Of late we have witnessed a new methodology used to suppress those who speak out against anti- Semitism in academia. Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a Hebrew lecturer at UC Santa Cruz, and Ronnie Fraser, a lecturer in mathematics in London, have respectively taken on their schools and unions with regard to how anti-Semitism has infected their organizations and caused an uncomfortable, even hostile, environment based on the politics of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
In Fraser’s case, he took on Britain’s University and College Union (UCU), claiming that the union had created a hostile environment for him as a Jewish member by engaging in anti-Semitic conduct. He argued that the behavior of the UCU, which included not only speech but also acts and omissions, was due to a prevailing culture and attitude in the union which was fed by contemporary anti-Semitism. Fraser lost the case, and the judgment revealed troubling issues about how some view those who try to identify, and expose, anti-Semitism as it currently exists in institutions of higher education.
The tribunal in the Fraser case not only found against the math instructor, but seemed to suggest in its ruling that Fraser got what he deserved, that he knew, or should have known. As the tribunal put it, that Fraser “is a Campaigner.
He chooses to engage in the politics of the union in support of Israel and in opposition to activists for the Palestinian cause… ,” and “a political activist accepts the risk of being offended or hurt on occasions by things said and done by his opponents….”
But this disingenuous decision is based on the defective view that an educational union should be acting in the first place as a political advocacy organization for the Palestinian cause; that it is appropriate that it obsessively and with vitriol attacks any union members who support Israel and accuse them of being racists, and that when a Jewish union member then feels that his Jewishness and personal morality are being attacked because he does not share the general anti-Israel sentiments shared by the UCU membership, he is merely “engaging in a political debate that is bound to excite strong emotions.”
The reality is that by the standards of the EUMC working definition of anti-Semitism (a definition this union, tellingly, had previously decided to reject completely), the union’s actions often times could be construed as slipping from mere advocacy of the Palestinian cause to what could certainly sound like, and, to a Jewish person, feel like, anti-Semitism.
Whether or not the union feels it is being anti-Semitic is not relevant; anti-Semites rarely admit to their behavior.
And the tribunal also weakened the ability of the victim here by asserting that attachment to Israel itself was not intrinsic to Jewishness, and that even if the union had chronically slandered, libeled and attacked Zionism and Israel, Fraser’s Jewishness was not, and should not, be an element in that debate. In other words, the fact that he was Jewish was only incidental to the debates in the UCU about Israel and the Palestinian cause.
“The tribunal’s decision is troubling because it asserts that a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel cannot amount to a protected characteristic. It is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness,” Fraser said. “For the court to say that as Jews we do not have an attachment to Israel is disappointing, considering we have been yearning for Israel for 2,000 years and it has been in our prayers all that time.”
The tribunal’s scolding of Fraser for even having brought the case forward in the first place was also consistent with a pattern that David Hirsh of Engage in England has termed “the Livingstone Formulation,” part of which is “the counter-accusation that the raisers of the issue of anti-Semitism do so with dishonest intent, in order to de-legitimize criticism of Israel. The allegation is that the accuser chooses to ‘play the anti-Semitism card’ rather than to relate seriously to, or to refute, the criticisms of Israel.”
So not only did the tribunal reject Fraser’s claims of endemic anti-Semitism within the UCU, it also found that Fraser’s very efforts to expose that anti-Semitism were not legitimate but merely an attempt to promote his own, pro-Israel agenda.
Hirsh notes that the tribunal, therefore, not only denies Fraser’s claim of the existence of anti-Semitism, but accuses him of using the anti-Semitism charge in bad faith; that “It is not possible to ‘use’ ‘the accusation of anti-Semitism’ in order to delegitimize criticism of Israel, without dishonest intent.”
On the other side of the ocean, Rossman-Benjamin has now come under fire for accusing the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine for having ties to terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. All are actively taking part in the international campaigns to demonize Israel.
And those same activist student groups who have been spreading virulent anti-Israelism, often morphing into anti-Semitism, throughout the California public university system – and who have done so obsessively and without sanction – are now accusing Rossman-Benjamin of being a racist in identifying anti-Semitism at her own university and elsewhere. She is now being branded a purveyor of hate speech and Islamophobia because she revealed the corrosive speech of Palestinian activists.
Rossman-Benjamin has been tirelessly campaigning for years against what she describes as “an advanced anti- Israel and pro-Palestinian discourse [that] has really dominated the campus square for over a decade, negatively affecting perceptions of literally hundreds of thousands of California university students,” and, more specific to this discussion, creating a hostile environment on California campuses for Jewish students and others who support Israel, or are assumed to, based on their Jewishness.
But the tactics and arguments used against Rossman- Benjamin are the same as were raised in the Fraser case – namely, that in each instance once the victim of anti- Semitism tried to reveal the sources and nature of that animus, they themselves were vilified for having brought up the topic in the first place.
If actual victims of anti-Semitism are never allowed to point to instances when this hatred occurs, if whenever someone is victimized and seeks redress they are accused of playing the “anti-Semitism card” to deflect criticism of Israel, actual anti-Semites will be immune from criticism or censure and the victim will be blamed once again.