Dependable steps to defeat BDS


By its own admission, the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeks to use economic and political pressure to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel. Since BDS has not been able to gain traction among serious foreign policy thinkers of any political stripe, it has focused its efforts on organizations that typically do not specialize in international relations. Working closely with the American Jewish Committee and AJC Chairman Dean Schramm, we recently provided pro bono legal assistance to a group of University of California (UC) graduate students who successfully overturned a BDS resolution that was adopted by their local union. In so doing, we relied on a number of arguments that can be applied in other contexts and in the broader struggle against BDS.

In 2014, the union which represents UC graduate student workers—UAW Local 2865—adopted a resolution endorsing BDS and encouraging an academic boycott of Israeli universities.  With our support, a number of courageous UC graduate students appealed this discriminatory resolution to the UAW International President, who ultimately found that BDS violates the UAW’s Constitution by, among other things, promoting “discrimination and vilification” against Jews and Israelis.  This decision was unanimously affirmed by a diverse panel of independent legal scholars, known as the UAW Public Review Board, who fully supported the UAW’s forceful rejection of BDS.

The UAW International’s decision was a major defeat for the BDS movement, which had invested significant time and resources seeking to gain control of UAW Local 2865. While the UC graduate students who successfully appealed the resolution did a masterful job of defending Israel, our decision to go on the offensive and attack BDS also proved effective. For this reason, we would encourage advocates in a similar situation to consider emphasizing the following points:

Focus on the Harm to American Workers. In our case, we were able to explain how BDS would harm other UAW members by targeting companies that employ thousands of unionized workers. While it is all too easy for BDS activists to distort Middle East history, they cannot deny — and indeed readily admit — that BDS seeks to harm major corporations that play an important role in the U.S. economy. In the end, it became clear to UAW officials that the debate over BDS was really about balancing the political preferences of a few radical activists against the jobs, health care and pensions of thousands of hardworking men and women.

Shine a Spotlight on Racist Rhetoric. To expose the true face of BDS, we highlighted the remarks of several BDS activists who were involved in the UAW campaign. These individuals advanced classic anti-Semitic stereotypes of Jews, argued that pro-Israel UAW members should be denied the “right to speak,” and even charged that the Zionist movement made covert “deals” with the Nazis to bring “Jewish settlers to Palestine” in exchange for “sacrificing the vast majority of European Jews” during the Holocaust. This rhetoric undermined the credibility of the BDS proponents and damaged their effort to present themselves as peaceful human rights activists.

Explain the Practical Consequences of Endorsing BDS. In our case, we presented evidence of the profound division caused by the debate over BDS and highlighted the significant harassment and discrimination faced by Jewish and Israeli UAW members in connection with the BDS campaign. Among other examples, we offered testimony from a UCLA student who stopped wearing clothing or jewelry that would identify her as Jewish out of a fear of public shaming, and we pointed to the frightening experiences of a UC Berkeley student who left the union after she was verbally harassed and physically intimidated for speaking out against BDS. These examples brought into sharp focus the significant negative consequences of endorsing BDS, especially for any organization that values collaboration, cooperation and goodwill among its membership.

Expose the True Aims of the BDS Movement. To expose the true goals of the BDS movement, we highlighted the opposition of UAW BDS activists to resolutions supporting the two-state solution and “the Jewish right to self-determination,” as well as their claim that “bringing down Israel really will benefit everyone in the world.” This helped UAW officials to recognize that BDS is not about promoting peace but instead seeks Israel’s destruction.

Moving forward, we expect that the UAW’s forceful rejection of BDS — and its clear recognition of the discrimination inherent in this movement — will serve as a powerful precedent for other labor unions and national organizations. We also hope this decision will underscore the counterproductive nature of BDS, and make clear that direct negotiations are the only path to the peace and justice that Palestinians and Israelis alike so richly deserve. Until that time comes, however, our community must be prepared to effectively push back against efforts to transform our democracy’s most important institutions into weapons to attack Israel. 

SCOTT EDELMAN is a partner at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, and the Los Angeles regional president of the American Jewish Committee.

JESSE GABRIEL is an attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and chairman of the Community Engagement Strategic Initiative of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Cartoon: Acceptable and unacceptable speech


Letters to the editor: UC’s dilemma, The Shabbos Project traffic jam, RCA and more


First Step: Naming the Problem

Thank you for running the excellent column by professor Judea Pearl (“The UC’s New Dilemma: To Name or Not to Name,” Nov. 6). His comments are perfectly succinct. As a parent of four UC students, current and alumni, we have personally felt the ugly whiplash of Zionophobia. 

My own kids have been silenced by teachers for pointing out factual errors in classroom discussions and have been assaulted and spat upon at anti-Israel rallies. My kids have spent all-nighters speaking at student council meetings on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. I have personally written more than a dozen letters to administrators, teachers and department chairs at UC Santa Cruz and UC Santa Barbara. 

As Pearl states, let’s name names and be explicit about where the First Amendment and discrimination meet.

Thank you for a strong piece.

Anne M. Storm, via email

Rules Are Rules

As an Orthodox Jewish woman, one who is very pro-women and women’s rights, I could not disagree more with the concept of ordaining women as rabbis (“A Time to Stand for Female Spiritual Leadership,” Nov. 6). Female leadership has its rightful place among all streams of Judaism, however, the Orthodox model maintains that women cannot conduct certain religious actions, specifically in regards to men fulfilling their commanded mitzvot. She cannot lead a man in prayer or assist him in the majority of his spiritual work, and therefore cannot fulfill the traditional role of rabbi within Orthodoxy. 

As a therapist — not a rabbi or a rabbi’s wife — I get daily calls with questions about religious matters of all kinds. If a woman wants to lead in the Orthodox movement, then she can and she should. The work is the work by any name. 

The RCA, although by far not free from the influences of power, control and, dare I say, misogyny, has done the right thing. Women do not need the title of rabbi to perform the work of a female community leader and it is presumptuous to assume that all Orthodox women want Orthodox women rabbis. 

No matter what happens, decency, respect and love for our fellow Jew must always be the tone of any discussion, regardless of the outcome. However, it is the responsibility of the established leadership, in this case, the RCA, to guard the gate of Orthodox Torah values. Those who wish for something different can, by all means, create something new under a different umbrella. 

Mia Adler Ozair, Beverly Hills

Project Gridlock

It’s hard “to be sane in an insane world” (as Rabbi Shlomo Yisraeli’s class was titled) when a Shabbat observance shuts down a major east-west thoroughfare — at rush hour on a Friday — with no advance publicity or advisory signage (“The Shabbat Heard ’Round the World,” Oct. 30). Affected businesses likewise were not notified and were forced to close early. From a public relations and traffic perspective, The Shabbos Project was a disaster. 

What was inspiring for Rabbi Yonah Bookstein was infuriating to thousands of commuters who didn’t know their already-rough commute was going to be made much worse by the closing of a critical section of Pico Boulevard during a peak traffic period. Traffic was a nightmare, with many drivers frantically turning north and south through residential neighborhoods to escape the gridlock. 

I hope the Jewish Unity Network can find a more appropriate location (e.g., a private venue or a public park) for its event next year, so Jews and non-Jews alike can get home — some of us for our own Shabbat dinners — without needless disruption and aggravation.

Susan Gans, president, Roxbury-Beverwil Homeowners Alliance

20/20 Hindsight? Continued

How could Rob Eshman yearn for Bill Clinton (“Bring Bill Clinton Back to the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Table,” Oct. 30)?  Is he not aware that the Clinton foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the leaders of Qatar, the premier sponsor of Hamas terrorism? While Bill and Hillary are cashing those checks and adding to their $150 million influence-peddling treasure trove, Israelis have died from different checks written by Qatar’s leaders.

Shame on him for being so gullible and backing the Clintons, who put our country up for sale.

Jason Goodman, via email

corrections

A Business and Finance story about the ride service HopSkipDrive (“Kids Catch a Ride With HopSkipDrive,” Nov. 6) incorrectly identified Smart Capital as one of its investors instead of FirstMark Capital.

A Travel story about Goa, India (“Ready, Set, Goa,” Oct. 30), misspelled the first name of the owner of the Cozy Nook. The owner’s name is Agnelo “Aggy” D’Costa.

UC Regents reject statement of principles of intolerance


After months of anticipation over whether the University of California’s Board of Regents would adopt a formal definition of anti-Semitism in the wake of several anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incidents across its campuses, the UC’s governing arm rejected the “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” drafted and submitted by the office of UC President Janet Napolitano at its Sept. 17 meeting in Irvine.

At the public meeting, regent after regent expressed disappointment with the proposed statement, which was released to the public on Sept. 15 and condemns “intolerance,” “discrimination” and “hatred” but does not directly address the concerns of the pro-Israel Jewish students who had pushed for a statement to clarify UC’s definition of unacceptable intolerance.

There was no vote on the table, but following the discussion, Napolitano and the regents instructed Eddie Island, a regent who is a retired attorney and business executive, to lead an eight-person “working group” composed of regents, chancellors, faculty and students in drafting a new statement that should have “an articulated set of principles,” Napolitano said. There is no timeline for the new proposed statement.

“We all recognize that more work needs to be done,” Napolitano said.

The issue is largely the result of a series of votes over the past two years on UC campuses on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. In November 2014, UCLA’s student government passed a BDS resolution, and student governments at seven of UC’s 10 campuses have passed similar ones. On Jan. 31, the exterior of the house of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi at UC Davis was spray-painted with swastikas. In February, Rachel Beyda, a Jewish pre-law student at UCLA who had been nominated for a student judicial role, was asked at her nomination hearing whether she believed she could serve as an unbiased judge because she is Jewish. The student government initially denied her appointment,but then approved it in a revote.

“The reason this whole subject’s in front of us is for specific issues, and this statement doesn’t deal with them,” Chairman of the Board of Regents Bruce Varner, a partner with Varner & Brandt LLP, said at the Sept. 17 meeting.

Dianne Klein, a spokeswoman for Napolitano, said on Sept. 21 that the president’s office “fully expected and welcomed comments” on the draft statement. “We needed to have something on paper. It was always billed as a discussion item,” Klein said.

Although the rejected statement points to swastikas and discriminatory questioning of a “student’s fitness for a leadership role” as examples of “behaviors that do not reflect the University’s values of inclusion and tolerance,” it doesn’t specifically use the terms “anti-Semitism” or “anti-Zionism,” nor does it call out any of the specific incidents that motivated the Jewish community to call for a clear statement on intolerance. 

“To not recognize why this subject is even being brought up is to do a disservice to those who brought it up in the first place,” said regent Norman Pattiz, the founder of radio giant Westwood One. “The Jewish community has a right to bring up things that concern the Jewish community. I wouldn’t expect the Jewish community to be driving ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I wouldn’t expect the Jewish community to be driving cases of Islamophobia, but I expect those communities would do exactly what the Jewish community’s doing right now in terms of bringing up instances that are germane to them.”

During a public comment section before the regents’ discussion, students and activists presented their cases for and against adopting the proposed statement. Pro-Israel Jewish students argued the statement was insufficient and listed some particularly egregious anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses in the past year, including Beyda’s nomination hearing as well as fliers posted at UC Santa Barbara blaming Jews for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

On the other side, Muslim and Jewish activists from Students for Justice in Palestine and the left-wing Jewish Voice for Peace argued that adopting the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which pro-Israel students and groups want the UC to do, would stifle freedom of speech and academic freedom. “Jewish Voice for Peace commends the University of California Regents for considering today a statement of principles against intolerance that articulate opposition to all forms of bigotry and hatred,” a press release from the group said.

Pro-Israel campus activists, however, counter that they’re simply calling on the UC to identify what behaviors are wrong, not to punish students. “We don’t want a speech code,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin told the Journal. Rossman-Benjamin is a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and a co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative, a pro-Israel campus watchdog. “To say that we can’t identify a macro-aggression against Jewish students when we talk about micro-aggressions? We can’t talk about the macro-aggressions against Jewish students, and we can’t have a definition which tells us when the line is crossed between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students? That’s really hypocritical.”

But free-speech activists argue that new UC statements that expand upon existing anti-discrimination law and the UC’s existing controversial guide to micro-aggressions will ultimately lead to policies that suppress speech. Will Creeley, vice president of legal and public advocacy for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said that even if a statement against intolerance doesn’t explicitly call for disciplinary actions against students for forms of speech, “It’s a first step toward a slippery slope of punishment for speech that institutions don’t like.”

“There are existing federal anti-discrimination laws that prevent schools from turning a blind eye to discriminatory harassment on the basis of protected class status, including religion and ethnic origin and nationality,” Creeley said. “This [statement] will begin a sort of race to the bottom ‘offendedness sweepstakes’ where groups on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide will accuse each other of violating the principles against intolerance and demand the university take action.”

In May, Napolitano said in an interview with Boston radio station 90.9 WBUR that her “personal view” is that the UC should adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition — which labels demonization and delegitimization of Israel as anti-Semitic — but that it’s ultimately something that the Board of Regents must decide.

Avi Oved, a UCLA undergraduate and the board’s designated student regent, in addressing the other regents at the meeting, said the “process of developing this language was flawed to its core.” He said staffers in Napolitano’s office were unresponsive to his requests for input during the drafting period and ultimately rejected his suggested revisions.

“Student communities need to have the ability to self-define instances of discrimination and intolerance,” Oved said. “We have to address the hateful invective.”

Klein, Napolitano’s spokeswoman, said Oved will be a member of the new working group. Asked when the new draft can be expected, she said, “There’s no timeline. It’s when it’s done, and when it’s right and when they feel they have something they can defend. There’s no sense [in] rushing this.”

Richard Blum, a regent who heads Blum Capital and is the husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said that he and Feinstein had discussed the statement of intolerance prior to the Sept. 17 meeting, and that although Feinstein wants to “stay out of the conversation publicly, [she] is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of not only statement, but penalties” for certain discriminatory actions.

“Students that do the things that have been cited here today probably ought to have either a dismissal or a suspension from school,” Blum said. When reached for comment, a representative in Feinstein’s office responded, “This is a matter before the University of California,
and Sen. Feinstein has no comment at this time.” 

UC regents reject much-hyped ‘principles against intolerance’


After months of anticipation over whether the University of California’s Board of Regents would adopt a definition of anti-Semitism in the wake of several anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incidents across its campuses, the UC’s governing arm rejected a ” target=”_blank”>whether she could serve as an unbiased judge because she is Jewish.

“The reason this whole subject’s in front of us is for specific issues, and this statement doesn’t deal with them,” said chairman of the board Bruce Varner, a partner with Varner & Brandt LLP, at Thursday’s meeting.

Although the rejected statement points to swastikas and discriminatory questioning of a “student’s fitness for a leadership role” as examples of “behaviors that do not reflect the University’s values of inclusion and tolerance,” it doesn’t specifically use the terms “anti-Semitism,” “anti-Zionism,” or call out any of the specific incidents that motivated the Jewish community’s calls for for a clear statement on intolerance. 

“To not recognize why this subject is even being brought up is to do a disservice to those who brought it up in the first place,” said regent Norman Pattiz, the founder of radio giant Westwood One. “The Jewish community has a right to bring up things that concern the Jewish community. I wouldn’t expect the Jewish community to be driving ‘Black Lives Matter.’ I wouldn’t expect the Jewish community to be driving cases of Islamophobia, but I expect those communities would do exactly what the Jewish community’s doing right now in terms of bringing up instances that are germane to them.”

During a public comment section before the regents’s discussion, students and activists presented their cases for and against adopting the proposed statement. Pro-Israel Jewish students argued that the statement was insufficient and listed some particularly egregious anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses in the past year, such as Beyda’s nomination hearing and also fliers posted at UC Santa Barbara that blamed Jews for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

On the other side, Muslim and Jewish activists from Students for Justice in Palestine and the left-wing Jewish Voice for Peace argued that adopting the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which pro-Israel students and groups want the UC to do, would stifle freedom of speech and academic freedom. “Jewish Voice for Peace commends the University of California Regents for considering today a statement of principles against intolerance that articulate opposition to all forms of bigotry and hatred,” read a press release from the group.

“We don’t want a speech code,” Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, told the Journal. Rossman-Benjamin’s a UC Santa Cruz lecturer and a co-founder of the AMCHA Initiative, a pro-Israel campus watchdog. “To say that we can’t identify a macro-aggression against Jewish students when we talk about micro-aggressions? We can’t talk about the macro-aggressions against Jewish students and we can’t have a definition which tells us when the line is crossed between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish students? That’s really hypocritical.”

In May, Napolitano said in a radio interview with 90.9 WBUR in Boston that her “personal view” is that the UC should adopt the United States State Department’s definition—which labels demonization and delegitimization of Israel as anti-Semitic—but that it’s ultimately something that the Board of Regents must decide.

Avi Oved, a UCLA undergraduate and the board’s designated student regent, addressed the other regents at the meeting, and said that the “process of developing this language was flawed to its core.” He said staffers in Napolitano’s office were unresponsive to his requests for input during the drafting period, and ultimately rejected his suggested revisions.

“Student communities need to have the ability to self-define instances of discrimination and intolerance,” Oved said. “We have to address the hateful invective.”

Richard Blum, a regent who heads Blum Capital and is the husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein, said that he and Feinstein had discussed the statement of intolerance last weekend, and that although Feinstein wants to “stay out of the conversation publicly, [she] is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of, not only statement, but penalties” for certain discriminatory actions.

“Students that do the things that have been cited here today probably ought to have either a dismissal or a suspension from school,” Blum said.

Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, a UCLA sophomore and the vice president of Bruins for Israel, said she was pleased with the regents’ decision to draft a new statement, but that she’s unhappy with the drafting process on the rejected one.

“It’s extremely disappointing, just really frustrating, that this process, which will undoubtedly shape what it means to be a Jewish student on campus, was undergone without any consultation or any attempt to include the students,” she said. “I don’t think all the regents truly understand the experience of Jewish students on campus.”

***

Correction (Sept. 18, 9 a.m.): A previous draft of this story indicated that Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine endorsed the “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance.” That was incorrect. Although JVP was supportive of certain aspects of the statement, it did not officially endorse it.

Proposed U. of California tolerance statement rapped for lack of focus on anti-Semitism


The University of California Board of Regents will review a new statement of “principles against intolerance,” despite calls from the campus Jewish community that want a more specific focus on anti-Semitism.

The proposed statement of principles that the board is set to discuss at its Sept. 17 meeting at U.C Irvine condemns bias, violence, threats and hate speech based on race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, sex or sexual orientation, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The statement also says that “everyone in the university community has the right to study, teach, conduct research and work free from acts and expressions of intolerance,” and that lectures, scholarship and political expression are protected by “academic freedom or free-speech principles.”

A formal vote on the proposed statement is likely months away and the statement could change before the vote.

The proposed statement does not officially single out or define anti-Semitism. The regents thought it would be better to address intolerance “over a broader spectrum,” U.C. spokesman Steve Montiel told the Times.

Jewish and pro-Israel groups, as well as alumni, have called on U.C. President Janet Napolitano and the Board of Regents to formally adopt the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism in order to properly identify anti-Semitic expression on campus. The definition includes more general ethnic and religious hatred against Jews as well as demonizing Israel, and denying Israel’s right to exist.

Organizations critical of Israel say that such a definition would limit free speech and conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

The California State Assembly in July unanimously approved a resolution calling on University of California campuses to condemn all forms of anti-Semitism.

Recent incidents on U.C. campuses include swastikas drawn on a Jewish fraternity house at Davis and the questioning of a candidate for student judiciary board about her Jewishness and Jewish affiliations at UCLA.

The University of California should stand for free speech


On the surface, the UC system adopting a definition of anti-Semitism seems like a no-brainer. After all, the University should oppose all forms of racism and discrimination, and have meaningful definitions to guide its policies of enforcement. However, the definition of anti-Semitism currently under consideration comes with political strings attached.

The definition under question is commonly called the “State Department definition” and is based off of a discredited European Union definition. Those who are advocating for its use at the UC level point out that as a government definition, it should have bearing on one of the United States’ largest public university systems. Yet as Kenneth Stern, the author of the aforementioned European Union definition, has stated, this use of the State Department definition “would do more harm than good.” In fact, he argues, “to enshrine such a definition on a college campus is an ill-advised idea that will make matters worse, and not only for Jewish students; it would also damage the university as a whole.”

A coordinated group of pro-Israel advocates, led by the AMCHA initiative, is behind this push for the UC system to adopt the definition. Despite their claims about advocating for Jewish students, these organizations see this definition as a way to stifle speech in support of Palestinian rights across the UC system. This definition includes clauses that define anti-Semitism as “demonizing, delegitimizing, and applying a double standard to Israel” – clauses that are unenforceable, and further, if used by the UC system would unconstitutionally limit political speech of students and faculty, and would dangerously conflate the identities of American Jewish students with the actions of the Israeli government.

As Stern points out, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, director of the AMCHA Initiative, has stated clearly, “that advocacy in favor of Boycotts/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) against Israel would be classified as antisemitic, as would the erection of fake walls imitating Israel’s separation barrier. So if the definition is adopted, presumably administrators would be expected to label such political speech as antisemitic, or face challenges (political and perhaps legal) from AMCHA and its colleagues that they were not doing their jobs.”

The UC system should, rightly, stand up against racism in all of its forms, and work to create a university system that includes all of its students. Defining anti-Semitism in this way is a barrier towards that goal. I am not alone in thinking this; Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, one of the first 10 women rabbis in the US and long-time peace educator, notes that “the proposed definition of anti-Semitism does not reflect the understanding of tens of thousands of Jews who have adopted nonviolent direct action to challenge Israeli militarism.” Rabbi Gottleib further points out, “the emphasis [on the State of Israel] in this proposal will have a chilling impact on the work of justice. Noncooperation with militarism is not anti-semitic.” As many Jewish Studies scholars point out, critique is a part of the Jewish tradition, and as evidenced by the work of Palestine Legal, to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is to chill political speech and risk violating constitutional principles.

While I applaud Stern’s strong stance for free speech and academic freedom, I do take issue with several points in his articulation of anti-Semitism. For example, he states that “if a diplomat says that Israel – a member state of the United Nations – should not exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, it is appropriate for the Department to State to label that antisemitism.” I am curious about that phrase, “the nation state of the Jewish people.” Many citizens of Israel, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, have strong critiques of the ways Jewish religious law is applied in Israel, not to mention the 20-25% of Israeli citizens who are not Jewish, and are treated as second class citizens by the Jewish state. Is advocating for secular democracy then anti-Semitic? That question seems to be a rich one for discussion in a college classroom, or within a student organization. This definition would limit that possibility, and as a result, limit the possibilities of the university itself.

Instead of accepting this dangerous and unenforceable definition, the University of California should take a strong stance on academic freedom and free speech, and in particular, for a healthy and robust discussion of Israel and Palestine. Invite speakers from across the political spectrum, including those who advocate for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. Support faculty who teach on and research Israel and Palestine. Protect students’ constitutional right to protest, which includes creative, performance-based, or other non-violent, if confrontational, methods designed to raise awareness.

The status quo in Palestine and Israel is unsustainable. Only by encouraging the full range of discussion on the subject will progress be made towards ensuring safety and freedom for all people in the region. The UC system has a chance to make that progress possible by rejecting this definition.

Tallie Ben Daniel received her BA at UC Santa Cruz and her PhD at UC Davis. She is currently the Academic Advisory Council Coordinator at Jewish Voice for Peace.

Should a major university system have a particular definition of anti-Semitism?


That’s what is being asked of the University of California’s Board of Regents. Two dozen groups, lead by the “AMCHA Initiative,” want the regents to adopt the definition used by the U.S Department of State. UC’s president, Janet Napolitano, has endorsed the idea.

Clearly there have been incidents of antisemitism on some California campuses. Some of these have been jarring, such as a Jewish candidate for student government being questioned about whether, as a Jew, she could be unbiased (imagine this question being asked about a candidate who is gay, or a woman, or of color).

But official adoption of the State Department’s definition would do more harm than good. I say this sadly, as the lead author of the somewhat more detailed European Monitoring Centre’s (EUMC) “working definition on antisemitism,” upon which the State Department definition is based, and as a strong advocate of State’s use of the definition in its global work.

The EUMC definition was crafted as a tool for data collectors in European countries to identify what to include and exclude from their reports about antisemitism, and to have a common frame of reference so that data might be compared across borders. It was used by Special Envoy Gregg Richman in the Department’s 2008 Global Antisemitism Report, and then Special Envoy Hannah Rosenthal instituted a training program on the definition, so that U.S diplomats could better raise the issue with their counterparts. While the EUMC’s successor organization has not been using the definition for a variety of political and other reasons, members of parliaments around the world concerned with antisemitism have urged its adoption, beginning with a 2009 declaration in London. 

No definition of something as complex as antisemitism can be perfect, but this one, ten years after its creation, remains a very good one. It is certainly a useful tool for college campuses, if used appropriately. It can, for example, be a starting point for needed discussions about antisemitism and how we define it (and how we might define other forms of hatred and bigotry too). Reference to it would certainly help students understand events, both across the world and locally.

But to enshrine such a definition on a college campus is an ill-advised idea that will make matters worse, and not only for Jewish students; it would also damage the university as a whole.

Those who want the university system to adopt the definition say it isn’t a speech code (presumably because they recognize that speech codes are likely unconstitutional and anathema to the ideals of academic freedom). But that is precisely what they are seeking. You don’t need a university endorsement of a particular definition in order to increase careful thought about difficult issues, such as when antisemitism is present in debates about Israel and Palestine. AMCHA’s leader, Tammi Rossman-Benjamin rather wants a rule of what is hateful to say and what is not. She has said that advocacy in favor of Boycotts/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) against Israel would be classified as antisemitic, as would the erection of fake walls imitating Israel’s separation barrier. So if the definition is adopted, presumably administrators would be expected to label such political speech as antisemitic, or face challenges (political and perhaps legal) from AMCHA and its colleagues that they were not doing their jobs.

Some legislative history is important here. BDS was already appearing when the EUMC definition was written. In 2002 there had been proposals on some U.S. campuses (all of which failed) to get universities to divest from Israel. In 2004 Palestinian groups issued a call for a cultural and academic boycott of Israel. I asked my fellow experts whether the definition we were drafting should mention such activities (and more broadly, the unfair attempt to paint Israel as the successor to Apartheid-era South Africa), and to the best of my recollection, no one thought that appropriate, in part because of the complexities and nuances involved with such political speech. (Holding all Jews responsible for the actions of Israel is clearly antisemitism – advocating a boycott of Golan wines is clearly of a different character.)

There is no doubt that many of the proponents of BDS have an antisemitic agenda: they want to deny Jews the right of self-determination in a land of their own, the same right they champion for Palestinians. In essence, they want to undo events of 1948, not just those of 1967.

But that does not translate into a blanket assertion that all support for BDS is antisemitic. Many committed Zionists, deeply troubled by the implications of nearly 50 years of occupation on Palestinians and Israelis alike and sickened by the racist rhetoric of some leading Israeli politicians, support aspects of BDS, such as labeling West Bank-linked goods or divesting from companies whose products are used in the occupation. Whether one agrees with their view or not, why cheapen the word “antisemitism,” let alone distort it, by applying it to such advocates, particularly on a college campus?

If a diplomat says that Israel – a member state of the United Nations – should not exist as the nation state of the Jewish people, it is appropriate for the Department to State to label that antisemitism. But on a college campus, do we really want a student (imagine yourself as a Palestinian student) to fear that anti-Zionism on their part (even if they are quoting Martin Buber and Hannah Arendt to make their case) will violate an administratively-imposed definition of what is ok to be said?

Of course it is important that members of the campus community, including its leadership, speak up when there are hate crimes (such as the rare but occasional swastika daubing). They should speak out if they sense a threat to academic freedom, such as if intimidation and harassment occur. And more schools should conduct surveys of their students to see if intergroup tensions and bigotry are experienced, and if they are, then institute educational, training, and other programs as appropriate. But administrators should not act as quality control officers on campus debate. Further, if a university adopts an official definition of antisemitism, how long would it be until other groups demand an official definition of Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian animus, homophobia and so forth, with the built-in expectation that speech transgressing such definitions requires an administrative response too? Consider what speech might run afoul of an official definition of “anti-Palestinian.” Perhaps when a student says that he does not believe Palestinians have a right to a country of their own, and that the West Bank instead should be part of a Greater Israel?

The rhetoric that troubles Ms. Rossman-Benjamin is not the problem, but rather a symptom of the problem. The problem is that debate has become binary, black and white – what Ms. Rossman-Benjamin would define as antisemtism some pro-Palestinian advocates say is simply seeking justice and opposing racism.

Would the labeling of one side of this debate as hateful do anything other than increase this paradigm? And then what happens? Jews are increasingly portrayed as not able to defend Israel, thus they have to try and suppress speech they don’t like – here speech supposedly advocating for stateless Palestinians. Historically, antisemitism thrives in environments in which Jews are painted as dangers to sacred values. One can argue that antisemites will describe Jews this way regardless, and twist history like a pretzel in the process, but that does not change the fact that the adoption of such a definition would be a self-inflicted wound. On a campus, proposals that are seen as diminishing academic freedom become rallying points, even for people who are not invested in the issue at hand. Solutions that incorporate and extol academic freedom are more likely to succeed.

Part of the challenge is also that some Jewish parents don’t want their children to see BDS proponents or mock walls, because this will make their children uncomfortable. I get it. I am made uncomfortable by such political speech too. But why are these parents paying hundreds of thousands of dollars of tuition in if not to shake their children’s thinking? Don’t they want their kids to work past their discomfort, to understand better why some of their classmates see Israel as inherently wrong? Don’t they want their children to be able to say and hear controversial things? Isn’t facing this challenge head on, using critical thinking skills, a precondition to engaging and countering such difficult and unsettling assertions on campus and in their adult lives?

This next academic year will likely see additional student-driven BDS resolutions (the catalysts are last summer’s war in Gaza, the troubling statements made during the Israeli election, and the success of a small number of student votes in favor of divestment [although not a single university has divested]). Will it really help Jewish students if what comes out of a classmates’ mouth is labeled antisemitic by administrators, or isn’t so labeled, and AMCHA and its colleagues from outside the campus make demands and threaten lawsuits? In either case other students and faculty will come to that student’s or administrator’s aid, make him or her a celebrity, and have a battle royal which not only cements previously held perceptions on both sides, but also labels Jews as bullies. For what? Circulating a petition to boycott a West Bank product?

Wouldn’t it be better for Jewish students worried about BDS and the campus as a whole if universities instead focused on what they might do to increase serious thinking and debate, rather than chill speech through adoption of official definitions? Shouldn’t they be creating more courses and programs helping students understand what this debate is about? Why are there so few (really only a handful) full-semester interdisciplinary courses on antisemitism? And why are there so few courses helping students understand what happens (on a neurobiological, social psychological level, etc.) when senses of identity get wrapped around an issue of justice (whether Israel/Palestine, Ferguson, abortion, immigration, etc.), and why too often empathy, nuance, and the ability to acknowledge one’s opinions might be wrong seem in short supply?

The Regents would be better advised to think of ways to increase the teaching and scholarship about antisemitism and hatred in general rather than adopt a definition that was never intended to regulate speech on a college campus. It takes only a small number of students on a campus to start a BDS petition. It should only take a small number of students who have a deeper understanding of the difficult issues in play to help guide more intelligent and meaningful campus discussion and debate.

Kenneth S. Stern is the executive director of the Justus & Karin Rosenberg Foundation – http://www.jkrfoundation.org

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.

Univ. of California alumni call for steps to curb campus anti-Semitism


More than 500 alumni of the University of California called on the system’s president and Board of Regents to address the “rising tide of anti-Jewish bigotry at the UC.”

The alumni wrote in the open letter published Wednesday in the Daily Bruin, the student newspaper of the University of California, Los Angeles, that they are “deeply concerned about the safety of Jewish students at our alma mater.”

The 521 signers said they “heartily commend” the student senates of three U.C. schools — Berkeley, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara — for “responding to the alarming escalation of anti-Semitic activity on UC campuses by unanimously passing resolutions which condemn anti-Semitism.” They also praised the U.C.’s president, Janet Napolitano, for her own statement condemning anti-Semitism.

The alumni called on Napolitano and the Board of Regents to formally adopt the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism in order to properly identify anti-Semitic expression on campus; to train campus staff to identify and address campus anti-Semitism; and to develop initiatives to educate the campus community about anti-Semitism.

The letter echoed a similar open letter released on Tuesday by a coalition of 23 student and community organizations.

Recent incidents on U.C. campuses include swastikas drawn on a Jewish fraternity house at Davis and the inappropriate questioning of a candidate for student judiciary board about her Jewishness and Jewish affiliations at UCLA.

Studying abroad in Israel: Safe and life-changing


When Ariel Brotman studied abroad in Israel two years ago, her most memorable lessons didn’t take place in the classroom.  

Brotman, who graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara, this spring, attended Hebrew University of Jerusalem from September 2012 to January 2013. During that time, she befriended locals, improved her knowledge of Hebrew and developed a fascination with Israeli politics, ultimately adding Middle Eastern Studies as a second major. 

But Brotman’s time in the country also coincided with Operation Pillar of Defense and warnings of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. During the first siren warning, she said, Israelis told her there was no time to run to a shelter, and she ended up hiding in a stairwell. The second time, she was in a library, having just left a class called “Trauma and Resilience.”

“It was ironic that just as I’d gotten out of that class, the siren goes off,” she said. 

The experience was traumatizing, she said, but ultimately helped solidify her commitment to Israel. An aspiring lawyer, Brotman hopes to pursue a law career that in some way relates to Israel.

“Being abroad just made me want to send a pro-Israel message,” she said. 

Brotman is one of several students at California universities to travel to Israel in recent years. Following a U.S. Department of State warning in 2002, the year of the Second Intifada, the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems put their Israel study abroad programs on hiatus. UC reinstated its program in 2009, and CSU followed suit in 2012. 

CSU’s program places students for an entire school year at the University of Haifa International School, which offers courses in subjects from history to economics. Students are required to take an intensive language course in Hebrew or Arabic and continue foreign language studies throughout the year.

Mike Uhlenkamp, CSU’s director of public affairs, said four students will study in Israel this fall, starting Aug. 31. There haven’t been any enrollment changes in response to the recent Gaza war, he said, adding that the Israel programs have historically been very small compared to programs in other countries. 

Uhlenkamp said student safety is always a priority for the administration. CSU officials work closely with local law enforcement in Israel to make sure students are never in danger.  

He described studying abroad as an opportunity for students to participate in all aspects of Israeli life and immerse themselves in the local culture. 

“It’s not something you can really replicate,” Uhlenkamp said.  

The UC system’s study abroad program in Israel has been in place since 1962, said Briana Sapp, deputy to the associate vice provost and executive director of the UC Education Abroad Program. 

The partnership with Hebrew University began in 1968, and under the leadership of the UC system’s former president, Mark Yudof, the program was expanded to include a partnership with Ben-Gurion University last year. The Ben-Gurion option was added, in part, to try to encourage more students to join the Israel program, but Sapp said the change didn’t really make a difference. The UC system is also currently exploring the possibility of sending engineering students to Technion, the Haifa-based Israel Institute of Technology.

About 10 to 20 students sign up for the Israel program each year, Sapp said. She attributes the relatively small numbers of participants to the fact that students generally want to study in places like Europe. She said this year’s Israel program enrollment has not changed in response to the Gaza war.

“I think people go for lots of different reasons — personal, cultural, historical,” she said. 

The UC system provides comprehensive insurance through ACE USA that covers travel, health and other expenses, Sapp said, and communicates any warnings from the State Department or insurance company to students. 

For Brotman, studying abroad in Israel was a defining period in her life, and she says she would “100 percent” repeat the experience.  

“Studying abroad really changed me so much, affected me so much,” she said. “You really feel a part of it.”

What she remembers most about Israel is the hospitality its citizens showed to her. She describes Israel as a place where you can walk up to a stranger at the bus stop and ask for directions, and that person will take the time to help you reach your destination. 

“People you barely meet want you to stay at their house and have Shabbat with their family,” she said.

Don’t dismiss California system’s fights over Israel divestment


Experts disagree about who first observed, “academic politics is so vicious because the stakes are so low,” but when it comes to the ongoing student debates about divestment in companies doing business with Israel, the sentence is only half true. The conflicts have been remarkably emotional and acrimonious, but the stakes are so high that I recently wrote University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano urging her to become personally involved.

As the nation’s former Homeland Security Secretary, President Napolitano should recognize that it would be a grave mistake to dismiss recent divestment votes on five of the 10 UC campuses as just symbolic expressions of misplaced youthful idealism.

Organizers of the so-called “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement, or “BDS,” ostensibly seek the economic isolation of Israel through divestment of university assets in companies doing business with Israel, boycotts of Israeli companies and universities, and sanctions against trading with Israel. Their stated aims are an end to what they call the Israeli “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, along with recognition of the right of return of all 5 million “Palestinian refugees” to Israel.

While relatively few are aware of the issue, divestment advocates have been at work on the UC campuses for several years, with an important and insidious motive: to poison the minds of the next generation of American decision-makers against America’s only reliable ally in the Middle East. In this, we cannot permit them to succeed.

Vicious politics? You bet. One former UC San Diego (UCSD) student government president has written that she watched the perennial UCSD disputes over divestment unfold “like annual disasters.” Last year’s vote by the governing body of the UCSD Associated Students had to be conducted by secret ballot due to concerns about the safety and security of the elected student representatives.

Nationwide, debates on various student divestment resolutions have been notable for their frequent use of virulent epithets like “Kike” and “dirty Jew.” At least one student has reported receiving death threats.

A university is a place where all ideas — even bad ones — should be freely and passionately discussed. It is in academia that we first learn how to analyze competing ideologies and to discern fact from fiction.

This isn’t harmless student debate, however, but rather a highly organized, well-funded, global campaign of propaganda and disinformation. The Facebook page of one pro-Palestinian BDS organization, the “official” page of the BDS National Committee, has over 27,000 “likes” worldwide and its Twitter feed has nearly 20,000 followers.

On campuses across the United States, BDS advocates routinely employ ludicrous hyperbole that begins with comparisons to South African apartheid and takes off from there. Israel, students are told, is a rogue nation like Iran and North Korea, guilty of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinian people and an “illegal occupation” of Palestinian territory.

It is a non-stop barrage of shrill, anti-Israeli bombast that frequently crosses the line into anti-Semitism — and it is long past time for mature, responsible and knowledgeable voices to set the record straight. 

In my letter to Napolitano I cited the long history of the UC system in fostering academic partnerships and international programs in building better understanding of Israeli history and culture. I urged her to become personally engaged in the discussion, and to expand UC programs that enable students to see the marvels of this unique nation, and the contrast between Israel’s freedom and the stultifying atmosphere of its neighbors.

It is critical for Israel’s defenders to be heard, whether we are students, faculty, alumni, donors or simply concerned members of the community. Considering all that is at stake in the perceptions and opinions of an emerging new generation, we cannot leave it to the students alone to make our case.     

Not only must we correct the false premises at the core of the BDS movement, we must expose its real motive, which is the isolation — and ultimate destruction — of the Israeli state.  

We must be as relentless as our adversaries, who are like pit bull puppies attached to a pants leg — they are just as tenacious, but their teeth are much sharper.


 DR. HERB LONDON is President of the London Center for Public Policy Research and is co-author, with Jed Babbin, of “The BDS War Against Israel: The Orwellian Campaign to Destroy Israel through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.”

Avi Oved: A new Jewish student leader


Abraham “Avi” Oved, a Jewish student at UCLA, ” target=”_blank”>a time of heated debate over Israel-Palestine issues on UC campuses.

Oved is 21, a third-year economics student and an Encino native. He’s active in student government, as well as groups such as UCLA Jewish Student Union, Bruins for Israel and Hillel at UCLA. He’s also the campus relations chair of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.

If voted in, Oved will serve a two-year term. For the first year, he would be the student regent-designate, while Sadia Saifuddin, 22, a Muslim graduate of UC Berkeley, would be the voting student regent. 

Saifuddin attracted media attention when she was appointed a year ago to the Board of Regents because she had co-sponsored a bill that urged the board to divest from three companies that do business with Israel’s military. 

Oved’s parents immigrated to the United States from Israel, and he said he does not support the aims of divestment from Israel. But, he said, he and his new colleague can overcome those differences. 

“We’ve acknowledged the fact that we have different opinions on these types of geopolitical issues,” Oved told the Journal. “I think it’s a beautiful statement on behalf of the UC to have a Jewish student and a Muslim student work together, regardless of political or cultural differences, in bettering higher education.”

Saifuddin, for her part, still supports divestment efforts. But she said in an interview she looks forward to working with Oved on issues such as raising awareness of sexual assault on campus, food insecurity and mental illness among students, and the rising cost of tuition.

“For us, it’s really not about our faith, or our political ideas when it comes to international affairs,” Saifuddin said. “We’re joining forces because we see ourselves as agents for change to students whose lives we are directly impacting.”

Oved has short, wavy brown hair and a 5 o’clock shadow. He smiles easily and laughs often, and acknowledges without hesitation that he’s “super excited” to work with the other UC regents.

Oved attended fourth through 12th grades at Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies, a magnet public school in the San Fernando Valley. He was raised in a single-parent home by his mother Lillian, a real-estate agent, along with two older sisters.

Oved is one of 38 students from nine UC campuses who applied for the student regent position. He said his decision was an impulsive one. “I applied on a whim, the day the application was due,” he said, laughing.

Now that he’s made the cut, he said, he has three major goals for his tenure on the Board of Regents. He’d like to increase the student representation on the board. There are currently 26 board members, with just one voting student regent and a student regent-designate who attends meetings but cannot vote. He’d like to see one graduate and one undergraduate student regent, each with voting rights and their own accompanying student regent-designate. 

Such a change has been under discussion for years, and has received support from UC President Janet Napolitano and former UC President Mark Yudof. But it would require a constitutional amendment be placed on the 2016 state ballot, and that would require a massive mobilization of students, Oved said, similar to the one that helped pass Proposition 30 in 2012, a tax increase intended to avoid $6 billion in cuts to California schools.

“I think this is a perfect opportunity to engage students who aren’t typically engaged with the student regents themselves, and hopefully this will tackle the apathy that we’re experiencing on individual college campuses,” Oved said.

Oved’s second goal as student regent would be to raise awareness of sexual assault on college campuses. The federal government announced it is currently investigating 55 colleges and universities nationwide, including UC Berkeley and three others in California, over how those schools have handled sexual violence and harassment complaints. 

Oved, in his role as internal vice president at UCLA’s Undergraduate Students Association Council, worked to raise funds to create a mobile panic button application. The local version of the “Circle of 6” app would let users quickly call and text UCLA’s emergency contacts.

“A safety app may be the answer at UCLA, but it may not necessarily be the answer for Berkeley. So it’s really important for me to work with the different student leaders and administrative heads, to see what we need to do to heighten safety resources and make it more relevant and useful for students,” Oved said. “It all goes back to retention. If there are students that don’t feel safe on their campus, how are they going to have an effective education?”

Oved’s third goal is to revisit the California Master Plan for Higher Education, developed by the regents in 1960 to define the roles of the state’s three-tiered UC, California State University and community college systems, and to remove barriers to entry for lower-income students.

The plan has gone through several revisions, and Oved said California has witnessed enough changes that it’s time for another overhaul. “The diversification of the student population, online education, better technology, that’s restructuring the entire education system. The lack of state support … is probably the biggest issue the UC is facing,” Oved said.

Saifuddin said she supports Oved’s ambitions and is excited to work with him on those goals. But she cautioned that being a student regent can be a full-time job.

“I think the biggest thing to be a designate is to be open to learn, and to learn with humility, because it’s a really steep learning curve,” she said. “We all come from all these different experiences in our lives, but there’s nothing that can prepare you to be a representative of over 200,000 students in California.”

Oved said he’s received the same advice from previous student regents: Spend time with your family and friends now, because a month from now, free time will be a thing of the past.

“That’s really frightening,” he said. “But I’m so excited.”

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.

Israeli flag vandalized at California university


An Israeli flag belonging to a Jewish student group was defaced with the word “terrorists” at the University of California, Riverside.

The word was scrawled in pencil near the center of the flag, which was displayed on a hallway bulletin board outside the campus Hillel office, the Los Angeles Times reported. Campus police are investigating the vandalism, which was discovered Tuesday.

“The defacement of any nation’s flag with pejorative characterizations of its people is an insult to every nation and its people,” the university’s chancellor, Timothy White, said in a statement. “Such behavior diminishes us all, and we have zero tolerance for it.”

The vandalism follows a campus appearance on March 1 by two Israeli soldiers that drew pro-Palestinian protesters. According to Riverside’s Press-Enterprise, protesters walked out of the event and interrupted the question-and-answer session. The soldiers had come to discuss their army experience.

The campus Hillel director, Adina Hemley, told The Press-Enterprise that it was “a bit of a strange coincidence” that the defacement was discovered days after the event.

Hadil Bashir, the president of the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, condemned the vandalism.

“I think the first thing that came to people’s minds was it’s SJP, due to the friction between Hillel,” she told The Press-Enterprise. “I just want to make it clear, we condemn the act, and we hope the perpetrators are found and are given their deserved punishment.”

Opinion: The truth about UC Campuses


Feb. 3 was a historic day for the University of California and its Hillels. On that day, UC President Mark Yudof met with all of the UC Hillel directors in his office in Oakland to discuss our observations regarding how Israel is faring on campus, how the Jewish community perceives the university’s actions and inactions, and, most important, how Jewish students are feeling about the situation. It was a momentous meeting — not only because it was the first time that such a gathering took place, but because it signaled the full integration of Jews and of Jewish interests into the administrative agenda of a major American university system and also because on that occasion, the chief executive officer of one of the nation’s largest universities chose to publicly state that as the university president, “I am concerned and do care about the well being of Jewish students on campus.” This is a milestone in the American Jewish experience and, to a great extent, IT is a measure of the character and integrity of Mark Yudof. A student of Maimonides and a constitutional lawyer, Yudof headed the University of Texas system before assuming his present position. As an activist in academic life, he led two groups of university presidents on organized trips to Israel on behalf of Operation Interchange sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. One of his first acts as president of UC was to reinstate the university’s EAP (Education Abroad Program) at the Hebrew University, after years of suspension.

During our meeting, President Yudof expressed his support for the Jewish community and for Israel, and he spoke enthusiastically of his desire to see the establishment of Israel Studies programs at all the UCs, in addition to the remarkably successful initiatives at UC Berkeley and UCLA. It was clear to the group that President Yudof was in touch with all the goings-on (controversial speakers, problematic professors, incidents of purported anti-Semitism), that the reports of the individual Campus Climate Committees and the UC Jewish communal liaison kept him alert to the Jewish student sensibilities, and that he had an abiding interest in hearing what we, the campus Jewish professionals, working with thousands of Jewish students every day, had to say. He also articulated a complex position regarding free speech that was strongly affirmative while noting that “bad” free speech ought to be condemned and countered with “good” speech. The worst possible reaction to “bad” speech is censorship. President Yudof indicated that he, himself, had suffered an anti-Semitic verbal attack from a student protester at a recent UC Regents meeting. He gets it!

Indeed, there are intergroup tensions, anti-Israel events, and the Middle East conflict does impinge on campus life. However, for the most part, as we reported to President Yudof, our students appear to be in control. More of them are becoming involved in campus politics and are influencing the nature of the debate. Some students, with the assistance of university administrators, are rebuilding coalitions with minority groups. And the university, with the president’s energetic backing, is actively promoting a travel/study program to Washington, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan that nurtures coexistence between Jewish and Arab students. In doing so, the University of California is engaged in a pioneering, creative endeavor that could effectively transform the campus and inspire a new generation of public peacemakers who are schooled in conflict resolution and who have benefited from an intense and intimate intergroup experience.

We left our meeting buoyed by President Yudof’s constructive engagement and by his commitment to continue the conversation. In fact, one idea that he embraced involved reaching out to Hillel International with a proposal, that together they convene a consultation involving other university presidents so as to hear how they see the situation on their campuses and to develop a national perspective that reflects the reality on the ground.

As to communal fears that the well-being of Jewish students is threatened on campus and that, confronted with an orgy of hate, young Jews have felt a compulsion to hide their Jewishness and cover up any outer symbols of identification, we are pleased to report that nothing could be further from the truth. A survey of Jewish students at politically vibrant UC Berkeley indicates that the overwhelming majority is enjoying the campus experience and feeling safe, welcome and accepted at UC. The remaining agenda for those in influential administrative positions is to determine how to cope with the inevitable, periodic campus confrontations that constitute negative blips on the screen. With President Mark Yudof heading up our team, we are confident that wisdom, constructive engagement and sober advocacy on behalf of Jewish concerns will carry the day.

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.

Pro-Israel Voices Get Their Turn at UC Irvine


The main student thoroughfare at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), was transformed into a Middle Eastern street festival last week as hundreds of students from diverse backgrounds gathered for iFest, a celebration of Israel organized by Anteaters for Israel, the campus’ pro-Israel student group, and other Jewish student organizations. 

The weeklong program showcased Israeli culture while highlighting the country’s contributions to the world. Live music, belly dancing, a free hookah lounge and a Moroccan tent offering free henna tattoos punctuated the lunch hour each day, while local Jewish vendors sold Israeli art, jewelry and other wares in a mock Ben Yehuda Street reminiscent of the famous Jerusalem shopping bazaar. An estimated 600 students turned out for the first day’s activities, which included a free barbecue. Evening events included Israeli nightclub-themed parties. The week culminated in a Shabbat dinner at the student center that brought local dignitaries to campus. 

Now in its third year, iFest traditionally occurs shortly after Israeli Apartheid Week, the annual program sponsored by UCI’s Muslim Student Union that casts Israeli’s policies toward the Palestinians as racist and genocidal. On a campus that has seen its share of provocative, anti-Israel activity, iFest leaves politics aside and sheds a bright light on Israel. Students with little or no knowledge about Israel are taught facts about the Jewish state through exhibits boasting Israel’s achievements in technology, the arts and humanitarian aid, receiving prizes when they answer questions correctly.   

“We definitely saw a need to humanize Israel on campus and to bring culture, to show that Israel is not a war zone,” said Jackie Hartfield, a third-year student who coordinated iFest’s marketing initiatives. “It was a reaction [to Israeli Apartheid Week] but not a direct reaction. It was more a reaction to campus in general.”

Hartfield said she was amazed at how little some students know about Israel.

“I heard one student say, ‘I didn’t know Israel was a democracy,’ ” she said. “The students have been learning a lot. It’s been great.”

This year’s event was marked for the first time by a community day on May 26 that brought hundreds of Jews from Orange County, Long Beach and Los Angeles to campus. The widespread desire to support UCI’s Jewish students, particularly among those previously uninvolved with campus life, was sparked in large part by the repeated heckling of Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, by anti-Israel protesters during his Feb. 8 speech at the Student Center, organizers said. 

“Especially because of what happened with Michael Oren and Israeli Apartheid Week, it was important for us to show the [Jewish] students that they have a strong community to back them up and to show the chancellor that there is a large community that really cares about what happens at UCI,” said Orly Glick, a member of the Women’s Council of Hillel, a grass-roots group that formed in the aftermath of the Oren event for the purpose of supporting UCI’s Jewish students.

UC to reopen study in Israel; Brandeis offers summer prep program


UC to Reopen Study in Israel

Officials at the University of California are talking with their counterparts at Hebrew University of Jerusalem about reopening the UC’s study abroad program there for Fall 2009.

The program was suspended in 2002 after Israel made the U.S. State Department’s travel-warning list. That didn’t stop an unknown number of UC students — the university has no official record — from studying in Israel, but the move required students to officially drop out of the UC campus they attended, possibly forfeiting financial aid, and enroll directly in an Israeli university or a third-party provider for a semester of more. Students were left to work out when they reenrolled at their degree school whether their credits would transfer.

Other universities, from USC to University of North Carolina (UNC), had reinstated their Israel study programs after the Second Intifada ended in 2005. UNC, which like the UC system is a public institution, merely required students to sign a waiver. Leaders in the Jewish community, state legislators, members of the UC Board of Regents and the student bodies at Berkeley, Davis, San Diego and Los Angeles all have pushed the UC Office of the President for a similar exception to its policy prohibiting the education abroad program from operating in countries under a State Department travel warning.

“We are always concerned about the safety and security of our students, no matter where they are studying on traveling — whether it is in a classroom in California or in one of our research labs, or if it’s overseas,” said Chris Harrington, a UC spokesman.

The university has new tools for assessing risk, Harrington said, and officials are confident now that studying in Israel is safe again. This summer, UC Provost Wyatt “Rory” Hume asked an ad hoc committee to determine whether the university could create such an exception. The UC Academic Senate Committee on International Education voted last month to approve the academic program for Hebrew University. Officials are now in negotiations to send students as soon as next fall.

“It is in the best interest of our students to once again provide educational opportunities in Israel,” Michael Cowan, the education abroad program’s acting director, said in a statement. “In today’s richly interconnected global economy, a study abroad program at Hebrew University of Jerusalem would provide a unique academic and cultural opportunity for UC students.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

Brandeis University Offers Summer Programs for High Schoolers

Brandeis University is offering high school students a taste of the college life. The university is sponsoring two summer programs: BIMA, designed for students with an interest in the arts; and Genesis, covering a variety of academic subjects. Both programs will take place on the Waltham, Mass. campus July 6-Aug. 6. Genesis will include courses such as “Judaism and Justice,” “Investigating Journalism and Responsibility,” and “World Religions: Encountering Diversity.” BIMA students can take classes in film, theatre, writing and music. Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to meet the first application deadline of Feb. 2, 2009. Applications are available at http://www.brandeis.edu/bima and http://www.brandeis.edu/genesis.

— Lilly Fowler, Contributing Writer

The Basketball Diaries


Two standout Jewish hoop stars headlining the Pac-10 basketball tournament? It’s all part of March Madness. David Bluthenthal, USC’s 22-year-old small forward, and Amit Tamir, UC Berkeley’s 22-year-old forward/center, each look to lead their team to the conference title at the March 7-9 tournament at Staples Center.

Tamir, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound freshman, is thrilled about the tournament, the first held since 1990. "I’m excited to compete in L.A. I’m going to have fun and enjoy my first college tournament," said Tamir, whose team entered the Pac-10 tournament ranked second.

The Jerusalem native earned Pac-10 Player of the Week and ESPN National Player of the Week honors (Feb. 11) for his performance against the University of Oregon. He posted a Cal freshman record 39 points, shooting 14-of-19 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from three-point range and 6-of-8 from the line. Tamir clinched Cal’s first five double-overtime points, leading the Golden Bears to their eventual 107-103 victory. He also snagged five boards.

Tamir recognizes that his exceptional play means more than just a phenomenal night on the court. "I got a lot of attention after Oregon and I know that made Jews, especially Israelis, proud. There’s something nice about being an Israeli ambassador of college ball," Tamir said.

Tamir almost missed his NCAA opportunity. While serving three years in the Israeli army, he earned a spot on the Israeli League’s Hapoel Jerusalem. Tamir said he wasn’t paid by Hapoel, but he did play with a professional on his team. This NCAA amateurism rule violation jeopardized Tamir’s eligibility. But Cal coach Ben Braun successfully fought to reduce Tamir’s potential seasonlong suspension to eight games.

Braun, who is also Jewish, discovered Tamir while coaching a youth team in Israel. The coach and player attended High Holy Day services together at Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland. "It was important to me to celebrate the holidays, and meant a lot to share them with Coach Braun," Tamir said. "It’s great playing under a Jewish coach because there’s so much he can relate to. We share a heritage, traditions and holidays."

Braun is not the only Golden Bear who puts this Israeli import at ease. Berkeley coeds make an extra effort to embrace Tamir.

"Students on campus come up and talk in Hebrew or just let me know they share Judaism with me. It’s made me feel at home," said Tamir, who played for the Israeli National under-18 and under-22 teams and led his 1997 ORT High School team to the Jerusalem city title.

Tamir’s teammates also contributed to his smooth continental transition. "Whenever there’s violence in Israel, the guys on the team want to know if it’s near my home, if my family is OK. It’s really nice, and I feel like I can help them understand what’s going on over there," Tamir said.

Tamir left more than heated conflict behind. His father, Asher, an electrician; his mother, Shula, a homemaker; older sisters, Rozit and Gal, and 11-year-old brother, Daniel, all remain in Jerusalem. "I miss my family and friends. And the food: the hummus, mmm, and, oh, the bourekes. My mom’s cooking especially," said Tamir, who does not keep kosher. "She’s a great cook," added the dutiful son, who claims he was overweight until age 15.

Tamir, who grew up watching televised Israeli League and NBA games with his father, aspires to be the first Israeli to play in the NBA. "It’s always been a dream of mine, and I think it would bring a lot of pride to Israel and the Jewish people," Tamir said.

Bluthenthal has similar NBA dreams. "I’ve wanted the NBA since I was 5, and am excited to have been invited to draft camps. After the season, all my efforts will go toward it. But now, I’m focused on the team and our tournament success," said Bluthenthal, a senior whose Trojans entered this weekend’s tournament ranked third. "We’ve got a great team and a shot at winning the title," added the 6-foot-7, 220-pound Los Angeles native.

The lifelong Lakers fan will enjoy his hometown advantage. "We don’t have to travel, and our L.A. fans will be there to support us," said Bluthenthal, who attended both Venice and Westchester highs.

A talented three-point shooter and aggressive rebounder, Bluthenthal got his career third Pac-10 Conference Player of the Week nod (Feb. 18) for his Arizona series performance. He came off the bench against Arizona State and earned his third double-double of the season, posting 21 points and 10 rebounds. In an upset victory over the Arizona Wildcats, he seized nine rebounds and collected a career high 31 points, making 7-of-12 from three-point range.

After an up-and-down season, the history major credits his success against Arizona, ASU and Stanford (22 points) on his strong mental attitude and work ethic. "I haven’t had the best season, but I stay positive and practice a lot," said Bluthenthal, who hits the gym by 7 a.m. daily and takes 500-700 shots before class. "I love shooting, so practice comes easily to me. And I think it’s paid off," added Bluthenthal, who recently became the 26th USC player to earn 1,000 career points.

Bluthenthal admits it’s difficult to fit Judaism into his current schedule. "I’ve gone to services a few times, but there’s not really time between school and basketball. But I’ve been thinking about going more after the season’s over," he said.

He is, however, a proud Maccabiah Games participant. He played at the 1996 New Jersey games, earned bronze at the 1997 Israeli games and gold at the Pan-American Maccabiah Games in Mexico City. "My Israel trip was an amazing experience. I played with great older players, saw incredible sites and learned about the heritage and history," said Bluthenthal, who withdrew from the 2001 games due to an injury.

This preseason Wooden Award candidate, who holds the Trojan record for most game rebounds (28), has become a Jewish phenomenon. "I receive a lot of attention for being a Jewish basketball player. I was fortunate to be born with my height and a love for the game. If my success — getting to play college ball — inspires other Jewish athletes, then that’s great," Bluthenthal said. "I’m happy to be some sort of role model to young Jewish players," he added, blushing almost as much as he does when asked about a girlfriend.

Raised in Marina del Rey, Bluthenthal wanted to stay in Los Angeles for college, the weather and his family. His father Ralph, a retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Department officer; younger sister, Evelyn, who plays volleyball for Venice High School and the 2001 Maccabiah Team, and two older siblings live in Los Angeles.

Though Bluthenthal’s great-great-great-grandfather, Wilshire Boulevard Temple past president Isaias Hellman, was one of three original USC land donors, Bluthenthal once dreamed of playing for UCLA. "The Bruins have a great basketball tradition. But now I’m glad I went to ‘SC, where we started a new tradition," he said proudly. Last year, USC went to the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time since 1954. Bluthenthal earned East Region All-NCAA Tournament Team honors.

"Because this is my senior year, I want us to win the Pac-10 Tournament and go even further than last year in the NCAA Tournament," Bluthenthal said.

Jewish basketball fans everywhere hope to see both Bluthenthal and Tamir achieve their hoop dreams.

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