Tag Archives: anti-semitism

BDS: Jew-Hating Propagandists on the March

The anti-Semitic Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel keeps reaching for—and finding—new depths of indecency.  Among the deepest descenders into this abyss is Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers.  Professor Puar recently garnered national attention for her address at Vassar, February 3, “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters.”  The talk has not been published, but some in the audience reported that Puar exhorted armed resistance to Israel; alleged that Israel “mined for organs” from dead Palestinians; and claimed that Israel systematically starves Palestinians as part of a medical experiment.

Readers can get a good idea of what Puar had to say from her November 2015 essay, published in Borderlands, “The ‘Right’ to Maim: Disablement and Inhumanist Biopolitics in Palestine.” The “right to maim,” to be clear, does not refer to the epidemic of stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians.  It refers to an “implicit claim” by Israel “to the right to maim and debilitate Palestinian bodies and environments as a form of biopolitical control.”

Related: Worry about Islamophobia but not about Anti-Semitism

The talk provoked heated responses, both to its substance and to the eight Vassar academic departments (including Jewish Studies) that sponsored it. But it also introduced a new angle in the current controversies over free expression on campus. The Vassar professor who introduced Puar asked the audience to “refrain from recording this evening’s proceedings, in the spirit of congeniality and mutual respect, though it is not against the law.” This request was also made as part of “the modest contract of trust essential to the exchange of ideas.”

As Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson observed, “Requesting non-recording of an open, public event on the pretext that non-recording is ‘essential to the exchange of ideas’ is odd.”

Puar’s talk leapt to national attention when Mark Yudof, former president of the University of California, and Ken Waltzer, an emeritus professor of history from Michigan State, published an op-ed, “Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar,” in the Wall Street Journal. Puar objected that Yudof and Waltzer quoted her out of context. If they erred, it would be easy enough for Puar to set the record straight by releasing the transcript. Instead, she has protested her right to give public lectures that are off the record.

And in this she has gained support from 966 (so far) signatories around the country of a public letter asking Vassar’s president to defend Puar. The letter says that the criticism of Puar chills her speech and curbs her academic freedom. Puar has become the target of “heinous and misinformed attacks” because of her speech, as well as her “vilification” in “the ugly op-ed” in the Wall Street Journal.

Related: An Anti-Semitism Controversy at Stanford

These attacks, the signatories say, are all the more disgraceful in light of Puar’s scholarly achievement, including “her acclaimed book Terrorist Assemblages,” (subtitled Homonationalism in Queer Times) and other writings, “of the highest professional and scholarly rigor.” The scholars who have signed the letter include Judith Butler, Marilyn Hacker, Rashid Khalidi, Steven Salaita, Angela Davis, Rick Ayers (Bill’s brother) and some other familiar names. The list of signatories includes 137 who have appointments in English departments; 92 in either Women’s Studies or Feminist Studies; 55 in American Studies; 52 in Anthropology; nine in international studies; and seven in Environmental Studies.  Twenty have faculty appointments at Rutgers, including twelve members of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.

Thirty-five have some Vassar connection, though only eight teach there.

Three weeks after her talk at Vassar, Puar was scheduled to speak at Fordham on “the biopolitics of debility in Gaza.” The New York Daily News, alerted to curious aspects of Puar’s public presentations, nudged Fordham into noticing that Puar had imposed a “no recording” stipulation on her talk. But Fordham’s president, observing that a public lecture is a public lecture, said Fordham would not stop people from recording Puar’s words. Moreover, to avoid claims and counter-claims about her speech, Fordham itself would record and disseminate it.  That was too much for Puar, who cancelled her talk.

Puar also threatened to sue anyone who records her talks or makes public any existing recordings of her talk from Vassar.

Related: A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

At nearly the same moment that the Fordham events were unfolding, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay, “The Free-Speech Fallacy,” by Puar supporter Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale.  Stanley praises Puar as “an agenda-setting scholar” whose work has had “a level of impact few academics achieve in a lifetime.” But then he pivots to his real subject: his attack on the critics who say “left-wing social justice” is a threat to free speech. He dismisses Yudof’s and Waltzer’s defense of free speech as hypocritical, since their op-ed inflamed people against Puar.  He jabs at Jonathan Haidt for framing the view that “academe suffers from a leftist ideological uniformity.” He sneers at the Heterodox Academy group, which, at Haidt’s lead, criticizes the left’s aversion to free speech.

Stanley trivializes their complaint: “I told my mother the other day that she shouldn’t tell me that I am overweight. Was I challenging her freedom of speech?” In Stanley’s view, people who complain about leftist repression of free speech are like students in a mathematics class complaining when their errors are corrected.

Returning to Puar, Stanley argues that those of us who criticize her smears against Israel are attempting to “silence oppressed and marginalized groups.” This is a head-spinning argument to the effect that support for free speech is really anti-free speech. It is anti-free speech because it impedes the voices of those who purport to speak for the oppressed. But silencing the defenders of Israel is acceptable because they speak for the privileged and powerful.

The core of the problem is that anti-Israel propagandists such as Puar and other “social justice advocates” want a double standard. They demand the right to speak, but they want none of the responsibility of having their views held up to ordinary standards of evidence and argument, or their words made accessible to audiences beyond their chosen venues.

To respect intellectual freedom, we must allow room for speakers such as Jasbir Puar and John Derbyshire, but we must also allow room for those who disagree to have their say, and those who dissent from such disagreement to have their say too.  Nearly all colleges and universities are failing this test—though hats off to Fordham for refusing Puar’s demand to bottle-up her talk.

It is our deep misfortune to live at a time when the illiberal left, luxuriating in its “social justice” agenda has also embraced anti-Semitism and developed a new sophistry aimed at providing a free pass for the propagandists who claim to speak for the oppressed. Intellectual freedom never means immunity to criticism. It means making your best case and, if you can, answering your critics. Puar’s problem, it seems, is that she can’t.

Worry about Islamophobia, but Not Anti-Semitism

Southern Connecticut State University, where I teach, has gone to great lengths to accommodate Muslims — and reject the slightest manifestations of Islamophobia — while acting complacently toward egregious anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Concurrently, widely publicized events at Vassar and Oberlin Colleges reveal that displays of anti-Semitism typically cause uproar within the Jewish community but near silence by others, who even go so far as to defend hateful expression as freedom of speech.

In recent months, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bullying, misrepresentation and double standards have been common fare. In one case, an academic named Jasbir Puar who claims to be a feminist, and who is associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, gave voice to the latter. In her controversial Feb. 3, 2016 lecture at Vassar, Puar asserted that Israel conducts scientific experiments in “stunting growth” of Palestinian bodies. Apart from engaging in classic forms of anti-Semitic blood libel, she is a queer theorist of so-called “homonationalism,” or the concept that LGBT people in progressive liberal Western countries where they have won civil liberties have become “co-opted” and “discriminate against” other minorities — specifically Muslim immigrants, whom they falsely accuse of harboring homophobia. Puar, operating in what Hillary Clinton calls the “evidence free zone,” turns against feminist concerns, demonizes Western LGBT people and Israel, and accepts Islamic fundamentalism as the manifestation of legitimate Muslim grievances against the West.

A Troubling Report on Anti-Semitism

Worse still, at Oberlin, Assistant Professor Joy Karega, who teaches rhetoric and composition, has given voice on Facebook to bizarre and virulent anti-Semitic rants, blaming Jews and Israelis for masterminding 9/11, the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks and the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014. In response to communications she has received from others castigating her or attempting to educate her about antisemitism, she has announced that she plans to write a book-length work defending anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as legitimate responses against those with “hegemonic power,” and, basically, to critique how Jews conspire to silence anti-Semitic expression.

In the meantime, the observant Jewish president of Oberlin, Marvin Krislov, initially responded only tepidly, by defending her right to “academic freedom of speech” but without offering any acknowledgment of the vicious anti-Semitism of her posts. Only after intense pressure from Jewish groups has the Oberlin Board of Trustees recently released a statement of condemnation with the suggestion of taking disciplinary action. Meanwhile Karega would surely have been immediately and severely reprimanded publicly had she engaged in anti-Islam (or sexist, racist, or homophobic) conspiracy theories.

At my own institution, in December 2015, the Faculty Senate — which putatively deals with matters involving academic policy and administration — held a regular meeting that showed how the practice of ignoring anti-Semitism while focusing on Islamophobia operates. During that meeting, one Senator mentioned that some students had made a derogatory comment to another student about her hijab. A Muslim faculty member who was present also said that Muslim students had come to her with concerns over how they were perceived on campus. These events quickly led to an impassioned discussion about anti-Islam bias.

This public conversation took place on a campus where there are a sizeable number of Islamic students who usually interact seamlessly with non-Islamic students and where views of Donald Trump range from disapproval to disgust. However the Senate passed a motion and decided to hold, on February 3, 2016, a two-hour campus-wide meeting to “raise awareness of Islam.” The Senate justified the choice of this time to ensure that as many professors as possible would be able to attend and bring their students. The Senate scheduled the forum to take place at one of the largest venues on campus, and Faculty Senate President William Faraclas announced plans for an aggressive campaign of public outreach.

Steering Orthodox Jews Away from Massad at Columbia

Insofar as bias against and ignorance of Islam remains prevalent, the Faculty Senate action was commendable, appropriate and timely. But the lavish attention given to this one form of prejudice seemed somewhat misplaced. And this is particularly true in light of other remarks offered at that same Senate meeting, at which another faculty member noted in passing during the conversation about Islamophobia that swastikas had been painted in a public women’s bathroom in the main academic building on campus. The Senate was not interested in this comment. Unlike in the case of the remark about Islam, the swastikas were not perceived as problematic, or representative of a more widespread issue that the campus needed to address.

Further, painting swastikas in bathrooms is a hate crime — something far more serious than inappropriate comments about hijabs or concerns about perception. But in the contest between merely negative remarks and painted swastikas, the negative remarks won by a landslide. The Senate went even further: it even canceled its next regular meeting so that the entire Senate would be obliged to attend this forum on Islam.

To my personal knowledge, apart from the swastikas, there have been at least three anti-Semitic hate crimes committed against Southern faculty alone since 2008 — at least one of them involving death threats against the faculty member and her family as well as defacement of Jewish and Israeli materials posted on office doors. Further, during that same time period, Jewish students have complained to me about false anti-Israel allegations made by professors and, led by them, students as well. Rather than the Faculty Senate taking these seriously — anti-Semitic hate crimes and hateful classroom commentaries by professors — it did nothing.

The fact is this: while the mildest critical remarks or behavior directed toward Islam (or any other protected group) produce serious public outcry, anti-Semitism on campus, particularly in the form of anti-Semitic animus directed at Israel, is widely perceived as permissible.

On my campus, after repeated complaints made by Jewish faculty members — but, of course, no one else — a forum focusing on Judaism and anti-Semitism is finally in the planning stages. It remains to be seen whether or not the Faculty Senate will cancel its regular meeting or dedicate similar time and resources to it.

Reprinted with permission from The Algemeiner


Corinne E. Blackmer teaches English and Judaic Studies at Southern Connecticut State University.

UCal Regents Strike Back at Napolitano

On September 17 a committee of the Regents of the University of California discussed at their regular meeting a proposed “Statement of Principles against Intolerance” that had been drafted and offered for their approval by President Janet Napolitano and her staff. The Regents resoundingly rejected the draft, by implication questioning Napolitano’s judgment that it was worth their time. Items on the Regents’ agenda rarely attract public attention, but this one was different. Before the meeting the Regents received thousands of communications objecting to the statement, and both before and during the meeting there was severe criticism by individuals, organizations, and Regents.

Both state and national press reported on the event, but these accounts seemed in some ways confusing because the statement was criticized for two quite different reasons. Some thought the statement went too far, while others thought it didn’t go far enough. The latter wanted stronger action against campus anti-Semitism, while the former saw in the statement a threat to the free expression of ideas. But both wanted it withdrawn.

To fully grasp what happened at the meeting we need to understand that two different developments on the UC campuses, involving very different kinds of people, led up to the meeting. The one involved an ugly series of anti-Semitic incidents on the campuses. The other was a movement to identify and stamp out “microaggressions.”

The anti-Semitic incidents were well documented, and persistent. There have been painted Swastikas, graffiti expressing Nazi sentiments (e.g., “Hitler was right” and “Zionists should be sent to the gas chambers”), vandalizing of a Holocaust Museum, physical threats and even physical attacks. In particular, students wearing the Star of David are often menaced or assaulted. In one case a student was surrounded by angry Muslim students who threatened to kill him. Before the meeting over 100 UC faculty wrote a letter to the Regents expressing alarm at campus anti-Semitism, and noting that too often criticism of Israel crosses the line into attacks on Jews as people.

The campus climate is also influenced by bias in many classrooms, where treatments of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute commonly fall short of what competent academic inquiry must be: a sober presentation of all the relevant historical facts (not just those that favor one side), and of how those facts are interpreted by all the major participants. Instead, lectures and readings often present only one interpretation, and therefore only the evidence that supports that interpretation.

Microaggression Hunters

At the meeting, Regent and former Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez laid to rest any possible doubts about the authenticity of these campus reports when he coolly said that he himself had witnessed actions on a variety of campuses which by any reasonable person’s definition were anti-Semitic. But perhaps the most compelling incident was the UCLA student Council’s vote to deny Rachel Beyda’s proposed appointment to its judicial Council on the grounds that she was Jewish.

The Nuremburg laws at UC? (The vote was hastily reversed only when the majority began to understand what this would cost them.)   The microaggression hunters, on the other hand, seemed to need a microscope to find what they were looking for. They wanted to see intolerance, bigotry, racism and sexism in all kinds of seemingly innocuous everyday language, so that, for example, to say “the most qualified person should get the job” must be interpreted as covert aggression and bigotry towards minorities, and not (as we always thought) simply the expression of a common view of an important question in social policy.

The common expression “America is the land of opportunity” might seem benign to most of us, but for the microaggression people it too carried dark implications of bigotry. And if a professor notices a minority graduate student looking lost in the corridors of a campus science building and offers help, that too is a microaggression, because the implication is that the student is really there to break into one of the labs. The draft statement offered a real gem: calling disabled people disabled would be a microaggression too.

Invisible Bigotry  

Side by side, the two situations formed an odd contrast. The microaggression hunters strained to find bigotry that nobody else could see, but managed not to notice all too real, well-documented bigotry and aggression that horrified others. They were quick to notice the slightest hurt to anyone’s feelings in some cases, but couldn’t see real emotional anguish even when it was repeatedly brought to their attention. What explains the exaggerated zeal in the one case, and total lack of concern in the other?

First of all, microaggression theorists have a finite list of groups that are oppressed and need protection, and Jews are not on their list.  (History is not their strong suit.)   Another motivating factor is surely a desire to narrow the range of permissible expression on campus. People who have reasoned doubts about affirmative action, or who think the free market a powerful force for the good, would be effectively silenced if the microaggression theorists had their way.

Finally there is the fact that on the modern campus denouncing racism and sexism seems to satisfy a deep-seated need for moral self-congratulation, though it is now terribly hard to find much of it there: campuses are devoutly politically correct places. Hence the frenzied attempts to find even the faintest traces of the sins that can afford the delights of ritual moral preening.

Common Sense

Needless to say, whenever accounts of microaggression theory come to the attention of the general public, the common sense of those who don’t live on campuses comes into play: the public finds all of this so stupid as to border on demented. And for everyone but the tiny charmed circle of microaggression obsessives, there is no need for any more nuanced judgment.

While both strands of campus life fed into what happened at the Regents’ meeting, only one of them actually provoked the session. The clamor at widespread, gross campus anti-Semitism became so great that something obviously had to be done about it.  But—and this is the crucial point for an understanding of what happened at the meeting—while anti-Semitism, not the notion of microaggressions, sparked the need for the meeting, Janet Napolitano assigned the drafting of the statement to the wrong side: she gave it to the microaggression theorists. She had recently created the new position of Vice-Provost for Diversity and Engagement (at a salary around $200,000), and the first appointee to that title is UC’s premier advocate of microaggressions. Predictably, microaggression people wanted to use the occasion to advance their own ideas, and so the draft was heavy on microaggressions, and didn’t even mention anti-Semitism.

This couldn’t have been a simple misjudgment on Napolitano’s part, for she is herself heavily invested in microaggressions. Earlier this year she set up a series of seminars on each of the ten campuses in which microaggression theory was relentlessly pressed on deans and department chairs. When protests arose about the inanity of the content of these meetings, Napolitano had her staff claim that the seminars had been purely voluntary. But that was a lie. In her letter of invitation to the seminars she had spoken firmly of “the seminar you will be attending,” and bluntly informed everyone that she had asked to be informed of attendance on each campus. Attend, or else, was the clear message.

Dodging Anti-Semitism

Reaction to the draft at the Regents’ meeting was withering.  Many Regents were openly contemptuous of a statement that avoided any real engagement with campus anti-Semitism.  Regent Norman Pattiz set the tone, leading off his remarks by asking: “What is this? It doesn’t say anything about anything.” He went on to say that it was “insulting” to the people who had brought the problem to the Regents.

Pattiz was clearly angry at UC’s attempt to dodge the problem of anti-Semitism, and the next three Regents explicitly associated themselves with his devastating remarks. The remaining five who spoke took essentially a similar view. John Perez called the statement a “whitewash…one which essentially says nothing,” and just walks away from offensive behavior. Bonnie Reiss lamented the fact that the statement gave no indication that the Regents had listened to the complainants. Bruce Varner said that we needed a statement that dealt with the real issue. And the student Regent, Abraham Oved, said that he had tried to make suggestions to the Vice-Provost who was drafting the statement, but was rebuffed.

Regent Richard Blum even went to the extraordinary length of saying that he had discussed the draft with his wife (US Senator Diane Feinstein), and that she planned to comment publicly about the university unless it produced something much better than this. As a UC faculty member I’ve seen 10 Presidents come and go, and don’t recall any of them being treated with such contempt.

Volokh’s Reaction

People concerned about the free expression of ideas on campus had been just as disturbed. A few days before the meeting, free speech theorist Eugene Volokh had published a highly critical analysis of the draft: . But though it was the microaggression silliness in the draft that prior to the meeting had most attracted adverse comment by those concerned about free expression, it was barely mentioned at the meeting, except in so far as the statement was repeatedly denounced as meaningless and empty.

Evidently, all present felt that that was all the commentary that microaggression deserved. Apart from issues of substance, the statement was also a confused and contradictory mess. It claimed to honor free expression while attempting to restrict it. It claimed not to be punitive while condemning certain expressions as unacceptable. As staff work it was lamentably incompetent, and yet Janet Napolitano thought it good enough to place before the Regents.

The furor at the meeting was a humiliation of Napolitano, and she knew it.  She responded to the discussion only with a short, halting, barely coherent comment. But then the next blow fell: the Regents took the whole matter out of the President’s hands, giving it to a committee that they would set up expressly to deal with it, one composed of Regents, faculty and students. Napolitano and her Vice-Provost for Diversity and Engagement would no longer be in control.

Grasp of Free Expression

The result of the meeting was in one way encouraging for UC. The university community and the Regents had recognized the draft for the absurdity that it was, and demanded better.  And the Regents had done what governing boards so rarely do:  they had intervened decisively after it had become clear that the administration could not or would not do the right thing.

What particularly impressed me was Regent Perez’s clear grasp of the nature of free expression indispensable to campus life, and of the need for firm action on anti-Semitism but only within the limits of that framework. University spokesmen never came close to this level of analysis and understanding.   What was not so encouraging was that UC’s President had been unable to recognize empty verbiage when she saw it, that she had committed herself unequivocally to the foolishness of microaggression theory, and that she was wasting a great deal of the university’s time and money on it.

When Napolitano was appointed, doubts were expressed about the appointment of a political figure with no experience in academic institutions. What has now become clear is that things are much worse than that. To debate the pros and cons of Napolitano’s performance in restrained academic fashion, setting out logical points for and against, would not really do justice to the situation. Only some rather more blunt language will do that: the meeting at which Napolitano presented her draft statement on intolerance brought shame on a great University, and a realization that it now has a politically correct president who is not up to the job.

Checking In on Yale’s New Anti-Semitism Program

Did the shuttering last year of a Yale institute created to study anti-Semitism have anything to do with campus politics? The university denied it. But the Yale Interdisciplinary Initiative for the Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was eliminated amid attacks from Palestinian representatives and anti-Israel faculty.

Continue reading Checking In on Yale’s New Anti-Semitism Program

Facing Down Anti-Semitism on Campus

At long last an attempt is bring made to curtail blatant anti-Semitic commentary on American campuses. The Israel Law Center warns that colleges and universities “may be liable for massive damage” if they fail to prevent anti-Semitism. The center sent hundreds of letters to university presidents drawing a line in the sand. This Israel civil rights center is carrying out this campaign in response to an alarming number of incidents against Jewish and Israeli students at U.S. universities.

A center’s lawyer, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said, “Anti-Israel rallies and events frequently exceed legitimate criticism of Israel and cross the line into blatant anti-Semitism, resulting in hateful attacks against Jews.” A student at Rutgers, to cite one example, said he was called “a racist Zionist pig” in a Facebook posting. That comment was made when the student questioned a Student Assembly decision to donate money to the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a nonprofit organization with ties to the Holy Land Foundation, a foundation that has funded Hamas.

Continue reading Facing Down Anti-Semitism on Campus

Yale’s New, Neutered, Anti-Semitism Program

A few weeks ago, Yale announced that it had terminated the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-semitism (YIISA). The official version of events, according to university spokespersons, cited two reasons: (1) an alleged failure by Yale professors affiliated with the institute to produce a sufficient level of scholarship; and (2) an alleged lack of interest from Yale students in courses related to anti-Semitism. This official version always seemed a little dubious, since Yale refused to release the evaluation report on which it allegedly based its decision. Yale’s action drew condemnation from a host of Jewish groups, most prominently the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

Very quickly, beginning with an op-ed from Abby Wisse Schachter, an alternative explanation emerged: that Yale had shuttered the program because YIISA events had explored anti-Semitism in the contemporary Arab world, a line of inquiry that runs perilously close to offending the campus politically correct (and potential Middle Eastern donors to Yale).

This alternative theory was (unintentionally) confirmed by Yale professor Jeffrey Alexander, a sociologist with no apparent research interest in anti-Semitism who nonetheless was appointed to the center’s faculty-governance committee. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Alexander believed that YIISA’s 2010 conference was insufficiently scholarly, and instead featured too many speakers eager “to dismiss public concerns with the Israeli government’s behavior,” especially “Israel’s military and settlement policies.” He urged closing the program immediately, rather than giving it a chance to reform.

Monday brought news that all but confirmed that Yale had acted against YIISA for political rather than scholarly reasons. Despite the alleged poor production of Yale scholars interested in anti-Semitism, and despite the alleged lack of interest of Yale students in courses on the topic, Yale announced that while YIISA would not rise again, the university had decided to establish a new interdisciplinary institute dealing with anti-Semitism. The Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism will begin work this fall, under the leadership of Maurice Samuels, a professor of French and author of Inventing the Israelite: Jewish Fiction in Nineteenth-Century France.

So what’s the difference between YIISA and the Yale Program for the Study of Anti-Semitism? The New Yale Program, Samuels strongly implied, will avoid anything resembling the pro-Israel positions that so offended Alexander and like-minded colleagues. “Contemporary anti-Semitism,” he wrote in a statement supplied by Yale’s public-affairs office to the Chronicle, is best studied through an approach of placing “current events into historical context.” Yale’s official announcement also steered the new program heavily away from anything that might offend campus left-wingers eager to demonize Israel or to minimize the linkage between anti-Semitism and contemporary anti-Israel attitudes: “Professor Samuels and his colleagues have Yale’s remarkable library resources at their disposal, including the Fortunoff Video Archives of Holocaust Testimonies and the 95,000-volume Judaica collection of the Yale Library.”

Samuels’ program, of course, is better than nothing, especially if it is able to increase course offerings and research support to Yale students. But Yale’s handling of this affair, from start to finish, gives the lie to any claim of freedom of thought on the New Haven campus.

Yale Professor Deems Anti-Semitism Initiative Too Pro-Israel

Decisions about academic programs  rarely appear as the subject of op-eds in major newspapers. But  In today’s Washington Post, Walter Reich, a George Washington University professor and a member of the international academic board of advisors of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA), denounced Yale’s controversial decision to terminate the initiative.

Reich noted that quite beyond the importance of the topic–and the fact that only one other U.S. university (Indiana) has a similar interdisciplinary program–“the quality and output of the Yale institute have been superb and wide-ranging. The institute has attracted scholars from around the world to study anti-Semitism and to present papers; has numerous governance committees, most of them composed of eminent Yale faculty; and has an international academic board of advisers . . . from other universities.”

He suggested that outcry over YIISA’s 2010 conference–which was denounced for focusing on anti-Semitism in the Arab world–accounted for Yale’s decision.

Continue reading Yale Professor Deems Anti-Semitism Initiative Too Pro-Israel

Yale Eliminates Its Initiative Studying Anti-Semitism

The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was established nearly five years ago, the fourth  university center  in the world devoted to the subject ( after the Technical University of Berlin, and Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University ) and the first in the United States. Now, in a surprise announcement, Yale is eliminating the center because it “failed to meet high standards for research and instruction,”  according to an official statement.

If so, why terminate the program, rather than give it a chance to improve? The decision followed what was deemed a negative review report, a document Yale has so far declined to release.”Yale is strongly committed to freedom of speech, which gives rise to a rich diversity of views on campus.” So spoke Frances Rosenbluth, deputy provost for social sciences and faculty development, rationalizing the university’s decision .Yet, as the disgraceful  OCR/DKE affair reveals, Yale is not “committed to freedom of speech,” strongly or otherwise. Why, then, did Rosenbluth elect to justify the YIISA decision by painting a misleading picture of the campus climate?

The decision has prompted an outcry from national Jewish organizations. The ADL’s Abraham Foxman correctly noted that “especially at a time when anti-Semitism continues to be virulent and anti-Israel parties treat any effort to address issues relating to anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism as illegitimate, Yale’s decision is particularly unfortunate and dismaying.” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris added that his organization “has been impressed by the level of scholarly discourse, the involvement of key faculty, and the initiative’s ability, through conferences and other programs, to bring a wide range of voices to the Yale campus,” and worried that “if Yale now leaves the field, it will create a very regrettable void.” Indeed, Rosenbluth herself had said, just last year, that YIISA was “guided by an outstanding group of scholars from all over the university representing many different disciplines.”

Continue reading Yale Eliminates Its Initiative Studying Anti-Semitism

CUNY Trustees Stand Up Against Faculty’s Anti-Israel Sentiments

Over the past year, it seems as if faculty at the City University of New York have done everything they can to make it seem as if hostility to Israel is the institutions official policy. First came Brooklyn Colleges decision to assign as the one and only required book for all incoming students a book penned by boycott-divestment-sanctions advocate Moustafa Bayoumi. The work contained such preposterous (and wholly unsupported) arguments as between 1987 and 2001, the U.S. government approach toward “Arab Americans” was “more often used to limit the speech of Arab Americans in order to cement U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Then, to open spring term, Brooklyns Political Science Department assigned an M.A. class a graduate student who hadnt even passed his qualifying exams–but did possess the requisite wildly anti-Israel views. Then, to complete the trifecta, John Jays faculty wanted to confer an honorary degree on BDS backer Tony Kushner, who has remarked that “I can unambivalently say that I think that it’s a terrible historical problem that modern Israel came into existence.”

At this point, the CUNY trustees finally stepped in to put a stop to the nonsense. At the urging of Trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, who has a long record both of supporting excellence at the institution and of standing up to extremist voices among the faculty, the Trustees exercised their authority and overrode John Jays ill-considered decision.

As Wiesenfeld subsequently explained, I would no differently oppose a racist for an honorary degree who personifies himself by calumny against a people . . . An honorary degree is wholly within the absolute discretion of the board to grant. It identifies the University with accomplished, generous citizens or public figures. It is also a tool which highlights the University and enhances its image in the educational marketplace. Every year, there are candidates that some trustees may not particularly favor. We can all express dissent where we warrant it – it is our right . . . No extremist from any quarter is a good face for any University — from far left or far right. Honorary degrees are public declarations of esteem by the university community conveyed to the honoree; for the university, they are image-building, advertising and publicity as well. The denial of the honorary degree to Mr. Kushner, despite his protestations, was a reflection of his long-held radical sentiments, which are a matter of indisputable and contextual public record. CUNY should remain a place of comfort and welcome for all of our students, faculty and administrators – including supporters of the Jewish State.

Continue reading CUNY Trustees Stand Up Against Faculty’s Anti-Israel Sentiments

Fighting Back Against Campus Anti-Semitism

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One day last March Jessica Felber, then 20, a Jewish undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley, was standing on her campus, holding a placard bearing the words: “Israel Wants Peace.”  At that moment, Husam Zakaria, a Berkeley student leader of Students for Justice in Palestine, reportedly rammed Felber from behind so hard with a loaded shopping cart that she had to be taken to the university’s urgent medical care facility.  This violent episode has become sadly emblematic of a wave of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents that have rippled across the country, nowhere more so than in the “Golden State,” which has become an epicenter for the New Anti-Semitism in America.  What makes this case different is that Felber fought back, charging this month in a federal lawsuit that UC Berkeley has ignored mounting evidence of anti-Jewish animus and should be held liable for the injuries she suffered.  Her  suit also contends that “physical intimidation and violence were frequently employed as a tactic by SJP and other campus groups in an effort to silence students on campus who support Israel”.

Sixty miles or so south of Berkeley along the Pacific coast, University of California Santa Cruz lecturer Tammi Rossman-Benjamin makes a similar case against her own employer.  For several years, Rossman-Benjamin has spoken out against anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism at the University of California, but she insists that the problem is not limited to a few rogue students:  “Professors, academic departments and residential colleges at UCSC promote and encourage anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish views and behavior,” she insists, “much of which is based on either misleading information or outright falsehood.”  Rossman-Benjamin describes an atmosphere at Santa Cruz in which taxpayer-supported, university-sponsored discourse that “demonizes Israel, compares contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, calls for the dismantling of the Jewish State, and holds Israel to an impossible double standard – crosses the line into anti-Semitism…”  Like Felber, Rossman-Benjamin is fighting back.  The Santa Cruz whistle-blower filed a civil rights action with the U.S. Department of Education’s powerful Office for Civil Rights, arguing that UCSC has created a hostile environment for Jewish students.  Last week, OCR sent a powerful signal to academia when it informed Rossman-Benjamin that it is formally opening an investigation of her claims.

The Jessica Felber and Tammi Rossman-Benjamin stories are just the tip of the iceberg.  Over the last decade – since 9/11 and the start of the Second Intifada – there has been a persistent drumbeat of allegations by students and professors at many university campuses across the country.   It is true that most Jewish students will not face these problems, particularly if they avoid visibly associating themselves with the Jewish state or with Jewish institutions.  Moreover, the reported incidents are disproportionately concentrated in coastal states and on highly politicized campuses, especially in California.  Neverthless, problems are continually arising even on campuses like Indiana University which do not seem to fit the profile. In its widely read 2006 report on “Campus Anti-Semitism,” the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that anti-Semitism had once again become a “serious problem” at many post-secondary institutions nation-wide.  In numerous cases, Jewish and Israeli students, particularly if they are outspoken supporters of Israel, have been physically accosted or confronted with a mix of classic anti-Jewish stereotypes and “progressive” anti-Israel defamations.  While it is difficult to quantify the extent of the problem – in part because of the dismal state of reporting on this issue – there is much support for the conclusion that Gary Tobin and Aryeh Weinberg reached in  their book, The Uncivil University; i.e.,anti-Semitism has now become systemic throughout American higher education,   even on the quieter  campuses.  Since 2006, the problem has only gotten worse, as old-fashioned bias has entered into the university-centered international campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State through boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

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Awards for Reporting about Anti-Semitism on Campus

At the Student Free Press Association, we’ve partnered with the Institute for Jewish & Community Research to establish $1000 awards for excellence in student reporting on anti-Semitism. To learn how to enter, go here. From the press release:

Campuses have become staging grounds for campaigns demonizing Israel, intimidating Jewish students and threatening the foundation of civil discourse in academia. Anti-Semitism and virulent anti-Israelism are regularly exhibited in a variety of venues on college campuses: speakers, events, media and scholarship have all been tainted by hostility and bigotry. History has shown that Jews are the “canary in the coalmine” of civility and tolerance. The lowered norms on campus threaten not just Jews, but all others as well.

Anti-Apartheid Week – 2

Growing Anti-Semitism On The Campus
The sad evidence that American campuses have been the site of rising anti-Semitism is truly an alarming phenomenon. Anti-Semitism has come from various sources: African-American student organizations; the Muslim Student Association at various colleges and universities, and the widespread movement on behalf of disinvestment in Israel, whose sponsors regularly compares Israel to South Africa, and advocate treating Israel today as the anti-apartheid movement treated South Africa decades ago.
But even more disturbing is the growing evidence that Jewish students are having a most confused response to this development. One has to look only at the announcement by J-Street- the self-described left of center antidote to AIPAC- that it would not call its campus chapters “pro-Israel” because that would limit their ability to gain members among Jewish students, as proof for how support of Israel is seen by many campus Jews as a position they do not wish to be identified with. The question that arises is what has happened to produce such sentiment?
Jewish students, like their non-Jewish counterparts, have grown up in a largely left-wing culture, in which the education they have received in high schools throughout the country, especially in the area of history or what used to be called civics, has been taught to them by teachers whose degrees are from left-leaning education schools. Or, perhaps, their teachers have been influenced by the view that the United States is the most evil nation in the world, which they in turn learned from people like Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky. It is therefore not surprising to find the names of familiar left-wing Jewish figures on the nation’s campuses playing a prominent part especially in the disinvestment campaign. As Dennis MacShane, A Labour member of Parliament, put it in a 2007 Washington Post op-ed, “American universities have provided a base for Noam Chomsky and the late Edward Said, among others, to launch campaigns of criticism against Israel, and the bulk of the West’s university intelligentsia remains hostile to the Jewish state.”

Continue reading Anti-Apartheid Week – 2