The Real Threat of Anti-Semitism

By Antaeus Edelsohn

Here at UC Santa Cruz, set in the heart of a redwood forest, the air tinged with the faint aroma of marijuana and a general ‘laissez faire’ attitude, it is hard to imagine anti-Semitism being a current and present threat. That is the dirty little secret though; that is the overshadowed truth. From swastikas scrawled on university buildings to the Star of David joined with images of 9/11, the seeds of hatred and Judeophobia are clear to see.

At the end of the 2010-2011 academic year, members of the UCSC Student Union Assembly (SUA) denounced the formation of the Jewish Studies major and condemned the administration for allowing the major to commence, while the UC system is dropping Community and American Studies due to lack of state funding. This situation caused some SUA members and numerous other students to speak out against what they perceive as a ‘Jewish agenda pushed by Jewish administrators.’ What these detractors fail to realize is that while the state funding to the UC System was just slashed by $500 million in response to the economic recession, the new Jewish Studies major is privately funded by independent donors. And this information isn’t private or hidden, but rather quite accessible on the department website to anybody interested. It seems though some people would rather blame the Jews than find out the facts. Either that, or they don’t care.

For everyone who has heard of UC Santa Cruz and its liberal and progressive views, it should come as no surprise that the university espouses the ideas of social justice, global consciousness and other civic-minded perspectives in the core courses offered to freshmen. With so much dedication to such moral values, it is hard to believe that the university, as well as individual colleges, so generously support programs events and speakers who delegitimize Israel, one of the world’s foremost democratic, free and liberal countries.

Various UCSC colleges and departments have funded and supported speakers like Noam Chomsky, Abdul Malik Ali, Jody McIntyre and Norman Finkelstein, all of whom have publicly supported terrorist groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and the militant wings of the PLO. Seeing this, one cannot help but wonder at what sinister game is really going on. These colleges and departments include but are not limited to: Cowell College, Colleges 9 and 10, the Humanities department, the Politics department, the Sociology department and the Feminist Studies department. When these colleges and departments sponsor and encourage students to attend events which blame Israel for the conflict in the Middle East, while denying or avoiding both Arab and Palestinian culpability, it is impossible to deny the biased bent. Such events include, but are not limited to: the screening of Occupation 101, the academic conferences ‘Alternative Histories Within and Beyond Zionism,’ and ‘Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza’.

Similarly, even when the administration pretends to show its bipartisanism on the issue by supporting events which attempt to rephrase the conflict, like the recent screening of Between T wo Worlds, they are in actuality belittling legitimate complaints which the Jewish community files and the oppressive situation which many students are forced to endure. Not to mention the deeper and more disturbing messages in the film, which imply that an adherence to many traditional Jewish values is antiquated and of little or no use to modern Jews. Such an obvious slap in the face of the Jewish community is hard to ignore.

This is not to say that there can be no criticism of Israel, Israeli policy or the like. That type of discussion has the potential to be constructive, educational, would certainly have a place on our campus and would not be considered anti-Semitic. The problem is when the criticism is focused on bashing Israel’s existence or its Jewish heritage and culture. Even the Unites States Commission on Civil Rights has publicly stated that vitriolic attacks of Israel that go beyond the boundaries of pragmatic criticism are anti-Semitic hate speech. To deny and attack that aspect of Israel goes well beyond the borders of what is accepted criticism and becomes merely an assault of Jews and the idea of Jewish self-determination, thus falling directly under the realm of anti-Semitism.

We also see professors and lecturers who seem unable to contain themselves from jumping on the Israel or surreptitious Jew-bashing band-wagon. In private discussions with various students (their names are omitted with respect to their privacy), I have found some professors who have strayed from their assigned subjects and class topics to denigrate Israel. When attempting to confront these teachers on their digressions, the students were ostracized or subject to slurs. Similarly, the students who disagreed with the erroneous and often fictitious claims faced verbal abuse. I have personally faced similar situations, from both professors and students. One particular incident that stands out was when the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) held a rally for the destruction of Israel. Held in the Quarry Plaza, students and community members held signs and chanted slogans that called for the destruction of Israel and the elimination of the ‘Zionist entity.’ There were also students carrying balloons that had swastikas drawn on them and remarks comparing Gaza to Auschwitz. That day, the Quarry was steeped in one-sided hate. Despite this clear breech of campus regulation and protocol, the university issued no reprimand, formal or casual.

For the sake of clarity, it should be stated that I am not against free speech or the blind stifling of ideas. We live in a free country in which individuals have the freedom, within reason, to exercise their first amendment rights to the limit. Sometimes anti-Semitic comments and anti-Israel comments unfortunately fall under protected speech. What I would like to point out is that the University of California has rules, regulations and obligations which are more restrictive than what the first amendment allows. Thus, when the university or its representatives, departments and/or professors, make such biased and hurtful anti-Israel and anti-Semitic statements (implicitly or explicitly), not only are they soiling the idea that a university should be a place of rational learning, but they are letting down all the students they are supposed to be protecting. Simply put, the support of such events as those listed above would be akin to the university sponsoring a lecture by a leader of the Ku Klux Klan or some other White Supremacist group.

By now some are probably thinking, “Okay, so Israel is being de-legitimized, but that doesn’t mean anti-Semitism per-se.” That is wrong. I, as well as the other students mentioned, am Jewish. Each of us has been singled out because of our Jewishness, and by extension, our relationship with the State of Israel. We are singled out and called names like “baby killer,” “racist,” “Nazi” and more. We are the receivers of malicious questions intended only to wound rather than inform. We are often held accountable for the breakdowns in the peace process. Just last week, an economics professor asked me, “How can one justify supporting Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, when his right wing politics are clearly a roadblock to peace with the moderate Mahmoud Abbas?” Without going into a long discussion about how Abbas is anything but moderate, this kind of question would never be asked of a pro-Palestinian student. Not to mention, it is simply unconscionable to think that even the most well-intentioned of professors would ask an Afghani student (I am friends with a few on this campus) about President Hamid Karzai’s recent statement announcing support for Pakistan over the United States. Yet it is somehow okay to ask these kinds of unfair questions of the Jewish students. When we look at this selective targeting, it becomes clear that Jews and Zionists are the only ones under the microscope. So where does this rate on the anti-Semitic scale? I am willing to accept the idea that not all anti- Zionists are anti-Semitic, but thus far, I have yet to meet one.

The list of incidents mentioned above, as well as many other unlisted incidents, does not start or stop here. These are merely the latest in what seems like a progressive campaign to subtly and imperceptibly teach anti-Semitism to each new crop of UC Santa Cruz students. This article is not the first to pick up the foul scent of racism and double standards: recently, a lecturer and long-time staff member of UCSC filed a detailed complaint with the federal government regarding the university and the administration’s lack of action and/or protect students. While the complaint predominantly deals with the university administration’s role in the rise and acceptance of anti-Semitism on the campus, a position which can be debated, one cannot deny the disturbing trend of anti-Semitic actions in the inter-student and student-staff incidents it recounts.

All of this paints a clear and simple picture: anti-Semitism is undeniably a clear and present threat, just as real today as it was over sixty years ago. In an article recently released by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)*, the recorded number of anti-Semitic incidents rose in 2010 over the tallies for 2009, with the largest increase geographically occurring in California. We can also see spikes in anti-Semitic cartoons whenever Israel features more prominently in the news. Though the mechanism of expression has evolved and the methods of dissemination are less didactic than those of the past, the sentiments are the same; the same isolation of Jewish identity and the same ostracism to which Jews have been subject in the past. There are some who would argue that the anti-Semitism of the past is just that, past. However, the experiences and events related above tell a different tale. While anti-Semitism has certainly changed from the type practiced by the Nazi regime, growing stealthier and more oblique, it is most certainly an issue here at UCSC, the untouched skeleton in the UC closet.

*You can find the ADL article here: ASUS_12/6128_12.html

Published on page 44 of the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan.

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