness of Zionism or Israel. Rather, it showcases factually inaccurate information about Israel that incites hatred of Jews and Zionism. Muslim student group members have dressed up as IDF soldiers who simulate beating pregnant Arab women. The group has displayed a so-called “apartheid wall” that is supposed to represent the security fence that Israel has been forced to erect to protect its people from being murdered by terrorists. The students’ wall is virtually impossible to avoid, since it blocks almost the entire walkway in a central part of the campus. Last year’s event was called “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” and it included such programs as “Israel: The 4th Reich” and “Zionism Hijacking Judaism.”
Such events made many Jewish students at UC Irvine feel harassed and intimidated, and though they repeatedly complained to university administrators about the hostile campus environment, their complaints were largely ignored. In addition, the administration refused to condemn any of the programs that were hateful and offensive toward Jews and Israel.
After numerous informal efforts to resolve the problems had been attempted and failed, the ZOA took legal action against the university on behalf of Jewish students who were feeling harassed and intimidated. The ZOA filed a complaint against UC Irvine under federal law—Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which requires that recipients of federal funding ensure that their programs and activities are free from racial and ethnic discrimination. The complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the United States Department of Education, which is responsible for enforcing Title VI. OCR is currently investigating the complaint; this is a landmark case. The first alleging anti-Semitism that OCR has agreed to investigate under Title VI.
The right of Jewish students to be protected from anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation was recently buttressed by the United States Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal agency that studies and investigates discrimination and civil rights issues. In November 2005, the Commission for the first time held a hearing on the subject of campus anti-Semitism. Several groups leading the charge on fighting anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing on college campuses, including the ZOA, were asked to testify. Afterwards, the Commission issued findings and recommendations that support your right to be free from anti-Semitism, even when it is cloaked as hatred and bigotry against Zionism and the State of Israel.
Students at Columbia University protest an anti-Israel speaker on their campus.
Significantly, the Commission recognized that anti-Semitism can be disguised as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist bias. According to the Commission, “Anti-Semitic bigotry is no less morally deplorable when camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.”
The Commission made other important recommendations. First, OCR should vigorously enforce Title VI—the law on which the ZOA’s complaint against UC Irvine is based—to protect Jewish students from anti-Semitic harassment. Second, colleges and universities should protect Jewish students so that they are not subjected to a hostile environment in violation of the law. Third, university leadership should make certain that all academic departments “maintain academic standards, respect intellectual diversity, and ensure that the rights of all students are fully protected.” Finally, university leadership should “set a moral example by denouncing anti-Semitic and other hate speech.”
Use these landmark guidelines on your campus. Even if you are not experiencing harassment or intimidation, bring the guidelines to the attention of your college administration and urge the administration to respect and adhere to them, and to publicize them in the university community. Also, bring the guidelines directly to the attention of the Hillel on campus, and other student groups.
If you are feeling harassed and intimidated on your campus, your silence will not fix the problem. Be proactive. Your first step should be to try to resolve the problem internally. Voice your concerns to the campus administration. Enlist the support of your Hillel, Chabad House, pro-Israel and other student groups on campus, as well as the local Jewish community. Put your complaints and concerns in writing each and every time that an anti-Semitic incident occurs on campus that makes you feel threatened, harassed, or intimidated.
If your college administration doesn’t take adequate steps to address your concerns and the problem persists, reach out for help. The ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice is a good resource for mapping out an action plan to combat anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing on your campus. There are legal channels you can pursue, and the ZOA is available to help you.
You are entitled to get your college education in an environment that doesn’t harass, threaten, or intimidate you because you are Jewish and support the State of Israel. Don’t remain silent. There are things that you can do and people who will help. Know your rights. Stand up and be heard.
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