It's Time to Stem the Tide of Campus Anti-Semitism

Tammi Benjamin,

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Tammi Benjamin
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is a lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the cofounder and director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization devoted to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating campus antisemitism in America. Rossman-Benjamin has written articles about academic anti-Zionism and antisemitism and lectured widely on the growing threat to the safety of Jewish students on college campuses. She recently spoke at Harvard and McGill about her latest research, included in The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel, a collection of essays edited by Cary Nelson and Gabriel Noah Brahm. She also spoke at the 2014 Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism conference in Jerusalem and the Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism annual seminar. In July 2010, Rossman-Benjamin organized a two-week scholarly workshop entitled "Contemporary Antisemitism in Higher Education" at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum's...

The reality is grim for many Jewish college students.

In the last year, more than 20 college and university campuses around the country have been defaced with swastikas.  There have been multiple reports of antisemitic name-calling, threats, assaults and other acts of hate and discrimination.  A study published earlier this year by Trinity College and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law reveals that 54% of Jewish American college and university students report experiencing or witnessing antisemitism on campus in the recent school year.

These acts are often linked to anti-Israel activity on campus, particularly boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns.  In fact, our monitoring indicates that wherever anti-Israel BDS campaigns have been promoted, antisemitic behavior has dramatically increased. 

The University of California, one of our nation’s largest universities, is a prime example:

At UC Berkeley, “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was scrawled on a bathroom wall in the wake of a contentious BDS campaign.

At UC Davis, only days before and after a recent bitter BDS vote, the university’s Hillel House was defaced with “grout out the Jews,” and a Jewish fraternity was spray-painted with swastikas.  

At UCLA, a candidate for student government’s eligibility was questioned by BDS-activists simply because she was Jewish. 

At UC Santa Barbara, after years of divisive BDS campaigns, flyers blaming Jews for 9/11 were posted on campus.

And the situation is getting worse every day.  Here is what Jewish students are saying:

Recently a UC Berkeley student leader reported, “A lot of students find swastikas and come to me,” and many Jewish students are frightened.

At a recent UC Santa Barbara student senate meeting a Jewish student stated, “For the first time in my life, I felt that my identity, an unchangeable part of who I am, was under attack… I don’t wear that star of David necklace anymore. I don’t tell most people that I’m Jewish, and I definitely don’t tell them that I’m pro-Israel...I’m scared for my safety.”

A Jewish student leader at UCLA recently shared: “People say that being anti-Israel is not the same as being antisemitic. The problem is the anti-Israel culture in which we are singling out only the Jewish state creates an environment where it is ok to single out Jewish students.”

In response to this alarming situation, student leaders at UC Berkeley, UCLA and UC Santa Barbara unanimously approved resolutions condemning antisemitism. In identifying antisemitic activity, each resolution invokes the U.S. State Department's definition, which recognizes that certain kinds of anti-Israel expression cross the line into antisemitism. All three unanimously-approved resolutions resolve that their student governments will adopt the State Department's definition. In addition, this week 17 student organizations published a letter asking President Napolitano to make these resolutions official UC policy.

Earlier this spring, 23 groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, Zionists Organization of America, Christians United for Israel, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations and Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, urged the University of California to adopt the State Department’s definition of antisemitism and to use it in identifying and addressing antisemitic behavior.  And last week nearly 700 UC faculty, UC alumni and California rabbis made the same plea. 

There are those who would falsely claim that the State Department definition violates free speech.  It does not. It is simply a tool for identification. Antisemitic rhetoric is not against the law, but it is bigotry, and it should be identified and called out with the same promptness and vigor as all other forms of racial, ethnic and gender bigotry.   

The University of California and all universities must adopt our government’s definition and use it to identify and address antisemitic behavior on their campuses.  And Congress must make higher education funding dependent on it.