Hundreds of University of California alumni recently petitioned UC, President, Janet Napolitano, denouncing the misuse of classrooms for anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric. The letter in and of itself is news, but something else of importance is also happening.
It took time, but Israel’s supporters have woken up to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement with a number of Jewish organizations stepping up to support students; but now there’s a new voice – alumni.
Along with fellow Vassar College alumni, Susan Julien Levitt and Laurie Josephs, I helped found an alumni advocacy network called Alums for Campus Fairness (ACF) that works to promote an intellectually vibrant college experience, while identifying and countering the anti-Semitism that has infected college campuses, often manifesting as anti-Zionism or criticism of the state of Israel.
Why alumni? Think about it; alumni care about their alma maters, by contributing resources, good will, and sometimes, their children. And, the schools listen. ACF’s approach is politically neutral; ACF simply asks that the academy returns to being the academy, and not a shill for a political position. In our view, when the complete story is told, Israel, and Jewish students will do just fine.
The idea of ACF sprang from the work of Vassar College alumni who gathered together in response to the adoption by the American Studies Association of a BDS resolution against Israeli academics. Their numbers dramatically increased when, in March, 2014, thirty nine Vassar College professors wrote an open letter to the school paper openly supporting the boycott, while excoriating Israel. The double standard of singling out Israel in a world filled with so many problematic countries, was shocking. The alumni also learned from current students that few students or faculty dared to openly support Israel for fear of being shunned, labeled as supporting Apartheid, and worse. Consider this scene in March, 2014 reported – ironically – by the anti-Israel blogger, Mondoweiss:
I was at the March 3 meeting … and it was truly unsettling. Over 200 students and faculty jammed a large room of the College Center, and torrents of anger ripped through the gathering. Most of them were directed at Israel or its supporters.
… If a student had gotten up and said, I love Israel, he or she would have been mocked and scorned into silence.
This story and others motivated us to action.
Fast forward to the present. We now have an effective group of almost three hundred Vassar College alumni who are demanding a healthier campus environment. We redefined the role of alumni from cheerleaders to stakeholders, working to change the campus culture for the better.
We visit the campus, supporting pro-Israel events and listening in on anti-Israel programming and propaganda, like Professor Jasbir Puar’s February 3 2016, guest lecture at Vassar which was condemned in The Wall Street Journal by two eminent academics. We were there to make sure the administration knew about an ugly Nazi era propaganda cartoon posted by Students for Justice for Palestine. And, we are not going away.
Vassar alumni also reach out to other campus stakeholders (the President, the Board of Trustees, faculty, students and other alumni) who have widely differing views, but want a more balanced campus.
ACF was founded because what is happening at Vassar is replicable.
Meanwhile, an alumni group independently formed at Oberlin College, led by Professor Melissa Landa, of the University of Maryland. In March, 2016 Professor Landa and her fellow alums became aware of conspiracy theory postings (like labeling ISIS a CIA and Mossad operation) by Oberlin professor, Joy Karega, which have been extensively covered in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and Algemeiner. Many consider these postings anti-Semitic, and according to a Statement from Oberlin College, Dr. Karega has now been dismissed.
Alumni can play a number of constructive roles. With this in mind, the Oberlin group took a proactive initiative on September 22, hosting a program entitled, “Building a Hate-Free Campus Through Civil Discourse” featuring Kenneth L. Marcus, Chloe Simone Valdary and Stacey Aviva Flint. Their intention was to invite the Oberlin community to deal with differences in a more evenhanded way. Oberlin College now has a new, refreshing voice – her alumni.
The ACF plan is to replicate this widely.
Recently, ACF was excited to form a group at UCLA, bringing leverage to deal with BDS related issues endemic to the University of California system. The UC schools have been listed as among the most hostile to Jewish students and Israel supporters. Among the problems galvanizing the alumni is the number of classes taught with a biased and propagandist agenda, to delegitimize Israel. The problems in the UC system run deep and our work has just begun. A large group of alumni with a strong voice can make a difference. As their first official act, ACF-UCLA just co-sponsored a petition to UC President Napolitano with 590 alumni signatures, demanding balance in the Israel/Palestine programming throughout the University of California system.
ACF-UCLA is off to a great, fast start.
ACF – Moving Forward:
Alums for Campus Fairness will continue to grow because students must hear all sides, in an atmosphere of civility and a commitment to the free exchange of ideas. Now in partnership with StandWithUs, we will continue to expand because our approach is compelling, and the results speak for themselves. Currently, we have sixteen groups, including Columbia, NYU, UC Riverside, U Chicago, Brown, Hunter, SUNY Binghamton, UCLA, with more to come.
The academy needs its alumni now more than ever, but not just for our money; it needs our sense of fairness. Our job is to encourage a growing number of effective alumni groups who care about their alma maters, and give each group the tools to do the job. This academic year is troublesome, with a divisive presidential election, divestment resolutions, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War coming up in June.
Consider joining us at: Alums for Campus Fairness.