Jewish groups complain of anti-Semitism at UC campuses

For the second time in 14 months, some Jewish community activists, along with UC alumni and professors, are asking University of California administrators to take more forceful action against what they contend is anti-Semitism on UC campuses and harassment of Jewish students by anti-Israel protesters.

In July 2010, leaders of a dozen prominent Jewish American organizations sent similar complaints to UC President Mark G. Yudof. This week, a new letter to Yudof contended that issues of campus anti-Semitism had not been resolved and urged him “to address this problem effectively and promptly.”

The letter was signed by about 5,000 Jewish lay and religious leaders, parents of UC students and alumni and is more of a grassroots effort than the previous one, according to Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a UC Santa Cruz lecturer in Hebrew. “We are losing patience,” said Rossman-Benjamin, whose allegation of a hostile environment for Jews at UC Santa Cruz is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Yudof, who is Jewish and whose wife has been a leader in the Conservative movement of Judaism, said in a statement that UC is “doing everything in our power to protect Jewish and all other students from threats and actions.” Among other things, he said, the UC system has established a better reporting system for incidents of harassment and a UC committee studying campus ethnic climate will interview Jewish students this fall.

Yudof also referred to the high-profile case of a number of Muslim students who disrupted a speech at UC Irvine last year by Israel’s ambassador to the United States. The students were disciplined by the campus and prosecuted by the Orange County district attorney for their actions. Ten students were convicted Friday of conspiring to disrupt the speech, a misdemeanor, and were sentenced to probation.

Yudof said, however, that the university could not interfere with free speech or with criticism of Israel that was not disruptive. “While there are some student groups at the university that invite controversial outside speakers who say things that may be infuriating and even anti-Semitic, I have confidence that UC students’ exposure to good speech will enable them to distinguish truth from sheer prejudice,” he said.