Royce Hall at UCLA

UCLA named America’s third best campus for Jews

The Forward named UCLA the third best college in the United States for Jewish life, behind only Cornell University and University of Pennsylvania.

The ranking was part of the Jewish newspaper’s first ever college guide, which weighed universities using a formula that factored in the categories of academics, Jewish life and Israel, listing the top 18. Factored into UCLA’s score were its many Jewish organizations, the availability of kosher food and its Jewish studies program .

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said the school’s thriving Jewish life is a result of the bottom-up model employed by some of the 20 or 25 Jewish clubs and organizations that exist on campus, most prominently by Hillel.

“We’re probably going towards a decade of student leaders who have been fully empowered to run a great Jewish community, and as a result that’s exactly what they do,” he said.

UCLA scored high on the Forward ranking for academics and Jewish life, but its score flagged when it came to Israel, with nine points out of a possible 20. In recent years, the school has been the site of several high-profile incidents where Israel’s reputation came under fire, such as a student government resolution in 2014 calling for divestment from Israel.

But Lerner said those events are exceptions to a campus environment that otherwise embraces its Jewish students.

“It doesn’t define the student experience,” he told the Journal. “It’s incidental, not endemic.”

IfNotNow protesters outside the 2017 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, D.C. Photo by Ron Kampeas

Debating the BDS movement’s immorality

If the Jewish people ever needed an icon for their sworn enemies, a litmus test that distinguishes those who oppose the core of Israel’s existence from those who have other reasons to criticize the Jewish state, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has given it to us. It has managed to galvanize the Jewish community into an unprecedented wave of unity in opposition to this threat.

A May 22 debate sponsored by the UCLA Debate Union was unique, in that the issue was not the effects of BDS actions but the morality of their aims. I took part in this debate, and I would like to share with readers a summary of my arguments. What follows is an edited version of my remarks:

Dear Friends,

I have not spoken to this debate club before, and I am glad to do so on this occasion because I see it as a historic moment.

For more than 10 years now, we have been witnessing BDS supporters roaming the campus with their megaphones and slander machines, accusing Israel of every imaginable crime, from apartheid to child molesting — accusing, accusing and accusing.

Today, for the first time in the history of UCLA, we see BDS itself on the accused bench, with its deceitful tactics, immoral ideology and anti-peace stance brought to trial.

It is a historic moment.

BDS is not a new phenomenon; it is a brainchild of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al Husseini, who in April 1936 started the Arab Rejectionist movement (under the auspices of the Arab Higher Committee), and the first thing he did was to launch a boycott of Jewish agricultural products and a general strike against Jewish immigration to Mandatory Palestine from war-bound Europe.

The 1936 manifesto of the rejectionist movement was very similar to what BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti presented here at UCLA on Jan. 15, 2014. It was brutal in its simplicity: Jews are not entitled to any form of self-determination in any part of Palestine, not even the size of a postage stamp — end of discussion!

Here is where BDS earns its distinct immoral character: denying one people rights to a homeland, rights that are granted to all others. This amounts to discrimination based on national identity, which in standard English vocabulary would be labeled “bigotry,” if not “racism.”

This rejectionist ideology has dominated the Arab mindset from 1936 to this very day — BDS is only its latest symptom. It explains why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spends so much time at UNESCO trying to erase Jewish history, why Palestinian children sing “There is no such thing as Israel,” and why their hosts and educators on official Palestinian TV applaud them with “Bravo! Bravo!” It also explains why the Israeli peace camp has such a hard time convincing the majority of Israelis that despite what they see without end in Palestinian schools, there still are some partners for peace among the Palestinians.

The mufti’s boycott of 1936 scored one major “victory” for the Palestinians. The British government succumbed to mass Arab unrest and prevented European Jewish refugees from entering Palestine. My grandparents were among those seeking refuge; they perished in Auschwitz in 1942.

This, ironically, was the last victory of Arab rejectionism. For eight decades, rejectionism has led the Palestinian people from one disaster to another. It led them to reject a Palestinian state in 1937 and 1947; it drove them to attack Israel in 1948, with the Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) as a consequence; it led them to reject land-for-peace proposals in Khartoum in 1967, which gave rise to the settlement movement; and it prevented them from accepting any of the peace offers made since. Rejectionism negates the very notion of “end of conflict.”

Today, rejectionism is the No. 1 obstacle to Palestinian statehood. The total absence of peace education in Palestinian schools and media gives Israelis fairly good reasons to question the ability of Palestinian leadership to honor any peace agreement, however favorable. No country can come to life that openly seeks the elimination of its neighbor.

Back to the moral side of rejectionism. In 2014, BDS’ Barghouti stood here at UCLA and proclaimed, “Jews are not a people, and the U.N. principle to self-determination does not apply to them.” Barghouti made no effort to hide the racist foundations of BDS ideology, but we should keep them in mind as we consider the question before us tonight: Is BDS moral?

I would like to move now from the history of Zionophobic rejectionism to its current aims and tactics. The leaders of the BDS movement do not hide their real purpose. In every conversation with them, they admit their ultimate goal is not to end the occupation, and surely not to promote peace or coexistence, but to delegitimize Israel in the international arena, isolate her, and eventually bring about her collapse.

What most people fail to realize is that BDS is not interested in boycotting, either, because it knows a boycott cannot achieve any meaningful level of success. Show me one respectable university that would go along with this childish, anti-academic idea. Indeed, 150 university presidents came out immediately in opposition to boycott. And just last week, we saw all 50 U.S. governors deploring BDS as “incompatible with American values.” Not just “academic values” but “American values.”

So, if not boycott, what are they trying to achieve on campus? The idea is to bombard university campuses with an endless stream of proposals for anti-Israel resolutions. The charges may vary from season to season, the authors may rotate, and it matters not whether a resolution passes or fails, nor whether it is condemned or hailed. The victory lies in having a stage, a microphone and a finger pointing at Israel, saying, “On trial.” It is only a matter of time before innocent students, mostly the gullible and uninformed, start chanting, “On trial.” The effect will be felt when these students graduate and become the next generation of American policymakers. A more immediate goal, of course, is bullying pro-coexistence voices into silence.

A common hypocrisy among BDS advocates is to present themselves to new audiences as seekers of universal justice, while whitewashing or downplaying their ultimate goal of putting an end to Israel. They even coined fancy names for that end: “one-state solution” or “a state for all its citizens”— a delusional setting of wolves protecting sheep to the sound of progressive slogans, totally oblivious to Middle East realities. Noam Chomsky, a staunch critic of Israel, called this strategy of BDS “hypocrisy crying to heaven.” And Norman Finkelstein, not a warmer friend of Israel, called it “a hypocritical dishonest cult led by dishonest gurus.”

Maintaining this dishonesty, however, is crucial for BDS survival; any attempt to distance itself from the goal of eliminating Israel would cost BDS its vital support base among Palestinians.

I believe everyone would like to find out from BDS supporters how peace can emerge between two partners, one insisting on seeing the other dead and the other insisting on staying alive, no matter how glamorous the coffin.

Leaving behind this logical impossibility, I believe we should strive for a more realistic vision of peace: two states for two peoples, equally legitimate and equally indigenous.

And we must start with the latter.

JUDEA PEARL is Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Royce Hall at UCLA

BDS debate at UCLA breaks no new ground

campus debate on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on May 22 at UCLA offered little in the way of new ideas or understanding, as representatives on each side held to their well-established positions.

An audience of about 100 students and adults listened and made clear their sentiments — with cheers and boos — as professors Judea Pearl and Saree Makdisi were the featured speakers for their respective sides.

Both stated personal connections to their positions at the two-hour event, organized and moderated by the UCLA Debate Union.

Although the debate was devoid of references to President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel and lacked formal consequences for the BDS campaign at UCLA, it did provide a view into how American universities have become both training ground and battleground for advocacy on Middle East issues.

While Makdisi, who is of Palestinian descent, took most of the speaking time for the pro-BDS side, Pearl shared his time with Philippe Assouline, a doctoral student who teaches an Israeli history course at the university.

“Jewish students are being forced to choose between pride in their people — due pride — and acceptance on campus,” Assouline said in the anti-BDS side’s opening remarks.

Pearl, a computer-science professor and father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl called the BDS movement a “slander machine” with “small character,” and argued that its unwillingness to compromise impeded the peace process.

“Rejectionism is the main obstacle to the two-state solution,” Pearl said. “No country can come to life that seeks the elimination of its neighbors.”

The BDS movement originated in 2005 as a broad international boycott on Israeli products and has gained the most traction on American college campuses, particularly on University of California (UC) campuses. It has been a defining political issue at UCLA in recent years as student government elections have become a proxy war for supporters of Israel and Palestine beyond the school.

The movement aims to force Israel to accede to various demands for Palestinian human rights, including Israel’s withdrawal from West Bank settlements and the dismantling of the security barrier at the Green Line.

In November 2014, UCLA’s undergraduate student government became the fifth UC campus to pass a resolution in favor of BDS. The motion called for the school to divest any endowment funds from companies that do business with the Israeli government or military.

“BDS is moral because it’s a time-honored, effective and nonviolent method for people of goodwill to contest the injustice of states that have proven themselves unresponsive to other modes of persuasion,” said Makdisi, who teaches English literature. He presented a history of Palestinians’ expulsion from their homes in 1948 and asserted that Israeli leaders, anticipating the forthcoming refugee crisis, uprooted them anyway.

He also suggested that there is no such thing as an Israeli nationality, countering Pearl’s argument that Israelis and Palestinians are “equally indigenous” and therefore equally deserve statehood.

The debate provided an opportunity for new voices to join the fray. A pair of students on each side served as the undercards, displaying a range of experience and methodology as they laid the groundwork for the professors, who were given nine minutes each to the students’ seven.

There was plenty for the engaged but divided crowd to cheer and scoff at. The loudest reaction of the night was a chorus of long groans and derisive laughter as Makdisi asked in his closing argument, “You hear the language of, ‘Oh, my God, the Arabs will outnumber us,’ and ‘Oh, my God, the Jews will become a minority.’ What’s so bad about being a minority?”

The Debate Union’s faculty adviser, who was moderating the debate, asked for order to allow Makdisi to continue. 

Roger Waters takes stage at UCLA before controversial film screening

Roger Waters, one of the founding members of Pink Floyd, had been scheduled to answer questions after last week’s screening of the documentary “The Occupation of the American Mind” at UCLA. The subject of the film, which he narrated, is media manipulation by pro-Israel forces — a topic on which the rock star has been outspoken.

Instead, Waters limited himself to a few short remarks before the film was shown. Members of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which sponsored the Nov. 30 screening at the James Bridges Theater, said they had gotten wind of protests planned to disrupt his appearance.

“To get this movie shown at all is a monumental struggle. … They don’t want you to see it,” said Waters, a frequent critic of Israel. “Nobody wants you to see this film.”

After his brief remarks, Waters slipped out of the theater through a side door and the opening credits rolled. Yet, disruptions largely failed to materialize, despite fliers calling for a protest that were posted on Facebook by an anonymous group calling itself the Yad Yamin, Hebrew for “the right hand.” 

Signs outside the event warned that disruptions would not be tolerated, and student speakers implored audience members to stay respectfully quiet — which, for the most part, they did.

The film asserts that Israel benefits from “the most successful public relations campaign in U.S. history,” said Sut Jhally, the film’s executive producer and a communication professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who spoke with the Journal before attending the showing.

Jhally said he conceived of the UCLA screening as an “act of solidarity” after he heard that a group led by right-wing activist David Horowitz in May had hung posters around the university’s campus, naming and shaming students and faculty involved in pro-Palestinian activism. 

Jhally said he phoned a friend, history professor Robin Kelley — a UCLA faculty member named on the posters — and arranged for the screening, one week after the film opened in Brussels.

“This is kind of ground zero for attacks on Palestinian activists,” Jhally said of UCLA.

In the film, journalists, academics and pro-Palestinian advocates suggest Israel was founded on the dispossession of Arabs from their land, that the country benefits from a top-down propaganda campaign, and that Hamas — the Palestinian Islamic political party that governs the Gaza Strip — is not a terrorist organization. The documentary names pro-Israel groups such as Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, The David Project and The Israel Project as agents of a media spin machine.

At various points, scenes of Israeli security forces manhandling Palestinian Arabs are shown as eerie background music plays.

A few audience members clapped awkwardly when pro-Israel video clips screened — although for the purpose of setting up the filmmakers’ rebuttals (before the screening, this reporter heard Hebrew conversation coming from that section of the audience). But otherwise, protests largely failed to take place.

“Someone, we aren’t sure who, had tipped off the police in an effort to stop it,” a person professing to be a Yad Yamin organizer wrote in an email to the Journal on Dec. 1, the day after the screening. The writer declined to provide a name (and claimed not to be a UCLA student), saying the group adheres to a “policy of anonymity.”

“With police having been informed, many got cold feet,” the email writer said. “There was no support for [the protest] from Jewish student groups on campus and sadly galvanizing young Jews to do so seems to be a tall order.”

However, he added, “We are viewing this as a victory after all if it stopped Roger Waters from partaking in the Q-and-A.”

In a Dec. 1 email, Yacoub Kureh, UCLA board chair of SJP, wrote that it was unclear to the organizers why Waters left early.

Before the event, a group of pro-Israel student organizations, including Bruins for Israel (BFI), agreed not to protest the screening to avoid another contentious incident in an already tense campus climate, BFI President Arielle Mokhtarzadeh said at the screening. Any protest, she said, would come from non-students or students unaffiliated with the organized Jewish community.

But in an op-ed published the day after the screening in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, a group of some of the same pro-Israel organizations expressed disapproval of the film.

“The film is an intellectualization of the centuries-old, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that a group of powerful, manipulative and domination-obsessed Jews have gained control of politics and media through a combination of wealth, power, influence and deceit,” they wrote in a statement signed by BFI, Students Supporting Israel, the Bruin-Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hillel at UCLA.

“Our disappointment, however, is directed not only toward the creators of this film, but at the students who have pushed to screen it,” the op-ed continued. “In doing so, they have provided a platform for the legitimization of identity-based hatred.”

After the screening, Jhally took Waters’ place in an onstage Q-and-A session. But questions were posed via Twitter and written on scraps of paper, forestalling pointed questions or arguments from the audience.

Kureh, the moderator, chose a number of critical questions, including one from Mokhtarzadeh, the BFI president. But some presumably pro-Israel audience members were unsatisfied.

“Why not have an open Q-and-A?” a person yelled from the back half of the room, prompting some of the event’s student organizers to begin moving toward that part of the theater.

“This is not a forum for truth!” another shouted.

The organizers converged on the outspoken audience members, but after a moment of heated conversation the audience members were allowed to stay.

A BDS survival guide

Students at UCLA’s iFEST celebrate Israel.

Most high school graduates who head off to college expect to be confronted with something new — new living quarters, new roommates, new classes and maybe even some cool (if overpriced) school merchandise. 

But Jewish students these days likely will experience something else, too: the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

From groups holding Israel Apartheid Week activities on campus to formal votes by student groups in favor of divestment from Israel, the movement has become an in-your-face element of many of today’s colleges. This is especially true in the University of California system, where all but one of the campuses have voted to support BDS at some point in the past four years.

It can make for a hostile environment at times as tempers flare over passionately different ideologies pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whether incoming Jewish students have a firm position on the issue or haven’t even thought about it, they should be ready to be in the middle of it. Here are some tips to help.

Brush up on your history

You may hear activists talk about Resolution 242 (the so-called “land-for-peace” resolution adopted by the United Nations Security Council in 1967) and the massacre of Deir Yassin (a 1948 attack on a Palestinian Arab village by Zionist paramilitary groups). If those terms are hazy or nonexistent in your memory, then it may be in your best interest to learn more about the conflict. Read, watch debates online and ask questions. 

This applies to everyone, since even those who do not intend to fight BDS should be prepared to form a position on the conflict and deal with the controversy. 

StandWithUs (SWU), a pro-Israel education organization based in Los Angeles that provides support and guidance to campus organizations opposing BDS efforts, has numerous resources for students to educate themselves on the conflict on its website, But students should also seek other perspectives by following current events and talking to those in the middle of the conflict when possible, according to SWU Director of Research and Campus Strategy Max Samarov. 

“I encourage people to take classes on the conflict and to read news from many different perspectives,” he said. “The reality is that depending on the news source you read, you’re going to get a different bias or point of view, so what has helped me a lot was staying in touch with current events from a lot of different perspectives. Also, get to know Israelis and Palestinians and try to hear personal narratives.”

Talk through disagreements

Instead of trying to talk over the other side, try talking to them.

 “People, especially students, should always seek to gain more understanding,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA. “Dialogue doesn’t equal agreement. But the alternative is fighting and narrow-mindedness, and the Jewish tradition rejects closing ourselves off from people who dissent. In fact, the very basis of our tradition, the Talmud, is based on the conversations between people who disagreed.” 

It’s important to educate the vast majority of students who don’t know much about the conflict. Even a casual dining hall conversation might make a big difference.  

Lerner added, however, that staunch supporters of BDS — such as members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — comprise only a small minority of students on campus and changing their minds teeters between difficult to impossible. 

 “Be strategic, don’t waste time yelling at people who can’t be convinced,” he said. “On our campus, there are only a handful of dedicated SJP members. With their allies, they might constitute a few hundred students. Focus instead on the other 29,800 students. When SJP does something that warrants a response, respond forcefully.” 

So while it’s OK to let criticism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians slide, don’t sit idly by as debate about BDS blends into anti-Semitism or questions Israel’s right to exist.

“Where I would draw the line is when someone in SJP or someone who supports BDS comes from a place that’s malicious,” Samarov said. “Where they don’t believe Israel has the right to exist or Jewish people don’t have right to self-determination. That’s the important thing to establish from the get-go.”

Join Jewish groups on campus 

Get involved in the local Hillel or Chabad, as well as other Jewish or pro-Israel groups your campus offers. These groups help students maintain a connection to Judaism and Israel, and also are sources to combat anti-Israel sentiment. 

Rachel Quinn, president of Southern California Students for Israel (SCSI) at USC, encourages all Jews on campus to join for a variety of reasons. “It is a huge educational and leadership benefit,” she said. “It is fun and you can meet other Jewish students, and we are all working toward a common goal, which is education about and celebration of Israel.” 

At USC, Quinn plans pro-Israel events throughout the year, often coordinating with leaders of other ethnic clubs through the university’s International Student Assembly, and other pro-Israel groups on campus. She also tries to involve Jewish students with Israel advocacy through “whatever their strengths or interests may be.”

According to Quinn, SJP and BDS are not very active at USC, especially when compared with UC colleges. There was a fear last year that SJP would hold an apartheid wall on the week of Yom HaShoah, she said, but it didn’t happen. For SCSI, the goal is for these groups to remain mild, Quinn said, while developing good relations with groups like the Muslim Student Union. 

Other schools have their own pro-Israel groups — such as UCLA’s Bruins for Israel (BFI)  — as well as their own challenges. 

At UCLA, for example, two separate BDS resolutions have been brought to the Student Association Council, failing the first time and passing the second. The experience shifted BFI’s approach to adversity on campus, according to its president, junior Arielle Mokhtarzadeh. 

In countering the first resolution, she said, “[We] mobilized the community to lobby members of the council before the meeting, to make public comments the night of the meeting, and to remain united, strong and respectful after the meeting.”   

This approach left the Jewish community emotionally exhausted, Mokhtarzadeh said. When another BDS resolution was brought to the council a year later, BFI decided to use a more collaborative tactic rather than a divisive one, through different projects that brought both sides together. 

An Israel “apartheid wall” at UC IrvinePhotos courtesy of StandWithUs.

“We rededicated ourselves to our community, to our values,” she said. “We taught the community about how they could get involved with several projects and initiatives that were working to bring Israelis and Palestinians together, in contrast to the BDS resolution, which was tearing our campus apart.” 

The pro-Israel group also dealt with a three-day Palestine Awareness Week, which included a panel with a sign reading “Zionism Is Racism.” During that span, BFI sought to ensure that Jewish students felt supported on campus and organized its own campaign titled #OneWishForPeace involving a social media campaign where students added banners to their profile pictures reading, “This Is What a Zionist Looks Like.”  

Look on the bright side

The Palestinian conflict is not the defining characteristic of Israel, nor should it be. Israel is a world leader in technology, cybersecurity, water, agriculture, and much more. For Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, lasering in on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians undermines all of the country’s accomplishments.

“When it comes to Israel, to focus only on the conflict and to allow that alone to define what Israel is and stands for completely misses the mark,” he said. “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a complex and sensitive issue that needs to be addressed and resolved, but there is far more to Israel. Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the only country in the region that has true freedom of speech, freedom of press — vibrant and open media — freedom of religion, women’s and LGBT rights, rule of law, and regularly scheduled elections where all parties accept the outcome. 

“Israel stands for tolerance, equality and respect for all cultures. We are very proud of our people and their accomplishments and the many lifesaving discoveries that are being continuously achieved in the fields of medicine, high-tech and innovation, and more. To speak of Israel only within the context of the conflict is to give only a fraction of her true picture and story, which is so much more.”

No matter how you decide to approach the subject, much is at stake, according to Shoham Nicolet, CEO of the Israeli-American Council.

“BDS is pursuing an agenda that extends far beyond Israel and the Middle East conflict,” he said, adding that BDS propagates anti-Semitic stereotypes, spreads anti-American ideas, and targets Israeli and Jewish students who have nothing to do with politics. “This is why I believe that getting educated about BDS is mandatory for any Jewish student and why it’s important that we communicate to the broader American public how this affects every citizen of the U.S.” 

Nonetheless, openly advocating for Israel on campus is not dangerous or risky, according to Lerner. 

“There is a proliferation of scary videos and articles on Facebook which lead our community to believe the campuses are somehow dangerous for Jewish students, but those posts are often recycling a handful of truly offensive incidents which have occurred on campuses over the past five years,” he said.

Moreover, it’s important to remember that many actions taken in support of the BDS movement are purely symbolic. What matters, Mokhtarzadeh said, is how to respond as a community. 

“BDS passed on our campus, and, no, the sky did not come tumbling down,” she said. “UCLA did not divest, nor did the UC. And the pro-Israel community is stronger today than ever before. BDS cannot and will not define us.”  

Controversy at UCLA spurs student transfer, complaint, criticism

Has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA gotten so bad that pro-Israel students don’t feel safe studying there anymore?

Milan Chatterjee, a former UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) president and third-year law student, sent a letter on Aug. 24 to university Chancellor Gene Block indicating that he is “leaving UCLA due to [a] hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview from New York, Chatterjee told the Journal he would begin classes the following day at New York University School of Law.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said of his departure. “I love UCLA, I think it’s a great school and I have lot of friends there. It has just become so hostile and unsafe, I can’t stay there anymore.”

Chatterjee, 27, is Indian-American Hindu and was president of the GSA during the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he made distribution of GSA funds for a Nov. 5 UCLA Diversity Caucus event contingent on its sponsors not associating with the divest-from-Israel movement. 

The move brought protests from BDS supporters, including the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That group advocated for the removal of Chatterjee from the presidency on the grounds that he violated a University of California policy that requires viewpoint neutrality in the distribution of campus funds. The GSA board of officers censured Chatterjee in April, and a June investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) concluded that Chatterjee’s stipulation violated the policy.

In a statement sent to the Journal by UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, the university expressed disappointment at Chatterjee’s decision to leave but stood by the findings of the DPO report.

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy,” the Aug. 31 statement says.

With the legal assistance of Peter Weil, managing partner at the Century City law firm Glaser Weil, Chatterjee has filed a complaint with UCLA, pursuant to “Student Grievances Regarding Violations of Anti-Discrimination Laws or University Policies on Discrimination.” In the Aug. 10 complaint, he charges that the university discriminated against him “because I refused to support an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist activity, organization and position while serving as President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association.” The grievance was addressed to Dianne Tanjuaquio, the hearing coordinator and student affairs officer in the UCLA office of the dean of students.

Chatterjee’s complaint asks for immediate withdrawal of the DPO report, acknowledgment by DPO that he acted in good faith and a promise that he won’t be subject to any disciplinary action. For his final year of law school, Chatterjee will study at NYU under the status of a “visiting student” but still earn his degree from UCLA, he said. 

In UCLA’s Aug. 31 statement, the university reiterated its support for Israel while also defending the right of students to express positions critical of Israel: “Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was troubled by events leading to Chatterjee’s decision to depart UCLA.

“We have tremendous respect for the institution, and it’s troubling that the past president of the GSA felt like he had to leave the university because of what he felt was a hostile, unsafe campus created in part because of these outspoken anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said in a phone interview. “Regardless of his views on the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, where there are deep, difficult issues, this student’s decision to leave UCLA because of these attacks is incredibly problematic.”

The Chatterjee affair is only the latest iteration of the BDS movement against Israel causing problems at UCLA, according to Josh Saidoff, a UCLA graduate student who has supported Chatterjee in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the UCLA campus newspaper, and is the son of pro-Israel philanthropist Naty Saidoff.

“What we’ve seen at UCLA is an attempt by BDS activists to use legal intimidation and other forms of social stigmatization to silence those who oppose BDS, and you only need to look back as far as what happened to Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh to see that they’ve used the judicial process within student government to try to silence and marginalize and exclude those people who do not advocate on behalf of BDS,” the 36-year-old grad student said in a phone interview, referring to two non-Jewish students who were the focus of opposition campaigns by SJP after accepting trips to Israel from pro-Israel organizations. “So I was surprised that the university allowed itself to become complicit in this process because I think it’s part of a very clear pattern of intimidation used by the BDS activists on our campus.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said “major [UCLA] donors” have called him and wanted more information about what happened with Chatterjee in the wake of his departure, but he said that no donors he knows have threatened to pull their gifts.

“I think most UCLA donors love UCLA, have UCLA’s best interest at heart and are not trying to threaten UCLA. They’re trying to help UCLA, trying to be involved in conversations with the university, want to be in conversation with students and professionals to understand what the right steps are,” Lerner said in a phone interview.

Those troubled by Chatterjee’s departure include David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial advisor, and his wife, Lynn, who have more than 20 pieces of their art collection on loan to the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Pollock told the Journal that he has contacted UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian about the possibility of taking the artwork back in light of what has occurred with Chatterjee. 

“I was perfectly happy to have it there until this thing got me going,” Pollock said.

In a Sept. 5 statement, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs joined many major Jewish organizations in applauding Chatterjee for standing by his principles. “We commend Mr. Chatterjee for standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation, and hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation,” the statement says.

Chatterjee’s stipulation was expressed in an Oct. 16 email to Manpreet Dhillon Brar, a UCLA graduate student and diversity caucus representative who did not respond to the Journal’s interview requests. Chatterjee said in the email that the caucus’ event must have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” He said that he later clarified that the
caucus could not be affiliated with any position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
wThus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

Whatever the case, the caucus accepted the stipulation — as well as the $2,000 grant from the GSA. The Nov. 5 town hall organized by the caucus went off without any incident.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 letter that stipulating that the caucus not associate with either side of the issue does not violate viewpoint neutrality. “I think it is clearly constitutional for the GSA to choose not to fund anything on this issue,” he said, “so long as it remains viewpoint neutral.” 

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and the author of a July 19 blog post on the UCLA website titled “Viewpoint Neutrality,” said there are more sides to the story and that supporters of divestment felt threatened by the law student’s actions.

“People on the other side of the political issue, they also feel harassed, threatened and retaliated [against],” Kang said in a phone interview. 

Kang’s statements were echoed by Rahim Kurwa, 29, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA sociology department and a member of UCLA’s chapter of SJP, which has argued that Chatterjee’s actions amounted to stifling free speech on campus. 

SJP, which during the process received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, posted the DPO report, which was confidential and omitted names, on its website. The Daily Bruin also linked to the report. Kang dismissed concerns expressed by some major Jewish organizations that the publication of the report violated Chatterjee’s privacy.

“This is obviously a matter of great public concern about a student-elected official using mandatory student fees, so it is a public record we had to release,” he said.

Despite how the whole affair may make things look to outsiders, Kurwa said in an email that pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students get along better on campus than people think they do.

“For the most part, the day-to-day interactions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus is much less dramatic and tense than it is portrayed by off-campus actors,” he said.

Still, Saidoff, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, said, “I can tell you that Milan has very good reason to not feel welcome here because he was targeted and scapegoated, because he was made into an object of derision and he has reason to not feel comfortable here.”

But, he added, “I feel OK here at UCLA.”

UCLA: No place for Jews?

UCLA Chancellor Block’s assertion that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained' on this campus’ has never appeared to be anything but lip service as UCLA succumbs to a virulent form of anti-Semitism that has a Hindu in its cross-hairs.

UCLA Graduate Law Student Milan Chatterjee was betrayed by UCLA, and that betrayal is moving like the Zika virus through UCLA’s active Jewish student population. Unlike Zika, this virus is selective and based solely on religious and social affiliation.  Although UCLA holds the antidote, they seem hesitant to use it.

At this point you may be scratching your head, and trying to figure out if ‘Chatterjee’ is a Jewish name.  It’s not.  Milan is Indian.  Milan is a Hindu.  Milan is as Jewish as the Maharishi is Irish – yet he is suffering the same fate as Jewish students who find themselves up against Students for Justice in Palestine and a cause that SJP champions called ‘BDS’.  This ‘movement’ urges foundations, corporations, educational institutions and individuals to ‘Boycott, Divest and Sanction’ Israel in retribution for the Palestinian conflict in that country.

[RELATED: UCLA as a place of thriving Jewish life]

Milan’s betrayal is a lesson in the adage that ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, and ironically, his betrayal is the harbinger for what is happening to Jewish students on campus, and has ultimately resulted in his being driven from UCLA – pilloried for his accidental involvement with a scurrilous, anti-Semitic movement that not only criticizes policy, but attacks opponents viciously.

At the time of his betrayal, Milan was President of UCLA’s Graduate Student’s Association (GSA), an organization that although part of the Associated Students of UCLA, works independently when it comes to its own rules and procedures.  In October of 2015, Milan received a direct funding request for a Town Hall event by a member of the UCLA student organization, Diversity Caucus (DC) – what appears to be, among other things, a front for the BDS Movement.  

The request seemed to be more about sponsorship for what may seem a hidden agenda, as DC did not go through the proper channels for funding.  It went straight to Milan, and demanded a $2,000 bequest knowing full well that the limit on such grants was $800. The request was nonetheless granted, with the stipulation that the GSA would not be funding any event organized by or actively connected with “Divest from Israel or any related movement/organization.” Knowing that some of the more rabid BDS supporters are known to go for the jugular by confronting and challenging Jewish students, GSA did not want to sponsor ‘a position that will alienate a significant portion of students.”

Milan made it explicitly clear to the Diversity Caucus representative through a phone call, in-person meeting, and email that this stipulation equally applied to advocates both for and against the BDS movement.  What’s fair is fair, and there was a concerted effort to avoid a situation that pitted student against student, for whatever cause.

The Diversity Caucus representative accepted the stipulation—in writing—without any objection. The town hall event was successfully held on November 5, 2015, and throwing caution to the wind, both sides of the BDS issue attended.  That should have been the end of the story, with maybe a thank-you note the only punctuation needed to end the event.

This however is where Milan’s nightmare began.  Instead of a thank you note, Milan was reprimanded by UCLA.  Reprimanded?  Strike that.  He was sanctioned, and made a scapegoat for the failings of UCLA to take a stand against hate speak.  

The hypocrisy of UCLA’s position was elevated in a letter dated February 9, 2016, L. Amy Blum, Interim Vice Chancellor of Legal Affairs stated “University policy requires student governments to allocate mandatory student fee funds on a viewpoint neutral basis.”  If that was University policy, it should have ended there.

It didn’t.

Soon after the event, Milan began to be hassled, bullied and harassed by SJP and the BDS movement. They enlisted Palestine Legal and the ACLU to launch a vicious PR attack against Milan, where they falsely accused him of engaging in “viewpoint discrimination.” Erwin Chemerinsky, one of America’s leading constitutional law scholars, and the American Center for Law and Justice, thoroughly debunked this accusation.  

Logic and thoughtful jurisprudence had no effect.  The fuse was lit, and Milan was handed a device that UCLA alone could disarm.  The campus’ Jewish community waited.

In the ensuing days, both SJP and pro-BDS activists launched several attempts to get Milan removed as GSA President, though they were not successful. Moreover, they enlisted pro-BDS blogs and publications to publish defamatory articles about Milan. SJP and pro-BDS activists also circulated a petition around the UCLA campus, and visited all the graduate school councils, where they continued to make defamatory accusations about Milan.

There was no way that the GSA cabinet was going to get involved in this, and in taking a step back, Milan fell over the cowering form of UCLA Chancellor Block, who scurried away and hid while Milan was pilloried in what became a public shaming.  It looks like the DC and SJP got their BDS face-off after all, on the back of a person whose only crime was assisting in getting a so-called diversity event funded.

In what seems a huge misapplication of UCLA policy, that states that even ‘chancellors shall adopt campus implementing regulations consistent with these policies’ – there was nothing coming in way of support of Milan or the Jewish students being affected by SJP and pro-BDS activists.  Chancellor Block’s voice was conspicuously silent, and was taken as tacit approval of BDS and its goals.

Facing a vicious, nine-month long campaign of attacks, Milan rapidly became the poster boy for religious oppression.  The irony that he’s not even close to being Jewish only shows that the tentacles of hate tend to wrap around anyone that crosses BDS.  

UCLA has suffered a history of anti-Semitism that lately has reached a fever pitch of hate and hypocrisy.  Led by a movement that would rather see a child die than provide life saving treatments courtesy of Israeli technology, the BDS’ers have provided Chancellor Block with a poetic double standard.  Had this been a group that went after a visible minority, they would have been quickly and rightly dispatched. Not so with BDS who only seems to direct their ire almost exclusively at pro-Israel and most likely Jewish, mostly white students.   It is that double standard that threatens every Jewish student on campus.

It was just a year ago that UCLA’s Student Council challenged undergraduate Rachel Beyda a seat on its Judicial Board based solely on her religion.  Rachel was Jewish.  Citing concerns that Rachel’s religion might affect her decision making abilities, the active practice of anti-Semitism became transparent, and — though she was eventually seated– it was clear it was infecting the upper echelons of UCLA student government.

Chancellor Block claimed in an articlel in the Jewish Journal that BDS ‘isn’t going to be sustained on this campus’.  He was right.  BDS is not merely sustained.  BDS is nurtured and fertilized by the silence of Chancellor Block and the UCLA hierarchy that can sound the alarm.

UCLA isn’t the only campus in the UC system whose Jewish community is at Defcon 2.  During a screening of the Israeli Defense Forces documentary “Beneath the Helmet’ at UC Irvine, a Jewish student was corralled and 10 UCI students were threatened by Students for Justice in Palestine.  A statement issued by The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law (LDB) recognized that what was happening at UC Irvine and at UCLA with Milan “suggests a pattern in which Jewish and non-Jewish students are under assault.”

Think back in history when Jews and those who spoke out in sympathy to their plight were publicly chastised.  This isn’t Weimar, Germany. This is Westwood, California.  

While Milan continued to be digitally drawn and quartered in leaked documents and furtive e-mails, UCLA again found themselves defending hate-speak to the detriment of Jewish students.

Lisa Marie Mendez is a UCLA Student who was employed at the UCLA Medical Center.  Lisa’s connection to Jews and cultural empathy was on full display in a Facebook rant.  In response to a pro-Israel post by Jewish actress Mayim Bialick, Lisa went off on a racial rant that focused on ‘fucking Zionist pigs’.  Not satisfied to leave it at that, Lisa left the following literary gem:  

Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with all your Zionist bullshit.  Crazy ass fucking troglodyte albino monsters of cultural destruction.  Fucking Jews.  GTFOH with your whiny bullshit.  Give the Palestinians back their land, go back to Poland or whatever freezer-state you’re from, and realize that faith does not constitute race.

In an effort to sound as lame as they could, UCLA issued a response as if this was a First Amendment issue.  It was more than that.

Mendez crossed a line that defined the level of care that a Jewish patient of UCLA Health could expect.  It doesn’t matter if Mendez was an anesthesiologist or if she sold fish sticks in the cafeteria – her white hot anti-Semitism was most certainly expressed at work, and probably to friends who shared her ignorance.  Regardless of her position, she created a hostile environment for Jewish patients and doctors.  

What was Chancellor Block’s response?  There was none.  

“He’s a wimp” complained a leading Jewish religious figure in Los Angeles.

The official response came from Josh Samuels, who was Mendez’s boss. In a mincing, apologetic attempt to support his employee, Samuels offered this:

“We must also keep in mind that the University cannot control the activities of individuals in their personal lives when not acting on behalf of the University, and that the First Amendment protects individual’s private speech, however reprehensible the University finds it.”

Dr. John Mazziotta, the Vice Chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health System offered little more.

“The post absolutely does not represent the values of our health system or the believes of our campus community.  It displays insensitivity and ignorance of the history and racial diversity of the Jewish people and a lack of empathy.”

That’s it?  That’s his response to a racist rant that left no expletive unturned?  Would the response be the same had the author taken down African Americans, or Asians, or Muslims?

The double standard in practice at UCLA endangers every Jewish student.  

What do students think?  I asked a Jewish student if he ever felt ‘challenged’ by BDS:

“In one word, YES.”  The perception is that if you speak out against BDS, the backlash can threaten your education.  “They go after individuals to scare them from being vocal.”  Another student said ‘We feel attacked, constantly.”

And what of Milan Chatterjee?   Every day seems to bring more swipes at his personality and more attempts to destroy his reputation.

“I’m very disappointed that Chancellor Block and his administration did not provide me with any of the necessary support or guidance to overcome the harassment and bullying by BDS,” Milan said in a conversation that I had with him.

Milan has found support, and ironically it comes from one of the groups that he was neutral towards in the town hall event. The Jewish and Pro-Israel community has reached out to Milan.  As BDS attempts to destroy Milan, groups like the American Jewish Committee, Stand With Us, The American Center for Law and Justice, The Lawfare Project, the Zionist Organization of America, and the multi-cultural Israel Christian Nexus have embraced Milan and welcomed him with open arms into their communities.

As UCLA turns away from their responsibility to provide a safe environment for Jewish students, they continue to punish Milan.  Chancellor Block’s silence is deafening.  The potential for harm to Jewish students increases every day that this hate speech is not addressed.

Milan Chatterjee is a brave man who took a stand against taking a stand.  He will be paying for that decision for a long time.  If there is anything positive in this charade, it is the realization that anti-Semitism is a virulent form of hate that masquerades as social reform.  BDS is anti-Semitism.  Milan Chatterjee needn’t be Jewish to experience anti-Semitism.

Richard Stellar is the Co-Founder and COO of The Bestemming Project, Inc.


This opinion column was edited and updated September 3, 2016.

Cold shoulders won’t improve education

Despite the significant growth in size and stature of Israeli universities, and their strong commitment to social justice and the betterment of humankind, some voices in academia persist in trying to isolate Israel’s educational and research institutions through an aggressive boycott campaign that is misguided, bigoted and harmful to the region’s progress.

A terrible example is manifest in a Jan. 8 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by Saree Makdisi, a professor of English at UCLA who has long maintained an adversarial position toward Israel. Claiming that Israeli elementary and high schools systematically underserve Arab students, leaving them unprepared for college, Makdisi wants academic associations such as the Modern Language Association to refuse to co-sponsor events with Israeli universities. 

Although a boycott of Israeli institutions would be unjust under any circumstances, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement might have some credibility were they to show a shred of concern about institutions in countries with abysmal human rights records – perhaps China or just about any other Middle East nation. Instead these activists fixate on Israel, dismissing the status quo in those and many other countries where providing equal access to higher education is hardly a given and upholding the rule of law is barely considered. 

Despite the misconceptions spread by the boycotters, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian students share academic freedom at all universities in Israel. While some disparities do exist—as they do elsewhere, including the U.S.—Makdisi ignores the fact that Israeli society recognizes its responsibilities to minorities and has made substantial commitments to improve their opportunities for advancement. 

For example, Israel established a program to place 1,000 Arab graduates in the high-tech workforce, as noted in a recent New York Times article.  Moreover, the Israeli government recently launched a $3.9 billion program designed to increase the number of Arab undergraduates at Israeli universities to 17 percent by the year 2021—in addition to improving infrastructure, health, and other services in Arab communities throughout Israel. The boycott’s supporters simply want to weaken Israel’s international stature and harm the Jewish state: thus, they ignore or diminish these fair-minded and progressive programs.

Israel’s leading universities all have Arab students enrolled in academic programs; they comprise approximately 14 percent of the undergraduate student population. That’s a sizable percentage of Israeli Arab students, and Israel’s collective college enrollment figures, about 50 percent, are higher than many of its Middle Eastern neighbors and about on par with the U.S. and U.K. Those Arab students who take advantage of Israel’s high quality education stand to suffer greatly if their universities are shut off and isolated from the global academic community.    

Despite Israel’s inclusive education system, its adversaries have been trying to isolate its universities for years, with limited success. In 2014, an MLA boycott resolution was rejected with only 6 percent support by its membership. That resolution was criticized by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East because of its “lopsided” focus on Israel, adding that critiquing only Israel among all the nations is counterproductive and disingenuous.

Regarding a November 2015 anti-Israel resolution by the American Anthropological Association, the Anti-Defamation League declared that the vote was “a deeply misguided attack on academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas and that boycotts are antithetical to core notions of academic freedom—the free exchange of ideas among academics.” 

As an engaged and knowledgeable supporter of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem who serves on its Board of Governors, and as a lay leader of American Friends of The Hebrew University,  I’m proud that the Hebrew University community includes students and faculty of numerous nationalities, religions, and political perspectives. These talented individuals work side-by-side in classrooms and laboratories, producing research breakthroughs in vital fields, including medicine, agriculture, computer science and engineering, social sciences and the Humanities.  This same inclusive approach is true of all major universities in Israel. 

Proposed boycotts of Israeli academic institutions prevent the exchange of ideas that can lead to mutual understanding and conflict resolution — ideals that the boycotters should presumably favor. Academic boycotts have no place in a university setting, which is by definition inclusive and diverse. The accepted principles of the modern campus—academic freedom, open dialogue, robust yet respectful debate, and religious and political diversity—are all to be found at Israeli universities. 

Like other democracies, Israel is not perfect, but candidly acknowledges its shortcomings. The nation’s education leaders have recognized and continually work to address disparities in academic and vocational opportunities; these efforts began long before boycott advocates took up their banner.    

Reasoned dialogue and practical policies like those already under way will continue to bring about progress, unlike antagonistic and destructive boycotts against institutions at the forefront of social change. 

Richard S. Ziman is chairman of the Western Region of The American Friends of The Hebrew University and a longstanding Governor of The Hebrew University’s Board of Governors.

To defeat BDS, enlist Israeli Americans

American Jewry has witnessed a tsunami of hate on college campuses and across our communities. In the past year, resolutions calling for a divestment and boycott of Israel have been considered or passed by 30 student governments across the U.S. Israel haters have charged Jewish undergraduates seeking student government positions at UCLA and Stanford with “dual loyalties,” claiming that their strong Jewish identities should disqualify them from representing other students. AEPi — America’s largest Jewish fraternity — has seen an unprecedented rise in attacks on its members and vandalism on its houses. On and off campus, pro-Israel and Jewish students have been targeted, harassed and even physically assaulted.

These developments have spurred serious concern and significant conversation within the American Jewish community. Many debate the causes for these incidents. Others question the seriousness of the threat. As philanthropists and pro-Israel activists, my wife and I have engaged for many years on the front lines of the fight, working with a range of organizations that seek to defend Israel and the Jewish people. We’ve observed three basic facts about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement — and its affiliated hate groups — that must inform the way we move forward. 

First, this movement seeks to eradicate Israel, plain and simple. After failing to destroy the Jewish state with bullets and bombs, Israel’s enemies have turned to tweets, memes and YouTube videos. In recent years, these hate groups have learned that they are much more effective when posing as social justice activists who simply oppose Israel’s policies. Too many in our community have bought the lie that this is a response to actions taken by the Israeli government. They believe BDS will go away if Israel withdraws from the land acquired from Jordan during the Six-Day War — or finds another way to engage a Palestinian leadership that has rejected numerous peace deals offering 97 percent of this territory. The reality is that these hate groups don’t recognize the right of Israel to exist within any borders. The maps they publish of the region tell the whole story about their true goals, depicting a single Palestinian state that extends “from the river to the sea” with no trace of Israel. 

Second, BDS is anti-Semitic. While tyrannical regimes trample on human rights throughout the Middle East, BDS chooses to single out only the Jewish state, the region’s only democracy, for criticism and boycott. By trafficking in vile lies about Israel and launching accusations of genocide and apartheid, these hate groups seek to demonize the Jewish state and boycott it in the same way anti-Semites have long demonized the Jewish people and boycotted Jewish businesses. If their movement is really about Palestinian welfare, why hasn’t there been a single BDS resolution targeting Lebanon, where Palestinians are kept as second-class citizens, denied the right to own property, and prevented from entering professions such as law and medicine? If they are really concerned about human rights, why hasn’t there been a single BDS resolution about Iran, where women are subjugated, homosexuals are hanged and journalists are jailed? 

Third, this movement is well funded, nationally organized, and connected to a range of radical, anti-American, anti-Western and, in some cases, terrorist organizations. Hatem Bazian — the co-founder of Students for Justice in Palestine — publicly called for an intifada inside of the United States against the American government. Many former leaders of the Holy Land Foundation — a front group convicted of raising millions for Hamas that was shut down by the U.S. government in 2008 — now lead American Muslims for Palestine, the largest umbrella organization supporting BDS activities on and off campus by raising money, developing anti-Israel materials, organizing conferences and arranging speakers for events. Masquerading as social justice activists, this small group of dangerous radicals has been able to brainwash large numbers of students on campus after campus, forming alliances with groups working to promote rights of minorities, women and LGBT members.

In the face of an anti-Semitic enemy committed to the destruction of Israel — and willing to play dirty — what is the best way to respond? Many pro-Israel organizations are doing important work in education, public diplomacy and training, which must continue. Yet, in the face of this onslaught of hate and intimidation, we need a new infusion of resources, a new framework for fostering collaboration and new advocacy tools to beat back the bad guys.

Last month, I was honored to help organize a summit in Las Vegas hosted by Miriam and Sheldon Adelson to bring together more than 50 organizations in the battle against these hate groups. We’ve formed a task force called the Campus Maccabees, which will organize a nationwide movement to fight anti-Semitism and the hate groups that attack the Jewish people and Israel on American universities and beyond. 

We believe that this new task force will be a game changer in this fight, coordinating the work of the very best pro-Israel organizations in unprecedented ways. We will go on the offense against Israel’s enemies. We will reveal the baseline anti-Semitism of this movement, expose its desire to eradicate the State of Israel and give our students the tools to defeat it.

As part of this campaign, we must tap into a unique strategic asset that has not yet been fully leveraged: the Israeli-American community. For too long, most Israelis living in America have remained separate from the traditional Jewish community and disengaged from Israel advocacy efforts. Eight years ago, I joined with several other Israeli-American leaders in Los Angeles to found the Israeli-American Council and change this reality. Israeli Americans are knowledgeable and passionate about this subject. They can speak from personal experience — it’s much easier to explain Israel’s security challenges when your family lives in Sderot or you have served in the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli Americans — instilled with our culture’s characteristic boldness — can form an army of activists who are unafraid to stand up and speak out against the lies about the Jewish state and the Israeli people.

We’ve reached a critical tipping point. We need everyone in the pro-Israel community to lend their skills to this fight as we realign our strategic focus from reactive to proactive. With strength, determination and unity, we can show the anti-Semites taking over America’s universities that tsunamis travel in more than one direction.

Adam Milstein is an Israeli-American philanthropist, activist and real estate entrepreneur. To learn more about Milstein’s work in pro-Israel advocacy, visit the Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation or follow him on Twitter @AdamMilstein.

L.A. Times lets UCLA professor incriminate self again

The Los Angeles Times has done it again, handing UCLA professor Saree Makdisi space on its commentary pages for another virtually fact-free, anti-Israel column. The third this year (and at least 10th in the Times since 2004), Makdisi’s “Wrongfully treating academic debates as anti-Semitism” (May 26) relies on semantic and factual inversion to hide the goal of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the company it keeps.

The professor, an advocate of the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, cloaks his objective with appeals to academic freedom. He says critics of boycotting Israel engage in “an immediate descent into shrill accusations of ‘demonization’ and ‘delegitimization’ followed, inevitably, by character assassination.’ ”

Unfortunately for Makdisi, any character assassination regarding BDS advocates is self-committed. On this we have the recent observations of Pope Francis and President Barack Obama.

The pontiff reportedly told Portuguese-Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman late last month that “anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel — and their right to exist — is guilty of anti-Semitism.”

A few days earlier, speaking to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama — reflecting on contemporary anti-Semitism and Israel — said he thought of the entwined issues this way: “Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? …

“If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”

Makdisi and the BDS effort he champions insist on holding Israel to double standards and isolating it. They reject the principle that the Jewish people are entitled to their own state on even part of the land of Israel. So yes, as defined by the pope and the president, they’re guilty of anti-Semitism.

Makdisi pretends proposals to ban BDS would outlaw criticism of specific Israeli policies. But that would amount to invoking a double standard on behalf of Israel, when opponents of the boycotters insist only that Israel be judged like any other country.

Makdisi relies on a chain of historical omissions to sanitize his boycott mania. First, he fails to note the importance of the Nazis’ boycott of Jewish goods and services as part of their isolation and delegitimization of Germany’s Jews, an early step toward the destruction of European Jewry.

Then the professor omits mention of Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini’s support for boycotting Jewish businesses in British Mandatory Palestine. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem would go from boycotts to partnering with Hitler in Berlin during World War II for the Final Solution.

Third, Makdisi was silent about the Arab League’s imposition of an economic boycott within months of Israel’s birth. This embargo likely stunted Israel’s growth by impeding international trade — so in 1977 Congress made it illegal for U.S. companies to participate in anti-Israel boycotts.

Makdisi uses scare tactics to equate recognizing and defining BDS as anti-Semitic with censorship. But a look at Makdisi’s BDS associates suggests free intellectual inquiry isn’t their aim. Among the “Palestinian civil society” groups that formed the campaign were Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade of Fatah, U.S. government designated terrorist organizations, non-Palestinian Syrian movements and others who have called for the genocide of the Jewish people.

Makdisi’s long paper trail makes clear he opposes a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace. What he wants, championing BDS, is the end of the world’s one Jewish country.

Anti-Semitism is inseparable from BDS, as much as the professor may want to gloss it over and call such criticism “emotionally charged language.”

Why was it necessary this past March for UC President Janet Napolitano and Board of Regents Chair Bruce D. Varner to issue a statement that said, “Recent instances of anti-Semitism at University of California campuses compel us to speak out against bigotry and hate, wherever it might occur and whoever might be targeted”? Why, because quite frequently accompanying BDS is hostility toward Jews, as many Jewish college students report.

Makdisi shrugs off boycott calls in connection with the world’s numerous, much larger actual cases of human rights violations, saying, “As though all the world’s problems have to be addressed before we can focus on Israel.” But he isn’t calling for boycotts toward any of the other world’s problems. Such selective, narrow-focused outrage suggests hypocrisy — hypocrisy hiding BDS’ particular bigotry: anti-Semitism.

The writers are, respectively, media assistant and Washington director for CAMERA, the 65,000-member Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Why I support SCR 35: An open letter to state Sen. Jeff Stone

Much of the campus climate at UCLA revolves around identities and identity politics. Students champion their identities and their communities in a way that the rest of the world should strive to emulate. This reality, while it adds to the tapestry that is the UCLA community, sometimes also adds a layer of complexity and difficulty. We are Bruins. But we are Bruins of varied descents, with complicated pasts, even more complicated presents and excitingly unknown futures.

My “modifiers” on campus this year were Freshman and Jew — two titles that I carry with great pride. Over the course of this year, my Jewish identity was politicized and attacked. And rather than duck and cover, the constant need to defend my identity and my people only reaffirmed my commitment to them.

Anti-Semitism on college campuses has transformed from its traditional form. Swastikas and Nazi paraphernalia still appear on campuses across the nation — including UC Davis, Emory University and George Washington University — and even at UCLA, where a Jewish student’s World Zionist Organization flier was defaced with a swastika.

But this new wave of anti-Semitism is far more complex, nuanced and malicious than any of us would like to believe. The systematic delegitimization, demonization and setting of double standards in relation to the Jewish state has led to the delegitimization, demonization and setting of double standards in relation to the Jewish people. It would be naive not to recognize the clear correlation between anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic activity on college campuses.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and its champions on college campuses clearly incite hate against Jewish students and the Jewish people. It is on campuses that legitimize the BDS movement where anti-Semitic Yik Yaks are posted, where phrases such as “Hitler did nothing wrong” can be found etched into tables in the cafeteria, where it is socially acceptable to wear T-shirts that read “Israel Kills” and where it is OK to almost deny a Jewish student a position of leadership based solely on her religious identity.

Anti-Semitism exists. It is alive and well. It has taken on a more nuanced, less detectable form. Yet it exists nonetheless.

As one student so eloquently stated at February’s UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting to discuss “A Resolution Condemning Anti-Semitism,” “When coming to UCLA, I knew I would have to defend my pro-Israel identity. Never did I think I would have to defend my Jewish identity.” By some wicked trick of faith, the two have become conflated and what may have begun as a fight against alleged human rights violations has transformed into a witch hunt against Jews.

On March 26, state Sen. Jeff Stone proposed Senate Concurrent Resolution 35 (SCR 35), which “would urge each University of California campus to adopt a resolution condemning all forms of anti-Semitism and racism, and would condemn any act of anti-Semitism at all publicly funded schools in the State of California.”

The resolution, in its current form, which includes the U.S. Department of State’s definition of anti-Semitism, is facing scrutiny from Israel’s detractors, who state that the definition limits free speech. The opposition wants to replace the State Department definition with one from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. What these people fail to recognize is the clear cause of the blatant rise in hatred of Jews — the rise of the BDS movement. Jewish students are being attacked — not because they are Jewish but because the Jewish state is Jewish, and they as Jews, have somehow become extensions of the Jewish state and its policies. Our identities as Jewish students on this campus have been politicized, time and again, and this resolution moves to recognize just that.

I am grateful to Sen. Stone (R-District 28) for recognizing what many on my campus, in this country and around the world have failed to recognize for years: that the global Jewish community treads a fine line — even today — between success and vulnerability. The world may have replaced the memories of our people in gas chambers with images of our success, but that doesn’t mean that we have forgotten. I thank Sen. Stone for standing up for a misrepresented, politicized, misunderstood community.

And it is because of that gratitude and because of my Jewish values that I have the chutzpah to ask the senator for more. While it is important to recognize the struggles of our past, to address them in the present, in order to prevent them in the future, it is not enough to recognize the suffering of one people without actively working to do the same for others. Anti-Semitism does not exist in a vacuum throughout the UC system. It thrives in a melting pot in which Islamaphobia, racism and overt discrimination go unchecked.

One resolution defining and urging the UC leadership to address anti-Semitism is not going to undo years of salutary neglect. The University of California has a responsibility to its students to create for them an environment that is conducive and productive to education and understanding — and in that respect, it has failed. Discrimination, bigotry, oppression and intolerance exist in every pocket of every UC.

One resolution, although greatly appreciated, will not change the realities of the deteriorating UC campus climate. But recognition of a problem and a readiness to address it certainly will.

Arielle Mokhtarzadeh is an incoming second-year at UCLA. She is a graduate of Sinai Akiba Academy and Milken Community High School, and is a member of Sinai Temple. On campus, she is vice president of Bruins for Israel and a staff writer for Jewish newsmagazine Ha’am.

The L.A. Times lets Saree Makdisi incriminate himself, again

The Los Angeles Times has done it again, handing U.C.L.A. Prof. Saree Makdisi space on its commentary pages for another virtually fact-free, anti-Israel column. The third this year (and at least tenth in The Times since 2004), Makdisi’s “Wrongfully treating academic debates as anti-semitism” (May 26) relies on semantic and factual inversion to hide the goal of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the company it keeps.

The professor, an advocate of the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, cloaks his objective with appeals to academic freedom. He claims critics of boycotting Israel engage in “an immediate descent into shrill accusations of ‘demonization’ and ‘delegitimization’ followed, inevitably, by character assassination.’ ”

Unfortunately for Makdisi, any character assassination regarding BDS advocates is self-committed. On this we have the recent observations of Pope Francis and President Obama.

The pontiff reportedly told Portuguese-Israeli journalist Henrique Cymerman late last month that “anyone who does not recognize the Jewish people and the State of Israel — and their right to exist — is guilty of anti-Semitism.”

A few days earlier, speaking to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama—reflecting on contemporary antisemitism and Israel—said he thought of the entwined issues this way: “Do you think that Israel has a right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people, and are you aware of the particular circumstances of Jewish history that might prompt that need and desire? …

“If you acknowledge those things, then you should be able to align yourself with Israel where its security is at stake, you should be able to align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora, you should align yourself with Israel when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”

Makdisi and the BDS effort he champions insist on holding Israel to double standards and isolating it. They reject the principle that the Jewish people is entitled to its own state on even part of the land of Israel. So yes, as defined by the Pope and the president, they’re guilty of antisemitism.

Makdisi pretends proposals to ban BDS would outlaw criticism of specific Israeli policies. But that would amount to invoking a double standard on behalf of Israel, when opponents of the boycotters insist only that Israel be judged like any other country.

Makdisi relies on a chain of historical omissions to sanitize his boycott mania. First, he fails to note the importance of the Nazis’ boycott of Jewish goods and services as part of their isolation and delegitimization of Germany’s Jews, an early step toward the destruction of European Jewry.

Then the professor omits mention of Palestinian Arab leader Haj Amin al-Husseini’s support for boycotting Jewish businesses in British Mandatory Palestine. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem would go from boycotts to partnering with Hitler in Berlin during World War II for the “Final Solution.”

Third, Makdisi was silent about the Arab League’s imposition of an economic boycott within months of Israel’s birth. This embargo likely stunted Israel’s growth by impeding international trade—so in 1977 Congress made it illegal for U.S. companies to participate in anti-Israel boycotts.

Makdisi uses scare tactics to equate recognizing and defining BDS as antisemitic with censorship.  But a look at Makdisi’s BDS associates suggests free intellectual inquiry isn’t their aim. Among the “Palestinian civil society” groups that formed the campaign were Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade of Fatah, U.S. government designated terrorist organizations, non-Palestinian Syrian movements, and others who have called for the genocide of Jewish people.

Makdisi’s long paper trail makes clear he opposes a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace. What he wants, championing BDS, is the end of the world’s one Jewish country.

Antisemitism is inseparable from BDS, as much as the professor may want to gloss it over and call such criticism “emotionally charged language.”

Why was it necessary this past March for UC President Janet Napolitano and Board of Regents Chair Bruce D. Varner to state that “recent instances of anti-Semitism at U of C campuses compel us to speak out against bigotry and hate, wherever it might occur and whoever might be targeted”? Why, because quite frequently accompanying BDS is hostility toward Jews, as many Jewish college students report.

Makdisi shrugs off boycott calls in connection with the world’s numerous, much larger actual cases of human rights violations, saying “as though all the world’s problems have to be addressed before we can focus on Israel.”

But he isn’t calling for boycotts towards any of the other world’s problems. Such selective, narrow-focused outrage suggests hypocrisy, hypocrisy hiding BDS’ particular bigotry: antisemitism.

The writers are, respectively, media assistant and Washington director for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Tribute outshines controversy at UCLA Heschel conference

During the two weeks leading up to a major conference at UCLA to honor the late rabbi and civil rights leader Abraham Joshua Heschel, controversy swirled around one of the event’s two keynote speakers — Cornel West — an outspoken academic who severely criticized Israel during its war last summer with Hamas. 

At the May 3-4 conference titled “Moral Grandeur & Spiritual Audacity” however, celebration of Heschel took precedence over the dispute of the preceding weeks.

The controversy gained steam on April 21, when Hillel at UCLA’s executive director, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, and incoming executive director, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, released a statement sharply condemning West’s statements on Israel, but they stopped short of calling for a revocation of his invitation. Hillel at UCLA was a co-sponsor of the conference and a host for many of its May 3 sessions.

West, a longtime admirer of Heschel — he called the rabbi a “soul mate” during his May 3 keynote — posted on Facebook in July 2014, “The Israeli massacre of innocent Palestinians, especially the precious children, is a crime against humanity!” In February at Stanford University, he called the Gaza Strip “not just a kind of concentration camp — it is the ’hood on steroids.” West also supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

Heschel was a passionate supporter of Israel — his book “Israel: An Echo of Eternity” is widely regarded as a classic.

After Hillel at UCLA’s condemnation of West’s statements, Judea Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl foundation and a UCLA professor, wrote an op-ed in the Jewish Journal calling on West not to come (but he did not call on event organizers to revoke their invitation), and 23 Jewish and pro-Israel groups wrote an open letter to conference organizer Todd Presner, the director of UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, saying that the invitation to West was an “affront to Jewish students and faculty at UCLA” and a “horrible perversion” of Heschel’s memory.

Nevertheless, on April 21, Presner made clear in an interview with the Journal that he would not revoke West’s invitation, explaining he had invited West to talk not about Israel but about Heschel and his involvement in the civil rights movement. Introducing West at the conference’s keynote on May 3, Presner told the crowd of about 300, “I’ve never quite worked on an event that has gone to this level of international attention, interest and scrutiny.”

In an op-ed in the Journal, Presner also explained his refusal to revoke West’s invitation, saying that his department, along with Hillel at UCLA, UCLA’s departments of African American Studies, history and English, and the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion had jointly invited West to give the keynote. 

Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, a professor at Dartmouth College and a main attraction at the conference, told the Journal in a telephone interview during the week before the conference that the event had been in the works for two years and that “at the time Cornel West was invited, he was not supporting BDS — this is a recent phenomenon.” Either way, she added, “You can’t disinvite somebody; you can’t do that. What would happen then if I were invited to a university and some anti-Israel faculty would disinvite me because I support Israel? That would be terrible.”

In his speech, West didn’t dwell on the controversy surrounding his position on Israeli policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, but said Israel cannot continue to base its security “on occupation.”

“[I’m] concerned about the grandchildren of the precious brothers and sisters in Israel,” West said. “Don’t tell me I’m anti-Israel! I’m critical of injustice anywhere. The same is true of the Palestinian side — you think you can kill innocent civilians in Tel Aviv and somehow come up with a rationalization?”

He also repeated harsh criticisms he’s made many times regarding President Barack Obama, about whom he said — after being asked by Presner on behalf of an audience member — what message he’d send to Obama if he could: “If you are to have our dear brother Martin Luther King Jr.’s face looking at you in the Oval Office, you ought to realize who he is,” West said.

The speech focused primarily on West’s admiration of Heschel’s social activism and religious worldview, and he spoke extensively on what he feels are deep societal ills exemplified in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore; economic inequality; and a host of other societal, economic and political issues of the day. 

“It’s a very personal affair for me, any time I say the name Abraham Joshua Heschel,” West said in his characteristic booming and emotional voice. “It makes me shake; it makes me quiver; it makes me shiver — because he unsettles me.”

Seidler-Feller sat in the front row for West’s address. The rabbi had not responded to repeated requests for comment in the days prior to publication with regard to Hillel at UCLA’s statement condemning West’s statements on Israel. At one point during the speech, West directly addressed Seidler-Feller: “Rabbi Seidler-Feller, love you old brother, so good to see you.”

Toward the end of his hourlong address, West described Heschel as part of the “prophetic Judaic tradition,” which champions people with the courage to value their ideals over their fame or fortune — a group that he said also includes Malcolm X, journalist and Catholic convert Dorothy Day, leftist American philosopher and harsh Israel critic Noam Chomsky and Palestinian-American philosopher Edward Said. After West’s remarks, he sat at a long table at the front of the room along with Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, civil rights activist the Rev. James Lawson and Presner. 

Aside from the heated debate leading up to West’s appearance, the conference itself was like many others of the same genre, a collection of distinguished Jewish academics, scholars and clergy assembled for roundtables and lectures, which focused on Heschel’s religious and social commentary and activism. In addition to West, Lawson and Heschel, speakers included Rabbis Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, Sharon Brous of IKAR, Elliot Dorff of American Jewish University and Seidler-Feller. Sessions ranged from discussions of Heschel’s signature topics — such as “God in Search of Man” and “The Sabbath as Theological Affirmation and Social Transformation” — to expositions on how, were he still living, he may have responded to certain current events, such as “Heschel on the State of Moral Emergency from Selma to Ferguson.”

The final event of the conference was a keynote by Susannah Heschel in which she described her close relationship with her father and shared many photos of him, including some that are less well known than iconic ones in which he’s pictured with King at marches and press conferences.

After West’s remarks at the UCLA Faculty Center on May 3, attorney and UCLA law alumnus Carol Scott was standing with a friend in the courtyard, where there were refreshments. Sharing her thoughts on the conference and on West’s keynote, she said, “I often don’t agree with West, [but] his remarks tonight, I found, were very measured and were very thoughtful.

“We were more interested because of the controversy,” she said. 

Why did we invite Cornel West?

The UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, together with Hillel at UCLA, the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA, the UCLA Center for the Study of Religion, and the UCLA departments of History and English, invited Dr. Cornel West (Professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice, Union Theological Seminary and Professor Emeritus, Princeton University) to give a keynote address at our upcoming conference honoring the life, thought, and legacies of Abraham Joshua Heschel. Based on twenty-five years of scholarly engagement with Heschel, we asked West to speak about the impact of Heschel’s ideas and activism, especially in the Civil Rights Movement. We did not invite him to speak about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement (BDS) or to espouse a boycott of Israel or divestment. The conference organizers decided to put his keynote address in conversation with Reverend James M. Lawson, Jr., one of the leaders of nonviolent protest during the Student Movement and Freedom Rides who was deeply influenced by Heschel, and Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth. You can find the whole conference program, with all 24 speakers, here. The UCLA Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies does not support the cultural or academic boycott of Israel (nor do I personally), as it undermines the fundamental principles of academic freedom and unilaterally imposes a punishment on an entire country, thereby stigmatizing and demonizing it. At the same time, the Center does not apply a political litmus test to potential speakers, faculty, students, or members of the general public.  At a university committed to academic freedom, we do not insist that our speaker’s views be aligned with our own.  We don’t censor or suppress speech, nor do we irresponsibly trumpet one side. Debate, dialogue, difference, and dissent are as central to Jewish values as they are to a thriving democracy. They are the core values that the Center upholds.

Permit me to take a longer look at some of West’s speech. As one of America’s most public intellectuals and outspoken civil rights activists, West has been engaging seriously with Heschel for more than two decades. In 1992, twenty years after the death of Heschel, West commemorated Heschel’s prophetic voice in a profound and moving conversation with Ismar Schorsch, then the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. West notes how hard it is to hear Heschel’s prophetic voice because of his bold call for “empathy and sympathy” with the humanity of other people, with the suffering and grief of others.  In 2004, West spoke of Heschel as “the towering prophetic figure of the 20th century” and described the willingness of the prophet to listen to the cry of all of God’s people. He pointed out the internationalism of Heschel’s critiques of injustice, including his indictment of America in the Vietnam War. As recently as 2014, West has argued that the Black prophetic tradition – from Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King, Jr, Ella Baker, and Ida B. Wells – is infused with the fire of the Hebrew prophets. The Black prophetic tradition is “a message for the country and the world,” one which “has tried to redeem the soul of our fragile democratic experiment” through its commitment to the poor, to working class people, to the weak, and to “the plight of the wretched of the earth” (West, Black Prophetic Fire, 2014). For many Jews and non-Jews, Heschel remains an abiding inspiration.

Recalling Heschel and the history of civil rights activism, I am reminded of the famous photograph taken on March 21, 1965, at the start of the Selma-Montgomery Civil Rights March. In it, Martin Luther King, Jr. is linked hand-in-hand with Ralph Abernathy, Ralph Bunche, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel — a testament to the reality of the interfaith, interracial alliances fighting for civil rights in America. For Heschel, the march was not only a pivotal political protest (which led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act); he considered the very act of marching in solidarity to be imbued with religious prophecy from the activist Judaic tradition.  As always, Heschel’s guidance came from the prophets in the Hebrew Bible who fought for justice and sought out righteousness and kindness through a burning compassion for the oppressed. When King wrote about the Hebrew prophets the following year, he said that they “were needed today because we need their flaming courage. We need them because the thunder of their fearless voices is the only sound stronger than the blasts of bombs and the clamor of war hysteria” (King, “My Jewish Brother!”). Heschel knew that King’s dream was about decency and dignity for all people, a dream of fighting against the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism” (King, “A Testament of Hope”). In fact, as West reminds us many times over, Heschel thought that “the whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.” 

In a recent anthology edited and introduced by West on some of King’s writings, West writes that “the radical King looked at Jews through the lens of precious peoples terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized for more than two thousand years. … There is no doubt that King supported Zionism—the Jewish quest for self-determination—yet he did not live long enough to witness a vicious Israeli occupation that terrorizes, traumatizes, and stigmatizes precious Palestinians. King’s commitment to the security of Israel was absolute—and rightly so. If he had lived, his commitment to the dignity of and justice for the Palestinians would be absolute—and rightly so. He would condemn Israeli state terrorism and Palestinian terrorism, and reject both anti-Arab racism and anti-Jewish racism” (West, The Radical King, 2015). How are we to hear this message and voice?  It is West, reflecting on King, reflecting on Heschel, reflecting on the Hebrew prophets today. For many, it is a profoundly uncomfortable reflection because it imagines a world of justice and peace beyond the absolute dichotomies of friend and foe, self and other, Jew and Palestinian. 

It is also true that West has said much more inflammatory things about the Israeli occupation and the leadership of the United States and of Israel. Some of his harshest language is pointed toward the United States (the prison industrial complex, police violence, racial and class segregation), while also recalling the global dimensions of oppression and anti-colonial movements. Unlike many BDS advocates, West does not have an exclusive focus on Israel and has been critical of the human rights records of other countries, including the occupation of the Tibetan people by China and the occupation of Kashmir by India, as well as the treatment of the poor in Mexico and the United States.  He has also been a vocal critic of speech against the Israeli occupation degenerating into anti-Semitism. 

But some of West’s language is not always precise and, indeed, is downright incendiary.  In an interview with Salon, for example, West said: “Gaza is not just a ‘kind of’ concentration camp, it is the hood on steroids.” As a scholar of the Holocaust and historian of German Jewry, I take grave exception with this facile equation of Gaza with a concentration camp and condemn such a thoughtless remark that would diminish the significance and horror of the Holocaust.

Another example, which has gone viral, is a recent statement attributed to West at Princeton University: the Israelis “are killing hundreds daily – but where are the voices?” If true, West needs to be held accountable for the baselessness of this claim. But to the best of my knowledge, the claim appears to be invented by Kevin Cheng, a reporter who covered West’s participation in the April 8, 2015, event. In a video of the speech he gave, West speaks of his “moral outrage” against what he sees to be “a crime against humanity,” referencing the deaths of 500 children during the fifty-day Israel-Gaza conflict of 2014. Yes, this is highly impassioned language, but the facts are not, according to many credible accounts, inaccurate.  What has happened to our capacity to empathize with suffering and sympathize with all families who have lost children, Palestinian and Jewish?  Heschel provides us with guidance to answer these questions with honesty. 

I don’t know what West is going to say when he comes to UCLA on May 3rd. Perhaps his words will infuse me with inspiration, perhaps they will infuse me with indignation, or perhaps with both. In any case, I am going to listen attentively. I will, then, engage him respectfully and honestly, and I hope that he will do the same with me, with Professor Susannah Heschel and with Reverend James Lawson.

Heschel gives us the moral direction to think and act beyond war, to engage with Judaism through the urgency of justice for all victims of oppression.  The Hebrew prophets provide the moral compass through the “thunder of their fearless voices.” How do we attune ourselves to their voices by seeking justice and relieving the oppressed (to echo Isaiah)?  It was Heschel who hauntingly said: “Judaism without a soul is as viable as a man without a heart.”  Perhaps it’s time to reckon with this truth again.


Todd Samuel Presner is Director of the Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies and Professor of Germanic Languages and Comparative Literature, UCLA

UCLA Jewish Studies head stands behind keynote invitation to Cornel West for Heschel conference

Amidst objections from some leading Jewish voices at UCLA to an invitation to Cornel West—an author, academic and an outspoken critic of Israel—to serve as the keynote speaker at an upcoming UCLA conference to honor the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Todd Presner, director of UCLA’s Alan D. Leve Center for Jewish Studies, said Tuesday he does not plan to rescind the invitation.

West is set to speak at UCLA at the May 3 conference titled “Moral Grandeur & Spiritual Audacity” organized by the Jewish Studies department. He’s then scheduled to be on a panel—moderated by Presner—with Rev. James M. Lawson, Jr. and Heschel’s daughter, Susannah. West is an admirer and reader of Heschel and, according to an article in The Jewish Week in 2013, has described the rabbi as “a soul mate, part of my heart, mind, soul and witness.”

West has also in recent months spoken out in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and is a fierce critic of Israel, drawing the ire of pro-Israel supporters. In July, during the middle of Israel’s war with Hamas, he posted on Facebook, “The Israeli massacre of innocent Palestinians, especially the precious children, is a crime against humanity!”

In a February interview at Stanford University, published in Salon, West characterized the Gaza Strip as “not just a ‘kind of’ concentration camp—it is the hood on steroids.”

Judea Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation and a UCLA professor, wrote an ” target=”_blank”>wrote on their blog, The Wide Angle, “It is insulting to memorialize Rabbi Heschel, a Jewish leader who extolled the connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, with the likes of West.”

On Tuesday, the leadership of Hillel at UCLA released a statement extolling the conference but condemning West:

“It is with dismay that we have been confronted by the outrageous pronouncements of Cornel West, a keynote speaker at the Heschel Conference,” the statement read in part. “We firmly reject and condemn West’s recent statements concerning Israel at Princeton and Stanford as libelous incitement. They are an affront to Rabbi Heschel’s pursuit of truth.”

In an interview Tuesday with the Journal, Presner said that while he doesn’t “excuse, justify, or apologize” for West’s positions on Israel, his invitation to West remains in place.

“We may have pressure to rescind the invitation but that’s not the plan,” Presner said. “We didn’t ask him to come to UCLA to espouse a particular political position or platform—we asked him to talk about Heschel and the relationship to the civil rights movement.”

“West is one of 26 people that we asked to come to UCLA to speak about Heschel,” Presner said. “I think it’s important to realize we have 25 other [speakers].”

Presner was also in the news in late March, when he informed officials at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that he was canceling his planned speech there on the Holocaust on April 27, saying he would not speak at the school until its chancellor, Phyllis Wise, is no longer in charge. 

Presner’s decision came in response to the school's

Israel trip aims to broaden minds of UCLA student leaders

“In some senses, you’re more on the front lines than I am,” a seasoned Israeli peace negotiator told a roomful of UCLA student leaders. “I have a lot of sympathy for your position.”

Tal Becker, who has weathered decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks — beginning in the 1970s with the Camp David Accords — hosted a lecture in Jerusalem for the college students on the afternoon of March 25, midway through their nine-day spring break tour of Israel. 

The trip was a first-of-its-kind “educational journey of Israel and the Palestinian Authority” led by Hillel at UCLA. The university’s Hillel leaders conceived of the trip about one year ago, in response to a pledge circulated among candidates for UCLA student government in which they promised not to accept any free trips to Israel with certain pro-Israel organizations, lest that sway their vote while serving on the council.

Hillel director Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller called the pledge a “prejudicial way of looking at travel to Israel.” Instead, he said, “We wanted to demonstrate that going to Israel is an educational experience. This is about learning, about engaging.”

Over months of planning, the Hillel trip gained new urgency. UCLA’s student council passed a resolution in November urging the UC system to divest from five big American companies whose weapons and machinery are used by Israel in the Palestinian territories. And just weeks before the students were set to depart, four members of UCLA’s student government made national headlines when they questioned Jewish student Rachel Beyda, a candidate for the student judicial board, because she is Jewish and therefore, they worried, potentially could be biased in favor of Israel in her judgments.

At the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Jerusalem-based think tank and education center where Becker works between rounds of negotiations, he puzzled at the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) debates that have swept U.S. campuses, including UCLA.

“I don’t get why conversations on campus are treated as if, in that very moment, you are determining the future of the world,” Becker told his visitors. “Why do you have to get that excited about it, that intense about it? So like a student council resolution, is it determining the future of the Middle East?”

The students laughed — hard — and the few who were nodding off perked up. “Can you come speak at our school?” one pleaded.

Becker warned students: “Those conversations, and I don’t mean to be offensive, but they don’t determine the future of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. What they determine is the future of the discourse in the place that they exist. They determine the life of the place where it happens. Is it a place where people respect each other? … Is it a place of tolerance, or not?

“It’s not about us,” he said. “It’s about you.”

Of the 21 students on the tour, all but four were not Jewish. They had been invited to apply for the trip by student leaders at Hillel through a word-of-mouth network, and then were selected from a pool of more than 40 applicants through a vigorous interview process. “The real secret of this trip was peer-to-peer recruiting,” Seidler-Feller told the Journal. “There was never a piece of publicity that went out about this trip.”

No Muslim nor expressly anti-Israel students took part (“no one who wants the end of the Jewish state,” said a student organizer), nor did any elected members of the current student council.

Inviting only councilmembers “would have transformed this whole effort into an overtly political effort,” Seidler-Feller said. “It would have muddied the whole thing and I think it would have created problems.” 

Instead, Hillel’s invited leaders came from a wide spectrum of student organizations — including Campus Crusade for Christ, mock trial, Bruin Republicans, Bruin Democrats, the Indian Student Union and the Student Veterans Association — as well as students serving in lower, non-elected positions within UCLA student government offices.

Natalie Charney, student president of Hillel at UCLA, said in a hushed interview with the Journal during a tour of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre: “The goal of this thing is not to change the politics at UCLA. To make that pointed plea to student government members is in some ways shortsighted. You’re missing 70 percent of the student population.”

A handful of participants told the Journal they weren’t ruling out a campaign later in their college careers. And two students from the trip — Ruhi Patil and Ian Cocroft — are now running in spring elections. 

In the past, UCLA’s branch of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and its allies have come out strongly against student decision-makers accepting sanctioned trips to Israel. However, the Hillel tour hasn’t generated the same controversy as trips run in the past by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) — perhaps in part because no currently elected student officials participated in the tour, and because there are no votes in progress on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Rahim Kurwa, a graduate student and longtime member of SJP, told the Journal he hadn’t heard the Hillel tour was happening. He said he’d have to see a full itinerary to comment on the content of the trip, but that in theory, there would be nothing inherently wrong with Hillel taking UCLA students to Israel. 

“I think people understand generally that there’s a certain flavor of politics that comes with UCLA Hillel,” Kurwa said. However, he added, “There’s no reason for SJP to comment unless there’s a case where they’re giving an elected member of student government a trip and then asking for something in return.”

One Hillel trip participant, Sunny Singh, 21, was at the center of last year’s Israel tour controversy. After participating in an ADL-sponsored visit to Israel, Singh voted against the BDS resolution — prompting BDS supporters to pin him as a “foot soldier” for the Israel lobby. SJP filed a formal complaint against him, alleging conflict of interest.

Former student council member Sunny Singh, who was at the center of last year’s ADL-sponsored Israel tour controversy after voting against the BDS resolution, is on the current tour. 

Singh, who didn’t win a spot on this year’s council and said he’s now focusing on “cooking and cocktails” instead, told the Journal he voted against the BDS bill simply didn’t believe it was “the role of the student government” to take a stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

“If they’re going to debate it, they should know what’s going on here. I think it would be beneficial for everybody to come,” he added.

The Journal joined the students as they were guided through Jerusalem’s Old City on a busy Wednesday. In his description of holy sites, Eldad Brin, an independent Israeli tour guide, was careful to remain balanced: He blamed Jews, Muslims and Christians alike for failing to coexist peacefully in Jerusalem. The current conflict, he stressed, is just the latest in centuries of religious war. “Jerusalem is the successive story of religions trying to outshine each other,” he said. “If you remember anything I told you today, I hope it’s this.”

The narrative tilted more pro-Israel later that afternoon, when the group ducked through the tunnels under the Western Wall. Around half of the tour participants popped white kippot onto their heads as a young Orthodox tour guide detailed the 2,000-year-old Jewish quest to reclaim their homeland. “It’s in our prayers for Jerusalem to become what it’s supposed to be … to once again become a city of peace and prayer,” the guide ended, leaving his remarks open to interpretation.

Over nine days in Israel, participants visited more Jewish sites than Arab ones and talked to more Israelis than Palestinians. But the trip’s custom itinerary, drawn up by the Israel Experts tour company, did make some unorthodox stops: at an ideologically charged Jewish settlement in the West Bank, a dinner with Palestinian college students from East Jerusalem, meetings with multiple Jewish-Palestinian coexistence organizations and a visit to the planned Palestinian development of Rawabi, to name a few.

“There’s no trip that’s completely objective,” Hillel director Seidler-Feller said. But he said Hillel took pains, with this trip, “to show the students the complexity of the conflict and engage with people who believe there can be a future, that there can be a solution. They met some people that were hard line on both sides. But they got that Israel is a dynamic society.”

Various tour participants echoed this sentiment in follow-up interviews. “Something that really stuck out to me is that there are so many different sides,” said Julia Nista, 19, a member of Campus Crusade for Christ and a columnist for the conservative Bruin Standard magazine. “There’s not just two sides — there’s seven different sides. It just goes to show that no one on campus understands how complicated this issue is.”

Nista said that before taking the trip with Hillel, she had “believed all the right-wing propaganda and media bias from America” and “never really put any thought into the interest of the Palestinian sides.”

After glimpsing the Palestinian territories and speaking with Palestinians, though, she “realized you cannot ignore an entire other people.”

By contrast, David Perez, 27, the vice president of Student Veterans Association, said the trip only strengthened his views: “I was supportive of Israel before, and I’m more supportive of Israel now.”

For Arn Olano, a freshman involved in UCLA’s chapter of Amnesty International, meetings on March 26 with Jewish settlers and Palestinians from Al-Quds University made for the most jarring day of the trip.

“Because they live in such ease, and there’s not much violence close to them, they feel like they don’t need to do anything and it will eventually just fizzle out,” Olano said of the settlers. “They’re happy, so they don’t need to seek peace.”

And of the Palestinian students, he said: “That night was very difficult for all of us. It was around the first time we had seen the Palestinian narrative so aggressive. For me, personally, it kind of shook my world a little bit, because up until then, people had seemed happy. It definitely made me more curious about the things we hadn’t seen.” 

Still, compared to the divisive Israeli-Palestinian dialogue at UCLA, many participants said the pockets of coexistence Hillel showed them in the region were refreshing. 

Luis Sanchez, 22, a UCLA senior who’s involved in more than two dozen organizations on campus, including many representing minority groups, told the Journal: “Being a student leader on campus, people always ask you what’s your position. Even being neutral, people label me pro-Israel.”

Sanchez said he’s watched his peers in student leadership roles jump on the pro-Palestine bandwagon without much thought. “People use Palestine as a platform to appeal to human rights and take a liberal stand. It’s a real trend to be pro-Palestinian,” he said. “I feel like, in general, this trip fills in a large gap between what is said on campus and what really happens here.”

Singh, the former councilmember, said as he walked through the Old City gates toward East Jerusalem: “I’m used to tons of people yelling at me. Nobody’s yelling at me here,so I feel like I’m better off than a year and a half ago.”

At UCLA, Zionophobia trumps anti-Semitism

Portions of this article originally appeared in Haaretz.

In what should rightly be considered a major victory for Jewish students at UCLA, the undergraduate student government at its March 10 meeting unanimously passed “A Resolution Condemning Anti-Semitism,” which specifically says that delegitimizing Israel is a manifestation of anti-Semitism.

I am concerned, however, that, the impact of this resolution will be short-lived if we fail to confront head-on the real problem that plagues our campus — Zionophobia — and address it as a threat based on its own racist character, not merely as a manifestation of anti-Semitism.

The unanimous condemnation of anti-Semitism was galvanized as a reaction to a Feb. 10 event in which prelaw student Rachel Beyda was drilled by several student association council members on how she would maintain an “unbiased view,” given her affiliation with the Jewish community on campus. Although they didn’t name Israel, this was the insinuation.

The incident triggered nationwide media attention and a tsunami of condemnations regarding the anti-Jewish climate at UCLA and other college campuses.

Fabienne Roth, who started this line of questioning, was apparently unaware of its combustible implications when she used the word “Jewish community,” instead of the standard “Zionist community,” which has long been tolerated, even by some Jewish leaders, as an acceptable expression of contempt. This time, Roth’s mistake has touched an extremely sensitive open nerve, resulting in coast-to-coast calls for apologies, suspensions and resignations.

In the widely watched MSNBC program “Morning Joe,” for example, anchors asked one another with increasing bewilderment and outrage, “How did these students ever get into UCLA?” “Why does the chancellor not suspend them immediately?” “What culture is going on at UCLA, and in a lot of other colleges across the country?” “What if these students did (that) to a Black student?”

The innocent crew on “Morning Joe” would not have asked these questions had they been aware of the anti-Israel culture that has been fomenting at UCLA, largely unabated, for the past decade or so.

It is a culture that depicts Israel as the village villain, or “a controversy,” constantly facing public trial. In this cruel arena called the “public square,” Israel is rarely seen for what it is: a homeland to a war-stricken nation and a respect-deserving symbol of identity for thousands of students on campus.

This culture has its roots in academia, too. The history department, for example, has allowed Middle Eastern history to be taught by professors who have made thriving academic careers laboring to “prove” that Israel is a “white settlers’ colonial society.” It is a culture that permitted its Center for Near Eastern Studies to be directed and co-directed by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) supporters, who make sure every student knows that Israel does not really belong in that region. It is a culture where students come to class wearing “Israel Kills” T-shirts, yet any mention of Muslim symbols is sure to trigger the heaviest gun of political correctness, “Islamophobia!”

It is a culture where pro-coexistence students, especially in the social sciences, prefer to keep silent rather than risk mockery and social estrangement. Most importantly, it is a campus overrun by soft-spoken BDS propagandists who managed to hijack the student government’s agenda with repeated proposals for anti-Israel resolutions, the purpose of which is one: to associate the word “Israel” with the word “guilty.”

As many of us have witnessed, BDS tactics are brilliant. The charges may vary from season to season, the authors may rotate, and it matters not whether a resolution passes or fails, nor whether it is condemned or hailed. The victory is in having a stage, a microphone and a finger pointing at Israel saying: “On trial.” It is only a matter of time before innocent students start chanting: “On trial.”

Coming from this culture, it is quite natural for a council member to assume that Rachel Beyda, as a Jew, is likely to have a built-in reluctance to joining the never-ending orgy of Israel indictments. Jews are presumed to know a fact or two about the Middle East. Jews are also presumed to suspect indictments authored by organizations like BDS, which openly denies one of Jews’ most deeply held convictions — the right of Israel to exist.

I am purposely using the generic term “Jew” here in its most inclusive, people-based sense. I do so because the great majority of Jews do consider Israel the culmination of their millennia-long history. Although some Jews will go to great lengths to argue the Judaism is not Zionism, the fact is that today Israel serves as the greatest common unifier among Jewish students on campus. The leadership of Hillel, for example, repeatedly assures concerned parents and donors of Hillel’s commitment to the Zionist dream and to pro-Israel education. I also take it as self-evident that deep inside, buried in all forms of criticism and escapism, most Jews understand that their future as a people rests inextricably with the future of Israel.

So what is all the outrage about Roth’s misuse of the inclusive term “Jewish”? Roth’s mistake was not that she probed into Rachel Beyda’s faith as a Jew, or that she presumed Jews to be monolithic in their relation to Israel. Her mistake was to adopt the cultural norms of BDS, according to which Jews should only gain social acceptance and student government credentials by joining the “indict-Israel” circus, as some of their professors have chosen to do.

Part of our outrage should also be directed at ourselves, and at our leadership, for failing to educate the campus that Jews are a people, not merely a religion, that this people has a dream called Zionism, that Zionism is synonymous with a universal right to self-determination and, most important, that religion does not have a monopoly on human sensitivity. In other words, that when it comes to campus norms of civility, Zionophobia is at least as evil as Islamophobia.

By reacting to anti-Semitism with greater sensitivity than to anti-Israelism, we reinforce the idea that religions are entitled to a greater protection from discrimination than other identity-forming narratives, and we thus give anti-coexistence forces the legitimacy they seek to harass Israel supporters with ideological impunity.


Judea Pearl is Chancellor’s Professor of Computer Science and Statistics at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation

UCLA Jews: Stop fighting and start winning

When someone punches you in the face, there are three ways you can fight back: One, you can punch him back. Two, you can complain to authorities. Three, you can drive him crazy.

Unfortunately, pro-Israel groups on U.S. campuses are very good at complaining, but very bad at punching back or driving our enemies crazy.

And let's not mince words– the BDS movement is an enemy movement. Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have zero interest in promoting peace between Israel and Palestinians. What they want to do is punch Israel in the face. Forget anti-Semitism- it's bad enough that these groups are single-mindedly focused on crushing Israel any way they can.

So, how are pro-Israel groups fighting back against this onslaught? Well, mostly by complaining and engaging. Our expectations have gotten so low that now we're getting all excited about obvious resolutions that “condemn anti-Semitism.” Uh, no kidding.

When one Jew– David Horowitz of the Freedom Center– tried punching back recently at UCLA, he got attacked by…other Jews. “We don't fight like that!” was their message. “We don't stoop to their level!”

Horowitz launched a nasty poster campaign that ridiculed the word “Justice” in the name Students for Justice in Palestine. By showing the horror of what a Palestinian group like Hamas can do to other Palestinians, he was basically saying: Now THIS is an injustice against Palestinians worth fighting. He was exposing SJP's hypocrisy.

Whether you agreed with the posters or not, they were a punch in the face.

Now, I acknowledge that the great majority of pro-Israel groups are not comfortable with this approach. They're more comfortable with things like “education” and “debates” and submitting complaints to authorities and editorial columns and peaceful demonstrations.

I have sympathy for that view. I also love a great debate or a great editorial or a great letter. The problem, of course, is that we're dealing with an enemy that has no interest in those things. The BDS movement attacks Israel with bare knuckles, while Jews often fight back with complaint letters.

So far, nothing we do seems to work. Our enemy just keeps punching away. Frankly, if their goal is to crush us, I don't blame them.

But if we insist on not punching back, then we should at least fight back with option 3: Drive them crazy.

How do we do that? By turning the image of Israel upside down: Not only is Israel not deserving of a boycott, it's actually the #1 solution to the problems the Middle East.

This is not just a clever strategy, it's also true: If every country in the Middle East offered the same human rights and civil rights as Israel does, the whole region would be a lot better off. No one can argue with that.

Pro-Israel groups should stop dignifying anti-Israel groups by dancing to their tune. Defending ourselves is a sign of weakness. If we want to make some real headway in this war of messages, we must create a new, fresh, positive attack line: Israel is the solution to the Middle East.

This is the shock and awe approach, designed to disarm and confuse the enemy.

Sure, they will continue to bash Israel any way they can. Nothing will stop that. But that's even more reason to strengthen the image of Israel with a powerful message of transformation.

Right now, anti-Israel groups are exploiting the Achilles heel of Israel's image– the conflict with the Palestinians. Let's face it, that problem isn’t going away any time soon. But Israel is a lot more than that conflict. It is the only society in the region that allows the freedom to make things better. That simple freedom alone can transform the region.

The key to communication is to start with accepted truths. These are the two big truths in the Middle East that work to Israel's advantage: One, the region is a chaotic, violent mess that tramples on human rights, and two, no country in the region offers more rights and freedoms and economic opportunities than Israel.

I don't have to draw a blueprint. Pro-Israel groups are smart enough to do that. What they need, though, is to change their messaging.

Position Israel as a key resource to help transform the Middle East and you will drive the BDS people crazy and bring the masses on your side.

That's not fighting – that's winning.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

UCLA judicial board nominee questioned for Jewish background in appointment hearing

At a Feb. 10 hearing of UCLA’s student government, four of nine representatives raised concerns that the Jewish background of Judicial Board candidate Rachel Beyda could present a conflict of interest and make her unfit to serve impartially as a judge in the student government’s judicial branch.

Although the council eventually unanimously approved Beyda’s appointment, the 9-0 vote came after 40 minutes of debate, an initial 4-4 vote that was later invalidated and an interjection by a faculty representative who explained that Beyda’s affiliation with the campus Jewish community does not constitute a conflict of interest. A video of the meeting can be viewed on YouTube. Beyda declined comment to the Journal, writing in an email, “As a member of the Judicial Board, I do not feel it is appropriate for me to comment on the actions of UCLA’s elected student government.”

According to UCLA’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, four student representatives — Fabienne Roth, Manjot Singh, Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed and Sofia Moreno Haq — voiced concerns about appointing Beyda. The four students have since publicly apologized in the Daily Bruin.

The hearing began when Roth asked Beyda how she, as a Jewish student, could remain unbiased as a Judicial Board member. 

Although Roth did not refer to any specific cases that could pose a problem, last May the Judicial Board heard a case in which members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) argued that two student government representatives who had gone on sponsored trips to Israel — Sunny Singh and Lauren Rogers — should not have been allowed to vote on a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution that targeted Israel. The Judicial Board ruled in a 4-0 vote that there was no conflict of interest and that Singh’s and Rogers’ votes were valid.

“Given that you are a Jewish student and very active in the Jewish community,” Roth asked Beyda, “how do you see yourself being able to maintain an unbiased view?”

After a few minutes of questions, Beyda was asked to leave the room, during which the representatives debated for about 40 minutes whether Beyda’s being Jewish would constitute a conflict of interest or a perceived conflict of interest for her on the board. Some representatives, including President Avinoam Baral, argued that Beyda’s Jewish background should not be considered a relevant factor in her candidacy, while others voiced concerns about her religious affiliation.

“I feel like we should be working on a way to make sure that we make things better at USAC [Undergraduate Students Association Council], and we have a legacy that’s not being more divisive towards things,” Roth said. “She’s part of a community that is very invested in USAC and in very specific outcomes that Judicial Boards make decisions on every year.”

Sadeghi-Movahed added: “For some reason, I’m not 100 percent comfortable. I don’t know why. I’ll go through her application again. I’ve been going through it constantly, but I definitely can see that she’s qualified for sure.” In a Feb. 12 Facebook post, Sadeghi-Movahed apologized for that comment and asked UCLA students, particularly Jews, for forgiveness. 

The tone of the hearing took a perceptible turn after Debra Geller, chief administrative officer for student and campus life who was overseeing the hearing, told the student council that they did not appear to fully understand the difference between conflict of interest and perceived conflict of interest.

“I don’t know that there’s a single student in this campus community you could appoint to anything where somebody wouldn’t have a perceived conflict,” she said. “That would apply to all of you as well.”

Shortly after her comments, the council voted again, this time approving Beyda’s appointment 9-0. Sadeghi-Movahed, Roth, Haq and Singh issued a public apology Feb. 20 in the Daily Bruin.

“We ask the Jewish community to accept our sincerest apology,” they wrote in part. “Our intentions were never to attack, insult or delegitimize the identity of an individual or people.”

Baral, in an interview Feb. 24, said that he was surprised when Beyda’s religion became an issue, and felt he needed to raise his concerns. “It was definitely very difficult for me to sit there as they were discussing the appointment and were quite clearly biased against her because of her Jewish identity and her affiliation to the community,” Baral said. “As a Jewish student, this for me echoed a centuries-long sort of connotation of Jews being unable to be truly loyal.”

He said that he had initially nominated Beyda for the appointment because of her academic background in pre-law studies, her law clerk position with the Judicial Board and her two pervious law internships. 

In an interview with the Journal, Roth issued a strong apology and said that she wants to work with Hillel at UCLA toward understanding more about anti-Semitism.

“I am really sorry with how I framed my argument and the words that I used. Using someone’s identity against them is completely unacceptable,” Roth said. “I am truly, truly beyond sorry for unintentionally attacking the Jewish identity and making anyone who is Jewish uncomfortable on my campus.”

In an email to the Journal Feb. 24,  Haq said that toward the end of the hearing, after she learned more about Beyda’s qualifications, she said she had “no doubt she will excel in her position.”

“I take responsibility for not expressing the reason for my doubts, which, by the way, had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Ms. Beyda is Jewish,” Haq wrote. “I have since been labeled as an anti-Semite, which is both false and unfortunate.” She cited personal and family friends who are Jewish, work she has done in the past week with Bruins for Israel and a project she’s working on to raise money for Save a Child’s Heart in Tel Aviv.

Singh also emailed the Journal affirming his respect for the Jewish community and his support for Beyda. “I am wholly accountable for not being more clear in my position regarding keeping Judicial Board non-partisan,” Singh wrote. “I expressed on the council table that my hesitation had nothing to do with the fact that Ms. Beyda is Jewish.”

Gene Block, UCLA’s chancellor, issued a letter the afternoon of Feb. 24 that addressed both this incident as well as the discovery Feb. 22 of inflammatory posters around UCLA comparing SJP members to Hamas executioners.

“A few council members unfairly questioned the fitness of a USAC Judicial Board applicant because of her Jewish identity,” Block wrote, adding, “No student should feel threatened that they would be unable to participate in a university activity because of their religion.”

Baral said he’s working with the campus Jewish community to draft a resolution for the council that would condemn anti-Semitism. The student government is expected to take up the resolution next week.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, the incoming executive director for Hillel at UCLA, emailed the Journal to say that free speech on campus must also come with “a demand for condemnation of hate speech and acts.”

“The same group of elected student leaders who were instrumental in bringing an anti-Israel resolution to campus earlier this year felt it was appropriate to publicly question a fellow student’s qualifications as a candidate because of her ethnic and religious identity,” Lerner wrote. He continued, however, that he’s “glad that the students involved in this particular incident saw it as a learning experience and elected to apologize publicly in the Daily Bruin.”

“Now it’s time to question whether BDS belongs on campus,” Lerner concluded. “Especially given the way it has allowed itself to become polluted by an inability to distinguish between advocating for Palestinian rights versus freely mingling with and even sponsoring anti-Semitic speakers and events.”

Rachel Frenklak, Beyda’s roommate and best friend, attended the Feb. 10 hearing and wrote an op-ed in the Daily Bruin describing what happened and condemning the students who questioned Beyda’s religious affiliation. “I was really shocked,” Frenklak said in an interview Feb. 24. “It’s very upsetting.”

She added, though, that the incident doesn’t make her less comfortable as a member of UCLA’s Jewish student body, even though it indicates there are certain “hostile” forums on campus for Jewish students.

“The Jewish community at UCLA is really strong,” Frenklak said. “That’s not to say that I feel comfortable at all parts of the school. It gets to be a hostile environment in, especially, the student government area.” 

Feb. 26: UCLA's student government has removed from YouTube the video of this hearing.

Letters to the editor: Israel’s nation-state bill, BDS, Chabad, strawberry sufganiyot and more

Not-So-Blurred Lines

Until now, I had not paid much attention to the proposed nation-state identity bill, figuring that it stated the obvious but was being done for emphasis (“Red Lines,” Dec. 5). But in reading this article, I discover that part of the bill is to discontinue Arabic as an official language. Among other things, it makes the Arab population second-class citizens, and as the article says, undermines the message that Israel is a democracy with full rights to all citizens. On what basis can you tell 20 percent of your citizens, who, by the way, are indigenous, that their language can no longer be used in the public sphere? I do not see a compelling reason for this, especially since the Declaration of Independence already declares the country a home for the Jewish people. I cannot think of a more powerful tool right now to hand to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement with which to prove that Israel is an apartheid state. They are experts at PR and will exploit this at every opportunity. 

I admit that reading this article was painful and I was resisting its message about the red flag, but I have to agree that its message is powerful and should be taken very seriously, and I compliment Rob Eshman for sharing this message with us.

Thomas Solomon via

The Chabad Way

It is a matter of inclusion with no expectations (“The Chabad Secret, Dec. 5). Recently, the Knesset Synagogue in Israel proclaimed that if you are not a practicing Orthodox Jew, you are not welcome in their synagogue. This would never happen in any Chabad. They recognize that people are people and life is messy. It is a mitzvah to have them in our community.

Steven M. Levy via

Made for You and Me

As a born Jewish Black American, I can tell you that during the mid-’60s, my brother and I did a whole lot of walking on Shabbat (Saturday) along the Pico-Fairfax corridor of Los Angeles (“God Gave This Land to Them,” Dec. 5). Israel is our promised ancestral homeland. Period.

Arthur Killum via

Safety Net

As a young Jew living in America, I was glad to find this article to inform me of what happened in my home country a few weeks ago (“Fear Thy Neighbor,” Nov. 28). This is an attack that took place when a Jew was at his or her most vulnerable moment. Wrapped in tefillin and ready to pray to their God, these innocent people were ambushed by surprise. It terrifies me to hear that in a place that you feel safe, you could be terrorized in any given moment. This article helped me realize the importance of social media and the Jewish Journal, because you don’t need to be physically in Israel to be terrorized, like the woman in the story said.

Maytal Madmony, Los Angeles

UCLA and the BDS Debate

The recent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions issue at UCLA spotlights a more serious underlying problem, one that goes further than the politics of Israel on campus (“Reframing the BDS Debate at UCLA,” Dec. 5). As Natalie Charney, Eytan Davidovits, Omer Hit, Gil Bar-On and Tammy Rubin explained, the outcome of the vote at the Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) meeting that night was pre-determined. The reason for this is, unlike other universities and colleges, the UCLA student government is run by a relatively small, 14-member council. 

Once elected, USAC is funded by mandatory fees. Individuals do not have the option of refusing to pay, and most are probably unaware what the fee is for. With this guaranteed budget, most of which is appropriately spent on student cultural activities, councilmembers and commissioners have no incentive to make themselves available to the general student population. 

In some universities (especially abroad), where membership is voluntary, student politicians must persuade individuals to pay their dues — not so at UCLA.

The result is a body that is often neither transparent nor accountable to ordinary students, and easily hijacked by well-organized groups with agendas. This is nothing new — Jewish student activists from Zev Yaroslavsky to those of today have had to work within this system. As the student activists pointed out, there are better ways for USAC to spend its time. UCLA should consider reforming its undergraduate student government to create a wider base of representation, more transparency and more accountability. 

Meanwhile, the fact that the pro-Israel activists were able to collect 2,000 petition signatures in four days speaks volumes.

Miriam Caiden, Los Angeles

Strawberry Blitz

There are other flavors besides strawberry (“Homemade Sufganiyot Brighten Chanukah Celebrations,” Dec. 5)! Where is it written it has to be strawberry? Some people hate strawberry! I’m one of them! I’ve had chocolate sufganiyot and plain sufganiyot, and they are awesome!

Eliot Schickler via

With pro-Israel groups all but absent, UCLA student government endorses divestment

UPDATE, 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 19: UCLA Chancellor Gene Block released a statement, which reads in part: “UCLA and the UCLA Foundation share the Board of Regents conviction that divestment decisions should not hold any one organization or country to a different standard than any other. The Board of Regents does not support divestment in companies that engage in business with Israel and UCLA agrees with that position.”

Some students held up posters, others wore t-shirts with pro-divestment slogans and most of the 400 UCLA undergraduates present repeatedly snapped their fingers along in near-unanimous agreement as they packed an auditorium on campus Tuesday night to hear – in the school's second public hearing in 2014 – their student government debate passage of a symbolic resolution that would call on school administrators to divest university funds from American companies that do business in the Israeli-controlled West Bank.

And unlike in the previous attempt in February, which failed by two votes, the student government voted this time for divestment by a decisive 8-2 margin, adding UCLA to a small but growing list of universities where the elected, representative undergraduate body endorsed the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to weaken Israel and promote the Palestinian cause via economic pressure.

Supporters of the resolution, who comprised nearly 100 percent of the audience, saw the move as a protest against American economic support of what they view as Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

And prompted by a new strategy enacted by some of UCLA’s Jewish student groups, including Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J-Street U, supporters of Israel effectively boycotted the hearing in an attempt to discredit and delegitimize UCLA’s strengthening pro-BDS movement. Only about 10 student representatives and members from those three organizations sat together during the hearing. While none of them participated in the public comment period that would have given the floor to dozens of divestment opponents in two-minute intervals, four of them made their case against divestment to the student government during a scripted 15-minute speech.

“We are not going to have our community sit through however long a session of bullying and hate speech,” said Tammy Rubin in an interview before the hearing began. Rubin is the president emeritus of Hillel at UCLA. She said that unlike last year, Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J-Street U will now use the time not spent on opposing symbolic divestment resolutions to “reinvest in our community.”

“We’re not not fighting it [divestment],” Rubin said. “We are just fighting it strategically in a different way.”

Gil Bar-Or, president of the UCLA branch of J-Street U, described an approach that would differ markedly from that of last year’s pro-Israel community, which passionately and publicly opposed divestment actions in a climate of toxic relations between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students.

“We are trying to present an approach that’s creating positive things for both people that are involved in the conflict and not alienating anybody,” Bar-Or said. “In order to promote one community’s interests you do not have to trample on the other community’s interests.” In place of rallying against the divestment resolution, Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel, and J-Street U hosted an alternate off-site meeting with about 125 pro-Israel students, where they discussed the thinking behind the new tactics and how Jewish UCLA students can strengthen their community.

At Tuesday evening’s hearing, while dozens of divestment supporters from a broad spectrum of various ethnic, national, religious and gender student groups took the podium during the hour they were granted for public comment, not a single pro-Israel student took the podium, even as the few present divestment opponents brought forward a list of 2,000 students who signed a statement opposing divestment.

And while the public comments coming from the pro-divestment side covered an enormously wide array of political grievances—from exploitative capitalism and U.S. drone strikes to discriminatory gender bathroom rules at UCLA and Chicano feminists—each settled on a similar opinion: UCLA should divest from American companies doing business in parts of Israel. Virtually every public comment was met with a sea of approving snaps and the occasional holler.

Some of the commenters included Arab-American UCLA students who described the plight of friends and relatives who live in the Gaza Strip, and two Palestinian students studying at UCLA—but who were not present—recorded an interview that divestment supporters played on a large projector.

During February’s vote, with no time limit and with members of the public permitted to submit public comments, the hearing went until dawn before the student government voted 7-5 against divestment. This year, though, security guards manned every door, only current UCLA students and approved media were allowed inside, and the student government ensured that the evening would end relatively early—this time officials voted just before midnight.

Just before the vote, when it was already clear that the student government would endorse divestment, Avinoam Baral, an Israeli native and the government’s president, emotionally lambasted divestment supporters, accusing them of targeting Jews and Israelis while purporting to be concerned about human rights in general.

“[The resolution] says this language that it’s not meant to target you, but there’s a difference between intention and action and if our intention is to divest from all countries violating human rights and the actual effect is to only divest from Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, it’s hard for me to take it any other way,” Baral said. “It’s hard for me to not feel targeted.” After Baral concluded, student government representatives voted, and as their votes were tallied, the auditorium erupted in applause. About 20 minutes later, around one hundred divestment supporters gathered outdoors and chanted slogans such as, “Free, free Palestine.”

Just moments after the vote, Amber Latif, a UCLA sophomore and member of the campus branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, was pleased with her side's victory but “unnerved” by Avinoam Baral’s vocal opposition.

“I’m trying to think if there’s anything that we could’ve done to make the Jewish community feel less targeted by this,” Latif said. “But I feel like we did everything to the best of our powers.”

The small and hugely outnumbered pro-Israel group of students that came all sat together and provided some lonely snaps in response to comments by Baral and the other representative who opposed the resolution. Those interviewed reaffirmed their support of the Jewish community’s decision to sit out the divestment vote, but still appeared visibly upset after the council resoundingly endorsed it.

Natalie Charney, the student board president for Hillel at UCLA, led the alternate off-site meeting and, while disturbed by what she saw at the divestment hearing, expressed no regret at Jewish groups’ decisions to avoid it.

“We don’t validate this conversation, not in a space where people are able to spew hatred and anti-Semitism,” Charney said. “We didn’t subject Jewish students, pro-Israel students, to the hate that is in this room.”

Omer Hit, the vice president of Bruins for Israel, said he’s concerned that UCLA may now be perceived as “not a good place for an entire Jewish community.”

“I am thankful that we did not have to bring our entire community to sit through that,” he said. “That would’ve been heartbreaking. Look at it now—it’s already heartbreaking for the six of us that came.”

“I know that this is all a PR thing,” Hit added. “I’m afraid that they were able to dominate that.”

Controversies roil UCLA, Berkeley campuses

“Leaked emails reveal partnership between Hillel, PR firm,” read the headline on a story that made the front page of Wednesday’s Daily Bruin, the lively UCLA student newspaper.

The plotline for this story may seem a bit arcane for those not up-to-date on campus politics, but the central protagonist is Rabbi Aaron Lerner of UCLA Hillel. His focus, in his own words, is on “community organizing and reaching students on the periphery of Jewish life at UCLA.”

Earlier this year, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Students for Justice in Palestine asked the UCLA undergraduate student council to pressure the University of California administration into divesting from any companies that “profit from the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.”

The motion was narrowly rejected, but it is expected to resurface in the near future.

To prepare for such a likelihood, Lerner sought advice from various contacts, including the 30 Point Strategies public relations firm. The main conclusions reached in an exchange of emails was to portray BDS advocates as unrepresentative of student sentiment, to focus on the large majority of UCLA’s 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students who know next to nothing about Israel, and try to hold media coverage about the whole controversy to a minimum.

The email exchanges between Lerner and the public relations firm were hacked and published Oct. 27 on the website of

Young Americans and Israel – a disconnect

The new concern in the American-Jewish community is the number 25. According to a Gallup poll conducted in the midst of the Gaza war, 42 percent of all Americans supported Israel’s action. Among people aged 18 to 29, that number was 25 percent.

This set off all the usual alarm bells here and in Israel. Israel has one great and powerful ally in the world — the United States of America. But that support ultimately depends on the will of the people. And the young people — they’re not so willing.

“Israelis need to look both outward and within,” Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea wrote this week in Yediot Aharanot. “Israel is at a nadir in its foreign relations. The problem begins with public opinion in the West, including Jewish public opinion in the United States. … Israel is losing the young people.”

What’s happening is a generational shift in the quality and quantity of younger Americans’ support for Israel. Pew Research Center surveys indicate that young people still show more overall sympathy to Israelis than to Palestinians, but that number is also in decline. It’s a problem that may be easier to explain than to solve.

When it comes to Israel, there are two generations of Americans:

Generation ’67 sees Israel as a historical redemption story that began with the Holocaust, came to fruition with the War of Independence and climaxed with the Six-Day War.  

Millennials see an Israel apart from Jewish history, a country among countries; 20-somethings came of age during two intifadas, the Second Lebanon War and three Gaza wars. The Israel they saw in headlines blasted homes, put up a wall, built settlements. Where Generation ’67 sees the lamb beneath the lion, millennials just see a lion.

For this generation, the arguments of Israel’s defenders clearly don’t resonate.

Devorah Brous, who works with many young people through her food-justice organization, Netiya, explained it to me this way:  “The younger generation saw Gaza as an offensive war against the Palestinians, not a defensive war against Hamas.”

This despite all the fact books Generation ’67 distributes on campuses, all the exposés we send one another against the biased media, all the cool new social media initiatives. These open donors’ wallets but not young people’s hearts. It is all, to borrow Brous’ phrase, “Jewish conversation with other Jews about Jewish things.” 

So, who has been successful in mobilizing a younger generation? 

You’re not going to like the answer. 

Jewish Voice for Peace’s (JVP) growth in popularity among Millennials is inversely proportionate to Israel’s decline. According to federal tax filings, JVP revenues went from $310,000 in 2011 to $1.1 million in 2012, and almost doubled again this year. Since Operation Protective Edge began, the organization, with 40 chapters nationwide, reports it has had 50,000 new people — Jews and non-Jews — register on its website.

JVP is a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Its email alerts bring Jewish and non-Jewish activists out to disrupt speeches by Israeli officials. It calls for “democratic participation and equality” for all people of the Middle East, an end to Israeli military force against Palestinians, and for Palestinians to stop attacks on Israeli civilians.

JVP uses the language of civil rights and nonviolence to garner support among Millennials. It relies heavily on social media to inform or sway its members. And it’s a Jewish group that speaks to more than just Jews.

Students are drawn to JVP because it draws a crowd that reflects the world they know. During the debate on Israel divestment at UCLA this spring, some 600 people showed up to speak for and against, and sat on opposite sides of the room. 

“On one side of the aisle were mostly Jewish students and Jewish faculty members,” Estee Chandler, JVP’s regional director, told me, “and on the other side, you saw America: gay, straight, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, black.”

“Israel is no different than other social issues for the younger generation,” Chandler said. “It is about equality and justice and civil rights across the board.” Younger people, she said, are turned off by identity politics — they don’t get the ‘Jewish’ part of the Jewish state.

She bristles when JVP is called “anti-Israel,” especially because her father is Israeli, and many of her family members still live there. (“They don’t know what I do,” she said, “I don’t talk about it.”)

The right-wing Jewish groups that blame the Palestinians, President Barack Obama, The New York Times and Islam for all of Israel’s ills? JVP is their mirror image, putting all the blame on Israel. Yes, this sounds like nonsense, considering that the people in charge of Gaza aren’t exactly Quakers, but that’s the rhetoric, and it seems to be working.  

More openness, greater appeal to universal values, more engagement with the kind of diverse, uncomfortable opinions and images students see on their Facebook pages, even more dialogue with groups such as JVP that make the mainstream cringe — perhaps that’s where Israel’s supporters should start, said Brous.

And with numbers like 25 percent, they have a long way to go. 

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Pro-Israel campus groups actively stand up for Israel

From last year’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions by the American Studies Association to protests at campuses across the country, it’s apparent that colleges are not the friendliest places for pro-Israeli students and advocates these days. 

Even before this summer’s violence erupted between Israel and Hamas, people scribbled hateful messages about the Jewish state last school year at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), according to senior Alex Beyzer. There’s also an active anti-Israel website run by a CSUN math professor, and efforts have been made to bring the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to campus. 

But these incidents and demonstrations of prejudice didn’t stop Beyzer from standing up for the country he loves. 

“A lot of people simply don’t know what’s going on outside of their little bubble in their college lives,” he said. “They’re very vulnerable to hearing some kind of outrageous claim that would spark biased emotions toward Israel. It’s important to be proactive and show that we’re a friendly, united group of people who are only trying to promote peace.”

Beyzer is the leader of Matadors for Israel, CSUN’s pro-Israel group that has six dedicated members. The students partner with StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy group, as well as Hillel and Chabad. They host movie screenings, put together seminars on the history of Israel and current events happening in the Middle East, and hold their own Yom HaAtzmaut celebration, where they give out free falafel and demonstrate their support for Israel. 

“Given what’s going on in the world with the anti-Israel bias and what’s going on in Europe, which is reminiscent of what was happening pre-Holocaust, it’s very important for us to be active, spread the word, and inform the public that Israel is not the evil state that people make it out to be,” Beyzer said.

In Westwood at UCLA, pro-Israel students can join Bruins for Israel, which is run by senior Eytan Davidovits and has around 300 members. Last school year, he and his group organized a West Coast Students Conference that brought together the boards of different pro-Israel student groups from college campuses throughout the state. They hope to make it an annual event, he said. 

UCLA has been a hotbed of controversy in recent months when it comes to Israel. In the spring, Students for Justice in Palestine was among the groups on campus that asked those running for student government to pledge not to go on trips to Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, American Israel Public Affairs Committee and Hasbara Fellowships. Ultimately, 18 of 30 candidates signed the pledge.

“There are so many groups focused on spreading Israel hatred that it’s important that there is a group to counter it,” Davidovits said. “We got signatures to say that the ethics pledge should not be tolerated.”

In February, UCLA’s student government also held a contentious, all-night debate on a divestment resolution, which ultimately failed. Davidovits expects that there might be even more issues this year because of the fighting between Israel and Hamas. 

“I think tensions are going to be heightened,” Davidovits said. “The campus climate after the divestment resolution last year was extremely hostile, and now I think it’s going to be even worse. I think they will desperately try to bring it in a much harsher form much sooner. We are preparing for that.”

Unlike its peers at UCLA and CSUN, USC’s pro-Israel group Trojans for Israel (TFI) hasn’t had such problems with pro-Palestinian organizations, according to president Judah Joseph, whose primary goals this school year include informing students about what’s happening in the Middle East. 

“I’m confident in TFI’s efforts on campus, because I believe campus leaders want to understand this conflict more fully. News coverage may have piqued their interest, and TFI aims to quench their thirst for knowledge,” Joseph said.

TFI partners with other student clubs on campus, and every semester it holds leadership dinners, where attendees can listen to speakers talk about the relationship between Israel and the United States and current events. 

Joseph said it’s crucial that his organization exists “in order to educate campus leaders and to encourage them to think critically. The USC campus leaders of today will become the CEOs, politicians and influential Americans of tomorrow. As such, it’s imperative that we help them to understand the issues facing Israel.”

Lizzie Stein, an Occidental College student, was inspired to support the Holy Land after visiting. 

“I went to Israel and studied abroad for a semester,” she said. “I absolutely fell in love with the country. I felt this was a home for me. I felt very attached to Israel, and I knew I wanted to get involved with Israel advocacy on campus.”

When she came back, she joined J Street U Occidental, a chapter of the liberal advocacy group that supports a two-state solution. This year, she is president of the club, which brings speakers to campus to discuss global politics and shows movies. Last fall, they created a campaign where students designed postcards saying they were in favor of a two-state solution. Afterward, the postcards were mailed to the local congressional office. 

Overall, Stein said, there hasn’t been any discrimination against J Street U Occidental. On campus, “There was one incident of a swastika being drawn on a whiteboard. That was taken care of quickly by the administration.” 

She said, however, that she has brought students together and “been able to have conversations and avoid the anti-Semitism.”

Stein said she was surprised to return to school recently and attend a Hillel dinner where the war in Gaza went unmentioned. 

“Over the summer, people were hearing a lot more about Israel and the conflict. There was not one mention of what happened [this summer] at [the] Hillel dinner, though.” 

Although the fighting has died down, Stein said that as the head of the club, she still has the desire to talk about it on campus and keep the conversation alive. Like her fellow pro-Israel leaders at the other schools, she wants her peers to be educated about current events in Israel. 

“People are going back to the status quo of not talking about it,” she said. “What happened in Gaza over the summer demonstrates an urgency. That old status quo is not sustainable, and we need to change course.”

Student committee votes 10-0 to delay confirmation of Jewish UCLA student to Board of Regents

A group that represents the University of California’s student body further highlighted how this state has become the flashpoint for the Israeli-Palestinian debate on American campuses when it requested that the powerful UC Board of Regents delay its confirmation of Avi Oved, a Jewish, pro-Israel junior at UCLA, as student regent-designate.

At the same time, the group — the UC Student Association (UCSA) — voted 8-0, with four abstentions, to appoint an independent entity to investigate conflict of interest allegations in regard to Oved’s relationship with Adam Milstein, a Los Angeles-based philanthropist who donates to numerous Jewish and pro-Israel causes, following the release of several leaked, private emails between the two.

Oved countered, during an interview with the Journal, that the allegations against him are “baseless,” adding that even after a 20-minute phone call with UCSA board members prior to their July 3 vote, he is still unaware of any bylaws UCSA intends to investigate. 

Outgoing UCSA president and UC Riverside student Kareem Aref said that an investigation would help UCSA determine whether Oved violated any election bylaws. He said that the board has “the utmost faith” in the nominee, but that it wants to reassure concerned students who feel “Avi’s intentions in being student regent may not have been the purest.”

How these actions are received by the Board of Regents remains to be seen. UC’s governing body scheduled Oved’s confirmation for its July 16-17 meeting in San Francisco. A UC spokesperson did not respond to a request for more information on the matter. 

The 10-0 vote, with two abstentions, came just two days after the student group hosted a public teleconference concerning the relationship of Oved and Milstein. Their relationship was introduced last month as a potential concern by Amal Ali, a UC Riverside junior and past president of that school’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

She revealed private emails between Oved and Milstein that show the latter donated to Oved’s 2013 campaign for a position in UCLA’s student government. Although Oved’s acceptance of Milstein’s donation violated none of UCLA’s election bylaws, according to a school official, UCSA’s official statement faulted him with a lack of transparency.

During a two-hour July 1 teleconference open to the public, dozens of commenters identifying themselves as students dialed in to voice their opinion. Several bashed Milstein as “Islamophobic,” “racist” and “bigoted,” and expressed their fears of being represented by Oved. Some UCSA board members present on the call expressed their disappointment that Oved — who told the Journal he believes his email was hacked — did not take part in the call.

Ali refused to comment to the Journal about the leaked email’s “confidential source” but wrote in an email that Milstein’s contribution “raises a concern for potential conflict of interest” if Oved is ultimately confirmed to the Board of Regents. 

However, election bylaws do not require “a candidate running [for] a student government position to declare the origins of funding,” according to Berky Nelson, a UCLA administrator and administrative representative for the student council.

In one of three private emails leaked to UC Berkeley’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, Oved wrote to Milstein on April 18, 2013, thanking him for a “generous donation” to his campaign for student government, reassuring him that he would continue to fight attempts made by pro-Palestinian students to push Israel divestment bills through the student senate.

Two subsequent private emails leaked on July 3 revealed that Oved wrote to Milstein in 2013 asking for his support in light of the UCLA divestment movement’s momentum at the time. Milstein, in response, wrote to Hillel at UCLA that he would make a $1,000 donation to Hillel earmarked for “UCLA student government leaders,” adding that Hillel should help Oved and a fellow candidate find other pro-Israel community members who would support their election.

Milstein denies that he or his philanthropic foundation ever donated money directly to Oved or the student’s political party, Bruins United. He wrote in a statement that the effort to oust the UCLA junior is an “anti-Semitic smear campaign that seeks to marginalize Jewish and pro-Israel students.”

If confirmed, Oved would sit on the Board of Regents for the upcoming school year as a non-voting member beside Sadia Saifuddin, a Muslim pro-divestment student from UC Berkeley and the board’s incoming student regent. She declined to comment pending the results of the UCSA investigation and Oved’s confirmation hearing.

While there has been speculation that the board’s nomination of Oved in May was an attempt to balance its nomination of Saifuddin with a pro-Israel voice, in a May interview with the Los Angeles Times, UC regent George Kieffer denied the two students’ views on divestment as an explanatory factor.

UCLA and the anti-Israel students, should we be worried?

As I sat waiting to testify at Sunny Singh’s hearing before the University of California, Los Angeles’ (UCLA) undergraduate student judicial board on May 15, it occurred to me that on college campuses today, students seem to want to hear only from people with whom they agree. And I wondered: Should we be worried?  

Evidence of this disturbing trend abounds: Headlines in recent weeks talked about students protesting against commencement speakers — not just disagreeing with them but demanding that they be barred from speaking. Commentators have correctly noted that closing off debate is emblematic of closing minds — not the healthiest environment for a college campus. At UCLA, however, it wasn’t activists protesting commencement speakers being given a place on the stage, but anti-Israel students seeking to shut down and discredit fellow classmates with whom they disagree.   

It started when Singh, a bright young history and economics major, accepted and participated in an educational trip to Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last summer. ADL’s Campus Leaders Mission exposes students from all over the U. S. to many facets of Israeli life. Singh’s trip included meetings with a broad spectrum of influential people, including a leading consultant to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a group of Palestinian students, an Ethiopian community leader, Israeli government officials and academics, Arab-Israeli partners in a high-tech startup, a popular Muslim-Israeli television anchor and the chair of Israel’s premier LGBT organization.There were discussions about geopolitics, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the conflict was not the emphasis of the trip, nor was the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campus movement. 

ADL’s goal is to spark critical thinking, offer diverse perspectives and arm students with firsthand knowledge of the complexity of issues in Israel and the Middle East. Although students are encouraged to use what they have learned on the trip when they return, they are not expected to take any particular position on any issue. For the students, the singular benefit is education, and the trips are part of ADL’s overarching mission to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds. Whether through anti-bias and anti-bullying programs in classrooms, drafting model hate-crimes legislation or training law enforcement on hate groups and extremism in the world, ADL fights all discrimination and hatred, including racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. 

Months after the trip, Singh, then a proud member of UCLA’s student council, was called upon to take a purely symbolic vote on a resolution to divest from companies doing business in the West Bank.  This divestment resolution ultimately failed, as have a number of similar BDS resolutions on campuses around the country.  (Indeed, the broader BDS movement, a coordinated anti-Israel movement that is alarming in tone, has been unsuccessful by any rational measure.) But that’s not even the story here.  Students have every right to talk about and even vote on foreign policy issues over which they have no actual jurisdiction.  It is a time-honored part of the undergraduate experience.  Open debate and exposure to differing points of view is part of this tradition – and the BDS resolution, argued by UCLA students for over 12 hours, was no exception.   

The real story starts after the resolution failed. A group of anti-Israel students simply couldn’t accept that the debate was over. They mounted a vicious campaign to discredit Singh and attack his motives online and in person.

The campaign — although despicable and hate-filled — went largely unnoticed. However, both Singh and Lauren Rogers, another student council member who had gone on a similar trip to Israel sponsored by another American Jewish organization, were harassed to the point of missing classes and fearing for their safety. 

Even as the smear campaign dragged on, Singh decided to run for student body president. On the very same day he filed his candidacy, months after the vote on the BDS resolution, the anti-Israel students filed a series of petitions with the Judicial Board of the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association seeking to discredit Singh and claiming he and Rogers committed “ethics violations” simply for voting on the BDS resolution months earlier.  

When the Judicial Board scheduled the “ethics violations” petition hearing for a date after the presidential election, the anti-Israel group took their smear campaign up a notch. They asked all student government candidates to sign a pledge promising to refuse to participate in educational trips sponsored by any of three specified American Jewish organizations, including ADL. The group characterized both Singh and ADL as divisive and discriminatory, without offering the slightest bit of evidence to support either accusation.  

In the end, Singh lost the election by just a handful of votes. Ironically, the candidate who narrowly won the election participated in a similar trip to Israel sponsored by another American Jewish organization just a year earlier. He was spared a smear campaign, presumably because he supported the BDS campaign after participating in the trip.

Following the election, the Judicial Board held its hearing on the ethics violations charges. I was there as Singh’s witness and to testify to the fact that ADL required no quid pro quo from students participating in the Campus Leaders’ Mission.

It was at once inspiring and chilling to watch the almost five-hour process. On the one hand, the tone was civil and the students were articulate. Although the students charged with ethics violations were not allowed to bring attorneys, they could engage fellow students to represent them, and their representatives made a brilliant impression, obviously having spent a great deal of time researching and preparing the case. The board also demonstrated high levels of intelligence and maturity. Needless to say, no evidence was presented to support the ethics violation claim.  

But the experience was also chilling. Two students were dragged through the mud, made to “defend” their integrity and required to spend countless hours responding to frivolous petitions filed against them, simply because they accepted opportunities to spend time abroad learning about the Middle East on trips sponsored by American Jewish nonprofit organizations.

The day after the hearing, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and UC President Janet Napolitano added their voices to the campus community discussion, denouncing the smear campaign and the singling out of American Jewish organizations.

I was relieved, though not surprised, to hear the final decision of the Judicial Board on May 21.  The student board found no ethical violation and rejected the petition to disqualify the months-old votes of Singh and Rogers on the BDS resolution.  Although Sunny lost the presidency, at least this insult to his integrity – and ADL’s – was vindicated.

To return to the question at hand: Do we need to be worried about the trend of students who not only shut down speech but resort to smear campaigns against any person or organization with whom they disagree? I believe so. These tactics are compromising civil discourse and freedom of thought, which are both central to higher education.

Amanda Susskind is the regional director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League.

UCLA student council rejects Israel divestment resolution

On Thursday, Feb. 26, in a decision that represents a victory for those who oppose any kind of boycott against Israel, the UCLA undergraduate student government voted 7-5 to strike down a proposed “Resolution to Divest from Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights.”

A group called Students for Justice in Palestine authored the resolution.

“I think for our community it’s not necessarily a win – it wasn’t a loss for us, and that was what was most important,” Tammy Rubin, president of Hillel at UCLA, said in an interview on Thursday morning, following the vote.

“It’s a very upsetting reality that a community at our school feels upset and not represented, but at same time we had our voice heard. We showed this resolution for what it was, which was a BDS resolution,” Rubin said.

The campaign for the resolution targeted divestment by the university from companies including Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, Cemez, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard, but did not have official ties with the movement known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

Nor would its passing have ensured any form of divestment by the university. However, had it passed, the student-submitted motion would have carried a symbolic gravity in coming from the representative undergraduate student government body of a major public university. In the resolution, the Students for Justice in Palestine called actions by Israelis in the West Bank “human rights abuses.”

A public forum that that preceded the vote underscored student passion on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  During the session, which began at 7 p.m. and lasted more than six hours, one student after another, including members of Bruins for Israel; Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP); Alpha Epsilon Pi; Muslim Student Association; Bruin Democrats; the Afrikan Student Union, and others took turns appearing before the panel of the Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) members to voice their opinions about the conflict.

The motion, which was sponsored by three USAC members, called on UCLA to withdraw investments in securities, endowments, mutual funds, and other monetary instruments with holdings in the aforementioned companies, until these companies are no longer engaged in the violation of…behavior deemed unethical by the UCLA community.”

Many campus groups participated.

According to the pro-Israel organization Stand With Us, the council voted on the resolution at approximately 6:30 a.m. This was nearly 12 hours after the session began. 

USAC members submitted votes in a secret ballot.

USAC members preside over meeting.

Omar Barghouti at UCLA: No to BDS, no to occupation

BDS is poison and Omar Barghouti is its purveyor. 

On Jan. 15, I subjected myself to a tirade of anti-Israel fulminations by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti. I went to hear him deliver a speech to UCLA students, out of a sense of obligation to the Jewish students whom I serve. I always feel that I must be present when a threatening speaker comes to campus. But given the claims of our local Palestinian students that BDS means only a boycott of the major Western corporations that are implicated in sustaining the West Bank occupation (e.g., Caterpillar) and the fact that many maintain that BDS is a legitimate nonviolent way of protesting Israeli “oppression,” I was also curious to learn how this popular campaign was being promoted. 

The damning result was that I was cured of any illusions regarding the moderate intentions of BDS. 

BDS is poison and Omar Barghouti is a classic anti-Semite. 

What almost all observers — supporters and detractors alike — fail to realize is that what is objectionable about BDS is not only the practice of boycott but the ideology that underlies the movement. 

[Omar Barghouti at UCLA: A speaker who brings hate]

Barghouti was explicit in explaining that the real aim of BDS is the end of Zionism, not just the end of the occupation. He is careful to assert that BDS is agnostic on the question of two states but makes it clear that what he ultimately desires is to uproot the “unjust ideology” that is responsible for the Israeli regime. Barghouti and BDS thus have no constructive vision for the future. There is no articulated aspiration for peace, only a negative desire to destroy the very foundation of the State of Israel. This is just recycled Palestenian rhetoric about the pursuit of justice in the mouth of a sophisticated, smart, Israeli-educated and wiley ideologue. “Justice” is simply a political code word for no compromise. And everyone knows that any peaceful outcome is contingent on mutual compromise. 

What was genuinely disturbing and compelled my verbal protest and walkout, however, was Barghouti’s denial of Jewish peoplehood. Teaching that Jews are not a people and appropriating the right to define who we are is an aggressive act of denying Jews the fundamental right of self-definition. It constitutes a delegitimization of my being and of my identity as a Jew. Moreover, that’s why all of Barghouti’s supporters applauded. Because if the Jews are not a historical people, then they have no claim to what we understand to be the natural right of a people — a land of their own. To assert that the idea of a Jewish people is a Zionist fabrication, as Barghouti did, was an overt act of anti-Judaism. As a rule, no group ought to be building up its identity by trampling on the identity of another group. That violates the basic principles of multiculturalism. Barghouti has no room in his heart for me and my people, and he wants to poison the hearts of others. 

But if it is so clear that Barghouti’s way is a road to continued conflict, why is there growing sympathy for the BDS movement in liberal circles? Here, a moment of self-examination is in order. For we — and I mean we who love Israel and care about her survival — have spoken out neither forcefully enough nor lovingly against the occupation. We have not made it clear that “for the sake of Zion” and in pursuit of the “freedom, justice, and peace … envisaged by the prophets of Israel” (Israeli Declaration of Independence), we, the Jews, cannot rule over another people. It blatantly undermines the democratic principles upon which Israel was established. In this way, the occupation is even more dangerous than BDS. For BDS is only an external threat that has not yet gained traction in the United States, while the occupation is corrupting from within, having already dulled our Jewish moral sensibility (see, most recently, Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land”). By failing to explicitly link the embrace of a two-state solution with the end of occupation and by continuing the legal nitpicking over the definition of the term, our community has closed the door to many of those, including some of our friends, who find the status quo deplorable and indefensible, compelling them to be open to an alternative political path. 

Indeed, BDS is poison, but so is the occupation. Wisdom, morality, and loyalty to Israel and Judaism demand that we say no to both. 

Omar Barghouti at UCLA: A speaker who brings hate

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, is on the road again with his anti-Israel show and its pack of bigotry and lies. On Jan. 15, UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted him at UCLA for his talk, “International Solidarity With Palestine: Towards a Global Intifada.” An apt title, although he piously insists his movement is nonviolent, he banged the drum for more bloodshed against Israeli Jews, for a fight to the finish that would undo the results of the 1948 war and be Zionism’s death knell. Nothing else would do.

For Barghouti, compromises that bring peace are unacceptable. As he said, if peace did not include the right of an allegedly 8 million diaspora Palestinians and Palestinian refugees living across the Middle East and elsewhere to “return” to Israel (a euphemism since 1949 for destroying Israel by turning Jews into a minority), peace would merely signify the “end of resistance to injustice,” and “contentment” with a “slave situation.” 

The event began with SJP laying out ground rules. No videotaping, no disruptive behavior, no loud noises, no standing up and blocking the view of the speakers. These are precisely the tactics that anti-Israel groups, led by SJP and the Muslim Student Union, have used to shout down or silence pro-Israel speakers and which in those cases they defended as “free speech.” It is unlikely that the organizer saw the irony.

A slick, seasoned propagandist who postures as a reasonable academic, Barghouti presented an alternate reality of falsehoods, perverse logic and scrambled principles worthy of the “big lies” perpetrated in 1930s Germany. He had clever, practiced answers to deflect most questions. The audience of approximately 120 people, mostly students who reflected UCLA’s diversity, could come away with only two clear messages: Israeli Jews and their supporters are racist and wantonly evil, and have deprived Palestinians of justice and of their humanity; and being anti-Israel aligns you with the romantic, heroic social justice movements of the past.

[Omar Barghouti at UCLA: No to BDS, no to occupation]

Indeed, Barghouti began by claiming that BDS follows the heroic legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement, which was now “Palestine’s South Africa moment.” He insisted his calls for boycotts against Israel were akin to the boycotts of apartheid South Africa, conveniently ignoring the fact that they are more akin to the Arab nations’ historic boycotts against Jews. Arab leaders called for boycotts against the Jewish community in pre-state Israel in the 1930s; the Arab League instituted a cultural, economic and diplomatic boycott in 1945 before Israel was even re-established, and have maintained it since, though they relaxed it minimally in the 1990s.

Much of his litany of false accusations he’d presented before, cherry-picking anomalous examples or making up “facts,” such as that Israel steals Palestinian water (it gives Palestinians 30 percent more Israeli water than it even agreed to give in the Oslo Accords), and that checkpoints are choking Palestinians (B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group very sympathetic to the Palestinians, reports there has been free movement in the West Bank for the past few years and the Israeli government reports that only nine checkpoints remain, which are manned only during terrorist alerts). He likes inventing terms to make his accusations seem more sinister. Absurdly claiming Israel is systematically destroying Palestinian education, he accused it of “scholasticide” and omitted the fact that he himself attended graduate school at Tel Aviv University. He praised the American Studies Association’s vote for an academic boycott of Israel, claiming it showed BDS was succeeding, despite the fact that the most prestigious American academic associations and more than 200 major universities unequivocally condemned the resolution as an assault on academic freedom and an unfair singling out of Israel.

But Barghouti didn’t stop there. 

He hurled blood libels. Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinian children “for sport.” Indeed, they “provoke” the children, “entice them like mice, and then shoot them” for no reason. Often, it is just because the soldiers are “bored.”

He justified terrorism against Israelis, defending the Palestinians’ right to “resistance by any means, including armed resistance.” When he insisted that the only way to end terrorism was to end the “root cause” — that is Israel’s alleged oppression of Palestinians — the audience erupted into finger snapping, the way college audiences show approval.

He shamelessly told lies. When asked how Israel could be called an apartheid state, given the prominent positions of Israeli Arabs in government and the judiciary, he snapped back that every evil system has its collaborators. He claimed there were even Jews in the Nazi government.

He declared that many large Jewish communities don’t accept a Jewish state and cited a Satmar rabbi for proof. When UCLA Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller interrupted to protest that the Satmars are only a fringe group that doesn’t represent the vast Jewish community, the organizer reprimanded him and threatened to have him removed. The rabbi stormed out, declaring, “This is anti-Semitic!”

Barghouti repeatedly denied that Jews are one of the indigenous peoples of the region. When an Israeli stood up and said he is a 10th-generation Israeli and indigenous, Barghouti scoffed. “You aren’t indigenous just because you say you are.” He allowed that colonialists could be indigenized but only if they melded and intermarried with the existing society, not if they sought to disenfranchise the real indigenous peoples. The Boers, he explained, described themselves as an indigenous people when they fought British colonialism. 

He denied that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination. They are not a people, he declaimed, and the United Nations’ principle of the right to self-determination applies only to colonized people who want to acquire their rights. While he insisted that Palestinians must have “the right to have rights,” he denied that the Jewish people had any collective rights.

He claimed that Israel’s fears about terrorism and potential massacres if there were a one-state solution are merely “projections” of what Israelis really want to do to Palestinians. Indeed, according to Barghouti, Israel’s self-defense measures are “routine terrorism.”

When asked what he is doing to bring Hamas, the popular Palestinian fundamentalist movement that oppresses women and minorities and wants to establish a theocracy, to share his supposedly progressive vision, he sidestepped the question. He said BDS can’t deal with every social rights issue. The anti-apartheid movement couldn’t deal with social and economic issues until it succeeded. Similarly, first the occupation must end, then these problems can be addressed. Meanwhile, Hamas violence and its violent ideology are excusable and even justifiable in Barghouti’s worldview.

I have often wondered what Jews or decent people could have done to push back against the anti-Semitic propaganda of 1930s Germany. I don’t know. But I do know that Omar Barghouti follows in that tradition of the “big lies,” the dehumanization of Israelis and incitement that would lead others to justify or excuse those who murder Israeli Jews. Historically, Jewish blood has been cheap too many times. It is critical that people
of good will mobilize to protest and discredit the lies, educate the public, and re-educate the students who have been misled by the heady blend of bigotry, idealism and furious outrage that animates extremists like Barghouti.

Roberta P. Seid, PhD, is Research/Education Director of StandWithUs.

Judea Pearl: Boycott Israel? Not on my campus

There are many good reasons to oppose the American Studies Association (ASA) decision to boycott Israeli universities. But there are some bad reasons as well. Many arguments against the boycott play exactly into the hands of the pro-boycott propagandists and give them the ammunition they need to continue their racist campaign with renewed vigor and self-righteousness.

The two most dangerous “objections” to the boycott consist of these arguments: 1) There are worse violators of human rights in the world, so why pick on Israel?  And 2) Israel is aware of her crimes, and is willing to confess and repent, with the help of an international team of expert “confessors” who are about to fix all that is broken with Zionism.

I will not comment on the second point because anyone who has been watching Israel’s relentless effort to extricate itself from having to control other people’s lives, how her poets, playwrights, educators, philosophers, journalists, jurors and political leaders have been struggling for the past 66 years to redefine Zionism to fit the changing dynamics of society and circumstances would laugh at the idea that what Zionism needs at this point is expert confessors from the Diaspora, to teach it what it truly stands for.

But the first point deserves a comment or two, because it has been used as a crutch by many commentators, not least among them UCLA professor David Myers, writing in these pages.

Admitting “You caught me stealing, but there are bigger thieves in town” is precisely what the boycott cronies want to hear, and the ASA president’s response, “We have to start somewhere,” sounds much more compelling and honest than the plea for first chasing after the other thieves in town. After all, once you admit to being part of the Mafia, you have no business telling the police how to go about fighting crime, and you should not be surprised if you are arrested first.

I want to assure our students that the case against academic boycott is not as flimsy as these arguments make it sound, and that the majority of faculty on our campuses do recognize both the difficult predicaments of Israel and the non-academic character of the boycott campaign. They recognize that Israel did not choose to occupy another people; her presence in the West Bank was imposed upon her by neighbors who admit to wishing her disappearance and who make sure she understands that lifting the occupation would only intensify their wishes.

They recognize that, obviously, the occupation “has a negative impact on the working conditions of Palestinian researchers and students” (this is a quote from the ASA resolution). But it is also obvious that Israel cannot lift movement restrictions in the West Bank while she is intimidated daily, both rhetorically and physically, with existential threats; normalcy must be symmetrical.

They recognize that while occupation is ugly and unsustainable, the Arab side shares (at least) equal responsibility for prolonging this conflict by nourishing a culture in which coexistence is non-existent.

In particular, Palestinian educators, researchers, students and academic institutions who now call for boycotting Israel are greatly responsible for perpetuating this culture of anti-coexistence, hence no less deserving of a boycott than their Israeli counterparts. Most ASA members should agree that denying peoplehood to a people, for more than 65 years, is no less a crime than causing students at Nablus University to be late to class.

ASA members should be concerned about the reputation of their organization if allowed to be hijacked by the rhetoric of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement and its radical supporters.

While the resolution itself may sound benign, ASA members should take a hard look at the purpose for which this document will be used in the future, given the radical agenda of its supporters.

The leaders of the BDS movement do not hide that purpose: In every conversation with them. they make it crystal clear that their ultimate goal is not to end the occupation, nor is it to achieve a peaceful solution in the Middle East, but rather to defame Israel in the public eye, to choreograph an arena where Israel’s criminality is debated, to intimidate pro-coexistence voices into silence, if not shame, and eventually bring about Israel’s isolation, if not her demise.

Omar Barghouti, a key ideologist of BDS, stated publicly (Sept. 29, 2013),  “Colonizers [read: Zionists] are not entitled to self-determination, by any definition of self-determination.”

ASA members should also take a hard look at what the passing of this resolution would do to campus climate, how it would isolate faculty members who choose to collaborate with Israeli universities and what it would mean to the posture of Jewish students on campus once BDS supporters sense the smell of victory, however mild.

The commentary by UCLA professor Robin Kelley, who wrote in support of the boycott in these pages, was a perfect reflection of this BDS mentality. We are witnessing a “professor of history” who is as quick to desecrate the word “apartheid” as he is to ignore the historical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the responsibility of the Arab side in sustaining that conflict. Some “professors of history” can preach for hours and hours on the moral right of the Palestinian people to self determination and, at the same time, ignore or deny the historical right of their neighbors to the same self determination.

In the old days we used to label such professors “racists,” but nowadays that label is reserved strictly for Islamophobes and “white settlers’ colonial societies,” so, on a technicality, Kelley is exonerated. One of Israel’s painful misfortunes is that professors like Kelley formed their worldview at a time when the only villains in town were “white settlers.”

Today, when there are no such settlers in existence (except perhaps the British settlers in the Falkland Islands), history professors must invent them, no matter how absurd the resemblance. And you can guess whom they chose for the honor — the only functioning society in the Middle East that speaks the language of its historical birthplace.

On the positive side, we should not forget that despite its symbolic victory in the ASA case, the BDS movement has given the Jewish people two important gifts. First, support of BDS has become a crisp and unmistakable litmus test by which to distinguish potential discussants from hopeless bigots, and by which to determine whom to include and whom to exclude from the broad tent of “Jewish conversation.” Drawing such red lines was one of the smartest things our sages enforced to preserve Jewish identity. At times it involved painful decisions, which left the Karaites, the early Christians, the Shabtaim, the Spanish Conversos and “Jews for Jesus” out of the community. But these were necessary, life-saving decisions. Today, as if by divine supervision, BDS supporters find themselves excluded from the Jewish conversation — a life-saving demarcation line has been drawn, and a stronger, more united community has emerged

The second blessing has been a miraculous awakening and an unprecedented galvanization of Jewish students and faculty to confront the dangers of the BDS assault. It is still too early to assess, but I would nevertheless venture to predict that next year will not be an easy one for Israel’s enemies on campus. 

Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (