California college campuses have become threatening to Jewish students, say Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and 11 other organizations in a June 28th letter to University of California President Mark Yudof. They point out that over the last several years, Jewish students have been subjected to: swastikas, acts of physical and verbal aggression; speakers and exhibits that use anti-Semitic imagery and discourse; and speakers that praise terrorist organizations that advocate murder against Jews.
The letter calls upon President Yudof to adopt the U.S. State Department working definition of anti-Semitism, that includes demonization and delegitimization of Israel; to acknowledge that anti-Semitism has been a problem on UC campuses; and to issue, with the authority of his office, an unequivocal condemnation of all forms of anti-Semitism.
In his response to their letter (click here to see the letter), President Yudof acknowledged that the groups raise “serious and justifiable concerns,” and it is incumbent upon him to address them. He added that he would do everything in his power “to protect Jewish and all other students from threats and actions of intolerance.”
While SPME and the other signatories acknowledge that President Yudof has taken a principled stand in his condemnation of intolerance and bigotry, they assert that efforts to date have been insufficient to address the very specific threat of anti-Semitism.
Whereas UC administrators have unequivocally condemned racist symbols, such as a noose found hanging in a library and an off-campus fraternity party mocking Black History month at UC San Diego, they have tended to ignore bigotry against Jews. Despite President Yudof’s contention that he has worked hard to ensure that incidents are “met with swift and appropriate action,” more than 700 Jewish students signed a petition demanding that UC administrators recognize and address the concerns of Jewish students in the same way as they respond to those of all other minority groups.
Unaddressed in President Yudof’s response to the letter is the signatories’ request that the UC administration adopt a working definition of anti-Semitism. This is a critical issue because without such a definition, the administration cannot readily distinguish between “criticism” and anti-Semitic hate speech.
Professor Peter Haas, Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies, Case Western Reserve University, and President of SPME, stated: “SPME stands on the conviction that what is required is pre-emptive and pro-active work by all campus leadership to create an a priori understanding on campus that no group or individual has the right to threaten or intimidate or disrupt. The uncivil and confrontational behavior that is taking root on UC campuses only contributes to misunderstanding and hatred and in fact violates the most basic principles upon which university life should be founded.”
Professor Sam Edelman, SPME Executive Director and founder of the Modern Jewish and Israel Studies program at California State University Chico, stressed that an historical perspective gives greater urgency to the newly emerging phenomenon of anti-Semitism on UC campuses: “Intolerance antagonism, verbal and physical violence against Jewish students, once only a phenomenon in British and European universities, has now taken root in the United States and Canada. We have learned hard lessons from the Holocaust, one of which is that silence in the face of such acts only encourages and even permits further acts of hatred.”