This article was written by:
Ilan Sinelnikov is the National President of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) a Pro Israel student Movement with over 30 chapters across North America
Naor R. Bitton is an Israeli Fulbright Scholar at the University of Minnesota and National Board Director of Students Supporting Israel
The case of Rachel Beyda received national attention this week. Beyda, a Jewish student at UCLA, sought a position on the University’s student Judiciary board. During the nomination interview Beyda was faced with unjust and disgraceful questions about her Jewishness.
The incident became yet another symbol of the bias that exists across the UC system, the same system whose student government passed a resolution to divest from the United States just last month.
However, there is something unique in what happened on the Los Angeles campus – there was one word that was missing from the “interrogation” of Ms. Beyda’s about her ability “to maintain an unbiased view” as a Jew. That word is Israel.
The State of Israel was not mentioned despite Beyda’s alleged support for the Jewish State. As a Jew, it was a major part of the reason this incident happened and it highlights a situation that has not happened before.
For years we – Israel’s supporters – showed that many of Israel’s detractors on college campuses are using Anti-Zionists rhetoric as a disguise to their Anti-Semitic claims that aim to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.
The UCLA case however, is the first time where it happened the other way around. Anti-Semitic questions targeted a Jewish student in order question her links, and allegedly biased views, towards the State of Israel.
Can we, as students, put an end to those incidents?
The UCLA incident should not surprise us, as similar cases are happening on campuses where the anti-Israel sentiment is growing and the Pro Israel voice is lacking. On these campuses, there is sometimes discrimination against Jewish students because of their views, especially when these views are suspected to be in favor of the Jewish state.
This is why the only way to avoid discrimination is to have a strong and confident pro Israel voice on campuses.
Three years ago at the University of Minnesota the anti-Israel sentiment was growing. However, at that time, a new student group emerged, Students Supporting Israel (SSI). In just two years the group was able to change the conversation on campus from hostility to hope, and later SSI has transformed from a small campus group into a fast growing pro Israel student movement with over 30 chapters across North America.
We believe that the presence of such strong pro-Israel voice on campus is critical to help avoid discrimination on campus. As students who talk every day with dozens of other Pro Israel leaders across the country, we know that our grassroots work is making a change.
Every student, no matter what his background, is entitled to have a political opinion and be involved culturally in the community if they wish to do so. However, for some reason, when it comes to a Jewish student, these normal activities are automatically being labeled as biased, creating a double standard between and discriminating between the Jewish students and the non-Jewish students.
These double standards should not be surprising to us, since they are the same ones that allows the passage of resolutions to boycott or divest from Israel.
Let’s not wait for another student to experience what Rachel had experienced. By making sure that the pro Israel voice on campuses is strong, it will not only combat bias and discrimination, but will also make our universities and academic world a safer and better place.
SSI is doing precisely that thing – changing the conversation on college campuses, and making it acceptable to be open, and most importantly pro-active, without the fear of being labeled as “biased” by the rest of the academic community.