Campus Anti-Semitism at UC and Stanford

So far as we are concerned, Berkeley’s Golden Bears have already won the Stanford Axe, the trophy in their annual “Big Game” with the Cardinals, despite the fact that college football season is still months away.

Our reason: the contrast between recent actions of the presidents of UC and Stanford to the challenge of campus anti-Semitism.

First, the good news: UC President Janet Napolitano for personally agreeing with the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes denial of Israel’s right to exist—not criticism of Israeli government policies—as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. The State Department’s “working definition” reads: “anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Examples include: accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, and accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.

Both Rabbi Meyer H. May, Executive Director of the Wiesenthal Center, and Aron Hier, director of the Center’s Campus Outreach program, have attended meetings over the course of months throughout the state urging UC Regents, chancellors, and policy makers to adopt the State Department definition which will also be voted on by the UC Board of Regents this July.

In contrast, Stanford’s SAE fraternity house has recently been defaced with a swastika, in addition to painted personal slurs and epithets.

Liana Kadisha, president of the Stanford Israel Association told the Stanford Daily that there has been a “rise in hostility toward Jewish communities,” on campus since the university student senate approved a divestment resolution. Kadisha also said: “My parents are from Iran and left that country because it wasn't open really to Jews anymore and so I don't think they would ever expect that at Stanford, so many years later we would be dealing with these types of incidents.”

Nationally, the SAE fraternity, site of the Stanford swastika, has a history of racial and religious discrimination. It banned Jews until some time after World War II, and only in recent years has it really opened its doors to Jewish members. Unfortunately, as is clear from the national headlines about what happened at the University of Oklahoma, it is far from outliving its history of bigotry against African Americans.

In a related incident, Stanford undergraduate Molly Horwitz, a candidate for the Student Senate, was vetted by the Students of Color Coalition about her fitness for office. This followed February’s ugly campus debate that ended in a vote for a resolution for divesting in companies doing business on the West Bank as a way of punishing Israel.

During the divestment debate, Horwitz wrote several posts on Facebook against it. But then she and her campaign manager scrubbed Horwitz’s Facebook page to hide all posts indicating support for Israel, including a photograph of a pair of shoes decorated to look like the Israeli flag. Why? Because: “We did it not because she isn’t proud—she is—but the campus climate has been pretty hostile, and it would not be politically expedient to take a public stance.” Reportedly, Horowitz’s inquisitors are also being investigated for allegedly asking its endorsed candidates to sign a contract promising not to affiliate with Jewish groups on campus.

What’s the response by the Stanford authorities to the latest swastika incident? Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) spokesman Bill Larson said that the incident will be recorded as a hate crime. Well and good.

But what about the response by University President John Hennessy? He said: “I am deeply troubled by the act of vandalism, including symbols of hate, that has marred our campus. The University will not tolerate hate crimes and this incident will be fully investigated, both by campus police and by the University under our Acts of Intolerance Protocol. This level of incivility has no place at Stanford. . . . I ask everyone in the University community to stand together against intolerance and hate, and to affirm our commitment to a campus community where discourse is civil, where we value differences and where every individual is respected.”

This sound good, but lacks one critical component: any mention of anti-Semitism. President Hennessy, who commendably has opposed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, suggests that we examine the University’s “Acts of Intolerance Protocol.” We have. This 4-page document’s definition of “acts of intolerance” includes: Gender or gender identity, Race or ethnicity, Disability, Religion, Sexual orientation, Nationality, Age, Social or economic class. Very inclusive. But anti-Semitism—is it a crime against “religion” or “ethnicity” or “nationality” or some hybrid?—falls between the cracks. Significantly, when the reader gets to page 4, there is a listing of two dozen “University resources available to students, faculty and staff.” No inclusion of Hillel, the Stanford Israel Association, the Jewish Students Association, or any other group with a Jewish or pro-Israel identity. 

What’s going on here is a form of “euphemism” practices on campus from the U.S. to the UK. George Orwell, who satirized “Double Speak” in 1984, treated euphemism as a wide variety of techniques to distort and obfuscate reality, often for political reasons or what we would call today political correctness. We can still smile at the Victorians’ description of a pregnant woman as “being in an interesting condition.” Describing torture as “an enhanced interrogation technique” is something else again. As to anti-Semitism, the euphemistic strategy is to deny it any specific mention in a list of “hate crimes.”

Adopting the State Department’s definition is an important step in the right direction.

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

Student leader in BDS movement up for regent post in Calif. system

A student leader in the anti-Israel divestment campaign at the University of California, Berkeley, is a candidate for student regent in the University of California system.

Sadia Saifuddin, a student senator at Berkeley, is up against two other students for a regents post in 2014-15 in the vote on Wednesday by the UC Board of Regents.

Saifuddin co-sponsored an Israeli divestment resolution this spring that called for the divestment of $14 million in university and Associated Students funds from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings, saying they profit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Jewish settlements. The resolution passed the student senate by a vote of 11-9.

“I don’t want one cent of my money to go toward fueling the occupation of my brothers and sisters,” Saifuddin told the campus newspaper following the April 17 vote.

Saifuddin, the daughter of immigrants from Pakistan, also opposed the UC Regents report on Jewish students’ concerns about a hostile campus environment, according to StandWithUs, a pro-Israel advocacy organization which has mobilized its membership to oppose the nomination.

“While it would be an important milestone for a Muslim student to become the student regent, Ms. Saifuddin is an ill-advised choice because she promotes activities that marginalize a large group of students on campus, and she advances extremist positions,” StandWithUs wrote in an open letter to the Board of Regents.

“If you appoint a student who is prominently associated with the ‘BDS’ movement, you would send a message normalizing and even rewarding the very activities that are greatly harming the campus environment,” the letter said.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center also launched a petition against Saifuddin’s nomination.

Saifuddin graduated from the Council on American Islamic Relations’ Youth Leadership Program in public speaking, media relations and governmental activism in 2008 and has maintained close ties to the organization, which has been accused of promoting radical Islam

The Board of Regents sets educational policy for the 10 UC universities and appoints their senior officers.

BDS campaign spreads with little effect

The multinational boycott campaign targeting Israel, aimed at stopping the country’s perceived injustices against Palestinians, has a venerable history, but the movement showed a new spurt of activism this month.

Most of the attention has focused on the University of California and its campuses, two of which have just come down on opposite sides of the issue following emotional, all-night debates.

On April 18, the student senate at UC Berkeley voted 11-9 in favor of a resolution calling on the statewide UC administration to divest of stock in American companies providing technology or weapons used by the Israeli military in the Palestinian territories.

One week earlier, the UC Santa Barbara student senate defeated a similar resolution aimed at “companies profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestine,” by an even thinner margin of 11-10, with one abstention.

Previously, divestment petitions were approved by the student governments at the UC San Diego and Irvine campuses, as well as at UC Riverside, but the latter group reversed its stand in a subsequent vote.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement originated in the 1990s in a worldwide campaign to pressure the white minority regime in South Africa to change its apartheid policies discriminating against the majority black population.

When that campaign was seen as successful, some of its methods and techniques were adopted and re-aimed at the Israeli government as the primary target.

In 2002, the student governments at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) passed divestment-from-Israel resolutions, and some major church bodies in the United States and Canada followed suit in 2004.

The resurgence of the BDS movement at some of the 10 University of California campuses has raised questions as to its effectiveness and its impact on Jewish students.

In terms of practical results, the BDS campaigns have not realized their professed goal of changing Israeli policy by hitting the country, and foreign companies trading with it, in the pocketbook.

As far as the record shows, not a single university administration in the United States has accepted or acted on the various resolutions passed by their respective student bodies.

Typical is the response of UC’s governing body, the Board of Regents, which in 2010 adopted a policy statement introduced by its chair and vice chair, together with UC President Mark Yudof.

Noting the Regents’ existing policy of divesting only “when the U.S. government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide,” the statement declared, “We must take great care that no one organization or country is held to a different standard than any other.

“In the current resolutions voted by the UC student organizations, the State of Israel and companies doing business with Israel have been the sole focus. This isolation of Israel among all countries of the world greatly disturbs us and is of grave concern to members of the Jewish community.”

Even the BDS Web site, which lists every commercial, academic, government or artistic boycott move across the world in great detail, makes no claim of actual divestment by an American university.

In a month-by-month compilation of achievements in 2012, BDS lists numerous resolutions and petitions, but its closest claim to concrete success in academe is the action by the University of Glasgow (Scotland) in dropping Israel-produced Eden Spring Water from its cafeterias.

Much harder to gauge is the movement’s impact in fomenting anti-Israel sentiment and actions on campuses, as well as the impact on the comfort level of their Jewish students.

UC President Yudof, after hearing reports of harassment of Jewish students, particularly during campus “Palestine Awareness” weeks, and lack of response by campus administrators, appointed a committee in 2010, which interviewed Jewish students on six campuses over a seven-month period.

The voluminous study yielded a number of conclusions and recommendations, some controversial, and emphasized two points: Political and social opinions among Jewish students were diverse, and often opposed, even on the Israel-Palestinian conflict; and while many such students felt resentment and outrage at some of the charges and attacks by Muslim student groups, none of the Jews interviewed felt in physical danger on campus.

Veteran journalist Dina Kraft, who has reported for The New York Times and the Jewish Journal, among others, last month interviewed a number of students involved on both sides of the BDS issue for the Israeli daily Haaretz.

Kraft asked whether the movement will now spread to colleges in other parts of the country and got one answer from Amal Ali, president of Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Riverside.

“The University of California has been at the forefront of social protest movements, so when any campus here makes any statement, the rest of the country listens. … This is the beginning, not the end,” she said.

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Hillel executive director at UCLA, said he believed at this point the BDS movement was targeting the UC campuses as a testing ground, before deciding whether to expand the campaign nationally. A similar view was expressed by Rabbi Evan Goodman, Hillel executive director at UC Santa Barbara.

Seidler-Feller also noted that an attempt to introduce a divestment resolution at UCLA two weeks ago didn’t get off the ground, thanks largely to preventive moves by Jewish students.

For her part, Kerri Copans, the Hillel director at UC San Diego, emphasized that the BDS movement “does not define the Jewish experience on campus … we have a vibrant community,” she told Kraft.

Copans said that her group is countering the calls for divestment with a plan for investment by helping to create a university scholarship for students, Jewish or not, to study in Israel.

One of the most interesting viewpoints on the BDS confrontations came from Meggie Le, president of the Associated Students at UC San Diego and the 21-year-old daughter of Vietnamese immigrants.

She had worked hard, initially, to tone down and then to defeat the divestment resolution, explaining, “I believe that divestment is horrible for the campus climate. … It divides people on cultural identities, and I don’t believe that’s OK,” she told Kraft.

The reaction to this stand illustrates the intense emotions triggered by the BDS confrontations, with Le noting that she has been the object of persistent verbal abuse by pro-divestment advocates.

In the month preceding the UC San Diego vote on the issue, Le said, she received 11,000 e-mails on the issue from Congress and community members, faculty, students and others.

UC Berkeley Gets Institute for Jewish Law and Israel

Less than a year after the student government at the University of California, Berkeley fell one vote short of pushing through a bill to divest from American companies providing materials to the Israeli military, UC Berkeley’s School of Law on Thursday, Feb. 24, announced the launch of a new institute to advance the study of Jewish Law and of Israel on campus.

With the help of a $750,000 seed gift from the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, the new Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society will advance academic work in these fields through coursework, grants and support to faculty and through public forums.

“The law school has deep strengths in both the study of Jewish law—and religious law more generally—and also focuses on the study of Israel,” said Kenneth A. Bamberger, an assistant professor and the institute’s faculty director, who has been teaching courses in Jewish law and ethics at the UC Berkeley law school for the past two years. “As more people got involved, it seemed like a real contribution could be made to those engaged in the discourse around Jewish law and Israel on campus.”

The institute will build on resources already available on campus, supervising Berkeley Law’s seven-year-old joint Tel Aviv/UC Berkeley masters degree program; coordinating programs with the university’s Jewish Studies department and the joint UC Berkeley/Graduate Theological Seminary PhD program and making use of the university’s Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life.

Half of the institute’s mission—to develop and broaden the discourse around Israel on campus—can be seen as a response to the student-government body’s targeting of Israel on campus, which reached a fever pitch at the school last year.

In March 2010, before a veto by the president of the Associated Students of UC Berkeley, the association had approved a bill calling for divestment from General Electric and United Technologies. The companies were targeted for allegedly being complicit in Israeli war crimes and for helping to perpetuate the occupation of Palestinian lands. After being blocked by Will Smelko, the student body president, in mid-April, the bill failed to garner enough votes to overturn the veto.

It was, to say the least, an uncomfortable time for Jewish students at UC Berkeley. “There was a lot of friction,” Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of Berkeley Hillel, said. “It created a ton of divisiveness in the campus community.”

At the time, Naftalin-Kelman said, Hillel worked to organize Jewish and pro-Israel students to fight the bill, with the help of Hanan Alexander, whose permanent academic home is University of Haifa, but who was then serving as the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Visiting Israeli Professor at UC Berkeley.

Which explains why Naftalin-Kelman is enthusiastic about the work that the institute will do to extend discussion and debate about Israel—in ways that go beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The institute is an amazing step forward to bring a balanced perspective of Israel on campus in an academic setting and to also offer courses that are not necessarily politically motivated but to look at Israeli society through a diverse perspective,” Naftalin-Kelman said.

Numerous Israelis are already at UC Berkeley, both as students and visiting faculty, and the new institute will provide an academic umbrella for them all. The two separate institute programs have already launched working groups for their graduate students in order to encourage and support their scholarship.

In the two months since the institute was opened, it has organized two meetings of a monthly colloquium. Arieh Saposnik of UCLA spoke about his research on Israel studies in U.S. universities; Dana Blander of Tufts presented on the possible uses of the referendum in Israel to decide political issues. It also brought Suzanne Stone from Cardozo Law School of Yeshiva University to deliver the 2011 Robbins Collection Lecture in Jewish Law.

The institute has hired an executive director who will also lecture at the law school, and is in the process of organizing a multi-disciplinary conference about how the social, business and legal atmosphere in Israel helped to foster the growth of its high-tech sector. The conference is slated to take place in Spring 2012.

For the past two years, Bamberger and Rabbi David Kasher, senior educator at Hillel, have co-taught a course on Jewish law at Berkeley Law. The course is open to law students and undergraduates enrolled in the legal studies major.

Naftalin-Kelman has heard good reviews. “There are many Jewish students who see this as a Jewish experience for them, even though it’s in a classroom,” he said. Naftalin-Kelman noted that Rabbi Elliot Dorff of American Jewish University has been teaching a similar class in the law school at UCLA for decades.

Naftalin-Kelman estimates that there are between 2,500 and 3,000 Jewish undergraduates enrolled at UC Berkeley, or around 10% of the total student population. Over the course of a year, Hillel probably sees about 1,000 of those students in some capacity. Membership in the Jewish Law Student Association at UC Berkeley varies by the year, but Naftalin estimates that anywhere between 10 and 30 students usually take part.