WHAT Is anti-Semitism, and how does it differ from the so-called “new anti-Semitism” that’s currently proliferating on the country’s college campuses? Is being anti-Israel the same as being anti-Semitic? Does constitutionally protected free speech cover hate speech too?
On Sept. 10, the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center presented a talk by Roz Rothstein, executive director of Stand With Us, an international education organization founded by Rothstein in 2001 in response to the Palestinian Second Intifada. With her was Roberta Seid, a colleague, and together, the two women spoke on “The New Anti-Semitism on Campus, on the Internet and in Churches.” They’re particularly concerned that college students, many of whom have little or no knowledge of Jewish or Israeli history, are vulnerable to misleading and fabricated statements made by anti-Semites. They regard education as the key to combating what they call this new anti-Semitism.
A definition of anti-Semitism that’s widely used today is that it’s hatred of Jews simply because they’re Jewish. This has certainly been the case historically.
Also historical is that for thousands of years, Jewish prayers have included a fervent plea to God for a return to Israel, which was considered the promised land. Jews who still identify strongly with Israel feel that being anti-Israel is the same thing as being anti-Semitic. A more widespread view is that condemning individual acts of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism, but condemning the state of Israel without justification constitutes anti-Israelism – and that stems from anti-Semitism.
The new anti-Semitism is said to differ from what was formerly meant by anti-Semitism in that it claims bias is now directed more toward the Jewish people at large, whereas formerly it was mainly individual Jews or groups of Jews who were targeted. Some pundits dispute that this is so and feel that historically, prejudice has been aimed at all three – individuals, groups and the Jewish people as a whole.
Anti-Semitism of any kind on college campuses is far from new. Until the mid 1940s Jewish faculty members were few and far between. And the quota system permitted colleges and universities to limit Jewish students to only three percent of their student bodies, in keeping with the national population ratio. This prevented many bright Jewish students from being admitted to colleges of their choice.
Then after a 20-year hiatus, the Muslim Student Union (MSU) began to surface on campuses, as did the speakers they invited. Though these cover the bias spectrum, some are vicious. Today, campus anti-Semitism includes hate speeches delivered against such prepared backdrops as swastikas and the star of David shown dripping blood.
Invited speakers announce the topic beforehand as a political talk on the Arab-Israel conflict. By law, the talk would have to be denied if it were clearly anti-Semitic, but once the speech begins, the line is often crossed, and with impunity. The gist of the bias expressed is that Hitler didn’t finish the job and the Islamists will. And this sentiment is often expressed with offensive insults hurled at Israelis and Jews. By what stretch of anyone’s imagination can this be considered educational?
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) quotes the FBI report that in 2006, “school and college settings were the third-most frequent location for hate crimes in the United States.” It’s hoped that passage of the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act on Aug. 14, mandating improved hate crime reporting, will alleviate this situation. What’s new in this act is that physical violence is no longer the only requisite for a hate crime – emotional abuse may be criminal, too.
Stand With Us urges students of all religions to speak out. But students who feel victimized on their campuses have found that speaking out to the administration often results only in further and more serious frustrations. In some colleges, administration officials not only turn their backs on hate speech but on faculty bias as well.
In Southern California this has especially been found to be true at the University of California, Irvine. In February 2007 the Orange County Independent Task Force on anti-Semitism, consisting of Jewish and non-Jewish members of the community including faculty members and religious leaders, convened to study the problem. After a year-long investigation, they concluded in an insightful report that physical and verbal hate events sponsored by the MSU have constituted “significant anti-Semitic activities at UCI for some time and the University has done little if anything about it.”
Some campus groups contend that this is an unwarranted conclusion and that the overall problem is not all that serious. However, on Sept. 19, 2008, the task force announced that it will continue to monitor anti-Semitism at UCI in part because MSU-sponsored speakers have escalated their hate attacks.
Fortunately, most institutions of higher learning don’t have UCI’s disturbing record of anti-Semitism. That doesn’t mean the situation is unimportant.
Every student everywhere is entitled to an informative education in a safe, academic environment without the stress of institutional bias – implied or otherwise.
Loretta Schertz Keller is a freelance writer, artist and a regular contributor to these pages. She lives in Altadena.
> Dear Ms Schertz-Keller,
> My name is Gary Fouse, and I am an adjunct teacher at UCI-EXT (ESL). I have been teaching part-time at UCI since 1998. I am writing to you regarding your recent article about anti-Semitism at UCI.
> First of all, I thank you for reporting on this issue. It is indeed a problem which I have been observing for several years. In my view, the charges of anti-Semitism are well-deserved.
> I would point out that 99% of UCI’s students are not involved in this. We have a great student body. The problem is two-fold:
> 1 The first problem is the Muslim Student Union, which regularly brings in radical speakers like Amir Abdel Malik Ali. This Oakland-based imam regularly appears at UCI. He is an open supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah and praises suicide bombers in Israel as “heroes” and “martyrs”. He is anti-American and anti-Semitic as well, using phrases like “Zionist Jews” in biting terms.
> Another speaker who has appeared at UCI often is Washington-based imam Mohammed Al-Asi. Also a supporter of Hamas and Hezbollah,this character has used such language at UCI as, “Jews are low-life ghetto-dwellers” and “You can take the Jew out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of the Jew.”
> During the last MSU event in May 2008, a mock wall was set up on campus depicting the wall Israel constructed to keep out bombers. On that wall were a variety of photos, quotes, etc. Also on that wall was a cartoon depiction of Ariel Sharon, drawn in the unmistakable style of Julius Streicher’s Der Stuermer, the infamous Nazi newspaper of the Third Reich. The drawing featured Sharon was large hooked nose, big lips and a sneering expression. That drawing remained on that wall the entire week.
> I also find it striking that the majority of MSU-sponsored speakers also expresses vicious comments about America as well as Israel. To sum up, I consider UCI’s MSU to be a radical, anti-Semitic group.
> 2 The other half of the problem is an administration at UCI which, in my view, is oblivious to Jewish complaints. They seem to be completely of the view that free speech must prevail-even if it is hateful, inciteful speech. They will not even challenge or criticize what is said by the MSU-sponsored speakers. That indicates to me that they are either afraid of the MSU, sympathetic or simply apathetic. In either case, the university administration deserves whatever criticism comes its way.
> To sum up, I again thank you for the article. The public must be aware of what is going on at UCI. I hope you and others will continue to write on this topic.
> Yours sincerely,
> Gary C Fouse
> Adj teacher