Campus Currents
ZOA in the news
September 1, 2008

 


 

 

OC Jewish Life

 

Campus Currents
Ilene Schneider

September 2008


Should free speech include hate speech? What is the fine line between healthy debate and intimidation? What should the role of the university administration be in assuring that students are not intimidated? How should the community work with the university to create an atmosphere of tolerance on campus?

These are some of the questions that have been percolating in the Jewish community of Orange County and beyond. The answers are complicated.

“Hate speech is protected under the First Amendment unless it incites to violence, but the fundamental problem is that it is still anti-Semitic, and the university administration has a duty to speak up against it,” explained Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., director of the Center for Law and Justice at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

In August the ZOA urged University of California (UC) President Mark G. Yudof, to address ongoing problems of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing at UC campuses. The ZOA described the events regularly sponsored by UCI’s Muslim Student Union (MSU), which “demonize and vilify Jews, Zionism and Israel.” According to the ZOA, “[t]he events’ titles alone convey just how false and hateful the events are,” including ‘Zionism Hijacking Judaism,’ ‘Israel: The 4th Reich,’ and ‘From Auschwitz to Gaza: The Politics of Genocide,’ a program absurdly suggesting that the systematic and deliberate murder of Jews in Auschwitz is comparable to the situation today in Gaza. Last May, the MSU sponsored such programs as ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine,’ ‘Death to Apartheid: A Farewell to Zionism,’ and ‘Silence is Consent: Stop the Palestinian Holocaust.’”

The ZOA informed President Yudof thatAt UC Irvine, speakers accuse the Jews of controlling the media and the government and of being responsible for 9-11. They have compared “Zionist Jews” to Nazis, advocated suicide bombings and terrorism against Israeli Jews, and called for Israel’s destruction. According to the ZOA, students have been afraid to wear anything that would identify them as Jewish or Israel supporters, students avoid parts of the campus or avoid the campus altogether, and students’ academic performance has suffered.

While UC President Yudof has publicly stated that university leaders have the moral duty to speak out forcefully against anti- Semitism, the ZOA said that UC Irvine’s Chancellor, Michael Drake, has never condemned any of the anti-Semitism that has occurred on his campus in any of his messages to the university community. Although the chancellor issued a campus message saying that he abhorred hate speech, he never mentioned the word “anti-Semitism” or tied his general anti-hate message to a specific program or speaker on the campus, according to the ZOA letter, which added that Chancellor Drake has only condemned anti-Semitism in general terms, off campus, to a predominantly Jewish audience.

The ZOA noted that its criticism of Chancellor Drake’s silence has been echoed by others. The independent Orange County Task Force, which conducted a year-long investigation of allegations of anti-Semitism at UC Irvine, condemned the chancellor and called on him to “publicly identify and denounce hate speech when it occurs” on his campus. The Orange County Register published an editorial criticizing the Chancellor’s administration for “punting in its response” to hateful speech. In May 2008, in response to the MSU’s event entitled “Never Again? The Palestinian Holocaust,”

U. S. Congressman Brad Sherman (D-CA) wrote to the Chancellor, calling on him to condemn the MSU’s event, which “appears intended to encourage violence against the State of Israel and propagate the spread of anti-Semitism.” Congressmen Sherman stated in his letter to Chancellor Drake: “As an American, you have a right to speak out. As Chancellor, it is your duty to condemn anti-Semitism, especially when it occurs at the UCI campus.”

The ZOA urged UC President Yudof to insist that UC Irvine’s chancellor exercise his moral leadership and speak out clearly and forcefully against the MSU’s anti-Semitic speakers and programs. According to Tuchman, that is part of the chancellor’s First Amendment right.

After the task force report was issued, a group of concerned citizens circulated a petition expressing concern about the situation at UCI. “It reflects the depth and breadth of the emotion on this matter in the community and the distance between them and the leadership in the local Jewish organizations on the UCI situation,” according to Marty Migdall, one of the organizers of the petition campaign.
As former chair of the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism, Jesse H. Rosenblum, Ph.D., strongly endorses ZOA’s request to the president of the University of California. According to Rosenblum, the first recommendation of the task force was, “The Chancellor should publicly identify and denounce hate speech when it occurs so as not to insinuate an equivalence where there is none. Unless the Jewish Community stands as one to fight anti-Semitism, we and our college-age progeny will suffer the consequences.”

Recent UCI graduate Reut R. Cohen said that she “was very happy to see the ZOA take the initiative to address the UC president about the situation at UC Irvine…The Muslim Student Union on campus promotes ethnic hatred, advocates for terrorism, and calls for the downfall of both America and Israel…This is an issue that affects the entire community and the reputation of a very good university. This group received money from student government to host some of the most absurd and hateful speakers imaginable…By remaining silent, we are not alleviating any of these problems.”

Another recent UCI alumnus, who wished to remain anonymous, said “I am heartened that the ZOA continues to pressure the UC and UCI administrations for once (1) to demonstrate real public recognition of, and (2) to take effective action against the on-going anti-Semitism on campus…A good start would be for Chancellor Drake to finally publicly define the term ‘anti-Semitism,’ and then demonstrably identify prior examples of anti-Semitism on campus.”

However, James Weiss, M.D., a member of the Board of Directors of Jewish Federation of Orange County, takes exception to the facts in the ZOA’s National President Morton A. Klein’s letter. According to Weiss, “In the first sentence of page 4, Mr. Klein writes, ‘…UCI is presently under federal investigation for the second time…’ He is referring, I believe, to an investigation by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). As far as I know there is no second investigation as yet underway. According to the ZOA’s press release from June 6, 2008, ‘OCR indicated that it had determined that several of the ZOA’s allegations “are appropriate for investigation under the laws enforced by OCR. . . . We will contact you soon to discuss the allegations and complaint resolution process.’ OCR had yet to begin an investigation and to my knowledge one not been started as of today.”

Weiss agrees with the ZOA’s position that anti-Semitic speech should cease on the UCI campus, as it should everywhere around the world. He said, “Certainly the Muslim Student Union (MSU) has been guilty of anti-Semitic speech there. It was my personal observation that the anti-Semitic rhetoric on display was much more muted during MSU’s week of demonstration in May 2008, compared to similar events in previous years. It is my belief that the toned down rhetoric this year is due in large part to the efforts of Chancellor Michael Drake, as well as the efforts of the Jewish Federation of Orange County, Hillel, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Stand With Us, and others.”

Weiss cited positive data about Jewish Life on the UCI campus:

Israel advocacy funding resources have increased dramatically.

• Hillel has a new energized team to work with students and cultivate them to become leaders.

• This past summer Chancellor Drake traveled to Israel with University of California President Marc Yudof. Fourteen UCI students went to Israel with University Vice-Chancellor Manuel Gomez to build a foundation to work through the issues of conflict at UCI.

• Chancellor Drake has urged any Jewish student to come directly to him any time he or she felt intimidated. During the last academic year, Chancellor Drake kept in constant touch with Jewish student leaders to ensure that their voice was heard and safety protected.

Tuchman acknowledged that Chancellor Drake has made more efforts than his predecessors, but she wants him to let the perpetrators know that anti-Semitism is against the values of the university. “If just one student is being harassed, we as a community have to be concerned about it, and so does the chancellor,” she concluded.

Some Antidotes to Hate Speech on Campus

Jewish National Fund and Media Watch International sponsor the Caravan for Democracy Program, which drives constructive dialogue on college campuses throughout the United States by bringing different speakers from Israel to discuss the challenges Israel faces as the only democracy in the Middle East. Caravan for Democracy provides access to resources and opinions to encourage critical thinking about the issues affecting Israel, its commitment to peace, how it is covered in the media, and its unique role in the region. Learn more at www.caravanfordemocracy. org, caravan@jnf.org, or (800) 969-5585×247.

StandWithUs is an international education organization that ensures that Israel’s side of the story is told in communities, campuses, libraries, the media and churches through brochures, speakers and conferences. Stand- WithUs brings up-to-date information, resources, and tools for Israel advocacy on and off campus. The organization uses new technologies and creates fresh initiatives to reach out to today’s young campus activists. Learn more at www.standwithuscampus.com.


 


 

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