LETTER REGARDING JEWISH STUDENT CAMPUS CLIMATE REPORT
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin & Leila Beckwith
University of California, August 20, 2012
Dear UC Advisory Committee on Campus Climate, Culture, and Inclusion:
We are faculty at the University of California who, for the last several years, have been involved with efforts to document and address campus anti-Semitism in institutions of higher education in the United States. We are also co-founders of the AMCHA Initiative, an organization dedicated to informing the California Jewish community about manifestations of harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on California campuses.
We are writing to you today to concur with a crucial finding of your committee's report, "Jewish Student Campus Climate Fact-Finding Team Report & Recommendations," written by Richard Barton and Alice Huffman:
As the report states:
“Jewish students are confronting significant and difficult climate issues as a result of activities on campus which focus specifically on Israel, its right to exist and its treatment of Palestinians. The anti-Zionism and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movements and other manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment and activity create significant issues through themes and language which portray Israel and, many times, Jews in ways which project hostility, engender a feeling of isolation, and undermine Jewish students’ sense of belonging and engagement with outside communities.”
Our own extensive experience confronting anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California confirms this important finding. We have found that bigotry against Jewish students has occurred over many years and on many University of California campuses. For more than a decade, Jewish students have been subjected to: swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti; acts of physical and verbal aggression; speakers, films and exhibits that use anti-Semitic imagery and discourse; speakers that praise and encourage support for terrorist organizations that openly advocate murder against Israel and the Jewish people; the organized disruption of events sponsored by Jewish student groups; and the promotion of student senate resolutions for divestment that seek to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish State.…
In June 2010, more than 700 Jewish UC students signed an on-line petition expressing outrage at anti-Jewish rhetoric and imagery on campus. They asserted that these events "are as offensive and hurtful to Jewish students as a “Compton cookout” or a noose are to African-American students."...
In September 2011, more than 5,000 members and supporters of the California Jewish community signed an AMCHA Initiative petition to President Yudof expressing their deep concern about the longstanding and pervasive harassment and intimidation of Jewish students on UC campuses and urging him to address the problem promptly and forcefully.
Earlier this month, the AMCHA Initiative sent to the UC Regents and President Yudof a letter signed by more than 1,000 members and supporters of the California Jewish community, that asked the Regents and President to carry out their legal and moral obligations to ensure that UC classrooms are not being used to promote anti-Semitism.
We are aware that there are individuals and organizations that dispute the Fact-Finding Team’s report and have asked President Yudof to table it. However, we question their motives and believe a review of their actions, as described below, indicates that the welfare of Jewish students is not their goal. Rather, their aim is to involve the University of California in enacting a political agenda that seeks to harm Israel and those who support it. Indeed, their extensive participation in events on UC campuses that demonize and delegitimize Israel is itself a significant part of the problem confronting Jewish students.
Prominent among those who are working to suppress the report’s findings is The Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an anti-Zionist Jewish organization that is on the Anti-Defamation League's list of Top Ten anti-Israel groups in America. The JVP supports anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns and according to the Anti-Defamation League, "uses its Jewish identity to shield the anti-Israel movement from allegations of antisemitism and provide it with a greater degree of legitimacy and credibility."….
We believe that the Jewish Voice for Peace, and other such organizations and individuals seeking to tarnish the findings of the report and to have it tabled, do so disingenuously, in order to continue to use the University of California to achieve their political agenda. That goal is unworthy of a great University and cynically ignores the welfare of many Jewish students.
We urge you to carefully consider this report and to address the serious campus climate issues facing Jewish students at the University of California.
Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT FOR JEWISH STUDENTS AT U.C. BERKELEY
FrontPage Mag, July 23rd, 2012
Frontpage Interview [with] Neal Sher, a New York City attorney [who] was the Director the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which investigated and prosecuted Nazi criminals in the U.S….
FP: Neal Sher, as a bit of background for our readers, tell us about the federal court case that was brought by Berkeley students Jessica Felber and Brian Maissy. How was it resolved?
Sher: The original complaint in federal district court was a first of its kind federal civil rights case filed against the University of California at Berkeley, the Regents of the University of California and their ranking officials, by a Jewish student, Jessica Felber, who had been assaulted on campus last year by a leader of a Muslim student organization during a pro-Israel event. Later, Brian Maissy joined as a plaintiff.
On March 5, 2010, Ms.Felber, a twenty year old Jewish student at Berkeley, was attacked and injured on campus because of her Jewish ancestry and religious affiliation. At the time she was holding a sign stating “Israel wants Peace.” Her assailant, Husam Zakharia, also a UC Berkeley student, was the leader of Students for Justice in Palestine (“SJP”) at Berkeley.
University officials were fully aware that Zakharia, the SJP and similar student groups had been involved in other incidents on campus to incite violence against and intimidate Jewish and other students. Nevertheless, in clear dereliction of their legal responsibilities, Defendants took no reasonable steps to protect Ms. Felber and others.
The Complaint further laid out how the SJP conspires and coordinates with the Muslim Student Association (“MSA”), which has a publicly documented history of affiliation with and support of organizations deemed “terror organizations” by the United States Department of State.…
The Complaint charges that the assault was the result of the university having: (1) fostered and encouraged campus terrorist incitements by the SJP and the MSA); (2) turned a blind eye to the perpetrators of illegal activities; (3) failed to effectively discipline the MSA and SJP for their pro-terrorist programs, goals and conduct; despite having ample notice that such violence was foreseeable; and (4) failed to provide adequate security to prevent the violence, harassment and intimidation which occurred on March 5, 2010.
Ignoring complaints from students about the poisonous climate on campus, defendants condoned, allowed and enabled groups such as the MSA and the SJP to threaten, harass and intimidate Jewish students and to endanger their health and safety. Their tolerance of the growing cancer of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses, and their failure to take adequate measures to quell it, violated the rights of Ms. Felber’s and other students to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.…
Since Maissy and Felber have graduated, we no longer had standing to obtain the full redress to deal with the overall hostile environment on campus. In resolving the case, Berkeley has agreed to promulgate regulations dealing with the improper use on campus of fake but realistic weapons and to ensure that students are able to pass into and out of campus during demonstrations. These were issues central to the case.
Now, with Felber and Maissy no longer at Berkeley, we have called upon the Justice and Education Departments to investigate the hostile environment facing Jews at Berkeley. They have full authority to do so and we have provided voluminous evidence establishing that a hostile environment does indeed exist. Justice has investigated a racist atmosphere on the campus of U.C. San Diego and reached a resolution imposing upon the school strong monitoring and reporting requirements. As similar result is certainly warranted at Berkeley.
FP: Ok, thank you, so tell us the details about the complaint you and your colleague Joel Siegal filed with the Justice and Education Departments alleging violations of Title VI by U.C. Berkeley?
Sher: We filed the complaint with the Justice and Education Departments because once Felber and Maissy graduated, we lost the ability to effect changes to correct the hostile environment. In resolving the lawsuit, the university agreed to issue regulations regarding the use of fake looking weapons and allowing ingress and egress on campus during demonstrations. These are important issues during the infamous “Apartheid Week”, where anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish activists resort to intimidation and harassment…In our complaint to Justice, it is alleged that Jewish students have been subjected to a pervasive hostile environment, which is impermissible under Title VI.
FB: What are the main allegations in your complaint to Justice?
Sher: Central to our complaint are the on-campus activities during “Apartheid Week,” which is nothing short of a modern day version of the “Passion Play,” the notorious anti-Semitic German theatrical performance which portrays Jews as bloodthirsty and treacherous villains. During Berkeley’s Passion Play, student activists from the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine – both officially registered student organizations which receive funding from the university and operate with the blessing of school officials - resort to depictions of Jews which are clearly racist and anti-Semitic. Moreover, they have been authorized by the University to carry realistic looking assault weapons which they brandish as they interrogate innocent students on campus about their religious and ethnic backgrounds. All this in an effort to convey a portrayal that “all” Jews are blood-thirsty barbarians. Regrettably, the university has effectively put its imprimatur on this despicable behavior.
FP: Is there precedent for such action by the Justice Department?
Sher: There is. Recently the federal government undertook an in-depth inquiry into a hostile racist environment at U.C. San Diego. That investigation was precipitated by the offensive “Compton Cookout” of February 2010, during Black History Month. During that off-campus event, African Americans were portrayed in a racist and offensive stereotype. As a result of its intervention, earlier this year the Justice Department announced a Resolution Agreement with U.C. San Diego. The school is now subject to a series of strict reporting and educational requirements designed to eliminate the impermissible behavior. Schools which violate Title VI run the risk of forfeiting federal funds.
FP: Is the situation at San Diego comparable to that at Berkeley?
Sher: Like the “Compton Cookout” at San Diego, the Berkeley Apartheid Week/Passion Play is patently offensive and racist. Portraying Jews in such a fashion is as odious as the use of the “N” word and other similar racist and sexist stereotypes. Indeed, the Berkeley situation presents an even stronger case than that in San Diego, inasmuch as the offensive activities of Apartheid Week occurred on campus by registered student organizations with the permission and effective approval of University officials; the “Compton Cookout,” by comparison, was off campus with no official University involvement. Jewish students at Berkeley should be entitled to the same protection and relief as were the African American students at San Diego.… (Top)
THE REAL JEWISH FIGHT ON CAMPUS
Contentions, June 6, 2012
Israel’s treatment on campus is a perpetual concern of a broad swath of American Jews, and rightly so. The very idea of a Jewish state, to say nothing of the policies that state’s citizens elect to follow, regularly receives there unwarranted criticisms that might play in the European mainstream, but have little currency in the United States off the quad.
The anxiety consequently produced nevertheless often manages to miss the true nature of the challenge on campus, as well as the reality of Jewish life there. A couple of articles published in the past few days offer refreshing windows into what things look like at ground level.
Kenneth L. Marcus, the president and general counsel of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, wrote in eJewishPhilanthropy of the divide in the Jewish community between “quietists” and “alarmists,” the former being those who deny that there is any anti-Semitism on campus, and the latter being those who “see danger behind every corner.”
Neither camp, Marcus notes, is entirely correct. The alarmists too often ignore the extraordinary richness of opportunities for Jewish life on campus along with the demise of an institutional anti-Semitism that once barred Jews from entry or made their lives difficult while there. The quietists see those opportunities perhaps too well, ignoring troubling undertones in the discussion of Jews and the Jewish state.
Another article published in The Times of Israel by Seffi Kogen, a student at Columbia and the Jewish Theological Seminary, laments the “disappearance” of Jewish students from Israel-themed events, diagnosing pre-college Jewish educational experiences that teaches them that campuses are a hotbed of anti-Israel protests and speakers and arms them with debating points, only to find that students don’t show up to do anything much related to Israel except for those rare annual rites of dramatic anti-Israel protest. He thinks the solution is getting young Jews “to love to discuss Israel and think about Israel, and not only to fight for Israel.”
Kogen’s take represents the downside for Israel’s case when young people are fed too many alarming stories before they get to school while not being told enough about the less dramatic but more costly pervasive negativity in the attitude toward Israel taken by far too many young people who don’t know or care much about the Middle East. If you are taught only to fight, but not to persuade, and only to be concerned about a speech in the student union, and not a conversation in a dorm room, it’s not surprising that you find yourself shrugging most days and getting animated only when someone puts a mock wall up.
Of course, as a general matter, it’s easier to get concerned about dramatic displays than subtle remarks. Dealing effectively with the latter, which is probably of far greater consequence than the former, means getting better at teaching young people how to get beyond pro-Israel talking points and into the substance of the justice underlying the cause of Jewish independence.
It’s harder, but that’s what we’ll have to do if we really want to improve the way Israel is talked about on campus. (Top)
∙ AMCHA Initiative, August 20, 2012
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin & Leila Beckwith
∙ University of California, July 9, 2012
Richard D. Barton & Alice Huffman
∙ AMCHA Initiative, August 14, 2012
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin & Leila Beckwith
∙ University California, August 21, 2012
∙ AMCHA Initiative, September 8, 2011
Tammi Benjamin & Leila Beckwith
∙ Times of Israel, June 11, 2012
∙ eJewishPhilosophy, June 10, 2012
Kenneth L. Marcus
∙ History News Network, August 13, 2012
Prof. Frederick Krantz, Director (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Prof. Harold Waller (McGill University)
Prof. Ira Robinson, Associate Chairman (Department of Religion, Concordia University)
Baruch Cohen, Research Chairman (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)
Rob Coles (Canadian Institute for Jewish Research)