UC Santa Cruz From a Jewish Boy’s Perspective

By Oren Gotesman

In March of 2011, the US Department of Education’s office of Civil Rights announced that it was going to launch an investigation regarding the alleged harassment and intimidation of Jewish students at UCSC under Title VI of the Department of Education Civil Rights Act. Title VI “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin in all programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance.”[1] The investigation is meant to determine whether the anti-Israel behavior of certain UCSC faculty in their classrooms and departmentally sponsored events has created a hostile environment for Jewish students who have some identification with Israel. UCSC Lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin submitted this complaint and argued that the administration of UC Santa Cruz was responsible for one-sided events that developed a consistent feeling of harassment, intimidation, and alienation towards Jewish students who have a connection with Israel[2]. Since Rossman-Benjamin filed her complaint it has become the subject of heated debate and controversy at UCSC. I will first examine the legal basis for the complaint, and then consider the validity and implications of some common critiques of it.

I constantly see students focusing exclusively on whether or not a statement or event is anti-Semitic. This approach to the complaint is problematic, as Rossman-Benjamin considers the hostile learning environment at UCSC to be the main catalyst of the investigation. The real issue is whether or not this environment leads to anti-Semitism, not necessarily the anti-Semitic comments themselves. Because the meaning of “hate” is ultimately in the eye of the beholder, the United States adopted a definition of what kind of criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. The “…State Department uses Natan Sharansky’s [three D’s] for identifying when someone or a government crosses the line.”[3] The “three D’s” are:

Delegitimization: “When Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied –alone among all peoples in the world– this too is anti-Semitism.”[4] An example of delegitimization is using slander in order to make Israel publicly look far worse than it is, often by undermining the democracy of the country altogether.

Demonization: “When the Jewish state is being demonized; when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz –this is anti- Semitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.” Another common example of demonization of Israel is the common reference to Israeli soldiers as perpetrators of genocide or baby killers.

Double standards: “When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored; when Israel’s Magen David Adom, alone among the world’s ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross –this is anti-Semitism.” Double standards is one of the D’s that critics of Boycotts Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) use against Israel. Choosing to boycott Israeli products, and not those of China, for example, is holding Israel to a different standard than that of the rest of the world.

According to the First Amendment, we as students have a lot of liberty to discuss a wide variety of topics, including both Judaism and Israel. This freedom applies whether the context is good or bad, true or false, and includes hosting events that openly violate the “three D’s.” The University employees, on the other hand, are not allowed to violate these rules by injecting whatever political opinions they want into the campus setting. According to the complaint, faculty members have used their classrooms and departmentally sponsored events to criticize Israel, rather than provide an evenhanded perspective on the Middle-East. Rossman-Benjamin argued that the following points are not academic speech, but in fact are purely political propaganda, if not hate speech:

1: In January 2009, Cowell College was responsible for sponsoring “Pulse on Palestine,” an event that featured a movie titled “Occupation 101.” Despite a petition with ninety signatures of UCSC students requesting that Cowell rescind sponsorship of this event, the college did not withdraw its support and the event went forward as planned. The event presented the following as fact: “Israel is entirely responsible for the plight of the Palestinians and their violence against Israel” and “Israel is guilty of ethnic cleansing.” [5]

2: Faculty members have used their classrooms to promote an anti-Israel bias. In one case a faculty member used her readings to state the following: “Israeli massacres are often accompanied by sexual assault, particularly of pregnant women as a symbolic way of uprooting the children from the mother, or the Palestinian from the land.” A student of this class stated that “[the professor] even used the class website to distribute information about anti-Israel protests occurring in the Bay Area and to invite her students to attend.” [6]

3: In March 2007, four professors and a TA, none of whom are scholars of Israel or Zionism, held a a conference called “Alternative Histories Within and Beyond Zionism.” This event presented the following ideas as factual: “Zionism is racism,” “Israel is an apartheid state,” and “Jews exaggerate the Holocaust as a tool of Zionist propaganda.” [7] Though there was a short Q&A, the event gave no time for an official rebuttal in which students could explore the idea that Israel isn’t a racist, apartheid state.

Most pro-Israel students who are knowledgeable about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict would know how to refute or argue adequately against the above claims. The issue, however, is that the pro-Israel community can’t be responsible for the faculty and departmentally sponsored events’ one-sided dialogue. If professors make “hateful” comments about Israel in their classrooms and a properly educated student isn’t there to correct that information, then the class leaves with the belief that those opinions are fact. If a college or faculty member spends over an hour lecturing or showing a biased video on why Israel is a Nazi state that commits genocide, then a short Q&A will do little to influence the bigoted and misleading message the audience has been exposed to. It’s acceptable when the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) and The Santa Cruz Israel Action Committee (SCIAC) have events that challenge one another, but when the faculty adopts a one-sided political ideology, it begins to silence the other side.

If you believe that the above three points are evidence of UCSC injecting political (if not hate) speech rather than academic speech into the classroom, you would likely believe Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint has some merit. Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint is essentially stating that the faculty and administration at UCSC have frequently broken federal law and no one has done anything about it. It wouldn’t matter if we believed Rossman-Benjamin is a right wing extremist who could never represent most Jews, the U.S. Department of Education created standards for what it considers anti-Semitism and Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint is merely informing the state that its schools are not living up to those standards. Rossman-Benjamin used the aforementioned three examples, among others, to illustrate that these events are not only non-academic, but can leave Jewish pro-Israel students with a feeling of alienation or intimidation. These students feel this way because many Jews have a very important connection to Israel. They may value the country for religious, cultural, or spiritual reasons, or even because it’s a land that they can flee to in the event of persecution. I don’t mean to say that all criticism of Israel is bad, but the act of making one-sided statements about Israel, without acknowledging other points of view, can be hateful, especially when an administrator or professor is behind them.

The students’ reactions to the investigation have been varied and at times very negative. A student who attends the Olive Tree Initiative as well as a faculty member told me that during an Islamaphobia conference in June of 2011, a literature professor at UCSC claimed that Rossman-Benjamin’s complaint was Islamaphobic. The complaint does not address Islam or the Muslim Student Association, and it doesn’t even deny that the Palestinians have a legitimate narrative and deserve a peaceful state. In fact, the complaint isn’t even in favor of Israel, rather it’s against one-sided, nonacademic events and narratives. Therefore, the accusation seems baseless.

I heard one African American student question Rossman-Benjamin’s rationale for involving the government. He inquired why she chose to focus so much on the bad environment specifically for Jewish students and not on the environment for other students. He stated that: 1. There is an abundance of Jewish students on campus, 2. There is a Hillel near campus, 3. The regents are Jewish, 4. There is a Jewish Studies major on campus, and therefore other ethnic groups and religions need better representation.

This particular student was vocal about minorities not being represented properly at UCSC, as well as other issues involving minorities on this campus. I suspect many other students share this man’s feelings. When he presented her with such statements, Rossman-Benjamin simply said “don’t Jews have civil rights too?” Though this was just the opinion of one student, it did make me wonder whether or not the students on this campus view the Jewish community as a “more privileged minority.” In Fall 2011, I participated in a small survey of Jewish students regarding the environment for Jews here at UC Santa Cruz. When I brought up the idea of Jews being viewed as a privileged minority, one of the non-Jewish evaluators said, “The Jews are a privileged minority, as they work hard and therefore are able to inherit wealth from their ancestors.” I was completely speechless. Personally, my grandparents lost everything in the Holocaust and had little to pass down to my parents. Her statement only solidified my idea that many view the Jews as an exceptional minority, often without reason.

Perhaps the idea that Jews are a more privileged minority is one of the reasons this complaint is difficult for some people to take seriously. Perhaps people, even Jews, believe that we are capable of dealing with criticism on campus because we are privileged. Even if it’s true, the issue isn’t that the Jewish students at UCSC aren’t able to defend themselves against criticism of Israel; the main problem the complaint is trying to address is that the colleges are holding events that foster a skewed and hateful view of Israel. What happens when our university sponsors events that call Israel a Nazi state without representing an opposing view which addresses the implications of such a statement? What happens when people tell students that Israel kills Palestinians for no reason? What happens when students see Israel as the sole reason for a lack of peace in the Middle East? Many students agree with Rossman-Benjamin that these statements breed hatred towards Israel and its supporters. Regardless of how one feels when someone calls anti-Israel dialogues anti-Semitism, the idea that UCSC is funding hate is completely unacceptable. The main question I think we should all ask ourselves is, “Has the school violated the federal anti-discrimination laws?” The question of whether to reform the law because of the inaccuracy of the “the 3D’s” or the term “anti-Semitism” is a conversation for another day.  It is our responsibility to question if the school has failed to obey anti-discrimination laws, and if it has failed, then what are the consequences for the Jewish pro-Israel population and the anti-discrimination laws of other groups?

1. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/reg/ocr/index.html

2. http://www.zoa.org/media/user/images/Benjamin-Complaint-6-25-09.pdf (Pg. 2)

3. http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/rm/2011/160032.htm

4. http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-sharansky-s05.htm

5. http://www.zoa.org/media/user/images/Benjamin-Complaint-6-25-09.pdf Pg. 3

6. http://www.zoa.org/media/user/images/Benjamin-Complaint-6-25-09.pdf Pg. 10

7. http://www.zoa.org/media/user/images/Benjamin-Complaint-6-25-09.pdf Pg. 15-17

 Published on page 32 of the Winter 2012 issue of Leviathan.


Published on page 32 of the Winter 2012 issue of Leviathan.

CJP’s Response to Defamatory Statements in Leviathan’s Fall 2011 Issue

Note from the Editorial Board: This response was written by the Committee for Justice in Palestine, a student organization that educates students and the local
community about the Palestinian struggle for independence. It has been our honor and privilege to collaborate with the CJP in order to demonstrate our aim to give equal voice to all perspectives.

The CJP meets on Tuesdays at 8pm in Bay Tree Conference Rooms.

The pervasive issues of violence and injustice affecting the people of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories are highly contentious and can evoke strong personal reactions in those who discuss them. As students in a university setting, we have a responsibility to address this controversial topic in a thoughtful and scholarly manner. It is with this responsibility in mind that the Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) is compelled to respond to defamatory statements an author made about our organization and events in an article titled “The Real Threat of Anti-Semitism,”  editors published in the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan Jewish Journal. The piece alleges that CJP circumvented school regulations and crossed the line between free speech and anti-Semitism during an unspecified event. The author did not contact CJP for information regarding the event in question, nor did he give it a chance to comment prior to the publication of the piece.
While it is reasonable that people would have varying accounts of a single event, expected debate can slip into false characterizations of the actions and intentions of the parties involved. The article in question states that “the Committee for Justice in Palestine held a rally for the destruction of Israel…[with] signs and chanted slogans that called for the elimination of the ‘Zionist entity.’” The piece also claims that there were “students carrying balloons that had swastikas drawn on them.” It goes on to assert that CJP was in “clear breech of campus regulation and protocol” and holds that “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.”

These statements are incredibly inflammatory and could not be farther from the truth. The CJP is a multi-ethnic and ideologically diverse student organization brought together by a desire to spread awareness about the Palestinian struggle for human rights and self-determination. As such, it takes the issue of hate speech on campus and violations of school policy very seriously. First and foremost, CJP must state that the use of swastikas and other derogatory symbols or language is completely against the values of our group and would have been personally offensive to our members.
While the article provides no time or date information in reference to the alleged rally, the author has verbally confirmed that he was writing about an event in early 2009. CJP did hold a rally in the Quarry Plaza in January of that year, a collaborative event it organized with a now defunct UCSC branch of the Campus Antiwar Network. The purpose of this demonstration was to show solidarity with the people of Gaza and protest Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 Israeli military invasion that resulted in the death of 1,400 Palestinians in a single month.  Although demonstrators did employ white balloons during this rally to represent casualties of the conflict, CJP’s photographs confirm that no symbols or writing were included on any of the balloons the group distributed, other than one that said simply, “Respect.”

CJP does not believe that it contravened school policy or participated in hate speech in organizing the Gaza solidarity event or any other that it has sponsored. None of the CJP members who were present participated in or heard chants using the language the article attributed to them, nor did they hold any signs referring to the destruction of any people or state. CJP’s SOAR advisor was physically present that day, as were trained crowd monitors, in order to ensure protesters broke no rules and respected the free speech rights of student demonstrators in an opposing rally. Photos from the protest have been accessible to the public on our online forum since February 2009.
The article’s description of our event as a “rally for the destruction of Israel” pushes the boundary between liberal interpretation and blatant mischaracterization. Such unfounded allegations negatively impact CJP’s ability to organize in the campus community and grossly misrepresent its members, their beliefs, and intentions. Furthermore, they perpetuate an extreme and often uninformed way of engaging with the conflict that stigmatizes and distorts the actual experiences and perspectives of Palestinians and Israelis alike.

This article exhibits the type of overzealous approach that falsely characterizes Palestinians living under military occupation as hateful, violent, and “tribally backwards,” and also portrays Israelis in a similarly distorted fashion. This type of demonization renders honest and open exchange about Israel/Palestine nearly impossible and undermines intellectual integrity and academic freedom. For example, disingenuous comparisons like the one the author draws between university sponsorship of our events and that of the Ku Klux Klan are not only defamatory, but actively work to silence and delegitimize criticism of Israeli government policy. This silencing is especially detrimental in an educational community, like UCSC, where the free exchange of ideas is supposed to be a core value.

The Palestinian people, and those who support them, are not hateful or anti-Jewish by nature. We believe that educating our campus community about these issues is important because of the scale and scope of the historical and contemporary abuses that Palestinians experience in both their homeland and refugee diaspora (the largest in the world). This education is especially critical in the U.S. because our tax-dollars directly fund the Israeli military and many people often stigmatize or ignore the
Palestinian narrative in domestic discussion of the conflict. We thank Leviathan Jewish Journal for giving us the space to respond to the defamatory statements that it published in the last issue. It is our belief that open and sincere communication on campus can promote a positive and accepting environment for all students, Jewish, Palestinian, and otherwise.

Published on page 19 of the Winter 2012 issue of Leviathan.

LeviaPast – Leviathan History Fall 2011

As the Jewish people, a huge part of knowing who we are is knowing where we came from. Here at Leviathan, we take a page out of our own cultural book and delve into the bygone days of our journal’s glorious past to better our present publication. When the editorial staff of Leviathan found this particular article in our archives, we felt a pointed connection with our peers from 1978 as we read about their struggles with issues that are still pertinent and important to us. Enjoy this blast from the past, however it may apply to your present!

Click to enlarge

Published on page 64 of the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan.

Winter Jewish Studies Courses – Fall 2011

Interested in exploring Judaism though an academic lens? Want to develop a background in Jewish literature, history, languages, or cultures? You don’t need to be a Jewish Studies major to enrich your Jewish knowledge. Check out the courses the Jewish Studies program is offering winter quarter.

Jewish Studies at UCSC
Amberly Young

HEB 2 Instruction in the Hebrew Language with Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
HEB 5 Intermediate Hebrew with Doron Friedman
HEB 80 Introduction to Biblical Hebrew with Tammi Rossman-Benjamin
HIS 2B The World Since 1500 with Gregory O’Malley
HIS 70B Modern European History, 1789-1914 with Mark Cioc
HIS 178B European Intellectual History,The Nineteenth Century with Jonathan Beecher
HIS 185J The Modern Jewish Experience with Paula Daccarett
HIS 196G Modern Germany and Europe with Mark Cioc
HIS 196P Hitler and Stalin with Peter Kenez
HISC 125 Jewish Socialism in Eastern Europe with Barbara Epstein
LIT 61J Introduction to Jewish Literature and Culture with Murray Baumgarten
LTPR 144B Hebrew Bible with Nathaniel Deutsch
LTPR 102 Hellenistic Jewish Fiction with Daniel Selden
MUSC 80T Mizrach: Jewish Music in the lands of Islam with Avi Tchamni
YIDD 1 Introduction to Yiddish with Jonathan Levitow

Published on page 63 of the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan.

LeviaFolk – Fall 2011

Meet the Jewish Studies Interns! Sarah Edelstein and Hana Keefe-Guerrero are this year’s representatives for the Jewish Studies program. They are interested in making the program available to all students, despite religious, cultural or ethnic affiliation. Want to learn more about the program? You can visit them at their office hours on Thursdays at 2pm at the Stevenson Cafe . They are now accepting submissions for the Jewish Studies blog. Email submissions or questions to korsherslug@gmail.com.

Sarah Edelstein is a Jewish Studies major, thoroughly enjoying her sophomore year of slug life in the beautiful community of Stevenson College. A Cardiff by the Sea native, her interests include reading, writing, taking long strolls through the redwoods, attending Shabbat dinners at the Chabad Student Center, drinking tea, and discovering the underlying sociopolitical messages in Lil Wayne’s lyrics. Upon graduation from UCSC, Sarah hopes to spend time abroad before applying to rabbinical school at the Hebrew Union College.

Hana Keefe-Guerrero was born and raised in Berkeley in a Sephardic family. She attends a Jewish Renewal synagogue, one of the most liberal and least traditional sects of the modern Jewish world. Her connection with Judaism has been mostly cultural, therefore she finds it interesting that she have become so involved with the Jewish community. During high school, she interned at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and is now a Jewish Studies minor. She hopes to attend graduate school in Berkeley or Los Angeles, focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Published on page 62 of the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan.

LeviaCalendar – Fall 2011

Ever wish you had a short, concise list of awesome events that are happening in our community? We thought it might be nice to provide you, our readers, with such a list. Enjoy!

November 2011
9th 12pm at Quarry Plaza. Occupy Education at UCSC.
14th 7pm at Stevenson Event Center. “Israel at the Crossroads” with Gershom Gorenberg.
16th 12pm at Humanities 1, rm 201. A Public Dialogue with Jean Baumgarten and Nathaniel Deutsch on the history and significance of minhag.
16th 7pm at College 9 and 10 Multipurpose Room.  Between Two Worlds: documentary film screening.
17th 6pm at Humanities Lecture Hall, rm 206.  Living Writers Reading Series: David Vann.
18th 7pm at Theater Arts Mainstage. “A Year with Frog and Toad.”
18th 7pm at Chabad Student Center. “Impossible Spy at Friday Night Live” Shabbat dinner with Avraham Cohen.
28th 12:30pm at Soc Sci 1, rm 328. “Exploring the Jewish Dark Continent: Life, Death, and Ethnography in the Russian Pale of Settlement.” An Anthropology Society Tea Time with Professor Nathaniel Deutsch.
30th 12:30pm at Soc Sci 1, rm 328. “Anthropogenic Fires and Landscape Managment Practices of the California Indians of the San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas.” An Archaeology and Physical Anthropology Lunch Talk with Mark Hylkema.
30th 3:30pm at Muwekma Ahlone room, Bay Tree Conference Center. Writing Effective Resumes and Cover Letters Workshop sponsored by the Career Center. 

December 2011
1st 6pm at Humanities Lecture Hall 206.  “Living Writers Series: Student Reading.”
2nd 12pm-4pm at Digital Arts Research Center.  Digital Arts and New Media Open Studios.
3rd 10am- 11am Pacific Avenue.  Downtown Association’s “Holiday Parade 2011.”
14th Klezmatics at Moe’s Alley
21st Hanukkah begins

January 2012
7th 10am at UCSC Farm-Louise Cain Gatehouse.  “Fruit Trees ‘101’: Basic Fruit Tree Care.”
13th 7:30 pm at the Music Center Recital Hall.  “American Crossroads” as part of the Friday Night Live Concerts series.
16th 7pm at the Press Center. First Leviathan staff meeting.
26th 5pm at Humanities 1, rm 210.  “What is a Reader?” with Alberto Manguel.
 30th 7pm at Communications, rm 139.  “Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle.” A Visual and Media Cultures Colloquium with Professor Leigh Raiford.
31st 11am to 3pm at College 9 and 10 Multipurpose Room.  “Winter Job & Internship Fair.”

February 2012
8th Tu B’Shvat
27th 7pm Communications, rm 139. “What Makes an Image Ethical?” a Visual and Media Cultures Colloquium with Hagi Kenaan.
28th 7pm at the Music Center Recital Hall.  “Across a Sea of Stars: Charting Distant Worlds, Other Earths” 2012 Faculty Research Lecture with Professor Steve Vogt.

March 2012
3rd 10:30am at Stevenson Event Center. Multicultural Career Conference.
5th 7pm at Communications, rm 139.  “Visual Conflict of and in Palestine-Israel” a Visual  and Media Cultures Colloquium with Helga Tawil-Souri.
8th Purim

Published on page 60 of the Fall 2011 issue of Leviathan.