First published in The Times of Israel
The University of California (UC) has recently witnessed an alarming escalation in anti-Semitic activity. The many incidents of anti-Semitism last year made repeated national headlines. And school has been back in session a mere handful of weeks and already numerous frightening incidents have been reported, including swastikas and “F*** Jews” carved into multiple cars.
In order to understand the campus climate for UC Jewish students, AMCHA Initiative carried out an on-line survey last month. The results are extremely troubling.
More than 70% of the respondents reported witnessing or experiencing anti-Semitism on campus including anti-Semitic graffiti, heckling, name-calling, threats and physical assaults.
In addition, more than 60% of respondents reported that BDS activity promotes hostile actions towards Jewish students, and more than one-third of the students felt that campus administrators were not sensitive to Jewish concerns.
Most troubling of all were the dozens of comments that students shared describing anti-Semitic incidents that they had experienced or witnessed, including rhetoric and behavior that go far beyond political or scholarly debate. For example:
- A student at UCSC wrote: “One of my friends wearing a yarmulke was walking into the library and had a member of Students for Justice in Palestine wearing a border patrol uniform say Hitler was right.”
- A student at UCI wrote: “I was called a “kike” on campus by Students for Justice in Palestine and my two female friends and I were shoved to the ground and physically assaulted…I am afraid to be on this campus.”
- A student at UCSB wrote: “My friend was out at night and a student from Students for Justice in Palestine called her demeaning names and spat at her.”
Respondents also commented extensively on the hostile environment that BDS has created for Jewish students on their campus. For example:
- A student at UCD wrote: “During BDS I actually avoid Hillel, the quad, and even my sorority because I just really don’t want to have to deal with how unsafe campus feels during that time. Everyone in my entire Jewish sphere is stressed and anxious and I have never experienced that level of discomfort in my community until coming to UC Davis.” She added that she and her friends don’t wear their Greek letters during BDS for fear of being identified as Jewish.
- A student at UCSB wrote: “Whenever BDS [advocates] present the divestment resolution on campus, the entire campus climate changes…My anxiety increases three-fold and I genuinely experience PTSD after the meetings.”
The student testimonials demonstrate unequivocally that many Jewish students are targeted, harassed and intimidated regardless of how they feel about Israel. They also demonstrate the frightening extent to which BDS campaigns are steeped in anti-Semitic themes and lead to anti-Jewish incitement and behavior.
Jewish students have the right to feel safe regardless of what they or others feel about the action of the Israeli government. UC has the obligation to provide this safe environment.
The university recently formed a committee to address the frightening rise in anti-Jewish hatred, much of which is tied directly to contentious anti-Israel campaigns. This is an important development.
The first task of the committee should be to adopt a school-wide definition of anti-Semitism that can be used to properly identify and educate against anti-Semitism. As we all know, the first step to addressing a problem is to name it, to understand it. Our government has a definition it has been using for a decade to identify anti-Semitism around the globe. The US State Department’s definition recognizes that contemporary anti-Semitism has assumed various forms and, as the US Commission on Civil Rights found, is often “camouflaged as anti-Israelism or anti-Zionism.” As Pope Francis declared last month and UC students have been saying for months, denying Israel’s right to exist is no less anti-Semitic than swastikas, anti-Semitic slurs and discrimination based on religion.
It’s time the university stood up for Jewish students and put an end to the hate that has been festering for far too long.