Schools Must Do More to Protect Jewish Students

On college campuses where anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns have been promoted, antisemitic behavior has dramatically increased, creating a grim reality for many Jewish students.

The University of California, ground zero for BDS, provides a prime example.

Just in the past few months, students have been threatened with everything from swastikas spray-painted on dorm buildings and flyers blaming Jews for 9/11 to graffiti saying Zionists should be sent to the gas chamber and signs saying Benjamin Netanyahu is Hitler’s illegitimate child. Jewish students have become fearful for their safety.

At a UC Santa Barbara student senate meeting last month, one Jewish student remarked: “For the first time in my life, I felt that my identity was under attack… I don’t wear that star of David necklace anymore. I don’t tell most people that I’m Jewish, and I definitely don’t tell them that I’m pro-Israel…I’m scared for my safety.”

In response to this alarming situation, three University of California student senates unanimously approved resolutions condemning antisemitism. Each resolution invokes the U.S. State Department’s definition, which recognizes that certain kinds of anti-Israel expression cross the line into antisemitism. Earlier this week, 17 student organizations published a letter asking President Napolitano to make these resolutions official UC policy.

The California Senate recently passed a resolution condemning antisemitism that also points to the State Department definition as the only full and accurate definition for identifying and addressing antisemitic behavior.

Recognizing that most universities do not have a formal standard for identifying antisemitism, 23 organizations, earlier this spring, urged the University of California to adopt the State Department’s definition and use it to address antisemitic behavior with the same vigor as all other forms of bigotry. Nearly 700 UC faculty, alumni and California rabbis made a similar plea earlier this week. And yesterday, UC President Janet Napolitano announced that she agrees and stated that the University of California’s governing board will be deciding whether the State Department definition will become UC policy at their next meeting in July.

We applaud Napolitano for her leadership. We must stem the frightening tide of anti-Jewish bigotry at our nation’s schools. The first step is to adopt a definition that adequately identifies antisemitic behavior. Napolitano should serve as a model to other university presidents, and they should follow suit.

About the Author
Tammi Rossman-Benjamin is a lecturer at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the cofounder and director of AMCHA Initiative, a non-profit organization devoted to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating campus antisemitism in America. She was nominated for Jewish Hero of the Year by the Jewish Federation of North America in 2011 and was named one of 2013’s Bright Pro-Israel Lights on U.S. Campuses by the Jewish Press. Articles and opinion pieces from Rossman-Benjamin have been published in the New York Daily News, Jewish News Service, Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, Algemeiner, Independent Sentinel, Jewish Voice, Jewish Post & Opinion, and others.
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