Resolutions Alone Won’t Protect Jewish Students From Campus Anti-Semitism

Breaking news from Palo Alto: Stanford undergraduate Molly Horwitz, a candidate for the Student Senate, was vetted by the Students of Color Coalition about her fitness for office. According to Horowitz, she was asked: “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?” Last February, the Stanford student government had approved a resolution for divesting in companies doing business on the West Bank as a way of punishing Israel.

What was Ms. Horwitz’s real sin?  Interviewed by the New York Times, her friend and campaign manager Miriam Pollock said that, earlier this year during the divestment debate, Horwitz wrote several posts on Facebook against it. But then the  two students scrubbed Horwitz’s Facebook page to hide all posts indicating support for Israel, including a photograph of a pair of shoes decorated to look like the Israeli flag.

Why? According to Pollock: “We did it not because she isn’t proud—she is—but the campus climate has been pretty hostile, and it would not be politically expedient to take a public stance,” Ms. Pollock said. “She didn’t want that to be a main facet of her platform.”

The Students of Color Coalition, which denies the charges, barred the Times from covering a “community forum” it held at Stanford’s Black Community Services Center. The Coalition is also being investigated for allegedly asking its endorsed candidates to sign a contract promising not to affiliate with Jewish groups on campus. Several Stanford students interviewed said they saw nothing wrong with this. 

Outrageous? Yes, it is ominously similar to another recent anti-Semitic intimidation at UCLA, where a campaign orchestrated by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) to force Jewish students to take an oath—reminiscent of the McCarthy Era—that  they have never made a visit to the Jewish state sponsored by Israel-friendly organization. A Student Senate Council member, soon after passage of another anti-Israel divestment resolution, asked Rachel Beyda, a candidate for a student government judicial position: “Given that you’re a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community . . . how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view in your position?” The Student Council initially voted to block Beyda’s appointment, reversing itself only after an administrative watchdog warned council members that blocking Beyda on these grounds would be opening themselves to a Pandora’s Box of charges of conflict of interest.

We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center brought our protests to UC officials at multiple levels. At our meeting with UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block, he listened to our concerns about anti-Semitism on campus and expressed an interest in visiting the Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance to see our anti-hate programs at work. Now, we await confirmation that he will pay a long overdue exploratory visit.

Meanwhile, student activists have taken a positive initiative. The UCLA student government followed the UC Berkeley Academic Senate by unanimously passing a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and by adopting the U.S. State Department’s definition that includes anti-Zionism. An important step for sure. But a student-passed resolution alone will not protect Jewish students from future anti-Semitic intimidation, bullying or, Heaven forbid, worse.

Changes in training and policy must come from the top; from the adults in the room, who are paid for by California taxpayers and who have the responsibilities and clout to take substantive action. It has been claimed that First Amendment protections rule out punishing groups like SJP that arguably have created a hostile environment by intimidating Jewish students about their backgrounds and beliefs. But in reaction to these blatant moves, what prevents administrators from developing and implementing proactive educational programs aimed at the entire campus community? If such moves are already in the works, the public has a right to know about them now.

If the status quo remains, expect more onslaughts against the freedom of expression and thought against young people who dare express their love and affinity for the democratic Jewish State of Israel. The SJP has already made inroads on more than one campus establishing “loyalty oath” coercion, reminiscent of the McCarthy Era, as a template and strategy for anti-Israel—and anti-Semitic groups—active on campus nationwide.

We are urging that concrete steps be taken to protect Jewish student rights—and identity—on campus. This should include an educational module on the dangers posed on and off campus by “the new anti-Semitism,” to be made part of freshman orientation, paralleling existing educational programs teaching about racism and sexism.

We are ever ready to work with Chancellor Block and university administrators anywhere who have  the will to tackle the problem of campus anti-Semitism head-on. Perhaps there are those who believe the storm has passed and nothing else needs to be done. They are sadly mistaken. The international anti-peace and anti-Israel campaigns continue unabated. They will be target UCLA and many campuses again and again. Game plans need to be outlined to protect the rights and freedoms of our kids.

*Aron Hier is Director of Campus Outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Historian Harold Brackman is a Center consultant.