Jewish groups claim discrimination on campuses

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON — A number of pro-Israeli and civil rights advocates called on public officials last week to act against anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias on college campuses.

At a Nov. 18 hearing before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, representatives of four Jewish and education rights groups said that anti-Semitism at American colleges and universities is a widespread problem that needs to be realized.

“Most students nor most faculty member cannot be classified in belief as anti-semantic,” said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, before the panel, but added that “a climate that tolerates anti-Semitism through language of anti-Israelism.”

Tobin is the author of the new book “The UnCivil University: Politics and Propaganda in American Education,” which approaches anti-Semitism at universities through the ideology and expression of anti-Israeli beliefs. The hearing also featured speakers from the Zionist Organization of America, the American Jewish Congress and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

Having served in college faculties for 25 years, Tobin said he “treasures the university as a place of importance to American society, and this lack of attention to this issue is wasting a precious resource.”

The commission is a non-authoritative body that investigates complaints of discrimination and submits reports, findings and recommendations to the president and Congress. The hearing marked the first time the commission has examined the issue of anti-Semitism on campuses.

Discussion about anti-Semitism on college campuses was thrust into the public sphere last fall when a documentary was made depicting professors at Columbia University intimidating pro-Israel students. Tobin said such incidents are not isolated.

“What should be a civil, intellectual debate about the Middle East, turns into the use of anti-Semantic images,” Tobin said.

Tobin added that college should be a place where issues are discussed openly, but that it “crosses the line when images of Nazis are used to describe Israelis in the classroom or when a map a professor uses in class does not include Israel, only Palestine.”

Tobin called on trustees, donors, alumni and faculty members to let “as much sun shine on this issue as possible” by holding workshops and generally spreading the awareness that discrimination for pro-Israel beliefs will not be tolerated.

“It’s still out there and it shouldn’t be there at all,” Tobin said. “Students should not suffer any discrimination just because they support Israel.”

Tobin said he encourages Jewish students who feel discriminated against to file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights if their schools do not provide the proper means for resolving such grievances internally. He added that many schools are reluctant to address the problem due to fears of infringing on free academic speech.

Tobin based his conclusions on several interviews with Jewish students across the country. However, some student students said they do not notice the problem.

“Our campus has such a large Jewish population, one of the largest in the country I believe, that I don’t see any discrimination happening here,” said Daniel Newman, a Jewish student at the University of Maryland-College Park, adding, “I feel like we’re the majority sometimes.”