Posted: 7/7/2015 4:23:00 AM
Author: Leila Beckwith
Source: This article firsat appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News on June 26, 2015
How anti-Zionism has turned into anti-Semitism on UC campuses
by Leila Beckwith
Scholars have struggled to understand the many faces of anti-Semitism, a phenomenon which has existed for almost two millennia, and which the great scholar Robert Wistrich labeled “the longest hatred.”
In the Middle Ages when Jews were forced into conversion, exile, and/or ghettos, Jew hatred took a religious form.
Even in the 1930s, when I was growing up in Brooklyn, there were children who ran after me, taunting me as a Christ killer.
Later, Jew hatred morphed into economics, with Jews hated either as greedy capitalists with power over the world, or its opposite, as revolutionary Communists.
By the 1930s, the Nazis labeled Jews as an inferior “race” who contaminated the earth by their existence, and therefore, deserved to be exterminated.
But now, and particularly on university campuses, it is the land of Israel that is the medium through which hatred, now of the Jewish collective, is expressed.
Hatred that is irrational and obsessive is other than mere scholarly criticism. When the existence of Israel and the actions of Israel and its citizens and supporters are labeled as inherently sinful, and when the sins can only be redeemed by dismantling, destroying the Jewish State, and thereby once again making Jews the wanderers of the earth, or worse eliciting genocide, that is more than mere criticism. When the Holocaust savagery and genocide, its imagery and language, is used against Jews — and no one else — to brand them as Nazis, this is not scholarly criticism of policies. When Israel is singled out and held to a double standard in matters of foreign affairs, that is not scholarly criticism.
Pope Francis equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. He recently told a journalist that anyone who does not accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is “guilty of anti-Semitism.” President Obama also suggested in an interview that same week that denying Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic.
Distressingly, Jew hatred under the guise of anti-Zionism has made its way to American university campuses, and it does impact Jewish students.
At UC Berkeley, “Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber” was scrawled on a bathroom wall in the wake of a student senate campaign to pressure the university to divest from America companies that do business with Israel.
At UC Davis, during a similar student campaign fomenting anti-Israel divestment, “grout out the Jews” was scrawled on the university’s Hillel House, and a Jewish fraternity was spray-painted with swastikas, the Nazi symbol representing the murder of 6,000,000 Jews.
At UC Santa Barbara, flyers blaming Jews for 9/11 were posted on campus.
At UCLA, students on the Judicial Council of the student government questioned the fitness of a candidate on the grounds that she was Jewish and potentially pro-Israel. The four students who shamelessly doubted her eligibility were themselves the authors of the most recent attempt at anti-Israel divestment at UCLA.
These are clear campus manifestations of bigotry against Jews although they are expressed in the form of anti-Zionism. The U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism, passed into law by Congress to monitor global anti-Semitism, addresses the unique nature of contemporary Jew hatred by recognizing that language or behavior which demonizes and delegitimizes the Jewish state or denies its right to exist may cross the line into anti-Semitism. In July, the Regents of the University of California will decide whether to adopt the definition.
There are those who would falsely claim that the State Department definition violates free speech and academic freedom. But defining anti-Semitism simply allows for its proper identification; it does not prescribe shutting down speech or taking any other disciplinary measures. Indeed, anti-Semitic rhetoric is not against the law, but it is bigotry, and it can and should be identified and called out with the same promptness and vigor as all other forms of racial, ethnic and gender bigotry.
Universities, including a great public university as the University of California, have a duty to ensure that their students do not face bigotry. The UC Regents and president did just that in identifying and condemning racism, as in the events around the “Compton cookout.” In 2010, a student fraternity at UC San Diego held an off-campus party to mock Black History Month. The party was ghetto-themed and urged participants to wear chains, don cheap clothes, and speak very loudly. The UC Regents and president condemned the bigoted speech. Their actions did not elicit cries of violations of academic freedom or of free speech but were applauded as the right thing to do.
Jewish students and all students deserve the same actions from their university administration; no more and no less. It is the duty of the UC administration to establish a positive university atmosphere, not by censoring speech, but by identifying that which is anti-Semitic and poisons the atmosphere.
Leila Beckwith is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the founder of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization that fights campus anti-Semitism.