Acting Against Anti-Semitism on American University Campuses

“We ask young people to carry on our struggle against Nazi ideology,” declared President Obama on June 5, 2009 at Buchenwald. He continued advocating “…for a just, peaceful and tolerant world; a world that has no place for anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and right-wing extremism.” On March 16, 2010, thirteen American Jewish communal organizations wrote a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan seeking to ensure that struggle continues, through protection for Jewish students on American University campuses under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Under Section 2000d of the Act, “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” These groups contend that Jews are entitled to protection under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights policy mandate of 2004 prohibiting discrimination against Jewish students at educational institutions receiving federal funds.

Secretary Duncan’s Education Department however, views the issue as providing protection to adherents of a religion, therefore making it essentially permissible for discrimination to take place against Jewish students. While perhaps not their intention, their refusal thus far to act to protect Jewish students is for all intents and purposes legalizing anti-Semitic discrimination against Jewish students on American campuses. This failure to act runs counter to President Obama’s stated intent at Buchenwald, the public good, common sense, and simple decency.

Jewish students on U.S. university campuses today face an onslaught of Saudi and Gulf-funded and encouraged anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism. Muslim student groups treat Israel to opprobrium on a level perhaps ever seen. They are active participants in the now annual disgrace of Israeli Apartheid Week on university campuses. They stage stunts to embarrass Jewish students, vilify Israel, and call into question Jewish support for Israel’s actions. In February 2010, students repeatedly interrupted the talk of Israel’s Ambassador to the United States at the University of California at Irvine. There are stories of Professors barking down Jewish students in class brave enough to challenge inaccurate lectures regarding the history of the Arab-Israeli dispute or publicly challenging them to defend Israel in the classroom setting.

The Anti-Defamation League found that in 2007 alone, 94 anti-Semitic incidents were reported on U.S. campuses — a number they fear represents only about 6% of known occurrences last year of harassment and vandalism targeting Jews. All too often, Jewish students do not report incidents due to fears of retaliation by fellow students or professors who hold their educational careers in their hands.

According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, examples of anti-Semitic campus incidents include but are not limited to:

• Speech or writing that is slanderous or libelous of Jews as a group, the Jewish religion, or individuals because they are Jewish.

• False, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective—especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.

• Denials of the Holocaust, or of the means used by National Socialist Germany to murder Jewish people during that period (for example, gas chambers), or claiming that the Jews caused or conspired to bring about the Holocaust.

• Symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (for example, claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel, that is use of human blood in ritual sacrifices) to characterize Israel or Israelis. Not all criticisms of Israel should be considered anti-Semitic however.

• Comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, or comparisons of Israeli/Jewish leaders to Nazi leaders, or comparisons of Jewish symbols such as the Star of David with the swastika.

• Conferring collective responsibility for actions of the state of Israel upon all Jewish people.

All too often University anti-Semitism is masked as anti-Israelism with all Jews held responsible.

Because Israel is seen as the “collective Jew,” its every action is blamed on Jews on campus. University administrators must do more to cut through semantic arguments Muslim student groups and others use to defend their noxious actions against Jewish students. Its bad enough that these administrators put up with these blatant acts of anti-Semitism, but for the Education Department to essentially sanction this behavior is disgraceful.

It is time enough for Secretary Duncan to extend legal protections to Jewish students on University campuses, protections that all students want, are entitled to, and should expect as Americans. To do anything less would be an abandonment of Jewish students facing discrimination simply because they are Jews, not unlike those commemorated at Buchenwald by President Obama in 2009.

Cutting Edge human rights analyst Gregg J. Rickman, Ph.D, served as the first U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism from 2006-2009. He is a Senior Fellow for the Study and Combat of Anti-Semitism at the Institute on Religion and Policy in Washington, DC; a Visiting Fellow at The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut; and a Research Scholar at the Initiative on Anti-Semitism and Anti-Israelism of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research in San Francisco.
(Tags: University, Anti-semitism, Hate Speech)