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California must ensure safety for Jewish students

A rise in anti-Semitic incidents on campus calls for redoubled administrative efforts towards a culture of tolerance

On a regular basis, a parent will come to me at an event and rattle off the latest headline of an anti-Semitic incident on a college campus. Too often, the parent ends the comment by proclaiming they won’t be sending their child to that school.

In recent years there has been an upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents on American college campuses, including efforts to silence pro-Israel speakers, phony eviction notices to Jewish students in residence halls, and even swastikas on Jewish fraternity houses. One student leader called for an Intifada against Jews in America. In many but not all cases, the response of university leaders has been tepid.

There is robust Jewish life on many of these same campuses, and Hillel is at the center of the Jewish engagement and learning that goes on there. But if we want that strong Jewish community to continue, we must ensure that Jewish students feel safe and respected everywhere they matriculate.

Students have the right to express themselves. But they do not have the right to forcibly prevent others from exercising that same right. It is incumbent on university administrators to teach students how to be part of a respectful and civil community. We protect members of the campus community who face homophobia, sexual harassment or racial injustice. There are lines that cannot be crossed on American campuses, and anti-Semitism should be one of them.

The University of California Board of Regents is considering a taskforce report on intolerance that comprehensively addresses these critical issues. The report explains how sometimes anti-Israel sentiment turns to anti-Semitism; it takes on the stereotypes and coded anti-Semitic narratives; it recognizes the unease visited upon Jewish students and their families.

To be clear, the resolution does not penalize anyone’s academic freedom or freedom of expression. As the report states, “In confronting statements reflecting bias, prejudice or intolerance…the University is uniquely situated to respond with more speech — to educate members of our community….First Amendment principles and academic freedom principles must be paramount…”

It is incumbent on all of us to ensure that all communities on campus are treated with respect, no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, nation of origin or political views. This resolution will help campus chancellors, faculty and others recognize bias in college classrooms, dorms and quads and will give them the moral obligation to speak out against vicious biases.

We urge the Board of Regents and the people of California to endorse and support this visionary report.

About the Author
Eric Fingerhut is the President and CEO of Hillel International. He came to Hillel after a distinguished and varied career. As Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents from early 2007 to 2011, Fingerhut led Ohio’s system of public universities and colleges. From 1997 to 2006, Fingerhut served as an Ohio state senator and from 1993 to 1994, he represented Ohio’s 19th congressional district in the U.S. Congress.
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