Jewish Journal

Was UC Prez’s Open Letter Condemning Campus Anti-Semitism Enough?

by Orit Arfa

March 9, 2012 | 1:15 pm

The ZOA welcomes University of California President Mark Yudof’s Open Letter to the University of California Community condemning recent acts of harassment of Jewish students that occurred on several UC campuses. In the letter, he denounces acts meant to disrupt the speech of of pro-Israel activists, including the recent disruption of speakers at the UC Davis campus event entitled “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out” as well as the defacement of the Israeli flag at the UC Riverside Hillel.

The letter is a result of continuous pressure placed upon UC leaders by Jewish activists, including the Director of ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice, Susan Tuchman, and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of UC Santa Cruz and Dr. Leila Beckwith of UCLA, the founders of the AMCHA Initiative, a grassroots organization devoted to protecting Jewish students on campus and which led a letter writing campaign to President Yudof. These three dynamic activists are the headliners of ZOA Orange County Chapter’s event this Sunday, March 11, 3-5 pm, at the Radisson Newport Beach entitled “Combatting Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism on College Campuses.” The public is encouraged to attend.

While we commend President Yudof, we hope that this is just a start. In the ZOA’s letter to him dated March 9, Susan Tuchman and ZOA President Morton Klein have requested he take this one step further. Read more about the event on Sunday and access the entire letter by clicking here.

Here’s an excerpt from the ZOA’s letter to President Yudof:

• We are pleased to learn from your Open Letter that policies on student conduct have been revised to strengthen prohibitions on threatening conduct and acts motivated by bias.  But these policies mean little if they are not vigorously enforced.  When Jewish students report incidents of harassment and intimidation, university officials must respond promptly.  They must take these reports seriously, investigate them thoroughly, ensure that if the evidence warrants it, appropriate discipline is imposed, and take other remedial steps to fix the problem. 

• As OCR stated in its policy letter, disciplining the harassers is not sufficient.  We ask that you also advise all of the UC Chancellors to follow your lead.  When incidents of anti-Semitism occur on their respective campuses – including anti-Zionist and anti-Israel incidents that cross the line into anti-Semitism – the UC Chancellors should be advised that it is the policy of the University of California to clearly and publicly condemn these incidents as reprehensible, hateful and anti-Semitic, so that the university community will understand what is wrong and why it is wrong.

• That means ensuring that university officials have sufficient knowledge and training to recognize anti-Semitism when it occurs.  They must understand and appreciate that while not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, some anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism.  Fortunately, the U.S. government has given us standards to determine when anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment crosses that line. 

• We refer you to the U.S. State Department’s report on contemporary global anti-Semitism, issued in March 2008, which can be accessed at http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/102301.pdf.  In summary, the State Department has recognized that regardless of the motive, anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism when it entails:  (1) denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination; (2) applying double standards to Israel; (3) using symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism to characterize Israel or Israelis; (4) comparing contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; or (5) holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel.  We ask that university officials be supplied with these standards, and that the University of California provide sufficient training to officials so that they can recognize when anti-Semitic incidents occur and respond appropriately. 

• Students need the same information so that they will be sensitized to the many forms of anti-Semitism and understand when anti-Zionist and anti-Israel sentiment crosses the line into anti-Semitism.  We ask that the University of California host class discussions for students regarding the meaning of anti-Semitism and how it affects Jewish students and the entire university community.

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