Antisemitism on Campus? Incident at UCLA

Antisemitism on Campus? Incident at UCLA

A student at UCLA was initially rejected by the student council from serving on its judicial board, because her involvement in Jewish organizations was regarded as proof that she could not be regarded as “objective.”  Then, a faculty adviser convinced them that being Jewish and active in Hillel and a Jewish sorority were not legitimate reasons to block the appointment of a highly regarded candidate; the vote was unanimously reversed with an apology from the student who was mentioned most prominently in calling into question the candidate’s Jewish affiliations.

PPI blogger and board colleague Lilly Rivlin, brought this to the attention of our email list, by sharing this link,, to the NY Times article. This prompted comments from a number of college and university educators on our board, including the first two quoted below, who have been long-time faculty members at other campuses of the University of California.

The following is from Barbara Epstein (UC-Santa Cruz):

To the credit of the students involved, the decision was reversed and several students have apologized for their role.  Nevertheless, this incident makes explicit assumptions that are widespread on campuses but are usually implicit.

One of the assumptions made explicit in this story is that opposition to BDS, or discomfort with it, shows bias.  The implication is that support for BDS is the reasonable position and opposition to it can only be explained by a bias based on Jewish identity.  This leads to a widespread tendency to regard any Jewish students who belong to Jewish organizations as ipso facto suspect — even if the organizations they belong to are critical of Israel, the Jewish identity is still there, and Jewish identity, in the sense of an active, affirmative identification, is itself suspect.  (Jewish students who don’t publicly identify as Jews are often exempt from this, at least to some degree.)

This attitude leads many Jewish students to feel that they have to make a great show of their critical stance toward Israel in order to avoid being regarded as suspect.  Those who are involved in campus politics are especially subject to these pressures.

This is from Irwin Wall:

I am currently at UC Riverside and the situation here is similar to what is happening at UCLA except that the Jewish student population is smaller.  The point is that the “anti-Zionist” people do not much bother to distinguish between Jews and Israelis and not all of them are even aware that there is a Jewish left critical of Israeli policy and advocating Palestinian rights.  Anti-Israel agitation spills over into anti-Semitism here as it does in Europe, and my point was that the student who put the question did so with no sense of being anti-Semitic even though I am sure it would never occur to her to ask the question of a black or Hispanic student.  We had a J Street speaker here, last year, and in dialogue with the Palestinian students in the audience I found only one-staters and support for BDS.

Lilly Rivlin followed up with this statement and a link,, to an article on this for The Atlantic:

I regard this as Anti-Semitism, whether it is inspired by Israel’s actions or not.  The fact that the young woman was asked whether she was Jewish is the point.  Do others [in minority groups] get asked the [same] question?

The reaction of some other academics on our board was not as vehement on this matter. Most vocal in this vein was David Abraham, a professor of law at the University of Miami:

Bibi says he speaks for the Jewish people and few contradict him; the NYT correspondents write systematically of “the Jewish state” not of the Israeli state; the Occupation heads toward the half-century mark; many/most Jewish campus activists and lobbying groups have veered rightward .  What is one to think if s/he entertains bien pensant liberal views?

I don’t doubt a single thing that Barbara and Irwin report, and similar things are happening outside of CA as well. So yes, we are in a deep deep hole.  Ameinu dedicates itself to something called a “Third Narrative,” which is supposed to demonstrate that there are good Zionists and fault-bearing Palestinians/Arabs and a peaceful middle way to a shared goal.  Bless them, and bless us too.  But the increasing isolation of Israel, brought on largely by the policies it has pursued, is going to make life even more difficult for us in the future.  The growing popularity of one-staters and BDSers is not animated by anti-Semitism.  (Even the foolish Ms Roth, Lilly, asked if the judicial candidate’s Jewish political activism would get in the way of her objectivity, not if she was Jewish.)  I fear that only the Israeli voters can begin to change this.

Under most circumstances, one would actually expect the mocking and disrespectful attitude of the Israeli government to spark significantly more anti-Semitism.  For better or worse, the natural constituencies for anti-Semitism, the Huckabee crowd, for example, have as we know been (temporarily) converted to Christian Zionism. It is a sign of the disrepute of anti-Semitism that not a single Black politician or leader, every single one of whom must have felt deeply and personally affronted by Bibi’s antics, has uttered a single Farrakahnian syllable.

That campuses are full of bandwagonism and shallowness is hardly news to us.  That Palestine is the cause de jour for many is not changed by talking about other, worse oppressions, especially since Israel’s leaders tell us they are protecting western civilization, which the others generally do not do.  Causes and effects are getting intertwined, but we should not be distracted.

By | 2015-03-09T04:26:59-04:00 March 9th, 2015|American Jewish community, BDS, Boycott, Civil Rights|0 Comments

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