(Courtesy OCITF Northern CA member Anne Storm)
Thursday, April 8, 2010
UC Davis is reeling from several anti-Jewish incidents. In late February, a Jewish student discovered a swastika carved into the door of her residence hall room. The following week, four more of the Nazi symbols were painted on several locations around the campus. On March 14, another swastika was discovered on a bulletin board in one of the campus dorms.
For Jews, the swastika evokes memories of the mass murder of our families and communities. When it appears on your front door, it can feel like a death threat. Eliciting that response is frequently the perpetrator’s intent.
This is not the first time anti-Semitism has visited Davis. In 2007, a Jewish tabernacle, erected on campus in observance of the Sukkot holiday, was vandalized with the statements “Free Palestine” and “End Israeli occupation.” While then-Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef rightly condemned the desecration of the religious structure, some people wrongly excused the crime as political speech.
In 2001, vandals used an incendiary device to ignite an Israeli flag that was hanging from the Jewish students’ Hillel House. The fire spread onto the building’s roof.
People who carve swastikas on front doors, desecrate religious objects or set fire to buildings are not interested in the free exchange of ideas or promoting academic inquiry. They are trying to intimidate others. We give them license to do so when we excuse their actions as a protected right.
All of these hateful incidents do not occur in a vacuum. Over the years, a few individuals at UCD have turned Jews into scapegoats. This has enabled a potential perpetrator to sense that others will ignore or even applaud them if they act on their own hatred in a criminal manner.
At campus events, some of which were sponsored by UCD academic departments, speakers have blamed Jews for many of the world’s problems, falsely portrayed Israel as inhumane and called for the violent overthrow of the Jewish state. Other invited speakers sought to deny the validity of the Holocaust.
One speaker, Amir Malik Ali, stood alongside his own imposing security force, alleged that “Zionist Jews” own the media and threatened: “Your days are numbered.” His campus supporters then marched and chanted, “The state of Israel has got to go.”
Such demagogues can easily capture our attention. Their easy answers to complex, seemingly intractable problems can be reassuring and comforting. With the emotionally charged Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it is tempting to view the situation as one guilty victimizer and one innocent victim. However, UC Davis should expect more from its students. UC Davis students should resist the simplistic answers and pursue true academic inquiry by probing, questioning and exploring the issues. The realization that there are multiple narratives and perspectives will keep us all from blaming scapegoats and allowing hatred to escalate.
Immediately after the vandal targeted the Jewish student with the swastika last month, Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi fired off a strongly worded statement to the entire campus condemning the vandalism. The UCD administration realizes that it is hard to feel welcome, safe and secure when hatred visits your front door. Chancellor Katehi is doing the right thing by speaking up against hatred. This will go a long way toward keeping these incidents from spreading even further.
Now, others who care about the richly diverse Davis community need to find their voices. In the words of Chancellor Katehi, these hateful incidents “should be condemned by all members of our campus and university community. We cannot ignore deliberate acts that demean and threaten others.” We agree. All of us together can drown out hatred with messages of respect and inclusion.
Jonathan Bernstein is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.
This article appeared on page A – 12 of the San Francisco Chronicle