Letter regarding Jewish Student Campus Climate Report

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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.

Over the last few years, Jewish members of the campus and California communities have expressed their distress at this long-standing and pervasive problem.  For example:

In May 2010, 60 Jewish students on three UC campuses (UCB, UCI and UCSD) responded to an on-line questionnaire about campus climate that we posted.  These students described feeling harassed and intimidated on their campuses: more than two-thirds felt that anti-Israel events and campaigns promoted hatred of the Jewish State and of Jews and even expressed the concern that such hatred might lead to violence against Jewish students on their campus, with some stating that it already had.  Almost all the students felt that their administrators do not treat Jewish concerns as sensitively as they treat those of other minorities. 

In May 2010, 70 UC Irvine faculty members signed an open letter stating that they were deeply disturbed about activities on their campus that fomented hatred against Jews and Israelis, and that many faculty and students felt intimidated, and even unsafe.

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 June 2010, the leadership of twelve national Jewish organizations — including United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Orthodox Union, which represent two of the three major religious Jewish movements in America — signed a letter to President Yudof asking him to acknowledge and address the problem of anti-Jewish bigotry at the University of California.

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.” 

The JVP and its chapters have: endorsed the campaign to force the two largest state pension funds to divest from Israel; endorsed the United Methodists divestment campaign; supported the anti-Israel divestment resolutions in the UC Berkeley and UC San Diego student senates; signed an open letter in support of the organizers of the National BDS (PennBDS) conference at the University of Pennsylvania February 3 – 5, 2012, whose goal was to promote international BDS campaigns; and is a member of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, whose campaigns include boycotting Israel and calling for a halt to all US aid to Israel.

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. 

Thank you,

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
Lecturer, University of California at Santa Cruz
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
[email protected]

  

Leila Beckwith
Professor Emeritus, University of California at Los Angeles
Co-founder the AMCHA Initiative
[email protected]

Letter regarding Jewish Student Campus Climate Report

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AUTHOR

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is a Hebrew lecturer at the University of California Santa Cruz and has written articles about academic anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism and lectured widely on these developments and on the growing threat to the safety of Jewish students on college campuses. In 2009, she filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, alleging a hostile environment for Jewish students on her campus, and in March 2011 a federal investigation of her complaint was launched. In 2011 she co-founded the AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization devoted to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating campus anti-Semitism in America.


Read all stories by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin

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