Zionist Organization of America National President Morton A. Klein and Director of ZOA’s Center for Law & Justice, Susan B. Tuchman, Esq., released the following statement:
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) criticizes the University of Southern California (USC) for its continuing weak and inadequate response to campus antisemitism. In a letter addressed to “members of USC’s Jewish community,” USC President Carol L. Folt recently announced the steps that USC intends to take “to systematically and operationally combat antisemitism on our campuses.” Unfortunately, the president’s letter reflects a continuing failure to acknowledge the depth of the antisemitism problem at USC. A USC student threatened to murder “Zionists” and praised the murder of Jews, and yet President Folt’s letter does not condemn the student and her conduct, and does not make it clear that any student who makes antisemitic threats will be punished.
In the spring and summer of 2021, a USC student named Yasmeen Mashayekh posted numerous frightening and threatening statements on social media. She declared that “I want to kill every mother f**king Zionist” and that “Zionists are going to f**king pay.” She called for Israel’s elimination. She cursed the Jews. She praised Palestinian Arabs for setting Jews on fire, and declared her “love” for the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas, which is committed in its charter to the murder of every Jew and to Israel’s destruction.
Though USC admitted that it knew about this dangerous student’s actions since last summer, there is no indication that USC sanctioned her in any way – other than to remove her from a paid mentoring position – and USC did not issue a single statement to the community condemning this student’s horrifying conduct and making it clear that it would not be tolerated. USC faculty members, the ZOA, and many others criticized USC for its silence and inaction, eventually resulting in President Folt’s letter to the Jewish community and USC’s purported action steps. Regrettably and surprisingly, several Jewish and pro-Israel groups applauded the president’s recent letter; one group called it “a creative solution” to improve life for Jews at USC.
The ZOA strongly disagrees. The letter is no solution at all. Here’s why:
- President Folt’s letter was addressed to “USC’s Jewish community and supporters” and failed to accurately describe the problems that led to the letter. President Folt refers simply to “recent antisemitic and anti-Zionist posts on social media,” wrongly omitting the important facts that the posts were made by a USC student, and that they were not just antisemitic and anti-Zionist but also physically threatening and dangerous. It would have been more meaningful if the president’s letter had been addressed to the entire USC community, so that everyone would understand that antisemitism is a serious and ongoing problem at USC and that USC is finally committed to addressing it.
- President Folt wrongly touted “USC’s reputation as a supportive and welcoming environment for our Jewish community,” failing to acknowledge that there is a deeply troubling history of antisemitism problems at USC. So much so, that it led the Simon Wiesenthal Center to include USC on its annual Global Antisemitism Top Ten List for 2021 – and USC bears the shameful distinction of being the only school on the list. In 2020, a USC student named Rose Ritch was tormented for months by other students, simply because she is a proud Jew and Israel supporter. For the sake of her physical and emotional safety and well-being, Ms. Ritch felt compelled to resign from her student government position. There is no indication that her bullies suffered any consequences for their misconduct, and USC never even publicly condemned them.
- USC’s plan to combat campus antisemitism is to (1) create an Advisory Committee on Jewish Life at USC; (2) ensure Jewish representation and inclusion in USC’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts; and (3) establish a “student-focused campus pledge to act in accordance with” USC’s principles and values. Not one of these steps is a concrete and meaningful response to the still-existing antisemitism problem at USC: A student who publicly declared her desire to kill every Zionist and praised the murder of Jews remains a serious danger to the community. Yet she is still a student at USC – and to the ZOA’s knowledge, remains a diversity, equity and inclusion senator for USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
A truly impactful response to the current antisemitism problem would consist of the following:
- A message from President Folt issued to the entire USC community, acknowledging that antisemitism has been a persistent problem at USC, and that USC is finally committed to addressing it. The statement should condemn the student and her dangerous and frightening social media posts and make it clear that any student who engages in antisemitic threats or harassment will be harshly punished.
- Yasmeen Mashayekh should be expelled immediately. She has shown no remorse for her actions and thus continues to pose a physical danger to every Jew, Israeli and Israel supporter at USC. At a minimum, she should be harshly disciplined. USC should insist that the student government remove Yasmeen Mashayekh from her position as a diversity, equity and inclusion senator in the engineering school. The very notion that she is acting in this capacity, when she is an unabashed Jew- and Israel-hater, is outrageous and unacceptable.
- USC should immediately report Yasmeen Mashayekh’s conduct to law enforcement, if it has not done so already. California takes threats of violence or harm very seriously. Under California Penal Code Section 422, it does not matter whether the person who makes a threat intends to carry it out. USC cannot know whether this law is implicated here and must take every precaution to protect its community and ensure that legal infractions are prosecuted and punished.
- USC should waste no more time and finally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, and then notify the USC community that it is doing so and why. Last June, the ZOA led 30 other organizations in writing to President Folt and other university leaders across the country, decrying rising antisemitism and urging them to adopt the IHRA definition, which importantly identifies when anti-Israelism crosses into antisemitism. President Folt did not bother to respond to our letter. It is obvious that USC is in need of this useful and widely accepted guide to understanding how antisemitism is expressed today, including when it relates to Israel, so that USC can start truly effectively addressing this ongoing and serious problem on its campus.
The ZOA is deeply disappointed in the members of the Jewish and pro-Israel community who applauded the steps that USC said it would be taking. Creating committees, considering campus climate surveys, and taking pledges are not enough to address the dangerous and persistent antisemitism at USC. Much more is needed – and now – and all of us should be insisting on it. Otherwise, USC will be under no pressure to take any truly serious and meaningful steps to condemn antisemites, hold them accountable, and eliminate this ugly anti-Jewish bigotry on the campus.