For the past couple of years, ever since I created this blog, I have been writing about the situation at UC-Irvine, where I have taught for ten years and which has earned a reputation for anti-Semitic hate speech by speakers brought to our campus under the sponsorship of the Muslim Student Union. For years now, anti-Semitic (and anti-American) speakers like Alim Musa, Mohammed al-Asi and Amir Abdel Malik Ali have spewed their hatred on our campus without a peep from university administrators. I have attended many of these events, noted down what is said, and, on occasion, confronted the speakers on their words. Though I am not Jewish myself, I detest what I consider to be a resurgence in anti-Semitism in Europe and in America fueled by Muslim extremists and their radical apologists in academia. Along the way, I have made many Jewish friends and colleagues who are also standing up to this scourge. Yet, at the same time, I am often dismayed and frustrated by the seemingly lackadaisical attitudes of many Jews who refuse to stand up in defense of their own community.
One thing I learned early on in this endeavor is that the Jewish community is quite fragmented. Opinions on everything range across the spectrum. Seemingly, that is also the case when it comes to campus anti-Semitism. More specifically, there have been times at UCI when I feel like I am the only one speaking out. Of course, that is an over-simplification; others are speaking out too. Yet, many of them refuse to criticize the university for allowing this situation to fester. Some of them prefer to deal within the university system working quietly behind the scenes with university officials.
What has it achieved? It is true that Chancellor Michael Drake has met with Jewish groups and assured them that “hate speech has no place at UCI”. Yet, no one will condemn specific statements by specific individuals. It is all “free speech”, and the university must remain “content neutral”, whatever that means.
On occasion, I have confronted speakers like Ali. On the two most recent occasions, I was virtually alone. If there were any Jewish persons or other folks on my side, they were silent. Only a couple of weeks ago, (January 29) I stood at the flagpoles and listened to Ali’s standard stump speech exhorting the killing of Israelis by Hamas. I stood with a handful of Jewish figures from the local community representing a couple of Jewish organizations. At the end of the speech, I walked down and engaged Ali in a spirited (but civil) debate on his statements. Immediately, we were surrounded by about 20-30 members of the MSU. Fortunately, there was no problem, and we continued our debate. When it was over, as I walked away, I saw that all my Jewish allies were long gone.
Not long before that (January 8), the MSU held a rally at UCI over the fighting in Gaza. On this occasion, the Jewish students and other members of the community were, indeed, out in force. Yet, in my discussions with a couple of leaders from two prominent local Jewish advocacy groups, they tried to assure me that there was no problem with hate speech at UCI. I stood there incredulous as they parried all the examples I mentioned with a flick of the wrist. When one of them quoted “one of the country’s foremost legal minds”, who had dismissed claims of anti-Semitism at UCI (Erwin Chemerinsky), I realized that I was wasting my time talking with them. (Chemerinsky is now head of UCI’s Law School.)
On Saturday, January 10, I went up to Los Angeles with a handful of fellow-bloggers and counter-protested a pro-Palestinian protest in front of the Federal Building. In total, there were about 20 of us supporting Israel arrayed against a crowd of 1,500-2000 (who were not too happy to see us). Only the LAPD managed to keep the crowd a safe distance away from us. Of that 20, a majority were not Jewish.
On Saturday, January 31, I attended an event at UCI entitled; “Whither the Levant”, an all-day festival of pro-Palestinian university professors including radical historian Norman Finklestein bashing Israel and the US over the current conflict. There were anywhere from 50-150 people in the room at any one time depending on the item on the agenda. I was virtually the only person who spoke up for Israel, which incited an eruption of anger in the crowd when I criticized the tactic of Hezbollah and Hamas of situating themselves in the middle of population centers when engaged in fighting Israeli troops leading to increased civilian deaths.
I realize that the above two events took place on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, and that is a factor. Indeed, it appears that many of these anti-Israel events are deliberately planned on Saturdays to keep Jewish attendance down.
Nevertheless, I cannot understand the meek attitude of some Jewish figures who should be standing up and denouncing these hate-mongers. They should be confronting them face-to-face, not violently, but refuting their words forcefully and letting on-lookers know that there is another side to the story.
It is not that I feel I need moral support from anyone when I raise these issues. I don’t mind being the skunk at a garden party, and I refuse to let these radicals intimidate me even if I am alone. I will not shrink from standing up to these goons and also pointing out the moral failure of my own university in standing up to hate speech. But what I am saying to my Jewish brothers and sisters is that the world is reverting back to 1938 (Munich). The forces of evil are on the march, and the Jews once again are being made the scapegoats and the targets. We are witnessing a resurgence of anti-Semitism, first in Europe, now in the United States and most recently in Venezuela. I feel that the Jewish community in America should take a strong and united stand against this menace in our own country. We should be calling on President Obama to speak out on it. We should educate the public as to what is happening, demand the support of decent Americans, and call out universities that allow their campuses to be platforms for hatred and calls to violence.
It is time to stand up.
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