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Academia Addresses Antisemitism: A Spotty Report Card

Given the extent to which UC universities have neglected to uphold the civil and human rights of their Jewish students —specifically their rights to study and live free of harassment, abuse and discrimination — restoring trust is a long-term process.
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November 26, 2023
Students walk near Sather Gate on the University of California at Berkeley campus (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

After years of inaction and indifference, the University of California system, like a growing number of American universities, is finally beginning to recognize its responsibilities for equality and freedom from harassment and discrimination for its Jewish students.

It has also made a commitment to address harassment and discrimination Arab and Muslim students face, with similar institutional mechanisms and resources for support, solidarity and corrective measures asthose being instituted for Jewish and Israeli students.

UC Chancellors recently released a statement saying:  “We write today to condemn the alarming, profoundly disappointing acts of bigotry, intolerance and intimidation we have seen on our campuses over these past several weeks…Antisemitism is antithetical to our values and our campus codes of conduct and is unacceptable under our principles of community. It will not be tolerated…”

President Drake – who leads University of California – should be recognized for exercising moral leadership.

He spoke out immediately after the Hamas massacres to condemn them.

Some UC chancellors have lacked this principled response and have yet to explicitly condemn them. Many others were slow to do so.

The UC system is diverse, complex, massive, highly bureaucratic and often cumbersome. So while the first steps to combat antisemitism —this letter from President Drake and the UC chancellors’ statement — are encouraging signs and include substantive financial resources and programmatic support, they need to be met with a combination of support and vigilance. They require grassroots efforts at each UC campus to make them a reality, build upon them, and ensure they reflect local campus needs and realities which are specific to each UC university, even as they share commonalities.

Given the extent to which UC universities have neglected to uphold the civil and human rights of their Jewish students —specifically their rights to study and live free of harassment, abuse and discrimination — restoring trust is a long-term process.

This newly announced UC effort must not be merely reactive and short-term, but create a proactive, well-resourced, and dependable framework to ensure equality for Jewish students at UC universities. There must be realistic and meaningful benchmarks and goals, full consultation and participation of campus Jewish communities, and accurate and current data based on periodic surveys reflecting the experiences and concerns of Jewish students, staff and faculty across the UC system.

One area particularly in which the UC system needs to mobilize resources and direct energies and programming is the full inclusion of Jews in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion programming, in a way that is representative of the Jewish community and not tokenistic.

Until Jewish students, faculty and staff are integrated into the values and initiatives of DEI, their rights and welfare on UC campuses will continue to be characterized by exclusion and marginalization.

The UC system can also learn from and potentially contribute to the recently announced initiatives of other universities combating antisemitism, including Northwestern, Harvard, Stanford, University of Pennsylvania, New York University and Stanford.

Communication and collaboration across university campuses will enable best practices to emerge and synergies of learning, policy and programming that will benefit Jewish students across the country.

All of these are nascent efforts and will take time to be resourced and successfully implemented. Many will require trial and error and continuous evolution to ensure they are effective and responsive to campus needs and circumstances.

Some of these initiatives to combat antisemitism and advance the rights and welfare of Jewish students are already under attack by faculty and students at Northwestern, Columbia and Harvard, who have released statements that downplay or deny the lived experiences of Jewish people experiencing antisemitism in their respective communities.

There are still many universities and liberal arts colleges nationally – well over 200 – who have yet to present tangible plans of corrective action to address antisemitism directed against Jewish students, faculty and staff.  

There are still many universities and liberal arts colleges nationally – well over 200 – who have yet to present tangible plans of corrective action to address antisemitism directed against Jewish students, faculty and staff.

In California, there’s a need for universities and liberal arts colleges outside the UC system to take responsibility to develop and implement their own plans of action and make them public. The Jewish community awaits.

We must listen to our students and respond to them with care, compassion and ethical attentiveness.

Several weeks ago Jewish students at UC Berkeley wrote, “Students at the University of California, Berkeley feel terrified and isolated following interactions with the campus administration’s refusal to condemn Hamas terrorists for the murder of innocent civilians.”

Eventually the university did issue such a condemnation, but only after having caused harm and distress to Jewish students by leaving them unsupported, vulnerable, and subject to rising and continuous discrimination and abuse.

A Jewish student from Oxford University recently wrote,

“At Oxford University… acts of hatred, misinformation, and a lack of empathy when we are vulnerable have turned student spaces into places of hostility… When I applied to university, I never thought I would have to hide my Jewishness.”

Lily Cohen, a Jewish student at Northwestern, has reflected:

“Jewish students are demonized for having any connection to Israel and believing the Jewish state should exist, even if they also express concern for the plight of Palestinians. Yet, without hesitation, anti-Israel activists justify the murder of innocent Israelis for what they see as valid political ends.”

The indifference to the rights and welfare of Jewish students needs to stop.

As former president of Harvard Larry Summers recently said,

“It is the responsibility of university leaderships—deans, presidents, and outside trustees—while leaving the cut and thrust of politics and policy, to assure that universities are sources of moral clarity on the great questions of their time.

“It is shameful that no honest observer looking at the record of the last few years and especially at the last month can suppose that universities’ responses including Harvard to antisemitism have paralleled in vigor or volume the responses to racism or other forms of prejudice.

For example, with few exceptions, those most directly charged with confronting prejudice—Offices of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion—have failed to stand with Israeli and Jewish students confronting the oldest prejudice of them all.”

California state legislators have made very clear their concerns about systemic discrimination against Jewish students within University of California.

A letter a week ago by the California Legislative Jewish Caucus echoes Summers’ point and states that Jewish students have been “traumatized by a barrage of physical abuse, threats, intimidation, hate speech, online harassment and exclusion from academic opportunities…What is deeply distressing to many in the Jewish community — including members of our Jewish Caucus — is the pervasive feeling that the response by campus officials to the current situation would be markedly different if it involved another historically marginalized group.”

As the UC system joins universities across the country in addressing anti-Jewish discrimination and abuse in a reparative way, it is imperative that the Jewish community advocate programs that are ethically sound andeffective, and which reflect a seriouscommitment of will and resources in partnership with the Jewish community to achieve safe, inclusive and welcoming campus communities.


Noam Schimmel is a Lecturer in International and Area Studies at University of California, Berkeley

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